7 Grocery Shopping Mistakes That Cause You To Overspend

If you’ve been experiencing sticker shock at the grocery store checkout counter, it’s not necessarily because you’re adding more to your cart than usual. The entire country is confronted with the rising cost of groceries, which is only expected to continue. It really makes you think about just how badly you want those avocados, right?

Though you can’t do anything about inflation, you can slash your grocery spending by making a few changes to the way you shop — while still enjoying your favorite meals and not going hungry. The secret is shopping smarter.

Experts who have mastered food shopping for cheap know the biggest pitfalls that trap people into overspending. Want to avoid them? Here are seven grocery mistakes to keep in mind the next time you do your weekly food haul.

1. Not Knowing How Much You’re Currently Spending On Food

A person, name unknown, stands in a grocery store produce section holding an apple, looking at it thoughtfully. Numerous fruits and vegetables are in the background
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If you want to reduce your food costs, the first step is to figure out how much you’re currently spending, family budgeting expert Rob Bertman told HuffPost.

“Sometimes, people will pick an amount out of thin air that they want their grocery budget to be, but that can be challenging to stick to if you don’t know how much you’re currently spending,” he said.

For example, Bertman said if your goal is to spend $400 a month on groceries, and you guess that you’re typically spending $600 when you’re actually spending $1,000, your budget is unlikely to stick and could require some bigger changes.

Once you know how much you’re currently spending (by keeping the receipts from your grocery trips in the past month), Bertman said the next step is to think about the choices you can make to reduce that amount. Instead of trying to drastically cut your spending all at once, Bertman recommends making small, incremental changes — similar to how someone with a goal of eating healthier may find longer-lasting success by focusing on little adjustments at first, rather than suddenly adopting a super restrictive diet. This is where knowing some other common shopping mistakes can come in handy.

2. Not Making A Meal Plan

Person in a kitchen preparing multiple containers of lasagna and green beans with a wooden spatula
Johner Images / Getty Images/Johner RF

Budget Bytes founder Beth Moncel told HuffPost that one of the most common grocery shopping mistakes is not creating a meal plan, or a guide for exactly how you’ll use everything you buy. Especially with produce, many people buy food that they aspire to eat but don’t end up doing so, Moncel said.

“For some people, making sure you eat all the food you’re buying means writing on your calendar when you are going to prep and cook it,” Moncel added.

Bertman is a big believer in meal planning too, but he emphasized that you should be realistic about it.

“You can have a great meal plan in place for the week, but if you get home from work and you’re too tired to cook, you end up ordering in,” he said. “It’s important to be realistic about your time and ambition.”

3. Not Checking The Fridge First 

  gilaxia via Getty Images
gilaxia via Getty Images

Before you walk out the door with your meal plan and grocery list, “Save Money on Groceries Without Losing Your Mind” author Tiffany Doerr Guerzon recommends doing yourself a solid by checking your refrigerator, freezer and pantry first. That way, you don’t end up with three half-used jars of salsa or other multiples at home.

“Another way to cut waste is to challenge yourself to use only the groceries you already have at home every couple of months,” Guerzon told HuffPost. “You will probably need to pick up fresh items such as eggs and milk, but most people are surprised by what they have in their pantries, fridge and freezer.”

Not sure how to combine what you have? Apps like SuperCook and Cooklist can give you some ideas.

4. Making Meat The Center Of Your Meals

Grilled, whole, barbecued chicken on a platter being served at a table with hands reaching in, beer glasses and other dishes in the background
Eyewolf / Getty Images

If you don’t want to reduce your meat consumption for ethical or health reasons, do it for your wallet. Even if you don’t give up meat completely, both Moncel and Guerzon said that cutting back can help save you money. Moncel pointed out that plant-based proteins such as lentils, chickpeas and beans are less expensive than meat.

“One easy way to save money is to cut back on the amount of meat you use in a recipe,” Guerzon said. For example, if a casserole or stew calls for 1 pound of ground beef, you can use 3/4 of a pound instead, she said.

“No one will notice the difference,” Guerzon explained. “If you buy ground beef in 1-pound packages, freeze the extra quarter-pound that you saved. And after you’ve prepared that recipe three times, you will have enough in the freezer for an extra meal.”

5. Only Buying Produce That’s Fresh

A man and a child are grocery shopping, choosing bell peppers from a supermarket vegetable section. The man is pointing out a pepper while the child holds one
D3sign / Getty Images

Fruits and veggies are delicious and good for you, but some can spoil quickly. (Side-eye glance to mushrooms, berries and peaches.) For produce items that might go bad before you can eat them, Moncel and Guerzon recommend buying them frozen.

“Freezing does change the texture of berries, but this isn’t noticeable when incorporating frozen berries into smoothies, baked goods [or] even for topping your breakfast oatmeal or yogurt,” Guerzon noted.

When buying produce in the frozen section, Moncel recommends looking for them in their simplest form. Anything that’s covered in sauce or packaged in a microwaveable bag is likely going to cost extra.

It bears repeating that if you are buying fresh produce, you should know exactly how you’re going to use it before it goes bad. Moncel said to keep this in mind when doing your meal planning and to focus on versatile veggies that can be used in various ways.

6. Buying Tiny Jars Of Expensive Spices

A hand with a metallic ring and a smartwatch reaching for a spice bottle on a grocery store shelf
Enes Evren / Getty Images

Guerzon suggested buying spices in bulk when you cook with them regularly.

“Buying spices in bulk is my number-one [money-saving] tip because those little jars are expensive,” she said. “You can just reuse an empty spice jar and refill it from the bulk bins, or some stores that offer bulk spices even sell empty spice jars. I once refilled a $6.50 jar of dried basil from the bulk bin and it cost me less than 50 cents.”

Other pantry items to buy in bulk include grain products like dried pasta, rolled oats and rice, Guerzon added.

7. Reaching For The First Item You See At Eye Level On The Shelf

A person is organizing jars of food on a supermarket shelf, focusing on arranging them neatly
Joos Mind / Getty Images

It’s natural to glance down at your shopping list, see what’s on it and grab the first version of it you see. But Guerzon said that simply checking the prices of items above and below eye level could save you money.

“Human nature and a desire to get the shopping done quickly causes us to be more likely to reach for items at eye level,” she said. “Stores know this and place the more expensive items there. Next time you are in the store, take note of where items are placed. You may have to reach up or down for better deals.”

Avoiding this mistake and others will surely save you money on groceries, but sometimes that’s simply not enough. If you aren’t able to afford food for you or your family no matter how many money-saving tricks you try, Bertman said to consider what kinds of assistance are available to you. In addition to seeing if you qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, he recommends doing a Google search for food banks in your area, as well as local nonprofits dedicated to helping families in need.

Grocery inflation is no joke, so you aren’t alone in seeking to save money on food. Put the experts’ tips into practice and reach out for supplemental support if you need it. With a plan in place, you’ll still be able to keep your kitchen stocked.This article originally appeared on HuffPost.