There are a few well known grocery shopping no-nos. Don’t shop when you’re hungry, because you’ll be more apt to buy things that you don’t really need.
Always make a shopping list, and don’t forget to bring the list with you to the store. Shopping without a list leads to extra trips to pick up forgotten items.
But grocery savings go beyond the usual advice, and some tips require a bit more thought and planning.
Put these four tips into your “smart shopper” arsenal, and watch your savings add up:
Use The Store’s Customer or Loyalty Card
Almost everyone has a loyalty card for a store or two, and most stores ask whether you have one before ringing up your purchases. Loyalty cards can lead to big savings.
Oftentimes, sale items only ring up at their reduced price if the card is swiped at the time of purchase. Otherwise, you’ll pay full price.
Loyalty card signup is free at most major grocery chains. If you don’t have a card, it’s smart to get one, even if you don’t shop there often.
Some stores keep a card at the register especially for customers who forgot their card or don’t have one yet.
If the cashier doesn’t offer, don’t be shy about asking. This lets everyone take advantage of sale prices.
But if the loyalty program builds rewards, such as cents off per gallon on fuel when using the chain’s gas station, you’ll miss out on those savings later.
Shop for Staples and Specialty Items at Unusual Places
You wouldn’t buy a London broil at a discount store, but these shops sometimes carry discontinued and overstock staple items such as ketchup, crackers, cookies and other non-perishables.
Always check the expiration date at an overstock outlet store. Grocery stores are strict about removing outdated items from shelves, but an outlet store might not have the same policy.
If you usually purchase soap, shampoo and other toiletries while grocery shopping, check discount stores for these items, too.
Stock changes regularly and you never know what you’ll find from one week to the next, but you might score an economy bottle of your favorite shampoo at half the price you’d pay at a grocery store.
Stock up on BOGO Items
Buy One Get One Free, commonly known as BOGO, lets you double your buying power at the grocery store.
It’s not likely that you’ll find this sort of sale on meats or produce, but it can apply to almost anything else in the store.
The bonus is that many BOGO items are non-perishables. This means you can stock up.
When you find BOGO items that you know you’ll use, such as tomato sauce, green beans, or crackers, buy extra and stick the surplus in the pantry.
Some stores also have stock-up or bundle sales where food items are priced as three items for $1 or 10 for $10.
These offer another way to save. Be careful about buying only one item that’s priced in a bundle, as some stores revert to full price in that situation.
Skip Driving to Several Different Stores
Reading grocery store circulars is smart. That lets you clip coupons and know which stores have the best prices. But driving five miles to save a few cents doesn’t do much to help your grocery bill.
Instead, check the circulars for all local stores, and do your shopping at the one where you find the best sales.
Some stores honor coupons from other stores, and some offer to match competitor’s prices. Check the store policy to be sure.
When using a competitor’s coupon or asking for a price match, let the cashier know before he starts ringing up your groceries.
Grocery store shopping requires a bit of planning if you want to save the most money.
If you shop on a whim or make several trips throughout the week for items you forgot, you’re more likely to fall prey to impulse buys.
A forgotten gallon of milk could find you at the checkout with a bag of cookies and a carton of ice cream that you don’t need and hadn’t planned to buy.
Mint.com helps you keep on track with your grocery store budget. When you use a credit or debit card at the checkout, the amount you spent automatically deducts from your monthly budget.
You’ll never wonder whether you’re on track.
Sign up for your free account today and learn all the ways Mint.com can help you save money wisely.
Mary Hiers is a personal finance writer who helps people earn more and spend less.