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6 Signs You’re Becoming a Cheapskate at the Supermarket

How frugal grocery shoppers are pinching pennies as prices remain stubbornly high


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Consumers are fed up with prices at the grocery store and for good reason. Since the pandemic, food staples cost 25 percent more. Even with inflation easing, the prices of many food products remain stubbornly high. According to the latest Consumer Price Index, year-over-year beef and veal prices are up 7.7 percent, bread is 3.2 percent higher, frozen vegetables are up 5 percent, and juice is 4.8 percent more expensive. 

Then there’s so-called shrinkflation: Prices may be the same, but the food companies have slashed the count, weight or size of the packaging, which means you’re getting less bang for your buck.

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“Groceries are essentials. It’s not something that can be taken off the budget,” says Samantha Landau, consumer expert at TopCashback.com. “Finding a way to save money is super important” in the current environment.  

Shoppers aren’t taking higher food prices lying down anymore. They are embracing penny-pinching strategies to lower their food bills. If any of these six sound familiar, you can take solace in knowing you’re not alone with your frugal shopping habits.

1. You’re switching to generics

From Albertsons to Walmart, most retailers sell their own store brands, which tend to be cheaper than the national brands and often provide the same quality. “Store brands have come a long way over the last decade, and many offer high-end ingredients similar to those offered in national name brands,” says budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “Many store brands are made at the same facilities as national name brands, so why pay more just for packaging and advertising?”

Pro tip: Be open-minded when it comes to generics and accept that pursuing this money-saving strategy may involve a little trial and error. Woroch recommends comparing ingredients side by side to give you peace of mind. Keep in mind that grocery stores have more power to control pricing and promotion of their own brands, she says, and as a result will offer more deals on these products. Even if you’ve bought a particular brand for decades, your bank account will thank you if you give the store brand a try. 

2. You’re clipping coupons

While using coupons, scouring weekly circulars and visiting grocery store websites to find deals can go a long way to saving you money, many people complain that it takes too much time. “A lot of savings tactics require a little extra work,” says Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert at RetailMeNot. “There is time and research involved, but there are ways to cut down on grocery bills,” and coupons are one of them. Finding coupons has gotten a lot easier than it once was. Most supermarkets list their weekly circulars online and have them at the ready when you enter a store. Often you can download digital coupons on your phone and apply them at checkout.

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Pro tip: To maximize your savings, make a food shopping list before you search for coupons. That can prevent you from buying something you don’t need just because it’s on sale. If you shop at a store regularly, McGrath says, it’s a good idea to sign up for its rewards program, which in most cases is free. You can earn points toward future purchases and get exclusive deals and discounts. “Some people get uncomfortable giving up personal information, but if you really want to save, do it,” she says. “Retailers are all about trying to get you to be a loyal shopper.” 

3. You’re sticking to your list

Making a list and checking twice doesn’t pertain only to the holidays, it’s something frugal shoppers do every time they head to the store. They take inventory of what they have in the cupboards and refrigerator and make a comprehensive list before doing their food shopping. According to the USDA, about 20 percent of the U.S. food supply is thrown out by consumers, which costs a typical family more than $1,000 a year.

Pro tip: To ensure you aren’t buying things you don’t need, Woroch says to plan your meals for the week in advance. Look for recipes that use the same ingredients and cross-check them with what you have at home so you don’t double up. 

4. You’re buying in bulk

Purchasing groceries in bulk can give you the best price per unit, but it makes sense to buy larger sizes only if you’re going to consume the food before it goes bad or you’re planning to freeze it. “Buy too much in bulk and some of it is bound to end up in the trash,” says Woroch.

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Pro tip: Think about how you and your family consume food before you opt to buy in bulk. Be mindful of the shelf life for items, what can be frozen and what will go bad fairly quickly. If possible, avoid hitting the store when you are hungry, especially if it’s one of the warehouse retailers that line the aisles with free samples. “If you go on a full stomach, you’re less likely to make impulse buys,” says McGrath. “Shopping hungry, those free samples taste extra good, and all of a sudden you walk away with gourmet chips for $5 a bag that you would have passed if you weren’t starving.”

5. You’re shopping at dollar stores

Consider skipping the nonperishable goods aisles at your favorite grocery store and instead shop for these items at a dollar store. “Paper goods, sponges, tinfoil — grocery stores mark up these items,” says Landau. “They are there as a convenience for you. You often find better deals at the dollar store.” 

Pro tip: At dollar stores, check the product’s expiration date before purchasing. Many food-type items may have been on the shelves for an extended time.

6. You live for manager markdowns

Grocery stores may use manager specials or markdowns to entice shoppers to buy certain items. Typically these are deals on fresh foods nearing the “best by” date on their packaging. Woroch says you can save as much as 70 percent when a store is running these deals. “This could include everything from meat and chicken to fish to dairy products like milk, eggs and cheese,” she says. 

Pro tip: If you stock up during a manager markdown, cook or freeze the food immediately to prevent it from going bad. Woroch also says to consider the shelf life, which differs from the “best by” date. “Oftentimes people confuse these dates for expiration dates,” but those aren’t the same thing, she says. “They’re simply dates suggested for quality and taste rather than safety, and many foods are safe to eat for a period of time after the date passes.”

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