The Best and Worst Times to Go Grocery Shopping


We've all experienced this: You need two or three items for dinner tonight, so you make a quick run to the grocery store — only to walk out 40 minutes later with 10 items you hadn't planned on buying. What happened in that "quick" trip to the store? (See also: 25 Things You Shouldn't Buy at the Grocery Store)

It turns out there are good and bad times to go grocery shopping, and your favorite store knows this. In fact, they are counting on you to make mistakes during your trip that will earn them more in profits. Grocery stores know how people shop and spend, so why not plan to be successful yourself? Picking the right time to go shopping, preparing yourself before you go, and keeping yourself focused while you are there are all keys to avoiding purchasing budget (and diet) busters.

Go at the Start of Your Store's "Sales Week"

The Internet is full of advice for the best day of the week to go grocery shopping. Most will tell you it is Wednesday, because stores start their sales for the next seven days on Wednesdays and some still honor the previous week's sales. Your mileage will vary, however. Many stores in my area, for example, start their sales on either Sunday or Monday, and they never have a day when both the previous week's and the upcoming week's sales are good.

Your best option is to find out when your store starts running their sales and shop as close to that as possible for any deals that you want to snag. Don't forget: If you can't find an item on the shelf and it is on sale, get a raincheck at the customer service desk to ensure that you get that sale price when the item is in stock.

Ask Department Managers for Details

One good way to take advantage of store scheduling is to check in with the managers of each grocery department to find out what time and day they bring out merchandise to be clearanced out. The meat manager, for example, should be able to tell you that he marks down meat with a nearing expiration date on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. By shopping close to these times, you can get much of your grocery list accomplished at a fraction of retail pricing.

Go When Bins Are Freshly Stocked

To make sure your store isn't out of what you want, the best time of day to shop is mid-morning to early afternoon. Many stores stock their fresh produce during this time (non-perishables are usually stocked in the evenings when people are not walking through the aisles). This is a great time to find the freshest produce (and in my case, sometimes the only time to find coveted items like organic strawberries which always disappear fast in my town).

The same principle can be applied to fresh meat and seafood departments, too.

Go Weeknight Evenings After Dinner

After dinner, say between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., most people settle in for the evening, and few have the energy to tackle a big trip to the grocery store. The shelves and bins won't be quite as full as a weekday visit, but you'll have the store almost to yourself. Another advantage of going after dinner is that you won't go in hungry (see below), which often results in impulse spending.

Don't Go During "Rush Hour"

Grocery stores are busiest right after most people get off work. The aisles are packed, the lines are longer, and the frustrations can be plenty.

Weekend Afternoons Are the Worst

Even busier than weeknights right after work are weekends at the grocery store. Aisles are crowded and shelves are empty. I have noticed that Sundays around noon are the absolute worst time to go shopping in my town. It appears that a lot of people head to the store after their church service, and I have been known to turn around and go home if I realize what I've done by arriving at that time.

Weekends are also the time when those wonderful people — product demonstrators — are most likely to be around, offering tasty samples of foods and treats you don't need. Suddenly, you've added crackers and dips, pretzel bread, and cookies to your cart because some lovely person offered you a free taste and a cents off coupon.

Weekend Mornings Are a Better Time

If your only time to grocery shop is on the weekends, like most of us, try to plan your trips for the morning. Become an early riser on Saturday or Sunday while everyone else is still lounging in their PJ's. You'll still find fresh produce, shelves that are stocked, and a quiet store. You'll get out quicker and with fewer impulse purchases in your cart.

Go After Making a List

Go in with a list (based on a meal plan for an entire week) and stick to it! If you shop without one, you are likely to buy too much of the foods you don't want or ones that will go bad before you've had time to eat them. You'll also keep yourself from having to make a quick trip one evening to grab one more item you need for dinner that night. Those after work "quick trips" are a bad idea (we'll talk more about those on down in this article).

Need help organizing and using a list? There are hundreds of free apps and tools to help you manage your shopping. Some, like ZipList, are integrated into recipes you can store for later. Others, like RememberTheMilk, are simple checklist tools with more than just shopping applications.

Never Go Hungry

This goes without saying, but before you step foot into the grocery store, prepare yourself to be successful at beating their marketing ploys. Eat a meal or a snack so you are not hungry. We've all found ourselves with a cart full of junk food because we made the mistake of hitting the store on the way home from work. When you're full, you are more likely to stick to your list. When you're hungry, you're more likely to buy high calorie junk food.

Another way to keep yourself from buying stuff you don't really need is to chew gum while shopping. If you should cross paths with a product demonstrator, and you have gum in your mouth, you are more likely to skip it. Those impulse buys are usually bad on the budget and possibly your waistline as well. Who knew there was so much value in a stick of gum?

When's your favorite time to go to the grocery store? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture


Definitely some good ideas about times to pick. My wife and I have asked the stockers when the yogurt comes because the good stuff always seems to sell out!

Were you able to find any data related to customers and average customer wait time? Sometimes if the store is busier, the extra cashiers can more than make up for it. I was at Walmart recently at 8:30pm on a weeknight and waited 45 minutes because only two employees were on the cash.

Guest's picture

A great read and very useful. Might save some money also, thank you :)