Young woman shopping in the fresh produce section at the grocery store.

7 Ways to Get Out of the Supermarket Without Overspending

Have you noticed? The cost of food is once again soaring. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported last week that inflationary food prices are going up at nearly double the uptick seen last year.

Young woman shopping in the fresh produce section at the grocery store.

This is not the first time in this column that we’ve visited the subject of how to get out of the supermarket with at least some money left in your bank account. Still, who doesn’t need an occasional reminder—a mental tune-up—to remain vigilant and razor-sharp when it comes to making our food dollars stretch until they scream.

1. Don’t go in hungry

You believe that you can simply dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because anything can happen when you are hungry.

2. Don’t try to remember

Sure, playing Brain Age on your kids’ Nintendo Switch has revitalized your dead brain cells, rendering you the mental acuity of a youngster—but don’t push it. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase, who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak. Know before you go.

Hint: Go to your supermarket’s website where you can see its weekly sales flyer as well as the entire contents of the store. It’s easier to make your list at home away from all of the marketing ploys of a typical supermarket. Use the search function to find the exact brand, size and price for each item on your list.

3. Don’t pay full price

Here’s the Golden Rule of Groceries: Eat the sales. Don’t put anything in your basket that is not on sale. If it’s not on sale this week, it will be next or soon enough. If chicken is the loss leader this week, don’t plan meals around beef. And when that happens, try to buy enough chicken to last until the next time it’s on sale. You may need to stop being so brand loyal. Typical supermarkets and grocery stores work on a 12-week rotation. That means everything will be on sale at least once every three months.

Hint: Consider the sales in several stores.

4. Don’t take your plastic or checkbook

Cash—currency, clams, folding money, smackers, greenbacks—this is how you should be paying for your supermarket purchases. What? Not convenient, you say? Well, of course not, silly. That’s the point. Convenience is the reason you’ve been dropping the equivalent of a mortgage payment for food every month. Making the process a bit less convenient is an easy to way to slow that mindless drain on your income. Keeps you on your toes as you wander the supermarket, too.

Hint: Stop at the ATM on your way to the supermarket and take out the amount you have allotted to spend on groceries. Sure it sounds the same as paying for groceries with a debit card, but it’s not. Cash is the real deal. A debit-card, like poker chips, is just a stand-in.

5. Don’t grab a shopping cart

Most of them have wobbly wheels anyway, so just walk on by when all you need are those few items. Surely you can carry the “few things” you need. Or get one of the hand-held baskets. The point here is that you won’t be buying more than you can carry.

6. Don’t dawdle

This is not the place you want to hang out just to soak in all the great sights and smells from the bakery, deli and rotisserie chickens. If you weren’t hungry when you arrived, you will be soon. Get what you need and get out of there. For every ten minutes you delay, plan on spending about another $35. 

7. Don’t deprive yourself

Work some “flex spend” into your budget. We all want to try new things, and in the candy land of choice known as the grocery store, this can lead to expensive last-minute choices. In my experience, the best way to combat this is not to fight it. Allow yourself a little flexibility—say, a five dollar allowance or a single impulse item each week. That’s the way to avoid the feeling that you’re drowning in deprivation. You’ll be less likely to go overboard.

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Question: Got a favorite way that you keep your super marketing spending in check? We’d love to know … 


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11 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    I shop online and schedule a time to pick up my groceries. It’s a $4.95 fee at Kroger, and sometimes they waive it. I also get tons of coupon offers that are for the Kroger Pickup service only. I can click through the coupons that I have on my account and choose which items to buy. It couldn’t be easier and I save money because I am not impulse buying! I like scheduling it and picking it up because then I don’t have to deal with the crowds and noise inside.

    • Arden Rembert Brink
      Arden Rembert Brink says:

      I’m totally with Chris on this one. I too use Kroger (Smith’s where we live) and I find I SAVE way more than that $4.95 fee by NOT buying crazy impulsive crap as I wander through the store. Your “account” online saves all your previous purchases and since most of us buy the same things over time, it’s really easy to just rebuy your “typical” stuff and the search is great for anything new you need. I *love* it and save a lot of money!

  2. Reader
    Reader says:

    Grocery pickup is the way to go to save money for sure. Some services (like Walmart’s) are even free. Not entering the store saves so much in impulse purchases, rambles down the clearance aisles, etc. And so much time! I can pick my groceries up after work in 5 minutes rather than 30-45 minutes, which means I can get home in time to get them put away AND still cook something for dinner rather than ordering a pizza or picking up fried chicken on the way home from shopping. Savings all around!

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Couldn’t agree more. I’m one who needs to not be in a store … of any kind, to be honest! For me grocery pick up (I use Click List at King Sooper, part of the Kroger family) is a godsend. Completely shuts down my propensity toward impulsiveness.

  3. Kathleen French
    Kathleen French says:

    Mary is right. And when you do these things, instead of feeling deprived, you begin to feel challenged to get in, get what you NEED, and get out without overspending. When you see the savings, you BEAT THE SYSTEM! It’s positively empowering.

  4. Carrie
    Carrie says:

    Here’s my trick…only spend $20 a day! I allow myself to think I can come back tomorrow when I have another $20. If I think I only need to feed my family of six with what’s in my cart for $20, until tomorrow, then I can usually make it a $20 a day! It’s amazing how many things I don’t get by leaving the store once I’ve hit $20.
    Another $20 trick I’ve started this year (thank you Mary), I always take out $240 cash on Saturday and automatically stick $20 in our “Spring Break” jar. Leaving me with $140 for my seven days of $20 grocery shopping. Yes, I still have $80… that goes for gas and other random items…occasional coffee or lunch out with a friend. I try to have $30 left by Friday…if so, my husband and I can walk downtown and have small dinner out together and I get the kids a treat too (Meijer brand pizza for $3.33 that cooks up just like a name brand pizza that’s usually $5.99).
    Sometimes there’s even left over “change” and I toss that into the jar. (Which by the way is a mason jar that I glued the lid shut and cut a hole in the top, so as to not easily borrow money from, because, I’ll admit, it’s sometimes not fun or easy to stay on a budget!
    We aren’t deprived, we have plenty of veggies, fruits, oats, pasta and occasional meat.
    Anyway, just a little (long:)) snapshot of what’s working for us!
    Thanks Mary…do love your blog.

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Carrie … Love your style! Seeing the Mason jar fill up must be encouraging for everyone who walks by it. Makes it eaiser to scrimp on things that don’t matter so much so you have money to pay for what does. Like Spring Break.

    • Carrie
      Carrie says:

      Carrie here, again. The other thing I do (and just did) is stock up non-parishables. This week is 10 for $10 on so many things we use. I spent more than my $20 a day goal, but didn’t go over my weekly budget.
      I agree with reader Kathleen WE BEAT THE SYSTEM.
      I also love the library for checking out books/movies, and Goodwill.
      Okay, bye now.


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