Grocery shopping can be a lot easier and, more importantly, cheaper if you go into the store with a plan. Making a list and sticking to it is a good start, but it’s important to be informed about what you’re buying.
Paying attention to expiration dates, unit prices and labeling terms can make all the difference when grocery shopping.
Check out these 20 tips for having a better experience when buying food.
You can save money on some products by buying the larger package, but some products actually cost more per ounce in larger sizes. Many stores list the price per ounce on the shelf.
Buying an extra can of soup might not be a big deal, but buying a carton of milk when you already have some at home is a waste. Make a list of staple items you already have, or take a picture of your fridge.
Some foods, such as most canned foods and rice and pasta, can last years on your shelf, so it’s good to stock up when those things are on sale. According to the USDA, use-by dates on canned foods are not required by law and indicate a potential in quality, not safety. With canned goods, it's more important to look for rust or dents when assessing whether it is safe to eat.
Whether to buy organic produce is a difficult question, but knowing which items are more or less likely to contain pesticides can help. The Environmental Working Group compiles an annual list of produce that is motley likely to contain pesticides, called the Dirty Dozen. This year’s list includes strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers.
According to the USDA, a product labelled “natural” does not contain artificial ingredients or artificial color and are minimally processed. This is different from organic, a term that restricts the types of pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and hormones used during production. A product containing the USDA Organic seal must go through certification and inspection.
Going to the store more frequently means you can buy smaller amounts of fresher foods, rather than just large amounts of frozen and canned foods.
Buying pre-cut produce is often more expensive than buying food in its basic unprocessed form, according to the USDA. Buying pre-cut vegetables essentially means you are paying someone else to cut it for you.
Similar to buying pre-cut produce, meat sold in convenient single servings is often a bit more expensive. Consider buying a whole chicken and learning how to break it down rather than buying the individual pieces or buying a whole pork tenderloin to cut into pork chops.
Buying seasonal produce means getting fresher and, often, cheaper produce, according to the USDA.
Take note when you end up throwing out spoiled food, and either buy less next time or come up with ways to use it more.
Coupons and other deals can be found in newspapers, online or on flyers in the store. Sometimes coupons will be printed on your receipt as well.
Paying a low price for food that you won’t end up using is still money wasted. “Buy One, Get One” sales aren’t a good deal if you only need one and the item is perishable.
Although not as well known or well-designed, the grocery store’s brand often costs a lot less and sometimes tastes just as good.
If something was wrong with the food you bought, even unpackaged food like produce or meat, there’s a chance the store might offer a refund. Don’t be afraid of bringing unsatisfactory products to the customer service desk.
If you’re looking to save money, consider going meat free for some meals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average price of a pound of ground beef in 2017 was $3.64, while the average price of a pound of dried beans was $1.36.
The outside aisles of grocery stores usually have the freshest foods such as fresh meats, dairy, and produce.
“Ground beef” and “hamburger” are not interchangeable terms. Ground beef and hamburger can contain up to 30% fat. The fat in hamburger, however, may be added, while the fat in ground beef must be fat from the cuts of meat that have been ground, according to the USDA.
“Cage-free” eggs are from chickens that are allowed to roam around, but not necessarily outside. “Free-range,” “free-roaming” and “pasture-raised” chicken laying eggs do have outside access, according to the Humane Society.
If you want to buy a product that is 100% juice, make sure to avoid products that are called “juice beverages” or “juice drinks,” which may not be pure juice. according to the FDA.