By Chef Alli on November 20, 2019
Whether we enjoy it or not, we all know grocery shopping is a crucial task because it’s one of our heftiest expenses. Make it a little easier (maybe even enjoyable) by “cashing in” on a few of my top secrets and strategies for improving your experience while shopping to purchase food items and household supplies at your favorite grocer.
1. Lean Into It!
When products and produce are stocked, the items with the closest expiration dates (and shortest shelf life) are put toward the very front of the shelf for easy access. Reaching way in to pull products and produce from the very back ensures you’re getting the freshest items available. Perishables purchased with a longer shelf life enable them to keep better and longer at home.
2. Grab That Weekly Grocery Circular and Plan, Plan, Plan.
This may sound trite but perusing the store ad BEFORE you make your weekly meal plan can save you scads of moolah when you grocery shop. And, I’ve noticed that scanning the ad of featured sale items often reminds me of recipes I haven’t made in a while, helping me offer my family more variety each week.
3. Feel the Freezer Items.
When purchasing frozen items such as vegetables or egg noodles, gently feel through the bag with your fingers. If you feel one big solid mass that’s all frozen together, put it back! This is a strong indication that this product has unintentionally been thawed and re-frozen at some point along the shipping or stocking process. Instead, opt for the bag of vegetables at the back, which will likely be a new batch.
4. Become a Convenience Connoisseur.
Subscribe and save, online ordering and home delivery are all convenient services offered to help with our demanding schedules and busy lives. In some cases, there is a fee involved for utilizing these services, but I have found online ordering SAVES me money because I’m eliminating impulse purchases as well as shopping for add-on items. Plus, it just feels so good to roll in, sign for my order, have my groceries loaded into the back and away I go!
5. Embrace Digital - Use the App!
Most grocery stores will offer digital coupons to incentivize their customers via their phone app. In the process, we often get hooked, ensuring a solid habit of shopping with that grocer is established. A customer with the habit of regularly shopping with a grocer (without even having to think about it) is a huge win for them. Also, if you find that you really enjoy their grocery store, the digital coupons they offer can add up to some pretty sweet savings at the register. Based on your buying patterns, certain stores tend to offer personalized digital coupons specific to you, not otherwise on sale. Plus, digital coupons are much easier to keep track of since they are always there, convenient and readily available on your phone.
6. Look Up, Look Down, Look All Around.
When choosing grocery items, be sure you’re not just looking at the items at eye level. Go ahead - look at the upper shelves and the lower shelves, taking a few seconds to check out all the product choices available. You may be missing out on some great values and new items to experience. Many stores purposely place more expensive name-brand items conveniently at eye-level (right in front of your nose, of course) for convenience, in hopes you’ll grab what’s easiest.
7. Become a “One and Done” Shopper.
The risky habit of shopping frequently (you know, those quick in and out trips we justify throughout the week) is exactly the habit grocery stores are hoping for in customers. Grocers know and count on the fact that if they can just get you through their doors, you are much more likely to purchase additional (impulse) items each time you’re there. Instead, make one big trip each week and stick to your list. Also, never hit the grocery store aisles when you’re HANGRY or running low on energy - this can cause your wallet to take a big hit.
8. Seek Out the Salad Bar.
Do you need a few specialty ingredients in small quantities to test out a new recipe or possibly as a garnish or topping? A small amount of alfalfa sprouts or artichoke hearts, or maybe just a handful of shredded carrots or a specific shredded cheese that’s new to you? You’ll often find these items sold by the ounce or pound on the salad bar, keeping you from having to purchase an entire package that you may have difficulty consuming.
9. Find Your Fun, It Can Be Done. Even at the Grocery Store.
Grocery shopping can truly be enjoyable if you have a few tricks up your sleeve and arrive prepared. Wear your ear buds and listen to music, a good audio book or your favorite podcast as you walk the aisles. To make grocery shopping a more relaxing experience, choose to shop early on weekend mornings or later in the evening through the week when traffic is at a much lower volume. Make a deal with yourself that the only time you can enjoy one of those expensive lattes is when you’re sipping as you shop. This can be a very motivating incentive if you’re a coffee lover.
10. Make Meaty Markdowns Matter.
Talk to the butcher or meat department manager to learn when they typically mark down meat that has a shortened shelf life due to a close expiration date. Some markdowns happen first thing in the morning while other stores slash prices during the late evening hours. You can snag some great meat and poultry bargains if you get in on these mark-down times regularly.
11. Get Loaded!
Stock up on sale items that you can pile into your freezer and use later, as needed. I love to wait until unsalted butter is on sale at a great holiday price so I can purchase what I need for the entire upcoming year. Most sale items don’t usually have a limit (though some will and that is supposed to be clearly stated in the grocery ad) so stocking up is a great way to save some serious cash, if you don’t mind the cash outlay up front. There are many items we can pop into the freezer for later, keeping them completely fresh until we need them. Since we live in a rural area, I can’t just run to the store on a whim, so having stock-up items in my freezer has been life-saving throughout the years.
Here’s a list of grocery items I often load into my freezer as I discover them on sale:
bagged fruits and vegetables
pecans and walnuts
Little Debbie cakes
powdered and brown sugar
par-baked rolls and breads
block and shredded cheese