9 Pricing Secrets Grocery Stores Don’t Want You to Know

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By Paul Michael

There is a lot more to your typical grocery store than meets the eye. Everything has been carefully planned and designed with the goal of getting you to spend more money. From the increasing size of the carts, to the way the aisles are organized, you are being played.

Fortunately, if you know all of this in advance, you can protect yourself. And if you also know some of their pricing secrets, you can take advantage of some great deals, and create a shopping strategy that means you never have to spend 1 cent more than necessary. Here are nine pricing secrets from grocery storesaround the country that will save you time and money.

1. When Shopping at Target, Look for 4, 6 and 8

If you do a lot of clearance tag shopping at Target, you should pay close attention to the end number of the price. If the item ends in either a six or an eight (i.e., $12.48), then it will definitely be reduced again during the next clearance run. Of course, if it sells out completely, you won’t have a chance to take it, so consider how much you want the item. If the price ends in a four (i.e., $7.24), then it has reached the end of its clearance cycle. It won’t go down in price any further, so grab it now if you want it.

2. At Costco, Avoid .99 and Look for an Asterisk

The popular warehouse discount store has a pricing code that can tell you a lot about the current and future prices of its products. First, anything ending in .99 is a regular priced item. It’s not on sale. However, just two cents less makes all the difference. Any item ending in .97 is a sale item, and you should consider doing a price check on it to see if it is lower anywhere else. If not, and it’s something you want, grab it.

Additionally, anything ending in .49, .79, or .89 is also on sale. And finally, look for an asterisk in the top right corner of any price tag. If you see one, it means that particular item won’t be restocked. Once it has sold out, it will be gone for good. This can be helpful if you’re considering waiting for it to go on sale. (See also: 15 Things You Should Buy at Costco)

3. When in Walmart, 5 and 1 Are Your Friends

If you shop at Walmart often, you will know that most of their price tags end in a seven. This is just the Walmart way of keeping things lower than the typical .99 or .49 prices of other stores. However, when things do go on sale in Walmart, the end number changes. If you see a price ending in five, the item has just been marked down. This is good, but it’s not as good as a one. Anything ending in one, such as $9.91, will be at its final marked-down price. If you have any hesitation that it will go down any further, forget it. This is as low as it will go, so if you want it, bag it. Oh, and it’s also the same story for Sam’s Club, which isn’t a surprise as it’s a Wal-Mart company.

4. At BJ’s Wholesale, Look for Product Codes 2, 7 and 9

If you have a BJ’s Wholesale Club near you, you definitely need to learn the product codes on the price tags. The product code 1 is printed on regularly priced items, so you don’t need to concern yourself with those. However, code 2 is printed on a discontinued item. This means it will be on special offer, BUT it also means it will be harder to find parts and/or supplies for, so keep that in mind (for example, coffee makers, pods, refills, that kind of thing).

Code 9 means that the product is about to be sent back to the manufacturer, perhaps because it isn’t selling well, or people have issued too many complaints or returns on it. In that case, it will be discontinued and gone from the store within the next week or two. If you want it, grab it while you can. And finally, code 7 is a discounted seasonal product. These are not hard to spot, it will be on labels for Christmas decorations in the New Year or Father’s Day gifts right after the holiday. These don’t last long, so stock up now.

5. Look for the Expiration Date on Aldi Breads

We all want the freshest bread we can get our hands on, but if price is an issue for you, take advantage of Aldi’s discounting system. Aldi will discount any of its breads five days before the item is due to expire. So, if you see an expiration date that is six days away from the day on which you’re shopping, come back tomorrow. The bread will be cheaper. (See also: 10 Things You Should Never Buy From Aldi)

6. Grocery Stores Change Expiration Dates on Their Products

There’s an old saying: “What the eye doesn’t see, the chef gets away with.” This is just as applicable in grocery stores when it comes to meats, dairy, and bakery items. There’s no way to really know when a product will turn from fresh to stale, so the stores take a best guess. However, if the package of ground beef hasn’t sold by its expiration date, and it still looks good enough to eat, they will simply slap a new label on it with a date that’s further away.

You can sometimes see this by looking at the labels. If it looks like the item has been labeled twice, you should probably think twice about buying it. Or, ask the manager for a discount if you can peel back the new label to reveal the old one, with the old expiration date. Some stores will have clearance specials on products that are about to expire, but again, check the label. If it is about to expire based on the new label, it could be way past the original date. You may want to avoid that item.

7. Many Grocery Stores Will Double Coupons on Certain Days

Depending on where you live, you will be able to double the value of your coupons. It varies from store to store and state to state, but it is definitely something you should research. Shopping on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday, for instance, could save you a lot of money. About.com has a list of“double coupon” stores by state that is very handy.

8. ‘BOGO’ Deals Aren’t Always What They Seem

Read the small print, every time you see a buy-one-get-one-free offer. For instance, when you see a sign that says “10 for $10,” don’t take it as a directive. Check the label to see if it specifically requires a purchase of 10 items to get the $10, or are they available for $1 each regardless of how many you buy. This varies from store to store, and some are more strict about this than others. If you have any doubts, ask a cashier or store clerk to do a price check for you. If the item comes in more expensive when scanned on its own, it’s likely you need to buy multiples to get the deal.

9. Kroger Will Waive Coupon Expiration Dates

And finally, one for our military families. If you belong to a military family living on base, Kroger won’t enforce the expiration date on any coupons you use, no matter how old or out of date they are. So, if you are currently living on base and have a stack of old coupons, don’t throw them out. And going forward, you never again have to go through your coupons to remove the expired ones.

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