5 Habits That Make You Spend Too Much on Groceries

These little choices could be adding up to big spending.

close up of a woman holding a basket and shopping for lettuce
Photo: Getty Images

If you leave the grocery store surprised at your total, and find that more of your monthly budget is being used on food than intended, then it might be time to take a hard look at your spending habits. Small choices, like shopping while you're on an empty stomach or choosing convenience products, could be adding up to big costs at the end of the day. Find out a few easy tweaks you can make to your grocery buying habits that may save you more each month:

1. You don't shop with a list

When you head to the grocery store with no game plan, it's easy to leave with a cart of mis-matched ingredients and impulse buys, none of which are ideal for a week of well-rounded meals. Have an idea of what you want to eat in the upcoming week, whether you like to actually meal plan or have a vague notion of a few dishes your family would like to eat, and jot down what's needed.

Even better, make your list according to the layout of your grocery store, this means less walking back and forth and therefore fewer opportunities for grabbing extra items.

2. You eat out-of-season foods

While those strawberries might look tempting in the winter, and an acorn squash sounds delightful mid-summer, eating produce out of season could be contributing to your ballooning grocery budget.

Keep track of what's in season; that's often what you'll see on sale, like the overwhelming amounts of cheap corn and zucchini you'll find during the summer months, or how citrus fruits and root vegetables are deeply discounted in the winter. If you can't resist a craving for an out-of-season fruit or veggie, look for it in the freezer section. It's likely to be better tasting, more nutritious, and more budget-friendly.

3. You shop while you're hungry

If your stomach is growling before you even walk into the grocery store, you're almost guaranteed to overspend on this trip. Keep an easy-to-eat snack, like a bag of nuts or a grain bar, in your car for these occasions. Even having a little something in your stomach might prevent you from succumbing to the store's subtle selling tactics, like flashy end-cap displays and free samples that are meant to make you buy more.

4. You choose pre-cut produce over whole

Sometimes, when schedules are tight or your energy is low, convenience is king. But if your main goal is to lower your food budget, skipping prepared produce is an easy way to spend less.

Buying and cutting your own melon, peeling and dicing that butternut squash, or spiralizing those zucchini will keep costs low and result in produce that is likely to last longer.

5. You let food spoil

If your produce drawer looks less like a place to store fresh items and more like a graveyard for fruits and vegetables, then this may be where all your food budget is being blown. While most of this produce may have been bought at cost-effective prices, all that money is wasted once things begin to spoil.

Start by assessing what goes bad most often. You may want to buy a smaller container of lettuce, opt for frozen berries that last longer, or pick veggies that have an extended shelf life like carrots.

You can also invest in produce saving containers. While this may cost some money up front, in the long run it can save you big time.

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