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The best day to grocery shop at most grocers is Wednesday morning an hour after the store opens. This yields the freshest produce, and you'll also be first in line for when the best deals usually start mid-week. (Think about it: Now you won't have to go back for a rain check!)
However, if you work a traditional nine-to-five and can't do grocery shopping mid-week, your best weekend alternative is Saturday morning rather than Sunday.
But what about the tricks to shopping at your favorite grocery store? How can you hack your trip to be faster, cheaper and all-around better — without just relying on coupons? And what's the one item no trip is complete without?
As the founder of Eat This, Not That! and a Health and Wellness Contributor at TODAY, I'm all about helping people shop smarter and healthier so you can make the best food choice every time. That's why I've rounded up the best helpful hacks at six popular grocers and supermarkets — Costco, Whole Foods, Kroger, Trader Joe's, Target and Walmart — to help you shop smarter, save more money and get in and out faster at all your favorite stores. Plus, I've also included the best buy at each one, too, so you know what's really worth picking up there that you can't get anywhere else. You'll be a supermarket insider in no time with these tips for making the most of every visit.
While you have to spend money upfront on a membership, over time, being an active member at Costco can save you some serious green — both in money saved and extra perks that go along with holding that little membership card.
Helpful Hack: Know what to shop in bulk — and what to avoid.
Much of Costco's value can be attributed to the fact that buying items in bulk or wholesale keeps the cost down. To maintain savings beyond the day you purchase items, be sure to stock up on food items that won't go to waste before your family can finish them.
Unless you're shopping for a restaurant, certain bulk items at Costco may not be worth it. Take spices, for example. While spices don't actually go bad, they do go stale rather quickly. And the more refined the spice, the more rapidly it will lose potency. Ground spices will start to get dull after just six months, while spices purchased in a whole form — cumin seeds, for example — have about a year. If you don't foresee going through a large container of cinnamon during that time, you might consider passing on this item. The same goes for other foods that can go stale before you have a chance to finish them, like coffee, condiments, baking powder and flour. These are better bought in smaller quantities.
There are, however, bulk items you should always buy at Costco because their bulk pricing makes them significantly cheaper at the wholesale store compared to other supermarkets. Anything that you can freeze if you can't finish will be worth the investment. Think organic chicken, bread rolls, nuts, frozen fruit, maple syrup, bacon and butter. By weight, the price per ounce of each of these items at Costco tends to be significantly lower than its peers.
Best Buy: Kirkland Signature Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
The Costco brand Kirkland Signature is actually a really great value, and the EVOO is top-notch. The organic olive oil consistently receives high marks in controlled taste tests, and Costco buyers have taken measures to ensure that only 100% authentic Italian extra virgin oil is sold at the warehouse, according to a 2016 newsletter. It's also a favorite buy of famous chef and star of the Netflix series "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat," Samin Nosrat. Costco sells Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $16.99 for two liters online.
2. Whole Foods
Whole Foods will no longer be synonymous with "Whole Paycheck" if you follow these tips.
Helpful Hack: Nab a case discount.
Do you love a particular flavor of yogurt? Can't get enough of that kombucha? Whole Foods offers a 10% discount when you buy a whole case of almost any item. Just note that it'll have to be one flavor; you can't mix and match.
Best Buy: Foods from the bulk bins
If you're trying your hand at a unique recipe, you might not want to have to purchase an entire bag of one unique grain that you're never planning to use again. Luckily, you can purchase a small quantity of an item that's perfect for what you need without having to overpay when you shop the bulk item section at Whole Foods, so you can measure out exactly what you need.
Kroger is the largest supermarket chain in the country, operating 2,800 grocery stores across 35 states.
Helpful Hack: Shop the 10 for $10 deals (even if you don't need 10).
Kroger stores regularly offer "10 for $10" sales, but don't fret if you don't actually need to buy all 10 items. As long as you use your shopper's card, Kroger will honor the $1 each price, even if you only buy a few.
Best Buy: Seasoned Seafood
With their "Easy For You!" Oven-Ready Seafood, Kroger will season a piece of fish or seafood (like catfish, cod, crab, salmon, shrimp or tilapia) with your pick of 12 different seasonings and four garnishes. They'll also put your fish filet or shrimp in oven-safe bags that have baking instructions directly on them. That way, all you'll have to do is pop it in the oven when you're home, cook up a veggie side and dinner is ready! You can cut down on your time in the kitchen because they let you pick it, you can have them season it and then put it in an oven-ready bag. Talk about a speedy way to get a healthy dinner on the table!
4. Trader Joe's
Everyone knows Trader Joe's for its cheap produce, eponymous brand and, of course, its affordable wine. However, you may be overlooking some of its best buys, so we'll take the guesswork out for you.
Helpful Hack: Shop private label for big savings on everyday items.
Trader Joe's is able to achieve its low prices by buying directly from suppliers, which cuts out the middleman other traditional grocers have to go through when stocking their stores. Without a middleman, they're able to offer a lower cost to customers like you.
In a Trader Joe's podcast, Tara Miller, marketing director at Trader Joe's, said, "More than 80% of the products we sell at Trader Joe's are private-label … Keeping things in our label as opposed to the brand name label or a supplier's label helps us keep our costs low."
When almost your whole store is a private label, which means more savings for you. When shopping for everyday essentials, you'll really cut down on your overall grocery bill every time you shop when you choose the TJ's private label over a big-name company you might shop at a larger store. That means you have way more options for buying private-label foods at TJ's than you would at your usual grocery store. You'll get the same high-quality product because they buy directly from suppliers like other food brands, just at a lower cost.
Best Buy: Trader Joe's Teeny Tiny Avocados
Unless you're prepping for two, you're probably left with half an avocado every time you make avocado toast. Often times, it ends up in the back of the fridge, left to turn brown and rot in loose plastic wrap. Gone are the days of avocado waste when you buy TJ's Teeny Tiny Avocados! Smaller than the traditional avocados at your local grocery store, these are the perfect single-serve size for your morning meal or a source of healthy fats for a filling snack. In fact, these were dubbed TJ customers' "Favorite Produce" in Trader Joe's Annual Consumer Choice Awards.
You're probably already at Target every weekend anyway — why not do your grocery shopping there, too?
Helpful Hack: Make your grocery list directly on the Target app.
If you make your grocery list on the Target app (available for iOS and Android), you'll get to use a savings tool called Cartwheel. This allows you to add items to your list and see savings offers on similar items. For example, if you add protein bars to your list, you'll see deals on various types of protein bars. These deals may also pop up if you link your credit card to a Target account. When you buy a grocery item in the store with the same credit card, the app notes the purchase and may push a deal to you so you can save on the same purchase in the future. To start saving, all you have to do is select the "For You" category to scroll through deals on items you may have bought in the past and you know you purchase often, so that's more savings for you on your go-tos!
Best Buy: Variety Packs
Target often negotiates with brands to package their product in a unique variety that you can only get at Target. For example, RXBAR only sells their 10-pack variety box at Target — and it's a great deal. At $16.69 a box, you're getting each bar for roughly $1.67, whereas you'll find single bars sold for $2.99 elsewhere.
It's easy to stick to a budget at Walmart because they have an everyday low-pricing strategy where they aim to have the lowest prices in the market. That being said, there are some tricks you can still try to save even more money.
Helpful Hack: Know about the overage policy.
As is custom for most grocery stores, Walmart takes manufacturers coupons from wherever you may find them — from the brand's website, from your local grocery store checkout receipt, or even from your local paper. But what is unique about the budget chain is that they have something called an "overage" policy. This means that if the face value of the coupon is higher than the price of the item, Walmart deducts the full value of the coupon and applies it as a credit to the rest of your basket.
For example, if a coupon says you get a free frozen dinner with a maximum value of $5.99 and Walmart sells that dinner for $4.99, you would get an "overage" of one dollar added to your cart that will be applied to the rest of your purchases.
Best Buy: Great Value Spaghetti
Yes, pasta. Cheapism named Walmart's Great Value brand spaghetti a food with a strong following. While Barilla products claim the top seven spots in "Pasta & Noodles" on Influenster, the first non-Barilla item is Great Value Spaghetti.
"I've been using this pasta for years. It tastes the same as the more expensive brands, where you're paying more just for the name! Cooks up nice, won't stick as long as you put salt or something in the water," shared one reviewer. Another noted that because she goes through a lot of pasta in her household, "It's nice being able to save a little bit" by buying Great Value products.
The big winner here that really sets it apart? Not only is Great Value about 50 cents less for 32 ounces compared to Barilla, but Great Value also uniquely packages their spaghetti in larger three-pound, family-size boxes, whereas you can only buy one-pound boxes from other brands.