How to Save Money and Shop Like a Boss at the Grocery Store

Here are 5 tips you can use at any supermarket to avoid gimmicks, cut costs, and save big, according to retail experts.

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While many grocery stores offer shopper-friendly policies (such as offering samples of almost every item—the way Trader Joe's does), there are also many tricks that nearly every grocery store uses to encourage spending more than you want, and buying more than you actually need.

If your goal is to save money while shopping, using coupons and planning shopping lists are a good start, but it pays to be aware of the gimmicks stores employ as well.

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The way foods are placed on shelves, for instance, or even priced due to their status as a "convenience" item, can end up harming your wallet. Retail experts working within the grocery industry shared the following tips with NBC's Today, including advice on how you can shop smart at any grocery store you visit.

1) Shop from Left to Right on Any Shelf

According to Sara Lundberg, author of Budget Savvy Diva's Guide to Slashing Your Grocery Bill by 50% or More, grocery stores purposefully place items that produce higher profit margins on the right side of a shelf. Americans tend to look at things from right to left—just like they drive on the right side of the road, shoppers also wander down aisles on the right side as well—and could see a higher-priced item first if they scan shelves this way. Scanning items from left to right could help you identify the cheaper items first.

More ingenious hacks to help you shop smart:

2) Be Wary of End-of-Aisle Displays

Dan Dalton / Getty Images

Whether it's the week before Thanksgiving or the Friday before a big football tailgate, the special displays located at the end of each aisle may actually not be a deal. These areas are called "end caps," says Kimberly Danger, the author behind Instant Bargains: 600+ Ways to Shrink Your Grocery Bills and Eat Well for Less, and they're often just strategically placed regular-priced items.

If you head to the center of the aisle before purchasing the items located within the end cap, you'll discover whether these items are truly the cheapest—or healthiest—you can find. 61 percent of shoppers end up buying an item on impulse if it is located within an end cap, according to shopping experts Steve and Annette Economides' Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half With America's Cheapest Family.

3) Consider Bulk Bags When Buying Fruits and Vegetables

If you're buying a particularly cumbersome fruit or vegetable, packing a few in a loose plastic bag can actually be up to 50 percent more expensive than buying a bulk bag. For example: 79 cents a pound for potatoes can seem like a steal, but if the five-pound bag of potatoes next to it is just $2.99 (or 60 cents a pound), you'll save by opting for the bulk bag. This can often be the case for apples, carrots, and onions, where pre-bagged fruit and veggies could save you half the amount than packing a bag yourself, according to the Economides.

4) Head to the Butcher Counter Rather Than Buy Pre-Wrapped Meats

"Convenience" items—things that are pre-packed and portioned for ease, like ground beef—can be marked up significantly compared to other similar items that have yet to be portioned. Why buy ground beef when you can ask the butcher counter to grind up a wallet-friendly piece of round roast? Bruce and Jeanne Lubin, the team behind Who Knew? Supermarket Savings Secrets, claim that stir-fry meats as well as ground beef are two of the most aggressively marked up items in the meat section. Talk to your butcher to see if they can custom prep any meat free of charge rather than reaching for a pre-packaged item.

5) Bring Headphones—Seriously!

Data expert Martin Lindstrom discovered a link between the music playing in supermarkets and how much shoppers end up putting into their carts. Lindstrom, who penned Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends, told NBC's Savannah Guthrie that "elevator music" playing in stores is intentionally slower than the human heartbeat, encouraging people to slow down and spend more time wandering the aisles. If you bring headphones to the store (and play high-tempo music), it may help you cut upwards of 8 percent off your final grocery bill, Lindstrom says.

6 Best Grocery Rebate Apps

If you’re looking for insanely easy ways to save money on your groceries, using grocery rebate apps is by far one of the best ways to go, especially if you hate cutting or printing out coupons.

If you didn’t already know this, but grocery rebate apps will literally pay you to grocery shop.

All you have to do is download each app and buy the items listed on the app at the grocery store, take a photo and upload your receipt and wait to get paid.

Plus, if you want, you can even use coupons on these foods or products listed on the apps and still get a rebate.

So with that being said, let’s jump straight to the best grocery shopping rebate apps.

13. Grocery IQ

Grocery IQ has one of the larger grocery store databases and is very similar to Food on the Table. This app allows you to search for specific items that you need rather than specific brands.

If you need a gallon of milk, Grocery IQ will locate you to the nearest store with the best price.

You can also enter your rewards card number and search for coupons that will be automatically taken off at the register, or you can find additional coupons that can be printed.

What’s even more is that you can ask Grocery IQ to remember the aisles in the store, saving you lots of time.

Platform: iOS and Android

2. Sell Your Pre-Loved Garments First

Another way to stick to your budget is to opt for consignment stores that not only sell pre-loved clothes but also buy them. Whether you're looking to make some extra cash or simply clear your closet before adding new treasures, these stores are great for trading-in the garments you no longer wear. The best part? You can shop while the store clerks inspect and price-out your inventory. If you'd rather, you can also sell clothing and accessories online!

Shop with a Budget and Save Money at the Grocery Store

  1. Don’t buy snacks on the run. They are often less healthy and more expensive.
  2. Get creative and try new foods. You may find less expensive food that you enjoy just as much!
  3. Shop with a calculator and add things up as you put them in your cart. If you're shopping with kids, give them the job to tally what's in the cart. It will help you stick to your spending plan.
  4. Learn how to cook or bake. Hit up a family member for help or take a class.
  5. Buy non–food grocery items like detergent or garbage bags at a discount store.
  6. Only buy what you need and can afford 3-for-1 is only a good deal if you can use three.
  7. Price check and shop around for discounts on items you buy regularly. Use store and manufacturer coupons when you can. Consider using one of these grocery apps on either a smartphone or tablet.
  8. Remember that smaller sizes can sometimes be a good deal. Do the math, either on your phone or with your calculator.
  9. Don’t automatically overlook no-name or store brands. Many are made by the brand name companies, just with a different label.
  10. Even if it’s “on sale,” it’s only a good buy if you will use it!

Strategy #4 – Shop at the Local Discount Grocer

If you typically shop at a more expensive food retailer, you really should try out a discount food retailer. Substitute your Whole Foods for a chain like Aldi or Fareway instead, where many of the items are the same but the prices are much lower.

Some people are picky about specific food items and it’s okay if you only buy some of your groceries at the discount grocer, but the more you buy there, the lower your overall food bill will be.

Other discount grocer chains besides Aldi and Fareway include PriceRite, Save-A-Lot, and Grocery Outlet Bargain Market. There are many, many discount grocers that operate only at the local level, so be sure to look around your town and see what’s available.

Where to get free food

There are places to get food where you don’t have to pay for it. I know it can be hard, but sometimes you just need to swallow your pride and do what you have to do.

In the United States apply for food assistance including, food stamps, free lunch and free breakfast for your kids at school.

Most communities have shelves or food pantries where you can get free food. What kind of food and how often you can go varies widely from community to community.

Many towns have free community meals open to all regardless of income. Some of them even have extra food like bread or brown bananas they will send with you for a snack the next day.

If you are not aware of what is available local churches or social service agencies are often good places to find out where to get free food.

Our local community has a program called Ruby’s pantry where there are no income guidelines. For a $20 donation, you get two large laundry baskets of food. This is available in many Minnesota communities. Ask at a local church or county social services to see what is available in your community.

If you can have a garden where you live plant one. Seeds and sets are cheaper than produce. If you don’t have a garden or even if you do let your gardening friends know you would love there extra produce. Gardeners usually have extra produce and are glad to share.

More Apps to Maximize Your Cash Back

These apps offer some of the best ways to save and earn cash-back other than by uploading receipts. Many can be paired with the services above in order to double-dip or triple-dip on savings.

#1. Acorns

Quick summary: You probably know of Acorns as a micro-investing app, but you might not know they offer a cash-back feature for online purchases. Download the Chrome “Found Money” extension, and when you shop with more than 200 partners, you’ll earn cash-back that will be invested directly into your Acorns account.

Did you know: Acorns’ Found Money has partnered with sites like Expedia, Airbnb and Uber, so you can save on your travel expenses.

App Store ratings: 4.7/5 with over 589,000 reviews.

Google Play ratings: 4.5/5 with over 113,000 reviews.

Sign-up bonus: When you and a friend sign up for Acorns, the app will invest $5 for each of you.

#2. Pei

Quick summary: When you create your Pei account, you’ll link one or more credit or debit cards and then earn up to 10% cash-back when you use those cards to pay for purchases at thousands of brick-and-mortar retail establishments and restaurants (including big names like Trader Joe’s, Target and Walgreens).

Your earnings are credited to your Pei account as points, which can be redeemed for PayPal cash, gift cards or Bitcoin.

Did you know: If you link a rewards credit card, you’ll get cash-back from both your card and Pei.

App Store ratings: 4.7/5 with over 3,900 reviews.

Google Play ratings: 3.5/5 with over 1,400 reviews.

Sign-up bonus: $5 when you sign up with this link.

#3. Flipp

Quick summary: If you don’t get the Sunday paper but miss flipping through the weekly grocery shopping circulars that are tucked inside, meet Flipp!

Flipp lets you see all the circulars in your area (just enter your zip code when creating your account) so that you can save money on grocery items, household items, clothes, electronics, and more. “Clip” the coupons and they’ll be attached to your store loyalty cards.

Did you know: You can use the app’s price matching feature to get the lowest price in stores that allow price-match savings.

App Store ratings: 4.7/5 with over 75,000 reviews.

Google Play ratings: 4.6/5 with over 122,000 reviews.

Sign-up bonus: None currently available.

#4. NCP Mobile

Quick summary: NCP Mobile is a barcode scanning app. Scan the barcodes of eligible items you buy, answer a few questions about the purchase, and then submit your feedback to earn points. The points you earn can be redeemed for gift cards.

Did you know: The longer you use the app, the more points you earn for each scan.

App Store ratings: 4.3/5 with over 3,900 reviews.

Google Play ratings: 4.4/5 with over 21,000 reviews.

Sign-up bonus: None currently available.

#5. The Krazy Koupon Lady

Quick summary: This app is like a one-stop-shop for coupons. It has coupons from circulars, stores and manufacturers, as both digital and printable coupons. The app will send new offers to your phone as it finds them, wherever it finds them.

Did you know: The app also offers tutorials and videos to teach those new to couponing how to optimize their savings.

App Store ratings: 4.9/5 with over 65,000 reviews.

Google Play ratings: 4.2/5 with over 12,900 reviews.

Sign-up bonus: None currently available.

Joining a bulk shopping club like Sam's, Costco, or BJ's can be cost-effective if you frequent the club regularly. Bulk purchases can be a great way to save money -- as long as they get used. You might also look in your community for shopping cooperatives that sell food in bulk at a substantial savings. Cooking in bulk can save both money and time, says Tallmadge. "Prepare food in bulk and freeze it in family-sized portions, which saves time in the kitchen," she suggests. For example, making a big batch of tomato sauce will be less expensive (and probably tastier) than buying it.

For benefits that go beyond cost savings, plant your own produce. There's nothing better than a summer-fresh tomato from the garden. Tomatoes even grow well in containers if you don't have space for a garden, and some neighborhoods offer community gardening spaces. Start small, and see how easy it is to grow fresh herbs or a few simple vegetables. And if you invest a little time in freezing or canning your harvest, you can enjoy summer's bounty all year long.


Journal of the American Dietetic Association, May 2002.

Robert Earl, MPH, RD, senior director of nutrition policy and regulatory affairs, Grocery Manufacturers Association.

Katherine Tallmadge, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association, author, Diet Simple.

Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, president, American Dietetic Association, nutrition director, Washington University, St. Louis.

What foods to buy in bulk

1. Apples

Apples can last several months in a cool, dry place. Of course, you could also process them into applesauce, apple butter, etc., but in general, if you buy several bags of apples, or better yet, pick several buckets of them, they&rsquoll be fine for a long time, as long as you don&rsquot wash them right away.

2. Strawberries

I love to buy lots of strawberries when they&rsquore on sale because they&rsquore so easy to freeze. Did you know that you can even freeze them with their greens still attached? If you freeze strawberries for smoothies, you can easily throw the whole strawberry with the greens still attached, into the blender. It is edible.

3. Onions & peppers

If you find a great sale on onions and peppers, you can totally stock your freezer with pre-chopped vegetables. Recently I found bags of red, yellow and orange peppers for only $1.50. I bought several and chopped them up to save for future meals. If you&rsquoll be cooking with them, you&rsquoll never notice that they were frozen first.

4. Cheese

This is probably my favorite grocery item to buy in bulk. At our local grocery store, shredded cheese costs nearly $5 per pound. But, when I go to a membership store, I can get it for around $2.75 per pound. This is a huge savings! We make so many recipes that call for cheese, I always keep a 5-pound bag of it in my refrigerator and two more in the freezer.

5. Spices

I prefer to buy my spices by the pound, rather than by the bottle. Spices last for years! Typically, if you buy them by the pound, you&rsquoll spend less than you do on some of those little bottles.

6. Dry pasta

This is another food that has a very long shelf life. You&rsquoll need to do your due diligence to be sure that it is not in an extremely humid environment, but pasta will last for months, if not years, as well.

7. Canned goods

I like to buy these in bulk when we go to Aldi , because they&rsquore the cheapest there. Typically, I buy a case of canned goods at a time, so that I always keep a well-stocked pantry. If you choose to do this, be sure that the items you&rsquore buying are things you use up on a regular basis.

8. Oats

I like to keep a food-safe bucket in my kitchen full of oats.This has helped me save so much money on breakfasts through the years. By buying it in bulk, I save about $1 per pound, when compared to typical grocery store pricing.

9. Meat

When I see a sale on meat, I always grab it, if the price is low enough. Meat is usually the most expensive grocery item in your meal, so this is a great area to do some bulk shopping. In the past, we&rsquove found ground beef on sale for $2 a pound and we loaded our freezer up with as much as we thought we could eat in the next several months. We also buy a side of beef from our local farmer, which can save several dollars per pound, depending on the cut of meat that we are talking about.

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