The real cost of impulse shopping at the supermarket

Your shopping behavior could be draining your wallet, our study shows

Published: June 23, 2015 05:00 PM
She should also check the unit price.
Photo: Danilin Vasily

The average American spends $5,400 a year at the grocery store, but there are easy ways to shave hundreds or more off your bill by employing simple strategies: Stocking up on name brands when they’re on sale, reading unit-price labels to make you’re your purchasing the most economical sizes (hint: it’s not always the biggest package), clipping coupons, using your store’s bonus-savings, purchasing store brands—and avoiding impulse shopping. (Read our report on the best store brands at the supermarket.)

To gauge the scope of savings, we tried different strategies to shop for 18 everyday items at two stores—a local ShopRite and Costco membership warehouse. As a savvy shopper, we sniffed out the best deals on national brands. We weren’t married to any one in particular; we chose whichever was on sale, used coupons available online or in the newspaper, and took advantage of extra discounts with our ShopRite bonus card.

Playing the role of an impulse shopping consumer, we filled our cart at ShopRite with our favorite name-brand products no matter the price. We didn’t bother looking for coupons or other discounts. 

Next, we chose ShopRite’s own store-brand alternatives to the big names. And finally, we compared prices for the same items at Costco ($55 annual fee), which is known for day-in, day-out bargains on a limited assortment of mostly national brands. Our last step was to calculate the unit price for everything we bought.

The bottom line

By shopping at a warehouse club, we cut our bill by 61 percent, paying less than $82 compared with the nearly $209 impulse shopping tab. Switching to store brands saved nearly as much. Check the chart below for all the details to see how much impulse shopping adds up.

But even if you love name brands in normal-size packages, you can save a bundle simply by following your store's print and digital weekly flyers and stocking up when your favorites are on sale.

Do you consider yourself a savvy shopper? Share your advice for ways to save at the supermarket by leaving a comment below.

—Tod Marks

Looking for more ways to save at the supermarket? Read our latest report on America's best supermarkets—and worst—and check our buying guide and Ratings of nearly 70 grocers nationwide.


Impulse shopper

Savvy spender

Store-brand buyer 

Warehouse-club patron

Aluminum foil
(per 100 sq. ft.)

Reynolds, $9.18

Reynolds, $4.75


Reynolds, $3.20

Baby powder
(per pound)

Gold Bond, $13.96

Johnson & Johnson, $3.34


Johnson & Johnson, $2

Barbecue sauce
(per pound)

Guy Fieri, $4.20

KC Masterpiece, $1.77


Sweet Baby Ray’s, $1

Cream cheese
(per pound)

Philadelphia (tub), $4.99

Philadelphia (brick), $3.98


Philadelphia, $2.66 (tub)

Dijon mustard
(per quart)

Maille, $9.40

French’s, $3.99


Grey Poupon, $2.99

Dishwashing liquid
(per pound)

Dawn Platinum, $5.85

Ajax Triple Action, $2.01


Dawn Platinum, $3.20

Disinfectant wipes
(100 count)

Lysol, $6.49

Clorox, $5.55


Lysol, $3.75

Disposable diapers
(100 count, size 6)

Huggies Little Movers, $46.04

Pampers Baby Dry, $36.45


Huggies Snug & Dry, $28.88

Extra virgin olive oil
(per quart)

Lucini Premium Select, $34.80

Carapelli, $9.39


Berio, $5.99

Greek yogurt
(per pound)

Fage, $4.51

Chobani, $3.02


Chobani, $2.30

(100 count)

Motrin, $23.23

Advil, $9.49


Advil, $4.64

Orange juice
(per quart)

Tropicana, $2.33

Simply Orange, $1.33


 Tropicana, $1.47

Pancake mix
(per pound)

Maple Grove, $2.53

Aunt Jemima, $1.35


Bisquick, $.90

(per pound)

DeCecco, $2.69

Ronzoni, $1


Barilla, $1.12

Potato chips
(per pound)

Cape Cod, $7.13

Herr’s Ripples, $5.05


Ruffles, $3.19

Tall kitchen trash bags
(100 count)

Glad Force Flex, $19.33

Hefty Easy Flap, $9.40


Glad Forceflex, $11.14

Toasted oat cereal
(per pound)

Cheerios Banana Nut, $5.86

Cheerios, $4


Cheerios, $2.24

Tomato sauce
(per pound)

Mia’s Kitchen, $6.02

Prego, $1


Ragú, $.86









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