9 surefire ways to save at the supermarket

9 surefire ways to save at the supermarket

A surprising percentage of shoppers still skip the basics to save money at the grocery store

Published: April 17, 2015 11:00 AM

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You’d think Consumer Reports subscribers would be among the savviest grocery shoppers around. While most of those surveyed for our latest supermarket report diligently clipped coupons, checked out specials in weekly circulars, and watched for pricing errors, many did not.

The best way to stretch your dollar is to patronize stores with the most competitive prices. In our survey, the standouts were Aldi, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Fareway Stores, Market Basket (the Northeast chain), and WinCo.

Next, try these tactics, which are effective no matter where you shop:

Compare unit prices

They’re on shelf tags beneath the products and they’re the only way to know for certain which package size and brand is the best deal per quart, ounce, or sheet. Unit pricing isn’t perfect, as our mystery shoppers learned, because the labels can be inconsistent, but they’re still the best indicator at a glance.

Buy store brands

They account for about a quarter of all supermarket products and sell for a similar 25 percent or so discount, on average, over the national names. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed were highly satisfied with the quality of their store’s brands, and our own tests frequently reveal that those products are often just as good as the big brands.

Join the club

Warehouse clubs have everyday low prices, so you don’t have to wait for a sale. And the prices are undeniably good. Costco was a clear winner over BJ’s Wholesale and Sam’s, in our survey. The drawbacks to club shopping are the annual membership fee, $50 at Costco, for example, as well as bulk sizes, lack of service, limited assortment, and long checkout lines.

Be loyal

Many chains still reserve their best deals for customers who enroll in loyalty- or shopper-club-card programs. Some even have a fuel-reward component in which you earn a nickel or dime discount on a gallon gas for every $50 or $100 spent. Others loyalty perks (depending on the chain) include cash rebates, coupon doubling, buy-one-get-one-free offers, and bonus savings for seniors on certain days.

Clip coupons

Consumers save more than $3 billion annually by using manufacturers coupons for packaged goods. However, only a fraction of the 300 billion or so coupons distributed are eventually redeemed. Don’t leave money on the table. Coupon savings average more than $1.50 per purchase. And for all the hullabaloo about online coupons, 90 percent still reach shoppers through newspaper inserts.

Don’t be seduced by signs

It’s one of the oldest gimmicks in the supermarket sales manual. If you see a sign that says, for instance, 10 containers of yogurt for $10, know that you’re rarely required to buy all 10 to get the discount. You can buy one for $1.

Eye end caps

Some shoppers assume products on aisle ends are always on sale, which is why those displays can boost purchases by a third. But end caps can highlight items about to expire or those that aren’t on sale.

Buy bagged produce

Some fruit and veggies are cheaper by the bag than by the pound. Potatoes and apples are good examples. We recently spotted a 5-pound bag of russets seen russets for $1.69 vs. those same spuds loose for $1.25 per pound. Economies of scale were similar for the apples.

Avoid checkout temptations

Snacks at the register look more appealing the longer you’re in line, studies have shown. But they’re way overpriced. At several local stores, we noticed 2-ounce bags of chips near the checkout for $1.99, whereas a bag of the same chips triple the size was on sale for the same price along the snack aisle.

How savvy are Consumer Reports shoppers?

Strategy

Percent that practice it

Bought store brands when available

66%

Read store circulars for specials

64

Used manufacturers' coupons

60

Stocked up on non-perishables when on sale

60

Took advantage of store's shopper club specials

55

Paid attention to accuracy of scanned prices

54

—Tod Marks

• Be loyal. Many chains still reserve their best deals for customers who enroll in loyalty- or shopper-club-card programs. Some even have a fuel-reward component in which you earn a nickel or dime discount on a gallon gas for every $50 or $100 spent. Others loyalty perks (depending on the chain) include cash rebates, coupon doubling, buy-one-get-one-free offers, and bonus savings for seniors on certain days.

• Clip coupons. Consumers save more than $3 billion annually by using manufacturers coupons for packaged goods. However, only a fraction of the 300 billion or so coupons distributed are eventually redeemed. Don’t leave money on the table. Coupon savings average more than $1.50 per purchase. And for all the hullabaloo about online coupons, 90 percent still reach shoppers through newspaper inserts.

• Don’t be seduced by signs. It’s one of the oldest gimmicks in the supermarket sales manual. If you see a sign that says, for instance, 10 containers of yogurt for $10, know that you’re rarely required to buy all 10 to get the discount. You can buy one for $1.

• Eye end caps. Some shoppers assume products on aisle ends are always on sale, which is why those displays can boost purchases by a third. But end caps can highlight items about to expire or those that aren’t on sale.

• Buy bagged produce. Some fruit and veggies are cheaper by the bag than by the pound. Potatoes and apples are good examples. We recently spotted a 5-pound bag of russets seen russets for $1.69 vs. those same spuds loose for $1.25 per pound. Economies of scale were similar for the apples.

• Avoid checkout temptations. Snacks at the register look more appealing the longer you’re in line, studies have shown. But they’re way overpriced. At several local stores, we noticed 2-ounce bags of chips near the checkout for $1.99, whereas a bag of the same chips triple the size was on sale for the same price along the snack aisle.

How savvy are Consumer Reports shoppers?

 Strategy

Percent that practice it

Bought store brands when available

66%

Read store circulars for specials

64

Used manufacturers' coupons

60

Stocked up on non-perishables when on sale

60

Took advantage of store's shopper club specials

55

Paid attention to accuracy of scanned prices

54

—Tod Marks

 

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