Photo: Flickr / *Grant*
These days everyone’s trying to make the most of their trip to the grocery store, but it’s hard to tell when you’re saving big if the grocer is using tricky marketing tactics. We tapped deals expert and founder of the excellent site Grocery Game, Teri Gault, to help us decipher the deals from the duds and share her exclusive tips for stretching your grocery budget. Try them this week.
1. Reaching for big packages. “People are reaching for the big packages all the time but a lot of times the medium package is cheaper,” says Gault. “It’s just a marketing thing. We think the bigger package will give us the bulk price but that’s not always the case.” To find the real steal, calculate the cost per unit using the prices on the shelf.
2. Falling for the “buy one, get one half off” routine. “Whenever you see these they sound like a great deal but the two items together are only a 25 per cent savings,” Gault says. “Buy one, get one for free is truly half off, not this.”
3. Hitting the clearance shelf. While there are good deals to be found here, the problem is that most of the items are only 50 per cent off and damaged, says Gault. “You can score good groceries that aren’t damaged whenever a sale hits instead.”
4. Falling for the blinkie trap. Those little machines in the aisle spitting out coupons and flashing lights aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. “I see people grabbing these all the time, thinking the corresponding item’s on sale,” Gault says. “But if you just buy the item and it’s not on sale, then you’re spending more than you should.” The only time you should purchase these items is when they’re on sale and you have a coupon.” And don’t BS yourself into thinking you’ll use that blinkie coupon during a sale, warns Gault. “These coupons don’t have as long of a life so they’re really not that great unless the item’s on sale too. Plus you may have a better coupon anyway.”
5. Confusing store brand with name-brand. “Store brands are not a rip-off in and of themselves,” says Gault, but “if the name brand is on sale and the store brand isn’t, or if the name-brand has a coupon or other offer for that week, the name brand may be a better price.” That said, store brands offer great quality at a great price point, but if you intend on getting the name-brand, especially when it’s on sale at a better price, don’t let the similar labelling fool you into snatching the name-brand item.
6. Getting tripped up by sales prices in multiples. Some stores have started making regular prices in multiples, but you’ll rarely buy all 10 things in a 10 for $10 sale. “More confusing numbers prompt us to think we’re getting a deal when in fact it may not even be a sale,” Gault explains. “Three for $5 has some sort of subliminal message that screams ‘Deal!’ but avocados priced at three for $5 ($1.67/each) are not a deal.”
7. Believing lunch meat’s a steal. That cheap-looking lunch meat can be as pricy as lamb chops. And it’s not nearly as delicious (or healthy). “You can figure the cost per pound or choose from alternatives,” Gault says. “Either wait until the lunch meat is on sale at least half off by checking the date then stocking up on as much as you can, or cook your own meat. You can have inexpensive sandwich meat for days, and even slice some to freeze for weeks.”
8. Spluring on single-serving name-brand yogurts. “Store brands are usually 8 ounces, while name brands are often 6 ounches and cost a lot more. They also offer nothing better in terms of ingredients,” Gault says.
9. Reaching for name-brand OJ. The difference between these and store brands isn’t much. Per Gault: “Unless the name brand is on sale, I buy store brand. And when the half gallon store brand is on sale, it’s usually less on the cost per ounce than the gallon jug (which, by the way, isn’t even a full gallon or even a half gallon on lots of the name brands).” Check the dates and reach for the ones in the back that should last for five weeks or so.
Bonus Tip: Check for “long” dates on the shelf and stock up on those jugs. “I’ve managed to stay away from full-priced OJ for months at a time by ‘investing’ at the right time,” Gault says.
10. Not accounting for water added to meat. “Sometimes a certain chicken or other meat has a seemingly great sale or is at a lower price per pound than other brands. But check the packaging: It may read that water has been added, even if there’s a limit (which will be reached).” While the weight goes up, the actual meat inside doesn’t so “that price per poind might not be so good after all,” Gault says. “Use a calculator to be sure.”