34 Shopping Secrets from Your Favorite Grocery Stores
With prices rising everywhere, we're dishing savvy strategies for keeping your food budget in check
As if sky-high gas costs weren’t bad enough, stratospheric grocery prices are doing a number on shoppers’ budgets. According to the USDA Consumer Price Index, the cost of grocery store food purchases rose 13.5% from August 2021 to August 2022. And where food prices are staying steady, buyers are still getting less for their money: Shrinkflation—the selling of downsized products for the same price as their full-size predecessors—is real.
For most Americans, the question of how to save money on groceries is top of mind, as is whether the best grocery stores offer any significant savings. To be a savvy shopper, check out these insider tips and tricks for Aldi, Walmart, Target, Kroger and other faves.
Spending less on groceries is a great way to boost your bottom line—but it’s not the only way. So when you’re done shopping those supermarket aisles, do your wallet a favor and learn about the things money experts tend to buy for cheap.
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Download the mobile app
A grocery shopping app can pay big dividends when it comes to managing a food supply for any household, whether large or small. Once you sign up, you can easily access store circulars, digital coupons and other special offers. Aldi, Target, Walmart, Kroger, Costco, Sam’s Club and others all have mobile apps that help you save money.
Join store rewards programs
Grocery store and supermarket rewards programs (sometimes referred to as loyalty programs) usually offer a slew of special perks for signing up. You might get a discount on your first purchase, a birthday freebie or, as time goes on, personalized offers based on your spending patterns and history. Ideally, you’ll accumulate points for every dollar spent and earn rewards, which may be anything from coupons to cash. Supermarkets with rewards programs include Kroger, Publix, Stop & Shop, Walmart, Target, Price Chopper, Piggly Wiggly, Albertsons and Giant. Not sure if your local grocer has a rewards program? Check the store website or ask a customer service representative.
Order for pickup
Ordering ahead instead of winging it at the store helps you save money in a couple of ways: You can check your inventory at home before you add anything to your cart, so you won’t end up buying something you already have. And you avoid impulse buys, which can add up fast. Changing your grocery shopping habits can be a big win for your bank account, but the convenience is nothing to sneeze at either.
Scout supermarkets near your vacation rental
If you’re stocking the fridge in your home away from home, look for local grocery stores with rock-bottom prices. While Publix, Aldi, Target and Walmart are known for bargain prices, regional chains may offer the best prices during your trip. For instance, Lidl is a no-frills Germany-based chain with plenty of U.S. presence, especially on the East Coast. Value-driven Market Basket, founded in Massachusetts, covers a good swath of New England and ranks among the cheapest grocery stores in America. For more savings, look up Food 4 Less on the West Coast and H-E-B in Texas.
Switch to Aldi store brands
Grocery expert Jeanette Hurt, author of The Unofficial Aldi Cookbook, is a pro at making the most of the retailer’s inexpensive offerings. She’s a big fan of the Aldi house brands in terms of both price and quality. (She cites the toaster tarts as a particularly great deal.) While Aldi is known for bargains, you’ll find that most store brands offer quality products for less.
Take time for returns
If you aren’t satisfied with a grocery purchase, don’t toss it and eat the loss of that cash. At Aldi, the Twice as Nice Guarantee states that if you aren’t 100% satisfied with the quality of a product, you can return any remaining unused product and the packaging to the store manager and get both a replacement and a refund. Costco, Target, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Publix all have very generous return policies as well. Use them wisely (and don’t abuse them).
Stock up on discounted meat and fish
Grocers use sell-by dates to determine when it’s time to toss food, but that doesn’t mean the food is unsafe to eat. Capitalize on this by shopping for items on the cusp of their sell-by dates, which are often discounted. Not sure where to start? Head to Aldi—especially on Wednesdays—for meat and fish that are approaching their expiration dates. Hurt suggests looking for stickers on packages signifying a discount, then stocking your freezer for future meals. Red and yellow clearance tags herald even more savings.
Cozy up with the Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer
Budget shoppers know to hit up Trader Joe’s for cheap groceries. But for the latest value-priced products, subscribe to Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer, which is available digitally or as an old-school newspaper in stores. Not only is it charmingly detailed, but the flyer also offers serving tips and pairing advice to make the most of bargain picks.
Taste test new-to-you products at Trader Joe’s
Before you shell out cash for something you’ve never tasted (and may not like), try it! Just ask a Trader Joe’s employee for a sample. That way, you’ll buy only what you like and avoid wasting money on stuff destined for the trash. The only off-limits items are products that need to be cooked, which means you’ll just have to wait to try the store’s famous Mandarin Orange Chicken at home. And speaking of everyone’s favorite budget grocer, did you know there’s an actual Joe behind Trader Joe’s?
Use a rebate app
Nonperishable foods will last a long while, so stock up whenever you see the best deal. That alone will save you money. But here’s how to reap even bigger savings: Once you’ve purchased your pantry items, scan the receipts to rebate apps such as Ibotta, Fetch and Checkout 51 to earn cash back.
Find dupes for brand-name goods at Walmart
Walmart’s Great Value products are sorely underrated. The budget-friendly brand’s high quality shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. Many of its products are made in the same manufacturing plant as Conagra Brands. It’s a must for a low-cost pancake mix that makes fluffy, diner-worthy hot cakes. And Taste of Home even recognized Great Value as some of the best frozen french fries in a blind taste test with brand-name competitors.
Keep your eyes peeled for rollbacks at Walmart
Walmart typically aims for consistently low prices rather than hype, making it a great option for frugal shoppers. It’s worth paying attention to rollbacks (temporary price reductions) at the store for even more savings. Yellow tags herald clearance items, which are especially deeply discounted.
Scout in-season items at Fresh Thyme
Midwestern grocery chain Fresh Thyme favors local products to support community farmers and leave a smaller carbon footprint. Because so much of its produce is regionally grown, in-season products are cheaper. To save even more, download the Fresh Thyme app, which features coupons and rewards.
Shop as a Costco member’s plus-one
It’s no secret that shopping at Costco comes with major perks—for members. But you can still reap the savings benefits if you don’t have a Costco membership. The easiest trick is to tag along with a pal who has a Costco membership card. Ask your friend to buy groceries on your behalf, then send payment via a money-transfer app. Or give your friend money to buy you Costco Cash Cards, which non-members can use to shop at the big-box store.
Shop big-box stores for meat in bulk
Warehouse clubs like BJ’s, Costco and Sam’s Club sell bulk packages of meat at a deep discount. Shopping at these stores is a great way to save, but there’s a catch: Fresh meat doesn’t have a long shelf life, and cooked meat lasts in the fridge only one to five days. Buy in bulk, and you could end up wasting food—and your hard-earned dollars. Budget shoppers know a trick, though. Even if you only need a pound of beef for chili, buy a few extra pounds to freeze for later. You get a much better price per pound when you buy in bulk, and you’ll end up with inventory for easy weeknight dinners.
Memorize the Publix discount cycle
At this popular retailer, weekly sales run from Wednesday to the following Tuesday, or from Thursday to the following Wednesday, depending on where you live. You can check the store circular online for the week’s sales, which will help you plan your shopping trip. Rather suss out sales in person? Visit the store at the start of the discount cycle to scout what you need for the week.
Sign up for an Amazon Prime membership
The benefits of an Amazon Prime membership are many, but one often overlooked perk is the grocery discount. Use the Amazon Shopping or Whole Foods Market app to scan your Amazon Prime code at checkout and trim the tab by an extra 10% on select sale items. You’ll also find Prime member deals on specific products. Offers may vary, but past markdowns have included meat, produce and bulk items.
Bring your own reusable bags
For both financial and environmental reasons, many stores have begun charging for grocery bags if you don’t bring your own. The fee is nominal, but over the course of a year, it can add up. There’s an easy fix: Keep reusable grocery bags in your car so you don’t have to pay for them.
Scour the Publix Extra Savings flyers
Publix, the largest employee-owned supermarket in America, is a go-to for great deals. Reviewing the store’s weekly ad is a good first start for saving more on groceries. But the real ticket to deep discounts is the store’s Extra Savings flyer, known as the green flyer. Better yet? You can get double the savings with any coupon in this booklet that has an “LU” number. The look-up number, found in the bottom right corner of the coupon, marks Publix store coupons. You can tack on a manufacturer coupon, if available, for maximum savings.
Help yourself to Kroger’s Friday freebie
Who says you can’t get something for nothing? On select Fridays of every month, customers with a digital Kroger account can download a digital coupon for a free item. With a deal like this, Friday could become the cheapest day of the week to stock up on groceries.
Scour Aldi’s weekly specials
Most people know that Aldi’s groceries are affordable, but here’s an Aldi secret you may not know: By checking the Weekly Specials section of the store’s website, you can save even more. There, you’ll find local deals on everything from avocados to craft beer.
Shop Target on Tuesdays
Most Target locations follow a regular schedule for clearance markdowns. Tuesdays offer the best deals on food (and pet supplies, for that matter). Memorize Target’s markdown schedule, and you’ll never miss a deal again.
Buy one, get one at Publix
Publix promos are legendary, especially the store’s blockbuster buy one, get one sales. BOGO items vary depending on location, but we’ve seen deals for products ranging from olive oil to hot dogs and Annie’s mac-and-cheese to pints of ice cream. It’s not surprising that this is the grocery store with the best reputation.
Get organics at Trader Joe’s
Whole Foods has cleverly marketed itself as the go-to grocer for organic food, but it’s certainly not the cheapest place to shop. To save more, shop for organic goods at Trader Joe’s instead. This tip comes courtesy of the pro shoppers at Clark.com, the web presence of longtime consumer expert, book author and podcast host Clark Howard. Another piece of expert advice? Make like nutritionists and avoid paying extra for these organic foods.
Hit up the dollar stores
Dollar Tree, Dollar General and Family Dollar are good defaults for things like school supplies, plastic storage bins, Mylar balloons and inexpensive seasonal decor. But they also stock grocery items galore, especially nonperishables. While you’re there picking up other necessities, scout the grocery selection. Be mindful of the package quantities, though, as they may be smaller than you’re used to, which could affect their true value.
Join Misfits Market
Misfits Market is an online grocer with an important social mission: to break the cycle of food waste. It works directly with farmers and food producers to source high-quality meat, seafood, produce and other items that might otherwise go unsold. And it manages to deliver at prices up to 40% lower than brick-and-mortar stores. Misfits Market estimates an average savings of $25 a week.
Follow Fresh Thyme on Instagram
If you plan to shop at Fresh Thyme, give its official Instagram account a follow. The chain posts regularly about sales, new products and special in-store events, so it’s a great place to find bonus savings.
Double-check your receipts
You may be paying too much for your groceries without realizing it, which is why it’s a good idea to closely check your receipts after a grocery-shopping trip. According to Clark.com’s Howard, if you find a mistake, let someone in customer service know right away. If the store overcharged you, it owes you the difference. Many stores offer more than just a price adjustment, though. For instance, at Publix, if an item rings up incorrectly, you get one free.
Max out the senior discount
What was once a norm—a percentage off for senior citizens, at least on certain days—is no longer a given at most grocery stores. But some, including Gristedes, Harris Teeter and select Publix locations, offer lower prices to seniors at specific times. If you qualify for a senior discount, ask your store for details on its policy. And be sure to take advantage of it! Speaking of which: Retirees can save money by buying these things only at Costco.
Buy groceries at the drugstore
Sound wacky? Maybe a little, but as drugstores have expanded their inventories well beyond medication, they now stock a wide array of groceries, especially nonperishables. Scouring store circulars from drugstores including CVS and Walgreens is likely to reward you with great deals on cereals, canned goods and nuts. You’ll reap even bigger savings if you buy store-brand goods.
Make a list and stick to it
Most money-saving pros agree that making a list and checking it twice is a surefire way to save at the supermarket. As experts at the North Dakota State University County Extension explain, if you jot down a grocery list, you can skip the aisles that don’t have what you need. That’ll cut down on impulse buys and, in turn, keep your grocery bill lower.
Eat before you go
If your stomach is growling while you prowl the supermarket, you’re likely to buy more than you need, according to the Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection. To stop your stomach from doing the shopping for you, try an easy supermarket trick: Eat a meal or snack before you hit the store.
Include leftovers in meal planning
Important reminder: The leftovers in your fridge represent money you’ve already spent on food. Eating them for a subsequent meal means you need to purchase fewer groceries. Do the math! If last night’s dinner is unappealing, get creative, transforming it into a totally different dish. Add leftover rotisserie chicken to a salad, for instance, or turn leftover baked potatoes into home fries.
Additional reporting by Christina Herbst.
- Jeanette Hurt, grocery expert and author of The Unofficial Aldi Cookbook
- USDA: “Food Price Outlook 2022 and 2023”
- North Dakota State University: “10 Tips to Save Money at the Grocery Store”
- Connecticut State Department of Consumer Protection: “Plan Ahead Before Going Grocery Shopping”