If you’re anything like the average American, your grocery shopping strategy probably consists of opening the fridge, noticing it’s empty, and then stocking up with whatever you need, even if none of the items on your list are on sale. As you probably guessed, this shopping method will not be kind to your bank account.
While you may have heard of extreme couponing, there are less exhausting ways to save money at the supermarket.
Here are the mistakes you’re making when you shop for groceries, and how to fix them:
Coming in without a list
Meal prep is key here. If you plan your meals for the week ahead of time, you’ll walk in with a plan and be less likely to stray from your list by compulsively grabbing pricey snacks or random ingredients that will sit in the back of your pantry unused.
Going to the store hungry
This is probably a no-brainer, but always eat a meal before going to the supermarket. Nothing good comes out of a shopping trip when you’re starving. Lifehacker suggests chewing mint gum while you shop so you’re less likely to fall victim to the store’s scent marketing tactics (yes, that actually exists).
Being too lazy to use coupons
We’re not suggesting you make coupon-clipping a competitive sport like those extreme couponers, but there are several insider tips you can learn from them. The Krazy Coupon Lady advises buying your groceries at multiple stores to find the best discount, and to remember that certain chains take competitor coupons. She also suggests downloading money-saving apps like Ibotta and Checkout51.
Shopping on the weekend or in the morning
Believe it or not, there are better days and times to shop. Most people do their grocery shopping on a weekend so they can prep ahead of time, but mid-week is when products with short shelf lives like meat and dairy go on sale. Plus, there are more discounts as the day wears on and stores need to get rid of perishables. Your best bet is to shop on a Wednesday night, says Lifehacker.
Ignoring sale cycles
ales at supermarkets aren’t random; they run in 12-week cycles. Stop being shocked at the price of meat when you walk in the door by learning the ebb and flow of sale cycles. You can see an example of a month-to-month sale calendar from Krazy Coupon Lady here. Another tip is always buy produce that’s in season: it’s cheaper and usually fresher.
Not buying in bulk
There’s a reason why Costco is so popular. Buying in bulk is (generally) cheaper. The best items to buy in bulk are non-perishables like paper goods (toilet paper, napkins, paper plates, etc.), and cases of water, according to Spoon University.
Read more: 17 foods you should always buy at Costco
Buying everything in bulk
But just because you can buy almost anything in bulk, doesn’t mean you should. After all, you’ll probably waste a lot of food and your house will start to look like an episode of “Hoarders.” If you always check unit prices, you’ll find that certain foods like cereal or frozen foods are cheaper in smaller rather than larger quantities, Quick and Dirty Tips advises.
Buying all brand names
Certain products can’t be replaced by generic store brand like Oreos, Coca-Cola and name brand ice cream. But who cares if you’re buying Kleenex or “Generic Tissue?” Household cleaning products are perfectly fine to buy off-brand as well.
Not knowing how much your food should be worth off-hand
Quick! What’s a fair price for a gallon of milk in your neck of the woods? If you don’t know off the top of your head, you may be paying more than you should. Lifehacker suggests keeping a price book so you don’t fall for fake sales where overpriced products are going for what looks like a great deal, when they’re actually discounted to a normal price.
Looking at shelves that are eye-level or above
Here’s a little-known tip: cheaper items are usually stocked on the bottom shelves, whereas your expensive items will be stocked at eye-level. Why? Unless you’re in the know, the average consumer will unknowingly spend more just by shopping by line-of-sight.