These Genius Supermarket Hacks Will Save You Time, Money, and Headaches
As it turns out, there's an art to everything… even grocery shopping.
When Consumer Reports released their new 2017 "Grocery Store and Supermarket Buying Guide" we could barely contain our excitement. Much to our delight, the comprehensive guide is chock full of fascinating insight and ingenious tips for making that dreaded weekly grocery store trip as painless and fruitful as possible.
So, from senior discounts and shopping cart sizes, to which aisles to hit first, read on for the most helpful hacks out there:
Look up (and down)
Unfortunately, the best prices aren't always the easiest to see—or reach. Lower-cost generic versions of cereal, cake mixes, paper goods, and other staples almost always reside on the very lowest and highest supermarket shelves. Retailers can charge manufacturers a fee to be at eye level, according to Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports' expert tasters found that store brands of equal—or superior—quality to that of brand-name items, are usually priced 15 to 30 percent lower. "That's because generics are sometimes made by the same companies that make the big-brand foods," the report explains. Seriously, who knew? The magazine heralds Trader Joe's in particular, as a standout for its store brands. (Now that, we knew.)
Time it right
According to a survey by the Time Use Institute, the busiest food shopping time on weekdays is from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the least busy is before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m. On weekends the peak shopping time is from 11 a.m. to noon. Time Use Institute also found that stores are busiest on Saturdays and slowest on Mondays and Tuesdays. What can we learn for that? The absolute best time to go food shopping is on Mondays and Tuesdays, before 8am or after 6pm.
And it's not just slimmer crowds that make shopping on weekdays a good idea. Weekdays are also when stores seek to clear inventory, which means prices are often lower, says Bryan Leach, founder and CEO of the shopping app Ibotta. Consumer data collected through his app show that beer is 9 percent cheaper on Monday and most costly on Saturday, he tells Consumer Reports. Other best days to buy: Monday for ice cream and beauty products, Tuesday for wine, Wednesday for produce (though it's only a 3 percent discount), Thursday for cleaning products, and Friday for snacks. Monday, however, is the most pricey day for produce.
Unbeknownst to the average shopper, grocery stores are actually laid out to lead us on a path that's simultaneously enjoyable for us and profitable for them. "Most stores have their main entrance on the right side, and customers tend to move counterclockwise, pushing with the left hand and picking up food with the right," Paco Underhill, chief executive officer of Envirosell, a research and consulting company focused on consumer behavior, tells Consumer Reports. When researchers compared those shoppers with the accidental geniuses who defied predictability and went through a left entrance, they found the clockwise shoppers spent an average of $2 less per trip. Dang.
Endcaps aren't always your friend
Try to resist the displays at the end of the aisles, experts advise. "There's the assumption that what's on the endcap is a deal, but often it's just not true," Underhill warns. "It's where various manufacturers pay for the privilege to have a secondary display." Not only that, but grocery stores sometimes reset endcaps with sale items the day before sale prices kick in (but without the new signage). If you grab too early, you'll end up paying full price.
These cute little displays actually have a devious purpose. Shelves that curve or jut out into an aisle are used to catch the eye and make merchandise more tempting. They also get in your way and make you stop. Remember, at the end of the day, supermarkets are organized to slow you down so that you'll buy more.
Take advantage of senior discounts
According to Consumer Reports, chains like Bi-Lo, Harris Teeter, Hy-Vee, and Publix, offer 5 percent discounts, either on specific days or with a special store ID card for seniors. In most cases, you must be at least 60 years old to qualify. Check with your favorite store for details.
WATCH: 10 Foods Southerners Are Really Picky About
Running in for just a few things? Go with a basket. A study by the Cornell University Food & Brand Labs found that shoppers who opted for bigger carts bought more than those with smaller carts or baskets.
Make the most of coupons
Some store double or even triple manufacturers' paper coupons. Bi-Los, in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, for example, double coupons with a value of 60 cents or less every day—unless otherwise noted.