Cool Ideas

Top Grocery Shopping Mistakes

by Stephanie Nelson

A reporter recently asked me, "What are the top mistakes shoppers make that cause them to spend too much money?"

That question intrigued me, and I like lists, so I gave some real thought to coming up with an answer for her. She liked my answers--perhaps you'll like them too.

Top Mistakes Grocery Shoppers Make:

Not having a plan. Although I do not claim to be perfectly organized every time I shop, it makes sense that shoppers who plan and stick to their shopping lists spend less money than shoppers who go to the store with only a vague idea of what they need to buy. Shoppers without plans come back to the store sooner because they didn't remember everything they needed during their unplanned trip, they buy items on impulse, and miss featured sale items and bargains they may have liked if they had taken the time to review the store sales ad before shopping. The shopper with a plan would most likely spend half an hour making a list, checking out sale prices, and clipping a few coupons to pay about 50% less than the shopper without a plan. Not a bad return on investing 30 minutes!

Even if you get to the store without a plan, grab the store sales flyer as you go in the store. Quickly scan the front and back pages of the ad to make sure you take advantage of featured sale prices. And shop quickly to avoid spending more time and money than necessary!

Throwing away the coupon circulars. People love to tell me why they logically choose not to use coupons (they are too busy, coupon food is unhealthy, etc). I also know plenty of busy shoppers with healthy eating habits who save hundreds of dollars a year with coupons. Use the "no-clip" system at and you can save easily on items you like, including many healthy food items, cleaning supplies and personal care products that everyone uses. Check your store's best deals list and your newspaper's Virtual Coupon Organizer on the site. Be sure to save the entire circular and put the date on the front so you can find coupons when you need them. You may miss free deals listed on the site if you selectively cut out a few coupons and throw the rest of the circular away.

Being Too Brand Loyal. Most people buy the same items every week out of habit, regardless of whether they have a strong preference for a particular brand. When you start paying attention to sales and using coupons, you will find that other brands may be free with a coupon. At that point, try a new brand! You can't lose-the item is free.

Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and on her website at