9 Grocery Store Habits That Are Draining Your Wallet

We all have a bad grocery store habit that is costing us too much money. Did you know, the entire grocery empire has spent millions of dollars doing research, to get us to spend more money! They want customers to walk into the store for a few items, and come out with a whole shopping cart full. So don’t feel bad about falling for their tactics, instead change your habits. You can outsmart their sneaky tactics!

Grocery Store Habit 1: Shopping Hungry

bad grocery store habit picture of cart full of junk food

I made the mistake of going to the grocery store yesterday on an empty stomach. The moment I walked through the rotating glass door I smelled freshly baked goods. I walked to the deli section and noticed all of the prepared deli meats, cheeses, breads, and sandwiches. Everything looked amazing. I hadn’t realized how hungry I actually was until I entered the store. I suddenly realized that I have a terrible habit of going to the grocery store without eating first.

It is not “by accident” that the minute you walk through the door the place smells amazing. Many grocery stores place their bakery, and deli departments in specific locations in order to maximize the smell of the food throughout the store. Grocery stores even position their fans and ventilation systems to permeate delicious food smells when the customers walk through the doors. You are simply responding naturally to hunger and food smells. Since hunger can be extremely motivating, if you are hungry you have the likelihood of purchasing more food. Especially the food that gives immediate gratification like junk food!

Habit Busters

Obviously, eating before you go to the grocery store is ideal, but it’s not always possible. I encourage you to carry something small with you such as a protein bar or handful of snacks to eat before you go into the store. If you don’t have anything bring with mints or gum. Just having something delicious in your mouth will help you resist the temptation of overspending!

Grocery Store Habit 2: Not Having a Plan

grocery store habit not having a plan

Having some sort of meal plan is very important. I have noticed a signifigant difference in spending when I plan versus when I “wing it”. The great thing about meal planning is that you can make it flexible. Having ideas about what you need and what your plans are for the week is important. If you are prepared for the week, you are less likely to spend money on random items you don’t really need.

Habit Busters

I hate planning ahead, so it has been difficult for me to create meal plans. I have found a few easy free apps that have allowed me to make grocery lists and plan for meals. The one I use is “Food Planner” (you can use whatever you like) and every time I think of something I need I put it on my grocery list. This has enabled me to make my grocery trips more purposeful. I also can plan meals, and be flexible about my plans.

Flexibility is key to meal planning. Schedule a few days for leftovers, or to make something easy in case you’re having a stressful day. I always keep a few items on hand that I can make if I don’t feel like cooking a big meal. For instance I almost always have cheese, tortillas, and salsa. The perfect ingredients for an easy quesadilla.

You will save a ton of money if you don’t waste food items. That is why scheduling leftover days is so important!

Grocery Store Habit 3: Not Knowing What You Have in Your Cupboard 

6 stockpile myths you've actually believed! This photo features a stockpile of food!

I am 100% guilty of this. Since I stockpile items, I frequently forget what I have. When I get to the store I often just buy an item I am not sure of, just to be safe. I have even let stuff slip away to the back of my pantry, and it expires before I have the chance to use it. This causes me to waste food, time, and money. I have literally thrown away garbage bags of expired items because of my inability to pay attention to what I have. Since I am really working towards financial freedom, wasting money is not an option. This year, so far, I have been working on wasting less, and have figured out ways to not overspend just from not realizing what’s in my cupboard.

Habit Busters

Keeping track of items can be tedious. Ideally I would have a list of all the items I have in stock. I have not created such a list at this point, but I plan to. One thing I have found helpful is to take pictures of my pantry and storage room. That way, when I am at the store I can look to see if I have the item I need. So, if you hate keeping lists, every time you shop take a picture of your cupboards from your phone.

Meal planning can also be helpful because you can only list the items you need. If you meal plan while you are at home, you can check what you have, and what you need!

Grocery Store Habit 4: Not Checking the Sales Ahead of Time

grocery store habit check what is on sale

Often times it is easier to just shop at the closest grocery store, but this doesn’t always help you save money. If you research sales ahead of time, and meal plan based on sales you will save both time and money.

For instance, last week I was planning on making a mushroom chicken skillet, chicken stir fry, and potato skins. Before I went shopping I looked through all the local grocery store ads and discovered that pineapple and peppers were on sale at a particular store. I ended up completely changing my plans to incorporate pineapple and peppers since they were such an amazing deal! Shopping sales is important to saving big on groceries!

Habit Busters

It is important to learn what is a good sale, and what is not. Grocery stores can trick you by putting an item “on sale” that is not a good deal. Some may also have a few really good sales just to get you in the door, but have everything else at a regular or marked up price.

If you really want to get the best deals you have to be willing to shop at multiple stores. If you have to drive many miles to get from store to store it may not be worth the price in gas. So before you shop and meal plan calculate all the costs in order to make sure the sales are worth it.

Lastly, if you are already out and want to know the sales you can look them up online. Most stores have prices and deals online making it easier than ever to find the best deals!

Grocery Store Habit 5: Purchasing Pre Cut, Prepared, or Singly Packaged Items

Grocery Store Habit prepared food

I am sure you realize this, but most pre cut vegetables, fruits, snack packs, salad kits, meat and cheeses are marked up significantly. I was in the store the other day and saw a bag of lettuce for $0.89. Next to it was a bag titled “Delicious Caesar Salad Kit”  that contained lettuce, a little bag of croutons, some cheese, and a little package of salad dressing. This product looked much more enticing than the bag of lettuce. However the cost was $3.50 which was much higher, and actually contained the same amount of lettuce. There is no way the croutons, cheese, and salad dressing could cost that much.

Grocery stores thrive on customers being in a hurry. They cater to convenience, but it comes with a cost. I know it’s easier to buy individually wrapped items, or items already prepared, but is it worth it?

This habit is hard to break because most people that purchase convenience items realize and understand they are spending more than they need to. They just choose to spend more because their time is worth more to them then a few dollars here and there. Unfortunately, in the long run that money adds up. It doesn’t “seem” to be significant at the time because can actually have a financial impact in the long run.

Habit Busters

The simplest way to combat this problem is to prepare for your convenience food need. Buy snack items you love in bulk, and separate them into smaller packages. Keep these packages with you in your purse, bag, car, and in your desk so you always have them handy. If you know you have a delicious package of trail mix in your car, you may be less tempted to spend the money in the store.

Similarly, keeping drinks with you at all time will help you save money. Most 20 oz bottles sold at the front of the stores in coolers are ridiculously marked up. You can usually get a 2 liter bottle of soda for cheaper than the 20 oz’s in the cooler up front. I encourage you to keep drinks on you at all times to resist the urge to pay such a huge mark up. If you forget, or just don’t have a drink with you, always go for the fountain pop if the store has it. Fountain pop is much cheaper, even though there is a huge markup on that as well.

Another way is to prep meals ahead of time. Take a few hours out of the week to prepare freezer meals. There are so many wonderful ideas on Pinterest and online. Just by spending a few hours preparing food for the week, can help you resist purchasing already premade items.

Grocery Store Habit 6: Not Checking Out the Clearance Section

grocery store habit shop clearance

People often forget about clearance items because they are usually placed in weird locations. If you have a list check the clearance section for items on your list.

Clearance can be tricky though. Just because an item is on clearance doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Make sure you know baseline prices on items in order to know that you are getting the best deal.

Also check expiration dates. Clearance items can slip through the cracks. You never want to purchase items that have expired.

Habit Busters

When you first enter the grocery store, check out the clearance items first. If an item is on your list, and not expired purchase it.

Avoid purchasing items you don’t need, even if they are on clearance. If you can fit an item into your meal planning before it expires go for it!

Grocery Store Habit 7: Assuming Generic or Store Brand Items Are Always Cheaper

I am guilty of this also. I automatically gravitate towards generic items because I assume they are cheaper. The truth is, while generic and store brand items are often cheaper they are not always the best deal. Sometimes brand items offer sales and manufacturer coupons that offer a better price than generic items. Also, consider that the price of the generic item may be lower, the packaging size may be the same, but the amount in the product may differ.

Quality of an item is another factor to consider before assuming generic or store brand items are cheaper, especially when it comes to household products. For instance, specific brands of paper towels and toilet paper last much longer than some of the generic products I have tried. I have also noticed that certain laundry detergents and household cleaner do a much more effective job enabling me to use less than the generic or store brand product.

Habit Busters

Before purchasing an item take time to compare prices. Make sure you are getting a great deal on the item you need.

Keep note of generic products that you have tried. Is it just as good as the name brand or not? Honestly, some products there is not a noticeable difference so paying for the name brand is ridiculous.

Look at the ingredients. Are they similar? Does one product have a lot more filler, unpronounceable ingredients then the other? Consider those factors before purchasing.

There are a lot of great generic and store brand products, just make sure you are getting the best deal!

Grocery Store Habit 8: Buying Expensive Cuts of Meat

Grocery Store Habit Meat on sale

I love Prime Rib! It is one of my favorite foods. It is also really expensive, and not possible for us to have it as frequently as we would like to.

Often times meat is the most expensive part of the meal. People get caught up in their favorite cuts of meat, and will spend more because they think it is the best!

Although I agree some cuts of meat taste better, you can get good flavor from cheaper cuts if you prepare them well.

Habit Busters

Marinate your meat ahead of time. One reason people like the more expensive cuts of meat is because they are more tender. I love to marinate meat in oils, seasonings, and soda. The reason why soda works so well is that the bubbles actually help tenderize the meat. I usually use 7-up or a generic version (clear lemon-lime type), or soda water. Please do not use diet soda, it leaves a weird aftertaste.

Cook your meat correctly. I have taken cheap beef roasts and made them taste almost as good by marinating them, and cooking them correctly. If you research cooking methods, and prepare meat correctly, your cheap cut of meat can taste fabulous.

Make meat the accent, not the star. Incorporate your meat into other dishes instead of making it a feature piece (like stir fry, fajitas, casseroles, etc.). This way you do not need to use as much meat, can save money, and still have a delicious meal!

Grocery Store Habit 9: Not Paying Attention to Prices Per Ounce

grocery store habit not comparing prices per unit

The other day I was at Wal-Mart and I needed to purchase a brand of my favorite salsa. This salsa came in many different sizes, and quantities. I assumed the larger quantity would be cheaper. After I checked the price per ounce, I was astonished that the smaller jar was actually cheaper.

It is easy to just grab the size you need and not pay attention to how much it costs per ounce. The reality is, that you could be paying more for the same product without even noticing.

Habit Busters

Look at prices per ounce before deciding the size you of the product you want to purchase. If it is cheaper to buy a larger bottle, and it is not something you buy frequently, plan meals around it. Get the most from what you purchase.

Beware of bulk items. Even though it is usually cheaper to buy in bulk, it is not always the most cost effective. Stores like to trick you that way!

If the prices per ounce are not right on the store tag, use a calculator! I am sure you have one on your phone!

Save Money by Being Creative and Preparing

If you are serious about gaining financial freedom by spending less, it is important to take time to prepare your meals and what you purchase. Grocery stores use tactics to get you to spend more than you need to. You can still make really amazing food by being creative and planning ahead of time.

I understand you can’t always plan ahead of time, so I created a way you can still save money while shopping unprepared. Check out the article here

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What grocery store habit do you need to work on?


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17 thoughts on “9 Grocery Store Habits That Are Draining Your Wallet

  • January 21, 2017 at 6:33 am

    Yeah…I guess I’m guilty of many of these! You’ve got great tips though. Not everyone realizes that they can easily save money by doing a little planning. Thanks! This was a good article!
    (And, I recognized your storage room shelves!)

    • January 23, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      I am glad you enjoyed the article! I know some habits are hard to break, but if we can stop at least one it can make a difference!

  • January 24, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I used to have so many of these habits, especially going shopping hungry and not checking what I had in cupboards first. Over the last year I have managed to shave around 50% off my grocery spend by being a bit more savvy when it comes to spending. I only by reduced items where possible these days, it saves me an absolute packet over the course of a month! Great post.

    • January 24, 2017 at 8:09 pm

      Wow! Saving 50% every month is impressive! It is so easy to overspend! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • January 24, 2017 at 6:55 pm

    I learned to not shop while I’m hungry because I end up buying everything! lol. Great tips!

    • January 24, 2017 at 8:10 pm

      I know! If I am hungry suddenly EVERYTHING looks good! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  • January 25, 2017 at 1:42 am

    Love this post! I was a horrible offender of not checking price per ounce for the longest time. When I learned what it was, my mind was blown! Amazing what the difference is in price among brands.

    • January 25, 2017 at 1:51 am

      Yes! It is amazing how get sued “trick” you into spending more! Thanks for sharing!

  • January 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    I always make a list before going to the grovery but I am also guilty for doing almost everything on this list lol. What a tragedy! Especially purchasing pre-cut, prepared and singly packaged items. I know the prices are a bit higher for those items but I always convince myself that it would cut down my time spent in the kitchen! I know its not a very good habit but I’ll try to apply these steps next time I hit the grocery store because I want to save as much money as possible this year. Thanks for sharing.


    • January 25, 2017 at 5:29 pm

      Sometimes some precut singly packaged things can be a good deal. Like I bought I bag of stir fry vegetables because it had all the veggies I wanted without having to buy each item separately! However, most of the time it’s not a good deal! We are all guilty of all those habits! Being aware of it is the first step! I really hope you meet your goals and save a lot of money this year!

  • January 26, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    I need to get my wife something special I guess, (I mean, I should anyway – just for being so special ;-)), but she nails all 9 of these habit busters! Myself on the other hand, will go the store hungry and without a list only to bring back all manner of donuts and pastry related goodness. Thankfully, we learned this early in our marriage and has split up tasks accordingly.

    • January 26, 2017 at 4:12 pm

      Good thing you have it figured out! Yes your wife deserves something special! I still break some of these things once in awhile even though I know better! You can’t be perfect all the time, but as long as you do your best its ok 🙂

  • January 26, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    My mom taught me to never go to the store hungry and always check the price per ounce. Those have saved me so much money! I assumed everyone did them until my boyfriend complained to me once about spending a ton of money at the grocery store before he got home and how hungry he was! I told him, that’s why you spent so much money!

    • January 26, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      Most people aren’t taught good habits from their parents! You are lucky you learned wisely at a young age! Yes, going to the grocery store hungry is dangerous! Hopefully your boyfriend learns lol! Thanks for the comment!

  • January 26, 2017 at 3:45 pm

    I’ve heard about checking price per ounce but have never done the mathematics to see how much of a savings I would get. The biggest thing I do is just shop at the store down the street – I know where everything is but I’m probably spending more money for the convenience.

    • January 26, 2017 at 4:17 pm

      I have a grocery store a block away from my house and I am guilty of shopping there for convenience. It is one of the more expensive stores in town, so I have learned to plan my meals and shop ahead of time so I don’t run out of things. You can save money shopping per ounce, often it’s not significant savings but it adds up eventually. Anything you do to save money, even if it is small, is money you can put towards other things! Thanks for the comment!

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