15 Brutally Honest Truths About Your Grocery Spending You Can’t Afford To Ignore

Uncover the truth about the hidden costs lurking in your grocery routine.

People eating snacks in the grocery aisle
Updated June 6, 2024
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Grocery shopping can be a stressful experience. You have to fight the crowds, hunt for what you need, and stand in long lines, all while resisting baked goods and salty snacks around every corner.

Going to the store on a whim and grabbing whatever catches your attention may be tempting, but it can have serious consequences for your wallet.

Here are 15 brutally honest truths about your grocery store habits that you can’t afford to ignore if you want to save on groceries.

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You don’t create a meal plan

fortyforks/Adobe Chicken meat balls with broccoli

A meal plan can guide you on what ingredients to buy and the appropriate quantities.

If planning individual meals isn’t for you, try preparing basic ingredients such as rice, shredded meat, and roasted vegetables that you can use as a base for various meals.

This method allows you to be flexible and creative while still having a plan in place.

You forget to look at what you already have

Andrey Popov/Adobe Woman searching for food in refrigerator

Before you create your meal plan, take a moment to assess your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what food items you already have. It can help you avoid rebuying items, which saves money and prevents food waste.

This simple habit can also reduce clutter, giving you more space to organize things.

You don’t check weekly ads

Stephen Coburn/Adobe Woman using scissor to cut discount coupons

Many stores have weekly circular ads that showcase their best deals. Use these circulars to plan your next grocery trip and maximize your food budget.

Try to base your meal plan around the meats and produce items that are on sale. You can also find discounted pantry staples to stock up on.

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You don’t buy in-season produce

luckybusiness/Adobe Woman holding strawberries

There are many benefits to eating in-season produce. Fruits and vegetables picked at peak ripeness are usually more flavorful and have a higher nutritional value.

In-season produce is also more cost-effective because the increased supply drives down prices. It also might not spoil as quickly since it’s more likely to be grown locally and has less distance to travel.

You forget a shopping list

Marine Gastineau/peopleimages.com/Adobe Confused man grocery shopping

Forgetting a grocery list can result in a disastrous shopping experience. It’s easy to forget the essentials and make unnecessary purchases when you do this.

When you get to the store, try not to venture from the grocery list, or you'll have a much higher grocery bill than expected. Keeping your shopping list on your phone is an easy way to prevent forgetting it.

You shop hungry

Sondem/Adobe full shopping cart

It can be difficult to resist impulse spending if you shop while hungry. You also might be more likely to buy food with little nutritional value rather than to opt for healthier options.

Studies have also shown that shopping hungry can make you more apt to buy nonfood items. So make sure to have a snack before heading to the store.

You only buy name brands

phpetrunina14/Adobe Woman selects product from phone list in grocery store

Because of lower marketing and advertising costs, store and generic brands can sell their products at lower prices. Opting for generic brands allows you to get the quality you love while saving money.

These brands usually offer comparable value to name brands. Sometimes they’re even made by the same companies with different packaging.

Pro tip: One great Costco hack that members can use is to buy Kirkland Signature items. Costco’s store brand is known for its excellence, and purchasing these items might save you money to boot.

You shop at eye level

Rido/Adobe Happy woman at supermarket

Name brands make sure their products are at eye level on store shelves, so it’s easy for you to grab them first.

Eye level is prime real estate for products, so pricier brands spend a lot of money to get these shelf spots.

That means you should look at the top and bottom of the shelf to ensure you see all the options and choose the product with the best value.

You pass the freezer sections

Gorodenkoff/Adobe Man pushes shopping cart

People tend to underestimate frozen foods. Producers freeze vegetables and fruits at their peak ripeness, so they are generally as flavorful and nutritious as fresh produce.

They're also readily available when needed, and you don't have to worry about them going bad.

Frozen meals like TV dinners are another item that can be convenient and friendly to your budget.

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You buy too much

JackF/Adobe Father and son at grocery store

We’re all guilty of this one. It can be difficult to judge how much you’ll eat during the week, so it’s easy to overbuy. Unfortunately, buying too much food can lead to waste and buyer’s remorse.

To circumvent this, set a budget for your shopping trip, use a smaller cart or basket, and avoid bulk purchases of perishable items you might not use.

You shop the inner aisles

_KUBE_/Adobe Mother gives her baby a pear

Sticking to the store’s perimeter may help you select healthier, more cost-effective items. This is because you’ll usually find dairy, meats, and produce on the outer edge.

The inner aisles often hold processed food, which can be more expensive and unhealthy.

Although you might have to venture to the inner aisles for some pantry items, it’s best to avoid these store sections whenever possible.

You buy convenience foods

JackF/Adobe Woman choose prepped meal

From chopped produce to seasoned meats and premade dinners, convenience foods are tempting because they save you a little time.

Although they may still cost less than going out to eat, you’ll pay extra for the convenience factor. If you want to slash your food expenses, pass on these items.

You don’t look at the price per unit

Drazen/Adobe Woman checking price

It’s easy to assume that buying products in bulk will be more cost-effective, but the price per unit may reveal a different story.

You can determine which item has the best value by comparing how much a product costs per ounce, pound, or liter.

Many stores include the price per unit on their price tags, so you don’t have to do the math.

You pass on rewards programs

Rido/Adobe Cashier working at supermarket

When the cashier asks if you want to sign up for their loyalty card, think twice before saying no.

Many stores offer rewards programs, and signing up is usually free. With these programs, you can get special offers and discounts you wouldn't get otherwise.

Stores can use these programs to track your spending, so they’re also more likely to send you coupons for products you buy often.

Some shoppers prefer not to join rewards programs out of privacy concerns. But if this doesn’t bother you, signing up can save you cash.

You don’t check your receipt

wifesun/Adobe Man looks at receipt

Everybody makes mistakes sometimes — and that includes grocery store employees. But this simple step can prevent you from overpaying and maximize your savings.

After purchasing your items, take a minute to review your receipt for accuracy. Make sure all coupons were applied, sale items were discounted correctly, and you weren’t accidentally charged twice for anything.

Bottom line

Halfpoint/Adobe Mother carrying baby and groceries

Making minor adjustments to your shopping habits can prevent food waste and help you keep more money in your wallet.

If you’ve ever made any of the mistakes above, you’re not alone. In fact, grocery stores prey on people’s desire for convenience.

The good news is that you can implement simple strategies such as meal planning and rewards programs to optimize your food budget.

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Author Details

Carley Clark

Carley Clark is a personal finance writer from Michigan. She graduated from Spring Arbor University with a bachelor's degree in business. After graduation, she worked in finance as a revenue auditor at a casino. Carley strives to write informative content that will help readers meet their financial goals.