Tips to save money at the grocery store in Canada
One of the easiest ways to save money for your household is by pinching your pennies at the grocery store.
Most people start out with store sales, and some move on to clipping coupons – but in reality, there are many other ways you can save at the grocery store as well.
To help you out, I’ve gathered a list of my favourite 12 ways that you can save money at the grocery store. Incorporate a few of these tips in your shopping routine, and watch the savings add up.
1.Use Coupons Wisely
This is not your average “use coupons” tip that you’ve always heard, but rather a cautionary tale. Although using coupons can generally help you save money, there are also plenty of ways that they can cause you to spend more.
One way coupons can do you in is if there is actually a cheaper option on the shelf. Having a coupon can sometimes give us ‘tunnel vision’ – which causes us to ignore other brands, sizes, and prices. Another way coupons can hurt is if we make unnecessary purchases just because we have a coupon to use.
To use coupons wisely, never assume that the coupon will give you the best deal. Instead, pay attention to other options when you shop, and make a conscious decision to use (or lose) a coupon.
Also, if you don’t really need an item, don’t be tempted to buy it just because of a coupon. You may be saving $1 on that item, but the extra $1 you pay out of pocket eats into your overall savings.
2. Look for Sales and Clearances
Before you go to the store you should always check out the sales flyer to see special prices of the week. You can find sales ads on store websites, and you can also sign up for emails so the ad is emailed to you each week.
Going a step further, you should also be on the lookout for extra sales and clearances in the store. Many times the sales featured in the ad are NOT the only sales being offered – and if you’re not alert while shopping, you’re bound to miss out. Most stores have a clearance section, a table, shelf or cart. This is the first place I head to when I go to Shoppers Drug Mart, my Real Canadian Superstore, etc. The savings there are often very sweet!
So remember the next time you go shopping, to look for clearances by searching signs like red tags or clearance tables.
The meat department is another good place for unexpected sales too. Many stores discount fresh meat on or a day before the expiration date. Scoop up the savings and make a meal with that product that night – or freeze it for later use.
3. Look at Price Per mL/L/Unit
You can’t just look at the price to compare similar items. Differences in size are an important variable too, and sometimes this means that the larger, more expensive product is actually a better value.
What you need to look for is the price per mL or L, or per unit. Some stores have this included on the shelf label – you’ll see the words Unit Price (or something similar) followed by numbers. The rule is that the lowest unit price is the best value for your money.
Some stores don’t offer unit price labeling though. If this is the case, I recommend bringing a calculator with you to the store. Type in: Price then Divide Symbol then the number of mL/L or the number of units in the package.
4. Consider the Store Brand
We all have particular brand loyalties, but if you’re willing to venture out and try the store brand, you might find that it’s not very different after all AND you can save money.
Choose a couple items to start with – swap out the higher priced brand name product for the store version and see how you feel about it – think about food, but also other household items like paper products and cleaning supplies.
Although I keep a few brand loyalties to this day, I’ve also found that many store brand items are as good brand names. When that is the cheapest one on the shelf, I don’t bat an eyelash as I pick up the store brand.
My personal favourite store brands include Loblaws PC products (President’s Choice), Life Brand products at Shoppers Drug Mart and Costco’s Kirkland.
5. Do Shopping in One Trip
Minimizing the number of times you go shopping per week or per month can help you save a lot of money. It gives you fewer chances for impulse shopping (because we all know that it’s hard to go into the store and not pick up a thing or two that wasn’t on the list), and it also saves money on gas.
Try for one shopping trip a week. If you run out of something, see if you can get by without it or get creative instead. If you can achieve this for a few weeks, you may even try to shop two weeks at a time. Get the bulk of your groceries in one trip, and plan just one small trip the following week to pick up essentials like bread and milk.
If you split your shopping into more than one store (for example, if certain items are cheapest at certain places), do all your shopping, at all the stores, in one single day. Also, makes sure to plan the most efficient route to save on gas.
6. Eat Before You Shop
If you go shopping when you’re hungry, you will be more likely to over shop, overspend, and to give in to impulse purchases.
There are even studies that show that if you shop when hungry you buy more high-calorie foods – you know, the type of foods that are quick, convenient, processed, and loaded with fat and calories. These foods are not only unhealthy, but they also tend to be more expensive.
Going shopping after a meal is a great way to get in a little exercise. Otherwise, having a little snack before you head out will help you curb temptation.
7. Download an App
One of the benefits of our digital society is the abundance of new and creative ways to save. Coupon apps that are coming out these days allow you to continue saving even after you leave the store.
It’s like this. You walk into the grocery store, pick out the best sales, pair them with coupons, and leave having saved a ton of money. Think you’re done saving? Not if you have apps!
Coupon apps (like Checkout51, Snap Saves and Cartsmart) will actually give you cash back for buying certain things. To get credit, you take a picture and upload your receipt when you get home. Your account is then credited based on the specific deals offered at the time, and when you reach a certain limit you can cash out. Check out all coupon apps here.
8. Shop Up or Down
In a grocery store, eye level is prime placement, and it is said that manufacturers will even pay extra for their products to have these coveted spots. As a result, there are higher markups and higher prices.
Next time you’re shopping, don’t focus exclusively on the middle of the shelf. Look for lower priced alternatives higher or lower in order to find a bargain.
9. Shop Alone If Possible
This tip can be easier said than done, especially for busy moms and dads who have to take kids along on shopping trips – but when possible, go to the grocery store alone.
In general, more people with you means that you’ll buy more. There are more eyes looking at the products, more hands dropping items in the carts, as well as more wants, wishes and requests.
If you do have to shop with someone else, giving them a specific job will help. In our article on saving time in the grocery store, we mentioned that spouses or older children can help you with a ‘divide and conquer’ method of shopping. If shopping with younger kids, you can give them little tasks such as pushing the cart or holding the coupons.
10. Be on the Lookout for In-Store Coupons
Although we tend to think that newspapers and online printable websites are the places to find coupons, you’d be surprised how many coupons can be found in the store as well.
Some stores have special displays with coupon booklets attached. Others have plastic coupon dispensers that stick out from the product aisles. You can also find coupons handed out at in-store demos and sample stations, and ‘peelie’ coupons attached to products themselves. Find info on in-store coupons.
11. Get a Rain Check
We’ve all experienced that sad feeling when we go to a store for a specific sale only to find the shelves bare. Sometimes deliveries are delayed and sometimes the deal is so hot that everyone scooped it up before you. You’re especially likely to have this problem if you shop near the end of the sale cycle.
If this is the case, there is a way to work around it. Go to the customer service desk with the flyer and ask for a rain check. A rain check will allow you to get the sale price for a given period in the future, when they are restocked. Give your rain check to the cashier and the price will be adjusted.
12.Watch the Price Screen – and get it for Free!
A final tip is to be vigilant when you’re checking out, so you can spot any mistakes as soon as they happen. Sometimes employees make mistakes (such as typing the wrong number of a produce item), but sometimes mistakes can be your fault (for example, when you picked up the wrong size package and got the one that isn’t on sale.)
Spotting mistakes right at the register will save you money because you can correct it right away. Many people don’t check their receipt for mistakes at home – and even if they do, they may just deal with it because at that point saving an extra $1 (for example) isn’t worth an extra trip to the store. The most common mistake by far are scanning errors. Did you know that thanks to the Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code, you can get these incorrectly scanned Groceries for free? read here to find out how.
I hope this list has made you more aware about all the different ways you can save money on groceries. Interesting in saving time while shopping too?
Read our next article about 10 Ways to Save Time at the Grocery Store.