With the economy still not back on the fast track to recovery from the recent recession, many people are looking for ways to squeeze a few more dollars out of their monthly budgets. Groceries are often a target for savings and, with a little practice, you can save money at the grocery store like a pro.

Be forewarned, however, that the retailers and the manufacturers are out to pick your wallet. Unwary shoppers can easily fall for fake specials and colorful ad copy. The trick is to know whether what you're buying is a true bargain and to stick to your playbook. Here are four ways to make sure you're getting the best deals the grocery store has to offer:

Keep a Price Book
Just because a shiny flyer says something is on sale, it doesn't mean that it truly is. You need to know how much the item is normally to know if it's a deal or not. The best way to assemble this information is to keep your local store's regular prices on the groceries you buy the most often in a notebook. For example, if you know that your favorite cola is normally $1.49 and it's on sale for 99 cents, it's time to stock up. After working with a price book for a period of time, you will start remembering prices and knowing what your "trigger" sale price is.

Learn the Sales Cycles
Once you have determined that a sale item is a good deal (and that it is something you would buy anyway), you need to decide how much of it to buy. On one hand, you want to buy enough so that you don't have to buy it at full price for a while. On the other, you don't want to tie up more money and storage space than needed. The two components to "right-sizing" your sale buys are assessing how much of the product you go through and how often it goes on sale. The first is easy to calculate by tracking how much you use. For example, write down how often you open a new package of dishwasher detergent. You may go through a package a month. This tells you that buying 200 packages on sale is pointless because you won't use it all. Learning the sales cycle takes a bit more time and each store chain does it differently. Some stores put certain items on sale at fixed intervals like clockwork. On average, for example, you may find that milk is on sale one week per month. The goal is to be able to buy enough of a good sale to get you through to the next one.

Be Prepared to Invest in Sales
When faced with a significant sale of an item that stores well and doesn't often go on sale, apply a substantial amount of your grocery budget to it. If you do this for all such sales, you will end up spending far less on average than those who buy their week's worth of groceries every week. It may mean that one week you buy two cases of canned corn and 50 rolls of toilet paper, and the next you pick up 25 pounds of ground beef for the freezer and 10 tubes of toothpaste. You'll get used to the odd looks from cashiers after a while and, in the meantime, you will be saving a ton on your overall grocery bill.

Know Coupon Policies
While paying attention to sales will save you more money on average than clipping coupons, using them can add to your overall savings. Find out your local store's coupon policy which is likely outlined on its website. Some stores don't accept online coupons, some take competitors' coupons, and some double or even triple the face value of some coupons. For those who want to become serious couponers, there are several websites that outline the best coupons in weekend newspapers and offer strategies as to how best to use them.

The Bottom Line
You can save a significant amount of money in the checkout aisle of your grocery store if you focus on the math and forget the hype. Smart grocery shoppers learn when to buy and, more importantly, when to leave something on the shelf.

Related Articles
  1. Investing

    What’s Holding Back the U.S. Consumer

    Even as job growth has surged and gasoline prices have plunged, U.S. consumers are proving slow to respond and repair their overextended balance sheets.
  2. Economics

    The Problem With Today’s Headline Economic Data

    Headwinds have kept the U.S. growth more moderate than in the past–including leverage levels and an aging population—and the latest GDP revisions prove it.
  3. Savings

    6 Ways to Save Money on Back-to-School Stuff

    Those school-supply lists just keep getting longer each year. Here's how to shop smart.
  4. Economics

    Explaining Market Penetration

    Market penetration is the measure of how much a good or service is being used within a total potential market.
  5. Economics

    Calculating the Marginal Rate of Substitution

    The marginal rate of substitution determines how much of one good a consumer will give up to obtain extra units of another good.
  6. Investing Basics

    10 Companies That Yuppies Love

    Learn about 10 companies loved by the modern Yuppie, including how this demographic's impressive buying power has boosted these companies' earnings.
  7. Markets

    Trader Joe's Stock Doesn’t Exist. Here’s Why

    Learn about Trader Joe's and how it operates. Understand why Trader Joe's has chosen not to be a public company and why it should remain that way.
  8. Home & Auto

    4 Areas to Consider Roofing Material Types

    Roofing your home is very important, that’s why you should choose a roof specifically designed to handle your area’s climate.
  9. Stock Analysis

    Is the Apple Watch a Real Threat to Fitbit?

    Examine the potential for marketplace competition between Fitbit and the Apple Watch in the rapidly growing consumer wearables industry.
  10. Investing News

    How 'Honesty' Could Pay off for Jessica Alba

    Is it possible that Jessica Alba is one of the savviest businesswomen on the planet?
RELATED TERMS
  1. Substitute

    A product or service that a consumer sees as comparable. If prices ...
  2. Fast Fashion

    Definition of "fast fashion."
  3. Internal Rate Of Return - IRR

    A metric used in capital budgeting measuring the profitability ...
  4. Duty Free

    Goods that international travelers can purchase without paying ...
  5. Linked Transfer Account

    Accounts held by an individual at a financial institution that ...
  6. Online-To-Offline Commerce

    A business strategy that draws potential customers from online ...
RELATED FAQS
  1. What does marginal utility tell us about consumer choice?

    In microeconomics, utility represents a way to relate the amount of goods consumed to the amount of happiness or satisfaction ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How can I invest in electronic retailing (e-tailing)?

    Electronic retail is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Every year, more people are choosing to purchase ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What is the difference between JIT (just in time) and CMI (customer managed inventory)?

    Just-in-time (JIT) inventory management focuses solely on the need to replenish inventory only when it is required, reducing ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What are some common ways product differentiation is achieved?

    There are many ways to achieve product differentiation, some more common than others. Horizontal Differentiation Horizontal ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. How does a bank determine what my discretionary income is when making a loan decision?

    Discretionary income is the money left over from your gross income each month after taking out taxes and paying for necessities. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How does the trust maker transfer funds into a revocable trust?

    Once a revocable trust is created, a trust maker transfers funds or property into the trust by including them in a list with ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Trading Center
×

You are using adblocking software

Want access to all of Investopedia? Add us to your “whitelist”
so you'll never miss a feature!