10 Mistakes You Make When You Go Shopping

10 Mistakes You Make When You Go Shopping
Written by Oana Schneider

Whether you’re living solo or as a couple raising a family, most of your household budget would go towards food. This is especially true for families with young, still-growing children. Of course, you need to nourish your body through food so you have to go grocery shopping. But there’s no need for you to overspend on food, either.

Not only will you be spending more when you can actually save money, but you will also not contribute towards food wastage if you know how to buy food the right way. Here, we will take a look at how much people in the United States actually spend on grocery shopping, and which mistakes should be avoided so that you can stop overspending when shopping for food.   

How Much Do Americans Spend on Grocery Shopping?

To have an idea about how much Americans spend on grocery shopping, here are a few statistics from

  • For the past five years, supermarket and other grocery store sales in the United States are marked as follows:
    • 2010 = $495.17 billion
    • 2011 = $519.4 billion
    • 2012 = $534.73 billion
    • 2013 = $546.6 billion
    • 2014 = $566.34 billion
  • For 2013, 19% of US households with an income of more than $75,000 went grocery shopping two to three times per week. For households with an income of less than $40,000, 19% went grocery shopping once a month, or even less than that.
  • Different generations have different grocery shopping behavior. For the GenXers who were born after the post-World War II baby boom, they made 3.9 grocery trips per month on average. As compared to Baby Boomers, they’re more open to the idea of online shopping, but they are not as tech-savvy as Millenials.
  • The Baby Boomers generation are those born during the post-World War II baby boom. On average, they made 3.6 grocery trips per month, and most of their grocery shopping is done at traditional grocery stores.
  • For general consumers in the US, the vast majority of grocery shopping still takes place in traditional stores. However, as of 2012, 14% of US consumers shopped for groceries online.

Avoid These Top 10 Mistakes When Going Grocery Shopping

With billions of dollars are spent on grocery shopping, is there something that can be done to trim the costs for each family or household? Definitely. With a bit of research, planning, and patience, you can cut back on grocery costs without scrimping on the food that your family needs to eat.

Take a look at our top ten mistakes that you need to avoid when going grocery shopping:

1. Shopping for groceries on a week-to-week basis.

For a family of four, the average monthly bill for groceries is anywhere from $1,000 to $1,300. This adds up to a big chunk of your household maintenance budget within a year. If you really want to be frugal but still be able to feed your family with healthy meals, you need to know how to cut back on your grocery bills.

Perhaps you can start with the frequency by which you do your grocery shopping. Do you buy groceries on a weekly basis? If yes, you are not necessarily taking full advantage of the excellent deals that supermarkets offer. A better way to go grocery shopping is to be on the lookout for items which are on sale.

If you frequently buy these items, stock up on them and you will save a lot of money in the long run. You can download apps like Favado to determine which items are on sale at your local grocery stores before you go shopping. You can also ask the staff at the supermarket when they are holding sales.

2. Going grocery shopping without a list.

One of the main culprits of overspending when you are doing your grocery shopping is walking into the store without a list. When you’re walking along the supermarket aisles aimlessly, you tend to simply grab whatever it is that catches your eye. To make sure that you are buying what you need – no more, no less – make a list.

Conduct an inventory of your pantry first so that you would know which kitchen staples you still have, and what you need to buy. If possible, plan your meals in advance so that you would have an idea about which items you should shop for. Just make sure that there’s some room in your budget so that you can stock up on items which happen to be on sale while you’re at the store.

10 Mistakes You Make When You Go Shopping

3. Going grocery shopping when hungry.

You might have heard this advice numerous times before: never go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Why? Because your hunger pangs will dictate what will be added to your shopping cart. If you’re in the mood for junk food, bags and bags of potato chips might end up on your shopping cart. If you’re craving for ice cream, you might buy a gallon as well as other snacks – and end up not crossing out the items from your grocery list at all. To prevent this from happening, make sure to go grocery shopping with your stomach full – and don’t forget that list.

4. Falling for the tactics used by grocery store owners to gain more sales.

Financial experts say that you should be aware of the tactics used by grocery store owners to gain more sales, so that you can avoid the buying trap. For example, if half gallons of milk are sold at $2, you might be tempted to stock up. But when you consider the price of a regular gallon of milk which is less than $2, you are actually paying more for what’s supposed to be on sale.

The same thing holds true for other promotions like “Buy 5 for $5” – you can simply purchase one or two instead of five if you don’t really need that much. Similarly, the higher priced brands are displayed at eye-level displays, so set your gaze lower and you are bound to save money with other brands.

5. Doing your grocery shopping based on recipes.

Instead of planning your grocery shopping around the recipes that you would like to cook, plan your recipes around your grocery shopping list. After keeping a stock of what’s inside your pantry, create a grocery list and from there, you can come up with recipes that will use up all the ingredients you bought. Doing it the other way around will make you spend more money in the long run.

6. Allowing yourself to be ‘trapped’ at the snacks aisle.

There is a very big possibility for you to be ‘trapped’ at the snacks aisle, especially if you go grocery shopping while hungry. Every superstore, supermarket, grocery store or whole sales store has a snacks aisle where you can find candy, chips, cookies, and soft drinks. If you have kids, simply grab a pack or two of their favorite snacks and move on to the other items on your list. Instead of letting them munch on packaged potato chips, create a trail mix with healthy nuts and dried fruits; or feed them with more fruits and veggies which are healthier alternatives.

10 Mistakes You Make When You Go Shopping

7. Buying pre-cut veggies, meat, and other fresh produce.

Fancily packaged boneless chicken breast; peeled and sliced veggies; diced meat chunks – you can purchase fresh produce that’s already cleaned and pre-cut at the supermarket. All you have to do is grab the package, and add it to your shopping cart. The downside to this convenience is that you would have to pay more than what you would for just-chopped chicken parts, or veggies and fruits with the skin still intact. You can always peel, dice, and slice the food that you bought at home, with no additional cost.

8. Not checking on the per unit cost of the items you are buying in bulk.

When buying items in bulk, you might be fooled into thinking that you are saving money. If you need toilet paper, for example, a 12-roll package which is supposedly on sale might catch your eye. But when you check on the unit price of the individual roll, you might be surprised that there’s very little difference and you are not saving any money at all. To make sure that you will not fall under this sales trap, always check on the per unit cost of the item that you are planning to purchase in bulk.

9. Not using coupons correctly.

You clipped a coupon on a magazine which says that you will save $10 when buying an item at your local grocery store. However, the brand turns out to be something that you haven’t tried before. If it turns out that you hate the taste, you did not really save any money using the coupon, did you? When using coupons, make sure that they are for grocery items which you would be buying in the first place so that you won’t waste any money.

10. Buying too much ‘healthy’ food.

Similar to fashion, there are fads in the food industry which consumers usually fall for. One is the convenience of buying supposedly healthy food items. The labels might say that a food item is gluten-free, organic, natural, free-range, paleo approved – all these are simply fancy labels. If you really want to eat healthy, make sure that you are preparing a balanced meal with the freshest ingredients that you can buy. If you don’t even know what it means when a product is paleo approved, you are simply wasting your money on fancy health food labels.

Knowing which food buying mistakes to avoid will turn your trip to the grocery store into a successful one. After those bags of food are loaded on your car, you would be satisfied knowing that you have completed your grocery shopping list without spending any more than you have to.

About the author

Oana Schneider

Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois, who currently works for as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget, has a degree in Communications and advocates for women’s rights. Her future plans include getting a Labrador and losing a few pounds.


  • I have stopped going shopping every week, and now make sure that I only go as and when I need things. This means that I no longer overestimate the amount of food that I need for a week, and it stops things from going out of date that I never had the chance to use. I live right near a supermarket, so it doesn’t cost me anything extra at all to go there, but I have noticed that my spending is right down – and I don’t tend to eat as much unhealthy food either!

    • I would love to go shopping only a couple of times a month, but I don’t want to keep fresh veggies in the fridge to long. How do you manage to keep fresh products fresh longer? Or do you grow vegetables yourself? I plan to grow some vegetables in the garden, I hope to stay away from the grocery stores for longer. I do try to plan my meals around whatever in on offer and go to the local market to buy fresh produce that is in season.

      • Here’s a great trick courtesy of my husband: when you buy parsley or other fresh herbs, put them in a bottle of water, cover them with a plastic bag and place them in the refrigerator. They will be nice and green for days! It’s kinda like tricking them into thinking they are inside a green house! 🙂

  • I am so glad my mother taught me to check unit prices. Remembering that a great deal is really only a great deal if it’s a non perishable item is also really important for me. I’ve gotten trapped by a reduced price I the produce section quite a few times and ended up trying to stuff myself with all the extra when I realized it was soon to spoil.

  • My dad taught me when I was younger to check the unit price before making a selection. Luckily, I take after my father and his more practical way of shopping seeing as neither of us really enjoy being in any kind of store for too long. I know what I need in the grocery store and usually stick to my list. The one thing that gets me every time however, are the juices, there always seems to be some new juice concoction that someone swears by and I find myself needing to buy it.

  • The best way for me to stick to what I need at the store is to actually take a list. When I have a list, I don’t deviate from it. If I don’t have a list I tend to wander around the aisles aimlessly, then get home having spend £100 on stuff but unable to put a complete meal together!

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