Shop the Salad Bar and Other Ways to Save Big on Groceries

Feeling the pinch at the grocery checkout line? You're not alone. Food prices have risen an average of 2.6 percent a year over the past 20 years, according to The Balance. And though inflation has slowed recently, you can bet food prices will be back on the uptick when contributing factors change, like fluctuating oil prices, weather conditions, and good ol' supply and demand. In the meantime, give your budget a well-deserved break by adopting these supermarket-savvy practices to reduce your grocery overhead.

1. Shop the salad bar for almonds, bacon bits, and more

You might avoid the salad bar at your local supermarket because of its outrageous prices — my local Wegmans cold salad and fruit bar is a whopping $9.49 a pound — but there are deals hidden among all that overpriced produce.

Six ounces of name brand Diamond of California slivered almonds retails for $4.99 at the store, or roughly $13.30 per pound, compared to the flat rate of under $10 at the salad bar. Bacon bits are another big win for your wallet. A three-ounce bottle of Hormel Real Bacon Bits come in at $2.49, making a pound's worth more than $13, but who needs that when you can cop a full pound of the really "real" stuff at around 59 cents per ounce?

To do your own investigative work into how you can save at the salad bar, visit your local grocer's website and compare packaged products and fresh produce to what you might find in the salad bar. (See also: 7 Grocery Store Habits That Are Making You Broke)

2. Break off just the right amount of bananas from the bunch

Did you know that you don't have to buy the whole bunch of bananas? Most stores price the fruit by the pound, but don't require that all the bananas in a bunch stay together. If the bunch is too big for what you think you'll eat, just break off the amount that suits you and be on your way.

3. Compare bone-in and boneless chicken pound-per-pound

Boneless chicken is most people's go-to protein these days, but we're paying quite a markup for the convenience of skin-and-bone removal.

My store doesn't even carry nonorganic bone-in chicken breasts anymore, but nonorganic bone-in chicken thighs (store brand) are 99 cents per pound compared to their boneless counterparts at $1.99 per pound. More than double is quite a leap just to be bone-free.

You also may be able to shave a few bucks off your bill by buying your fresh boneless chicken breasts with rib meat instead of the hand-trimmed cutlets. Those prices are $1.88 per pound and $2.79 per pound, respectively, at my store, which is enough of a difference for me to learn to love to the rib meat. (See also: Great Summertime Grilling for Any Budget)

4. Ask for a rain check on out-of-stock sale items

If the shelf is empty on a sale product, you may be able to still get the deal with a rain check. You can usually obtain these at customer service, but be sure to have the sales circular or your mobile device showing the deal to expedite the process, just in case the cashier is unfamiliar with the promotion. (They shouldn't be, but it happens often when I'm shopping.) Your rain check will allow you to buy the product for the sale price even after the sale is over once the item is back in stock.

5. Stick with frozen seafood

"A lot of time the seafood you find frozen in the store is the same as the thawed stuff on display, which can be marked up by as much as 40 percent," says nutritionist and health coach Jamie Logie, author of the blog and podcast Regained Wellness.

Turns out, she's right. Farm-raised EZ-Peel Raw Shrimp at my Wegmans is $10.99 per pound, but the same exact shrimp frozen and bagged is only $8.49 per pound. Plus, with the frozen stuff there's no rush to eat it before it spoils; it's there whenever I want it.

6. Segment your shopping between grocery and drugstores

By and large, drugstores like CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens have higher-priced items compared to the same products at the supermarket, but you can save in these stores on certain things. My local Rite-Aid offers coupons, sometimes up to 25 percent off, and it often has Buy-One-Get-One (BOGO) deals on the snacks we all love, like chips and ice cream. When I wrote this, Rite-Aid had Cheez-It crackers BOGO for $3.29, whereas two boxes of the same would cost $3.96 at Walmart.

At CVS, I've personally saved $139.33 using coupons, which are plentiful if you're a member of the ExtraCare Rewards program. I also took advantage of a one-time offer to try out its new curbside service to save $10 off a $15 purchase. These promos really add up if you use them the right way.

7. Make spices with your unused vegetables

Think twice about throwing away that half an onion you don't think you'll use before it rots. Yvonne Sanders, from healthy-eating and weight-loss program Slimming World, explains how to turn them into spices.

"Simply dehydrate onion or garlic, then crush it up to make garlic or onion powder seasoning," she says. Same goes for your herbs and hot peppers. Dehydrate them before they start to decay for more fresh and flavorful cooking.

8. Turn nearly expired milk into ice cubes for your morning coffee

If you know you're not going to drink all the milk before it expires or spoils, make milk ice cubes for your morning joe.

"If you're wont to drink coffee with some milk, this is a great way to preserve cartons of milk in your fridge," Sanders says. "Just use an ice tray to freeze and drop into your next coffee or even smoothie."

9. Ditch the cart and pick up a basket

It's scientifically proven that shopping with a large cart compels you to buy more than you actually need. Marketing consultant Martin Lindstrom told USA Today, "We did an experiment with that, and we actually doubled the size of the shopping cart," he said. "And you buy 40 percent more."

Don't let the psychology of shopping cost you. Opt for the smaller cart, or pick up a basket and head to the register once it's full.

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