Family in grocery register line © iStock

When you’re in the supermarket checkout line, it’s easy to be so distracted by fatigue, fidgeting kids or kooky tabloid headlines that you miss an overcharging error. The recent flap over allegations of inaccurate weight labeling and pricing at several Whole Foods stores in California and New York City serves as a wake-up call for all shoppers: If you don’t pay attention, you might get ripped off.

Following these 5 grocery shopping tips will help you stay more alert and pay less on your grocery bill.

Trust but verify. Loyal shoppers keep grocery stores in business, so there’s a good chance any pricing mistakes are due to honest error, not deliberate cheating. Still, Sami Cone, a Nashville, Tennessee-based smart-shopping expert who hosts a local radio show called “The Family Money Minute,” says, “The best advice is to never assume.”

That’s especially true when it comes to buying goods that are sold by weight. If it’s a prepackaged item, take it to the scale and weigh it yourself to see how closely it matches what’s marked on the package. Likewise, pre-weighing loose produce can help you notice an error on the checkout counter’s scale.

Don’t pick up extra weight. Make sure your fishmonger shakes off any clumps of ice that might raise the price of the fresh seafood he’s wrapping up for you, says Teri Gault, CEO of TheGroceryGame.com. At checkout, Gault always watches out for cashier elbows or items that might be leaning on the scale while the produce is being scanned.

Get the right code. If the cashier inputs the wrong code for your produce, it can cost you. Speak up if you think there’s any confusion about whether you’re buying zucchini or cucumbers, or whether the item you picked up came from the sale bin.

“If you’re buying … the 99-cent grapes that are on sale, and you get the produce code for the $3.99 organic grapes, you’ll pay 4 times as much for those grapes,” Gault says.

Checklist of ways to address overcharges

  • Speak to the clerk at the service desk of the grocery store.
  • If the problem remains unresolved, ask to speak to the manager.
  • Look for the “Contact us” link on the grocery store’s website. Contact them.
  • Use social media to voice your complaint.
  • Write a letter to the company CEO.
  • File a complaint with your state’s consumer protection office.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Group sale items together. It’s hard to keep up with every line on the cash register screen when you’re busy unloading your cart or just too tired to notice. So Cone suggests separating sale items — especially when the sale price isn’t marked on the package — and watching closely as the cashier rings them up.

“I usually save those questionable items … for last, because then I know I’m going to be checking that before I actually give them any money,” Cone says.

Review your receipt. Before you leave the parking lot, if not the checkout line, take a quick scan of your receipt to check for things like double billing or taxes charged for nontaxable items. As Gault notes, even if you don’t spot an overcharging error right away, you can get it resolved later.

“Almost any reputable retailer will give you your money back, and maybe something else on top of it,” Gault says.

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