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When is the best time to buy groceries?

How healthy -- and cheap -- your food is depends on when you hit the grocery store.

By Money Staff Jan 15, 2014 12:46PM

This post comes from Brian O'Connell at partner site MainStreet.

MainStreet on MSN MoneyTo adequately feed a family of four, Americans spend $191 per week on average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA considers that a "low-cost food spending plan," with the average moderate- and liberal-grocery spending plans jumping to $239 and $290, respectively.

Woman carrying eco friendly shopping bag full of vegetables, low section © Harrison Eastwood, Digital Vision, Getty ImagesIf that sounds like a lot of cabbage, financially and food-wise, it is. The lowest figures times 52 weeks translates into a $9,932 household food bill over the course of a year, and that doesn't count vacation meals and restaurant spending.

It underscores the need to maximize the grocery shopping experience, week in and week out, starting with discounts and coupons (online grocery discount sites such as and can help you there) and including more creative steps to maximize your grocery store experience, save money and eat better in the process.

Start with the day and time you hit the grocery store.

Researchers at Cornell University say shoppers who ventured out earlier in the day (between 1 and 4 p.m.) bought less high-calorie foods than those who shopped between 4 and 7 p.m.)

But the best time to go shopping may be first thing in the morning. That is when perishable foods such as dairy products and fruits and vegetables are most fresh, since in the age of logistics and inventory management, grocery stores usually have food delivered every day.

Financially, the best day of the week to go shopping is likely Wednesday — that's the day grocery stores start their weekly discount and coupon programs. It's also a day most stores will honor coupons from the previous week, giving shoppers a "discount double play."

The worst day of the week to shop might be Saturday, although there is little research on the topic. A 2008 study from the Time Use Institute does say that Saturday is, by far, the busiest grocery shopping day of the week, with 41 million shoppers (Friday is second, at 35 million).

Wednesday averages 30 million shoppers, according to the study, making for more room in the aisles.

Shop early Wednesday and use coupons and you'll beef up your food shopping experience and improve your sanity, diet and banking account at the same time.

More from MainStreet:

Jan 15, 2014 2:39PM
$191/week for groceries for a family of 4 is a "low-cost food spending plan"?  That's more than $750/month!  Low-cost my a$$!  Apparently there are too many people shopping at Whole Foods.  No wonder we have 40+ million on food stamps, if the gov thinks each family of 4 should need a bare minimum of $750/month in food.  If you pay attention to sales, plan your meals and utilize your freezer for stuff other than frozen TV dinners, popsicles and ice cream, you can spend way less than $750/month for a family of 4.
Jan 15, 2014 2:26PM

One rule I always follow.....always eat before going grocery shopping.

Jan 15, 2014 4:43PM
One word folks...... Aldi. I have a family of 6. I spend on average of $165-180 every other week. I make sure to spread my food as far as it can go and cook everything myself. We eat lots of fruits and veggies but buy fruits in season to keep costs down. My children could easily drink a gallon of milk a day also, but I don't let them because it's expensive. I buy 4-5 gallons of milk each shopping trip and it's used mainly for breakfast, cooking and occasional glasses of milk. I have 4 incredibly healthy children who are no where near obese and no where near starving. We need to bring back basic Home Economics into the school. We have a whole generation of people that have no idea how to cook outside of a box mix.
Jan 15, 2014 4:18PM
Coupons? In my experience most of the coupons are for processed foods made with sugar, salt, additives and GMO corn products.  How about stripping down to basics like fruit, veggies, a little meat or chicken and fish?  Of course, then you would have to actually cook a meal from scratch..
Jan 15, 2014 9:39PM
I think food stamp recipients should be limited to Food. No junk food, chips, soda, candy, baked goods, etc.
I have actually been in the check out line. The couple in front of me, with their EBT card, actually had frozen lobster, shrimp and crab legs in the cart, chips, soda, etc.
Are you kidding me!
They should be limited to Food items and not Luxury food items!
Don't go near or just after the 1st of the month, which is when a lot of government paychecks and welfare checks get sent out.
Jan 15, 2014 3:55PM
If a family actually "cooked" their meals, they would get by just fine on $191/week.
Jan 15, 2014 4:37PM
I'm a single working mom of 2 boys and I get by on $250 a MONTH!!!!! Yes I cook and meal plan...I do a week's worth of meals up ahead of time and freeze them.   I just can't fathom having close to that a week to spend.....
Jan 15, 2014 4:19PM
The best time is when you have the time!
Jan 15, 2014 2:58PM

To shop on early on Wednesday is impossible if you have a full time job.  With my work scheduled it's sometimes impossible to get to the store, especially if you rely on public transportation.  Only stay at home moms or dads can do this.

Jan 15, 2014 3:07PM
If I spent that much a week for food I would weigh 400 lbs.  We had 5 in our family and I know it wasn't that much. 
Jan 15, 2014 3:04PM
I guess those of us who work for a living aka 9-5 weekdays are SOL for "non busy" shopping.  I agree that $190/week sounds a little high.  $150 is not unreasonable tho
Jan 15, 2014 3:28PM
$190 a week is really about twice as much as it takes to feed a family of four.  That's a ridiculous figure.  Sad that someone would think that was really a figure to "adequately" feed a family of four.  Totally inflated and hilarious that they would print an article with an outlandish figure like that.  
Jan 15, 2014 4:12PM
I live in the North/East and have a family of 5 and spend between $200 to $250 a week. I make all my own meals and never buy frozen foods but for snacks for the teenagers. Having 3 kids, 2 of which are boys 6'1" and close to 200lbs, they eat alot of food!! All my kids play sports and eat 4 to 5 meals a day- I would love $191 a week!!
Jan 15, 2014 5:08PM

My husband and I spend about $200 a month on groceries, and we eat lots of meat and fresh veggies.  We do probably go once a week, and he might buy his lunch once a week, but for the most part, that $200 pretty much covers us.  I use coupons and buy generic when I can, and we have a meatless night once a week.  Sometimes I think people think they need more food than they really do.  Portion control is a lost concept in America. 


I can't imagine nearly $800 a month for a family of 4! What in the world are they eating all day?!?!

Jan 15, 2014 4:15PM

I do 99% of my food shopping at Fred Meyer.  The first Tuesday of each month they offer a 10% discount on their house brands.  And you can use other coupons as well.  We don't have the Wednesday ads coming out here.  They are from Sunday-Saturday.  The only complaint I have is that they are still stocking at 9-10 A.M. when the Sr. van takes us shopping.  Have always been a coupon shopper and it does save money!  Always have a list and seldom deviate from said list.  If people would stop buying all of the pre-packaged crap and frozen food that is packed full of sodium they could cut their food bill down by a whole lot.  Learn to cook and cook homemade from scratch.  It's cheaper in the long run and a whole lot healthier!  Don't have time?  Take one of your days off and do prep work and/or fix meals for the whole week and freeze or refrigerate.  Been there and done that in my younger years.  You do what needs to be done to control your spending!  Just sayin'......


Jan 15, 2014 4:25PM
Bread and water. That's all they get at my house.
Jan 15, 2014 4:25PM

$190 per week for food for 4 people is WAY more than "adequate".  I don't think hand outs funded by my taxes need to be generous.  I'd prefer to see food allowances reduced and more spent on shelters and helping people find jobs.  Our food budget is less than that!  If I had $190/month food budget for 2 adults and 2 kids,  we could afford to serve LOTS of  junk food snacks and ready-made meals (and even some inexpensive restaurant meals) so we'd hardly ever have to spend any time or discipline actually budgeting and planning and WORKING in the kitchen to make ends meet!  As it is, we work our jobs, work at shopping and meal planning, can't afford to allow ourselves or the kids to  'graze' through the cupboards at will all week long, and we MOSTLY avoid restaurants and ready-made foods...all to 'get by' with no handouts. 

Jan 15, 2014 4:07PM
Grocery stores here start new ads on Sundays and there is no discount day or coupon day. They double coupons up to a dollar all of the time, period. No idea where you get your facts from but they do not hold true for upstate New York.
Jan 15, 2014 3:59PM
Which campaign contributing sector will [take] my money today, Corporate American profiteers, Wall Street manipulators, or thieving Banksters?

Maybe government and the Fed will work on taking the last 3 cents of purchasing value left in our Fiat Dollar?

'Our' [labor] creates more wealth than it ever has. Yet, we now have the lowest Standard of Living since World War II. The oppressive Bureaucracy in control of 'our' government must be removed!

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