How to save time and money on grocery shopping

Here are 22 ways to optimize your money and your shopping effort

Consumer Reports asked the experts, as well as our Facebook fans, for their best tips for shopping for food, saving time and money. Choose some of these tactics to implement in the coming weeks; You could discount up to 40% on your bill.

1. Look up and down. You’ll find low-cost generic versions of fast-moving cereals , cake mixes, paper products and other staples on the lower and upper shelves of supermarkets. Retail stores may charge manufacturers a fee to display their products at eye level.

2. Use discount apps. Two that we like are Ibotta and Flipp. Both coordinate your store loyalty cards with current discounts and coupons. With Flipp, scan the app with the scanner at the grocery checkout to apply savings at the point of sale. With Ibotta, select discounts in the app and photograph your receipts to import savings into your Ibotta account. The savings are transferred to a payment application, such as PayPal, or a gift card. “I recently cashed out $100 in Amazon gift cards,” says Geriann McMurray-Markwell, an Ibotta user in Nampa, Idaho. “It took me about a year, but it was worth the minimal effort.” Mary-Ann Johnson of Flagstaff, Arizona, says she uses Kroger’s club card app to get free products and samples. Some loyalty programs,

3. Get navigation help. Some store loyalty club apps allow you to locate items by aisle, which can help you avoid intersecting aisles and further temptation. At major chains, the Flipp app can do the same.

4. Keep a calculator handy.  Shelf labels with unit prices below each product can help you compare prices. But if the store doesn’t have these labels (only 9 states require them), use the calculator on your smartphone . Divide the price by the number of units in each pack you are comparing. If, for example, the price of one carbonated soft drink is per fluid ounce and the price of another is per liter, ask Google how many ounces are in a liter and do the conversion. Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, urges supermarkets to put unit price tags on their shelves.

5. Apply for a rain check. When an item is out of stock, ask a store associate for a voucher (a paper promissory note) that you can use as a coupon when the item is in stock. “I saved hundreds of dollars this way,” says Jeanette Pavini, a consumer savings analyst at Mountain View, California-based Quotient, which runs the Coupons.com shopping app and website.

6. Buy store brand products.  CR’s trained tasters have found store brands equal to or higher in quality than brand-name items, at prices 15-30% lower. That’s because generic products are sometimes made by the same companies that make brand-name foods. Trader Joe’s stood out for its store brands in our survey. In previous taste tests of 57 store brands, we found 33 to be as good or better than the comparable brand, including product categories of Frozen Shrimp, Roasted Cashews, Cranberry Juice Cocktails , ketchup, maple syrup, mayonnaise, frozen mixed vegetables, shredded mozzarella, and vanilla ice cream.

7. Use a rebate card. We discovered big savings possible with the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card, which pays 6% on the first $6,000 in groceries each year, as well as 3% on gas and department store purchases, and 1% on other purchases. It also returns $150 if you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. A user who spends $200 per month on gas, $500 on groceries, $100 on department stores, and $300 on other items would save $583 in the first year of card ownership and $1,449 in the first 3 years, even when factoring in the annual fee of $95. 

8. Shop during quiet hours. According to a survey by the Time Use Institute, a consulting firm, the busiest shopping hours on weekdays are 4-5 p.m. m. and the least crowded is before 8am. m. and after 6 p.m. m. On weekends, peak hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. m. at noon.

9. Review store brochures. Only 46% of millennial shoppers in our recent survey said they read store brochures for weekly sales, compared to 51% of Gen Xers and 63% of baby boomers. boomers]. Most of the brochures are online, so the task of reviewing them is quite simple, even for digital audiences.

10. Use coupons. Look for stores that double or even triple the value of manufacturers’ printed coupons. Some retailers do it every day or week, others less regularly. In the Northeast, Stop & Shop doubles the value of manufacturers’ printed coupons every day. Bi-Lo, in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, doubles coupons with a value of 60 cents or less every day, unless otherwise noted at the individual store. (On both chains, other restrictions apply.)

11. Take inventory of your pantry. Americans throw away a quarter of the food and beverages they buy at a cost of up to $2,275 a year for the average family of 4, says the Natural Resources Defense Council. Use the free USDA FoodKeeper app for guidelines on how to store food. Or do as Maggie Pallan, a professional chef in Las Vegas, does. She uses a spreadsheet of what she has in her house to avoid buying products she already owns. “I treat my homemade grocery shopping the same way I treat my business,” she says.

12. Get Senior Discounts  Several chains, including Bi-Lo, Harris Teeter, Hy-Vee and Publix, offer 5% discounts, either on specific days or when you present a special store ID card. Fred Meyer’s discount is 10%. In some cases, you must be at least 60 years old to qualify.

13. Weigh the fruit and vegetables in bags. Pre-bagged perishables are generally cheaper per pound than individual pieces. Use the produce scale to compare bags because they are not uniform in weight. A CR tipster found 3-pound bags of delicious red apples at a Stop & Shop near our Yonkers headquarters weighing 3.06 to 3.36 pounds, an additional 10%.

14. Buy in bulk.  When there’s a sale on 10 cans of your favorite soup for $10, grab them. If you don’t have room to store that many units, check the promotion text to see if you must purchase all 10 units to receive the discount.

15. Keep track of prices.  For a few weeks, record the prices of the items you usually buy when you shop for groceries. “You’ll be able to find the best prices for specific products and you’ll be able to stock up when a real price drop occurs,” says Terrence Briggs of Germantown, Maryland. Price tracking also helps you see when a “10 packs for $10” deal really is a deal and not just a gimmick.

16. Find deals online.  Online grocery stores often waive the shipping fee or give discounts for first-time customers. Even with shipping costs, shopping online can help unlock savings on certain types of food, especially sandwiches, specialty diet foods, coffee and pasta , says Sam Gagliardi, head of e-commerce at IRI Worldwide, a company market research in Chicago. Online sellers like AmazonFresh often offer prices up to half the value of regional supermarket chain prices because they match national prices from Walmart and warehouse clubs, Gagliardi explains.

17. Shop at the pharmacy. Convenience stores, pharmacies, and even gas station convenience stores can sometimes beat traditional market prices for staples like milk and eggs. But be aware of expiration dates, advises Heidi Chapnick, a partner at FreshXperts, a fresh food consulting company in Mamaroneck, New York. Foods that are past their expiration date can still be sold, if they are assumed to be “safe and sound to eat” and not dangerous to consumers, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

18. Be careful with prepared foods.  Ready items like cranberry couscous or lemon orzo with pine nuts can be tempting when you’re on the go. However, for simple items like sautéed vegetables, home preparation can be about half the price and can take less than half an hour of work, say our food experts at RC. Another good thing about preparing at home: fewer unnecessary ingredients. A 2016 CR report revealed that supermarket prepared foods may not be made in-store and may contain excess preservatives and salt.

19. Look for items ‘as is’. Overripe bananas you’ll find at a discount might be perfect for homemade banana bread. Learn where stores have their clearance sections, says Annette Economides, who with her husband Steve runs the website MoneySmartFamily.com. Publix stores, for example, put clearance items on a dedicated shelf.

20. Bring your own bags. This might make loading take a little longer, but it could also save you money at stores that charge for bags, as more and more municipalities require it. You will also help reduce plastic waste in the environment.

21. Shop weekdays.  Certain items are cheaper on weekdays, when stores look to clear inventory, says Bryan Leach, founder and CEO of shopping app Ibotta. Consumer data collected through his app shows that beer is 9% cheaper on Monday and more expensive on Saturday, he says. Other recommended days to shop: Monday for ice cream and beauty products; Tuesday for wine; Wednesday for products such as vegetables and fruit (although it is only a 3% discount); Thursday for cleaning products ; and Friday for snacks . Monday, he comments, is the most expensive day for fruit and vegetables.

22. Use your freezer.  Freezing large amounts of seasonal and sale foods saves the average family of 4 $2,000 a year, says Annette Economides. “Why pay $4 a pound for blueberries in the winter when you can thaw the ones you bought in the summer for 99 cents?” she says. The Economides family even freezes milk and cheese. Every 30 to 60 days they go through the freezer and create the menu based on what’s in there.

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