BEFORE YOU GO
Commit to shopping less.
Plan on two major shops a month, with weekly visits for perishables, says Kimberly Danger, author of Instant Bargains. Singles and couples are twice as likely as families to shop several times a week: "They see it more as a leisurely activity than a task," says Danger. A recent study shows that impulse buys shoot up 23 percent on unplanned trips, and decrease 13 percent when planned.
Map out a week's worth of meals.
Relax, we're not asking you to trot out a new dish seven nights a week. Smart menu planning is about identifying ingredients that can make repeat appearances, says Mary Ostyn, author of Family Feasts for $75 a Week. Choose three star meals, then build supporting suppers around them, using leftover ingredients in salads and pastas.
Leave your plastic at home.
Set aside about 10 percent of your weekly salary for groceries and plan on paying with cash. Shopping with dollars in hand will cut spending by about 25 percent per trip. "It's psychologically more difficult to fork over cash than a credit card," says Jeanette Pavini, coupons.com's household savings expert.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Get in and get out -- fast.
Shopping should take no longer than 30 minutes a week, says Danger. The longer you linger, the more you'll probably spend. In a recent study, "fast and efficient" shoppers were 82 percent less likely to impulse-buy than the average shopper. The more you interact with a product (i.e., picking it up to read the label), the more likely you are to buy it, says Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy. Couples, in particular, should take note, as they "often encourage each other's splurges," says Danger, resulting in 50 percent higher costs per person compared to families.
Buy meat, seafood and poultry...when it's on sale.
It may feel like groceries cost an arm and a leg, but that doesn't mean you need to eliminate breasts and thighs. There's often a cut going for less than $2 per pound, says Ostyn. Plus, it's a myth that sale cuts are poor quality. Meat freezes well, so stock up and divvy into meal-size portions -- the average family will save up to $800 a year.
Some aisles have better deals than others.
Stick to the freezer aisle. Freezer staples like fruits and veggies are your best friends. "They allow you to use only what you need," says Pavini. Half the average household's annual 460 pounds of food waste is fresh produce. Avoid quick breakfast foods. Eighty percent of families splurge on boxed cereal and flavored oatmeal packets that cost three times as much as quick fixes like plain oatmeal or eggs (which you can hard-boil on days that you're short on time).
ONCE YOU'RE HOME
Review your receipts.
In fact, hold on to a month's worth. Cross off staples like milk and eggs -- "whatever's left are extras you can live without," says Danger. Also check the date and time stamp. Do you tend to buy more "extras" on weeknights, when your willpower is low from a long day at work? Try shopping on the weekend instead.
Shop midweek to avoid crowds.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are your best bet, advises Gault. "Go after dinner, when the post-work crowds have cleared," she says. If you must shop on weekends, go before noon.
Consider another store.
Ostyn suggests tracking prices of staples to see which stores offer competitive prices. "Identical items often vary by at least a dollar," says Ostyn, who points out that most people shop at three supermarkets a month. Sniffing out the lower prices on 10 items a week will save more than $500 a year.