5 Bad Grocery Shopping Habits that Cost Big Bucks

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Stop wasting your hard-earned dollars with bad grocery shopping habits that literally take minutes to change. With consistent practice, you'll not only learn to shop smarter, you'll also shave hundreds off your bill!

Last year, when I announced the 31 Days to Radically Reduce Your Expenses series, I can’t say I was surprised when the majority of you said your grocery budget was in desperate need of help. Groceries are a major struggle for me too, and it’s crazy hard to come in under budget each month, isn’t it?

Add in a desire for clean eating, or a food-related allergy, and you have a culmination of grocery products that can send your weekly bill spiraling out of control….and fast.

While there are literally hundreds of ways to save money on groceries {and most every frugal blogger has probably written about them!}, today I want to focus on a pretty big problem that you might not even be aware you’re falling into — bad grocery shopping habits.

Behind all the stress, tired eyelids, and screaming kids, it’s easy to forget to shop smart, especially when our only thought is how to get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible. Despite our desire for relief though, we actually create an even bigger problem.

It’s time to turn things around and tackle each of these 5 habits one-by-one until they become just another part of our grocery shopping routine. It might take some time, but your grocery budget will be much better for it!

Bad Habit #1: Shopping Without a Plan

Grocery shopping without a plan is just like stepping into HomeGoods without a budget. It’s never a good idea.

Our Publix is just 5 minutes away, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many trips we make there simply because I didn’t make time to meal plan, check our ingredients, and create an exhaustive grocery list. We easily shift into the mode of going only when we need to, which inevitably causes us to spend more on groceries each trip, waste time, and spend more on gas. It’s terrible!

If you’ve put off meal planning too, now is the time to start. It only takes 10-15 minutes a week at most, whether you follow my strategy, or use an inexpensive service like eMeals to create a customized plan for you. When money is tight, you cannot afford to “wing it” and hope for the best. Trust me, that never works!

Bad Habit #2: Ignoring the Unit Price

Have you ever assumed that bulk foods, or items packaged in larger quantities cost less per unit price than smaller ones? I do this all the time, because generally, it’s true. But lately, I’ve found this is not always the case. I’m constantly shocked when the smaller tub of peanut butter is actually a better deal than the two larger tubs sold together!

I guess stores assume that it’s customers won’t take time to read the store shelf labels, but of course, this means it’s that much more important to compare prices before you buy.

It might be one extra step and a little bit more time in the grocery store, but this one simple trick can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. Plus, you’ll get into the habit of always comparing prices, so you’re more likely to know when a bulk purchase really is the better deal.

Bad Habit #3: Forgetting to Check Expiration Dates

No matter how good a store claims to be, I’ve seen expired milk, yogurt, and even cheese sitting on store shelves at one time or another. Major yuck!

I always try to remind myself to look, but often, I’m just grabbing the food I need, and throwing into the back of my cart without so much as a quick glance. Mostly because I’m desperate to get out of the store and back home in a decent amount of time. Sound familiar?

Most grocery stores will take the expired food back and give you a full refund, but that’s yet another trip to the store, and more wasted time. Take a few extra seconds to check expiration dates before placing the item in your cart. This will not only save you an extra trip, it gets rid of the frustration when you get home and realize your food is no good!

Bad Habit #4: Assuming the Store Brand is Always Cheaper

Store brands have almost always been significantly cheaper than regular, more well-known brands, but the landscape is changing. If all you do is pick up are generics of every single product, you are missing out on some major savings.

I‘ve seen so many branded products go on sale for the same amount or much less than store brands, and if you find a coupon {via one of my favorite sites or a quick Google search}, you can reduce the cost even more. I’m not saying you have to extreme coupon, but a quick look to see what’s available has the potential to shave off a good portion of your bill.

Plus, if you shop at a store like Target or Publix, which offers digital coupons, you don’t even have to clip!

Bad Habit #5: Buying Produce Out of Season

This is another one I’m terrible at. I know that buying produce in-season is always the best deal, but sometimes I crave strawberries in the Fall, or Pinneapple in the Winter, and I buy without even thinking. It’s not that fruit and veggies necessarily taste bad out-of-season, but they certainly cost a bunch more.

Don’t be afraid to invest your money in the frozen section when needed. We love frozen fruit for smoothies, and though fresh is always best, frozen veggies don’t taste too bad either, and they save a ton of money!

It’s time to stop wasting your hard earned dollars with bad grocery shopping habits that literally take minutes to change. You’ll need to have a different mindset, but with consistent practice, I guarantee you’ll see a huge difference in your bill!

Want more? I’ve compiled a list of more than 60 resources that are all about how to earn, save, and manage money better. Best part is – they are free! Check them out here.

Which of these bad habits do you need to work on?

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Need even more ideas to save on groceries?

6 Big Ways to Slash Your Grocery Bill

Next time you're struggling with a sky-high grocery bill, try one of these 6 methods to see immediate savings!

Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here.

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  1. I have seen research that frozen fruits and veggies, whereas not always as tasty actually retain More health benefits when Flash Frozen vs. Fresh if you are going to be cooking it anyways its a great way to save money because cost is still reasonable even when they are out of season, it cuts on prep time And they dont go bad as quickly making it easier to get a wider variety!

  2. This is a great list! I’m guilty of a couple of them…

    I haven’t really been smart with my grocery money lately. I say I’m going to menu plan but I just don’t seem to be able to get it happening yet. Too busy to be organised and too busy not to be organised. Catch 22! Life would be simple if it would just slow down for a bit. 🙂

    Oh, and because I’m so busy I sometimes miss expiration dates. I absolutely hate throwing away food. I can’t help but picture actual cash going into the garbage.


    1. I know exactly what you mean about not having time to get organized. It’s like we are on this hamster wheel of life, and it’s hard to get off long enough to get things in order!

  3. I definitely am guilty of not checking the unit price – – OR just assuming the store brand is the cheapest without really looking. Thanks for these money-saving tips and tricks! Looking forward to learning more from you on the money-saving front this year!

  4. I used to suffer from the store brand syndrome, I grew up on them and always assumed they were cheaper for the longest time. I think too another thing people suffer from is being too comfortable shopping at the same store all the time that they don’t compare sales. Of course there is an art to this too, like only choosing between two stores (my local Shaws and Market Basket are now my go to’s – one is better for sales and the other has better regular prices).

    1. I grew up on store brands too, and though that’s not necessarily wrong, it’s smart to look at some of the other prices too. And when it comes to items like Ziploc bags, for instance, cheaper isn’t necessarily better!

      You make a great point about shopping at different stores. You don’t have to drive to five different stores to get the best deal, but having a couple to choose from and knowing what you should buy at each can really make a difference!

  5. I have learned these skills over time as well. My husband is excellent at checking dates for expiration, but that is one that I forget to do. With 5 of us, 9 cats, a dog and 2 guinea pigs, that is a lot of chow for us all. With our basic groceries every week, I have learned what I can buy to make the widest variety of meals and stick to the “script” every week, including the animal stuff. One trick I have learned is to rotate the animal and feminine supplies weekly. One week it’s the dog, next is g. pigs, feminine and cats. If that gets messed up or I get ahead, I add paper towels and extra toilet paper for emergencies or company!

    1. Wow, 9 cats! If I could have 9 bunnies in our house, I think I would be in heaven. 🙂

      I love how you rotate certain items and have a “script” of sorts that you stick to. Brilliant!

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