22 Supermarket Tricks You Haven't Heard Yet

by Damian Davila on 12 June 2014 4 comments

Grocery shoppers: Smarten up your savings.

Unlike when shopping for big-ticket items, such as Macbooks and flat screen TVs, we spend too little time on smaller, every-day items. Supermarkets are very aware of this and often take advantage of our wallets as a result. (See also:Why You Pay More at the Grocery Store)

It's time to bring back the savings with these 22 supermarket tricks you haven't heard yet.

1. Research More Prices

Yup, we are going old school with this first, but it is a necessary reminder. According to Reader's Digest, the average supermarket shopper can recall the prices from just four items: milk, bread, bananas, and eggs. Unless you know more prices, you are not able to tell a good deal from a bad one. Start visiting more supermarkets and comparing prices. Another reason to visit more stores is to increase your chances of exploiting price match claims. (See also: 25 Ways to Lower Your Grocery Bill)

Keep notes in a little notebook you can carry everywhere (a "Pricebook"), or use an app (like ValueTracker) or even a Google Docs spreadsheet (which you can share with friends for even more savings and data collection).

2. Ask for a Rain Check

For us Millennial shoppers, rain checks are a foreign concept. Several supermarkets still honor this old tradition. When a special offer item is out of stock, some supermarkets issue a voucher entitling you to the same deal at a later date. If a supermarket manager refuses to give you a rain check, then politely ask for discount for a comparable item for the inconvenience. Most managers are capable of providing a limited amount of discount vouchers at their discretion.

3. Calculate Individual Prices

Don't be a fool for the buy-in-bulk traps. For example, a supermarket can take a 90 cents can of soup and offer a 10 for $10 promo. Fire up your smartphone's calculator and calculate the individual price of each item. Often, you will find out that the deal is not as good as just buying fewer items or a comparable item right next to the "sale" item.

4. Wear Headphones and Listen to Fast Music

Most supermarkets will play slow background music to calm you down while you shop and make you linger longer around the aisles. Fix this immediately by using headphones and listening to upbeat songs. This energizes you, allows you to focus on your grocery list, and gets you out the door faster.

5. Never Buy a Cake on the Same Day You Need It

If you need a cake, order it in advance. When you buy a cake without pre-ordering, the baker has to select one from the display. You have no clue how old these cakes are, so instead order your cake a day in advance so that it is baked the night before. Also, take advantage of bake sales by paying in advance but redeeming your purchase at a later date.

6. Shake Off That Mist

Several supermarkets use mist sprinklers to make their fruits and vegetables look fresher. Some even use thunder and rain sound effects to lure you to them. Don't fall for the hype. That mist makes vegetables, particularly lettuces, rot faster. Look for the dryest veggies and vegetables, and shake off well that mist to avoid extra weight at the cashier's balance.

7. Ask for Extra Services

Supermarket clerks are not there just to check and bag your items, but also to provide you a helping hand. However, you need to ask (and nicely!) for their help. So go ahead and ask the baker to slice that big loaf, the butcher to tenderize that meat, and the flower attendant to help you accessorize that bouquet. Some stores, such as Kroger, go the extra mile and even season and fry your fish for free. Of course, only if you request it. (See also: How to Save Money at the Butcher's)

The butcher is your savings ninja. Instead of buying pre-cut, buy the whole thing and ask your butcher to cut it. For example, the butcher can dice a chuck roast into stew cubes and slash a flank steak into strips ready for stir-fry.

8. Plastic That Bread

Just this time, plastic wins over paper. Supermarkets bag bread in paper, but that makes it go stale faster. As soon as you get home seal the bread in an airtight plastic bag so that your bread lasts longer and you don't buy it as often.

9. Look for the USDA Seal

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) seal quality grade trumps over everything that your supermarket can say about its meat. The USDA quality grade puts Prime as the best, followed by Choice, and finally Select. No matter how "premium" a store meat brand claims to be, it means nothing without a USDA Prime or Choice seal.

10. Avoid Weekends

Mondays and Tuesdays are the best days to shop because stores are less crowded, and you can get in and out faster. By avoiding the weekend crowds, you minimize exposure the subliminal "keeping up with the Joneses" effect. Remember that you are here to save, not to impress your neighbors.

11. Off-Load Early and Often

If you have been noticing that checkout lanes are getting smaller and narrower, you are not being paranoid. Supermarkets are very aware that over 60% of customers off-load products as they check out. This is why checkout lanes provide no shelf space and have flimsy gum holders everywhere. They want to make it as hard as possible for you to drop items. Be aware of this and off-load items from your cart or basket early and often.

12. Buy Frequent Items in Bulk

Another interesting stat from Reader's Digest is that about 80% of what shoppers buy, they buy every week. Keep a month's worth of supermarket receipts and tally up your items. If you are buying certain items every single week, you would benefit from getting those at a discount warehouse and stocking up for the whole month.

13. Evaluate the Deli Counter

Most of those fancy cheeses at the deli counter are also available on the dairy aisle. Before committing to a deli item, check if there is a comparable item on the dairy or meat aisles. If you cannot tell a real difference between the two items, then dump the more expensive deli item. The packaging may not be as pretty, but the cheaper price makes up for it.

14. Check the Fine Print From Sales Items

Some supermarket managers are sneaky. They will hang a sales sign in a sea of products. For example, a sign offering 60% off a 14-ounce cereal box is placed by a shelf containing cereal boxes ranging from 10 to 19 ounces. Unless you pay attention at the register, you may not notice that you are buying an item at full price. Read the rules for all sales items.

15. Switch the Hot for the Cold

A new trend in supermarkets is to have a cafeteria for take-out or in-store dining. This is a major trap. That hot pizza is the same as the one over at the freezer section, but at almost double per slice. You are better off by warming up frozen entrees and ready meals yourself at home.

Depending on your city, the seafood counter may not be able to have any truly fresh catch. Instead, the clerks have to work with previously frozen items. You are better off choosing frozen seafood because it is cheaper and stays at safe temperatures longer.

16. Find Out When the Store Marks Down Products

At most stores, dairy and meat products are marked down between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Bakery departments often mark down items starting mid-afternoon. Find out when your preferred supermarket marks down items, and pounce on them for big savings. If you notice that an item expires within two days, then ask if you can get the discount early. Most attendants provide the discount because you are saving them time. They have to do it tomorrow anyway.

17. Buy Filet Mignon at T-Bone Steak Prices

A T-bone steak is always cheaper per pound than a filet mignon, sometimes as much as $5 per pound cheaper. Every T-bone has both small filet mignon on one side of the bone and a New York strip on the other.

18. Safer and Cheaper Ground Meat

The next time you buy ground meat, ask the butcher to grind your hamburger. Here is why: You're guaranteeing that the final product comes from a single animal and minimizing the chances of E. coli cross contamination. Prepackaged ground meat in foam containers or frozen boxes comes from several animals. Also, don't buy pre-formed hamburger patties, they are more expensive than ground meat per pound and only take about 10 seconds to make.

19. Find Alternatives to Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

Sprinkling a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano makes anything go BAM! But for over $20 per pound, Parmigiano-Reggiano it is one expensive treat. Instead, learn to appreciate other cheeses with similar flavor and lower price tag. Some of these cheeses are Pecorino Romano and SarVecchio, which often are half the price of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

20. Skip Boxed Rice Mixes

The promise of an easy dinner is quite tempting, but boxed rice side dishes and "sidekicks" do more harm than good to your wallet. If you read the ingredient list, it boils down to rice, salt, and spice, only priced 5 to 10 more times than usual. If you're a fan of rice mixes, you're better off buying the ingredients separately. (See also: 25 New Ways to Spice Up Rice)

21. Prepare Your Own Iced Tea

My wife is a big fan of iced tea, and she saves tons of money by making her own. Instead of buying those expensive powder mixes, she uses regular tea bags and keeps a large container in the refrigerator. Plus, she can keep track of how much sugar is in her iced tea at all times.

22. Sign Up for Supermarket Rewards

Like many supermarkets, Safeway has its own club card to access lower prices. If you shop at Safeway often, it is a good idea to download its smartphone app (available for Android, Apple and Kindle devices). The app can notify you when they have free item offers. Within a two-week period, I redeemed no-cost offers for a 14.5 oz. pasta sauce jar, a 32 oz. soy milk carton, a 17 oz. sparkling lemonade, and a 10 oz. package of flour tortillas.

The ExtraCare Rewards program from CVS is quite good if you shop there often. Every quarter you get a voucher for 2% of total purchases during the period, and every time you spend $50 on beauty products ("beauty" products include regular items, such as soap, body lotion, and shampoo), a $5 voucher.

What is your secret supermarket trick? Please share in comments!

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PurchaseWisely

My favorite supermarket "trick" is to never buy any type of boxed mix, item from the bakery or deli (including bread) or frozen meal. Ignore the coupons, hype and processed foods and only buy what's on sale in the meat and produce departments. I am fortunate to have several large grocery stores on my regular driving routes, so I check the ads each week and if there's something I use regularly I stock up when it's on sale. Otherwise, I don't buy it. I purchase toiletries, paper goods, etc. at Target.

Also, I time the sales. Various stores put items on sale in a cycle, so I know chicken breasts, chuck roast, canned tomatoes, etc. will go on sale about once every three weeks. I plan my meals around what will be on sale for the week.

Damian Davila's picture

Thanks PurchaseWisely, those are some good tips!

Guest's picture
Catseye

Always check the clearance shelves at the grocery store. You will find some great deals. Not every time, but often enough to make it worth your while.

Damian Davila's picture

You're 100% right! Both at Safeway and Target I often find real steals on the clearance shelves.