Even if you’re a speed shopper or coupon queen, grocery shopping can take a good chunk of time out of your Sunday afternoon and a big hit to your wallet: in 2015, the average U.S. household spent $96 per trip to the supermarket, according to the University of California. To make grocery shopping as efficient, and safe, as possible, follow these six effortless tips.
1. Pick up your meat last.
If the first thing you put in your cart when arrive at the grocery store is raw meat, you’re risking promoting bacterial growth, like salmonella. Bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes if the food is at a temperature above 40 degrees. If your chicken is first in the cart and last in the fridge when you get home from the store an hour later, you could get sick, even if you thoroughly cook it later. Picking up the meat last will keep it cold longer on your commute home, and it’s smart to keep the meat in a plastic bag separate from your produce to prevent cross-contamination, says food journalist Mark Schatzker.
2. Look up and down the shelves.
As the saying goes, “eye level is buy level.” Grocery stores will often shelf the most popularly marketed, and often most expensive, food items at eye level, which makes them likely to sell better. Cheaper, generic brands will tend to be located at the top or bottom of the shelf, so be sure to look up or bend down to get the best deals.
3. Walk through the aisles you don't need anything from.
The supermarket’s pet food or baby supplies sections may not hold items you typically purchase, but that can be a good thing: using these aisles as walkways to the departments at the front or back of store will keep you from succumbing to the temptation of buying non-essential items. If it’s always difficult for you to get to the egg aisle without picking up a bag of cookies along the way, try finding an impulse-free route.
4. Find basic alternatives to trendy health foods.
Not every store offers new omega-3 enriched chicken, and if you’re a carnivore at heart with a distaste for fish, you may feel out of luck. Instead of unhappily tossing a few salmon filets into your cart to reap the possible health benefits of these fatty acids, including prevention of heart disease and stroke, pick up a pack of chicken thighs. Out of the whole bird, this area of dark provides the most omega-3s, just be sure to purchase a boneless, skinless variety and don’t heavily weigh the “all-natural” and “hormone-free” claims in your purchasing decision, Schatzker says. Likewise, goji berries and cranberries can provide a similar boost in antioxidants, so if you’re having trouble getting your hands on the trendy superfood, opt for the more readily available fruit.
5. Skip the free samples.
While the tiny cups of pesto pasta are enticing, passing over the free sample counter can help you stay on track and stick to your shopping list. When you’ve already planned to buy a particular food that’s being promoted, a 2011 study found that taking a bite of the free sample can make you more likely to switch from your regular brand to that of the sample. Plus, you’re more likely to buy the item even if it wasn’t on your original shopping list. To keep your grocery spending to a minimum, remember to confidently say “no, thank you” to the employee handing out the free cheese.
6. Know the store’s layout.
Not only will knowing exactly where the gluten-free bagels are located keep you from wandering aimlessly through the aisles, but it could also save you money. Studies have found that even when you have an unlimited amount of time to shop, not having an understanding of a store’s layout makes you more likely to purchase items that weren’t originally on your list. A few days before you run to the store to buy your week’s groceries, visit it with a notepad and write down where your most frequently purchased items are placed.