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We all have to eat, and unless you have unlimited cash for fine dining, that means we have to frequent the supermarket. But did you know that you could be tossing money away — little by little — at the checkout line? Here are some tips to help you cut costs at the grocery store.

1. Don’t shop when tired or hungry.

Try to avoid shopping with children if possible, too. A negative mindset while pushing your cart can affect your purchases. Preparation is key, too — before you even hit the store, plan your meals and shop from a list for exactly what you need.

2. Timing is everything.

Pay attention to sales, and buy necessities in bulk when they’re cheaper to stockpile. Familiarize yourself with several grocery stores so you know pricing and sale schedules for all your needs. And always get a rain check on sale items!

3. Look for deals.

Sign up for email alerts, download your grocery store’s phone app, join loyalty programs, sign up for a rewards card, and follow and like both brands and stores’ social media pages. Tons of deals will be offered through all of these avenues, so don’t miss them!

4. Always check the unit price.

Just because something is less expensive than a different size doesn’t mean you’re getting the same amount. If it helps, carry a calculator.

5. Be flexible with brands.

Unless you absolutely need name brand recognition, the store brand or generic version of almost everything is usually just as good and far cheaper. Don’t fall into marketing traps.

6. Buy in bulk.

Individually-packaged products are typically more expensive than bulk items. One alternative is to buy your own containers and distribute foods (like yogurt) that way. It’s more eco-friendly too!

7. Location is important.

Don’t buy the expensive crackers next to the cheese display, instead go to the cracker aisle and find the best deal there. Stores also strategically place the highest marked-up items at eye or chest-level, because that’s where we tend to look. Reach or squat to find cheaper items.

8. Stick to food.

Toiletries and other non-edible items are far less expensive at other kinds of stores.

9. Eat cheaper and healthier.

When it comes to produce, there’s quite a few ways to save money. First, always try to eat a majority of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season; they’re cheaper and better tasting. If you have a farmer’s market nearby, check it out and support local business as well!

10. Don’t fall for prepared foods.

Don’t throw away money on something you can do yourself. Chop your own vegetables, say no to boxed or bagged salad, and don’t buy pre-cut fruit salads when you can make your own. (Same goes for grated cheese — you’re paying for convenience!). And instead of pre-packaged meat, buy cold cuts from the deli.

11. Organic isn’t always worth it.

Thick-skinned produce like pineapple, banana, avocado and corn are fairly impervious to pesticides either way, so don’t feel compelled to buy organic for those.

12. Watch the register for mistakes.

An estimated $2.5 billion is lost in scanning errors every year, so check your receipt afterwards. Some stores even have a policy that if something rings up incorrectly, you get it free.

While these tips won’t save thousands of dollars at once, if you make them a habit and are more strategic about your shopping, over time the little savings add up and make a big difference.

Image: iStockphoto

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