It seems like there’s a new story or article on how to save money at the grocery store every week.
I’ve always thought I was a pretty savvy shopper so didn’t pay much attention to the stories but lately I’ve been more conscientious, and let me tell you: I have been saving more money than I thought possible, and it’s not just about coupons.
- PLAN YOUR MENU. Plan for the week based on what you already have and what’s on sale. Know (as much as possible) what the week ahead looks like. If you’re working late a couple of nights or the kids have multiple activities where you won’t be home, don’t load up on produce you won’t use and can’t freeze (like lettuce)…you’ll end up tossing it out.
- MAKE A LIST AND STICK TO IT. It’s amazing how fast a few extra items tossed in the basket can add up and completely blow your budget. The exception would be the clearance sections-these items aren’t included in the sale ads so you don’t know what’s on clearance until you see it. (More on the clearance sections below…)
- DON’T SHOP HUNGRY. This advice is not new, but it’s true. Seriously, have you ever bought something (or more) because it looked good at the time and you were hungry?
- USE COUPONS, CLUB CARDS AND REBATES. The weekly grocery ads usually have coupons you can clip and if you have a Safeway or King Soopers club card, you can actually go to their websites and download the coupons on your card (no clipping or keeping track of them). If you’re an “extreme coupon-er”, you’ll of course save even more money. Don’t just assume though that a coupon makes that product a good buy.
- TRY GENERIC AND STORE BRANDS. If you check the list of ingredients, you’ll see that most store and generic brands have the exact (or close to the same) ingredients as the more expensive name brands. The taste and quality are usually the close to the same, too. Sometimes though, the name brand is on sale or you’ll have a coupon that makes it less than the store brand, so again, check your prices. *Of course, tastes vary and you might have preferences for certain brands and if you stock up on a brand you’ve never tried, you might be stuck with something you don’t like. Two foods I only buy a certain brand of are soups and tuna, regardless of price, because we don’t like the taste or texture of others.
- KNOW HOW PRODUCT PLACEMENT WORKS. Products at eye level are typically higher in price than items placed on the higher and lower shelves. This is because the larger brands pay money to be placed there. And don’t assume that merchandise on end-caps (the sections at the end of the aisles) are always the best deal. A lot of times stores will place products that go together (like pastas and sauces or beans and chili mixes) that catch your eye but if you go into the actual aisle, you’ll find a similar product for less. Or, the stores will put a pasta that’s on sale with a sauce that isn’t on sale so you’ll grab both because it’s “convenient”.
- COMPARISON SHOP WITH UNIT PRICES. Don’t compare the ticket price of two items, compare the unit price (e.g. “$0.49 per oz), which is the smaller number to the left of the ticket price. This takes all the guess-work (or mental math) out of knowing if the larger package or different brand actually saves you money. Look at the prices and sizes in the sale ads also. For example, there were two different stores advertising potatoes for $1.99 each but then I saw that one store was selling their 5 pound bag for $1.99 and the other store’s $1.99 bag was actually a 10 pound bag… twice as much for the same price. Bulk buying doesn’t always save you money either. I’ve seen canned vegetables and broths at the warehouse stores (sold in multi-packs) that were 69 to 89 cents each and when on sale at the grocery stores were 49 to 69 cents each. The more you know what your grocery items usually cost, the more you’ll know when something’s a great buy.
- SHOP THE CLEARANCE SECTIONS. Usually each department will have a clearance section that contains foods that are about to expire, have been discontinued, are out of season, or just aren’t selling well at that particular location. The meats are typically 30 to 50% off and if you put them in the freezer before the expiration date, they’ll be just fine. Day-old breads (great for bread crumbs or feeding the birds) and doughnuts are usually up to 50% off (they are only a day old….if you buy a box of doughnuts and don’t eat the entire container that day, the next day they will be “day-old” and you’re probably going to still eat them). I buy all my holiday items like paper products or dishes after the holiday has passed when they are on clearance from 75 to 90% off and store them for the following year….they don’t “expire”.
- PULL FROM THE BACK IN THE DAIRY SECTION. The newer items are usually stocked from the back so the older products are in the front. If you want a couple of extra days (before the expiration date), pull your milk, eggs, yogurt, sour creams, etc., from the rear of the shelves.
- STOCK UP ON BARGAIN BUYS AND SEASONAL PRODUCE. When produce is in season it’s typically lower in price. If the store has an exceptionally good price for produce that can be frozen (beans, broccoli, peppers, onions, etc.) buy them and freeze what you can’t use before they go bad. For vegetables like the broccoli or beans, simply blanch in salted water, drain off the water, and put in freezer bags. For items like peppers and onions, you don’t want to freeze them whole. Instead, chop and then freeze. You can pull out a handful and toss in eggs, potatoes, casseroles, stews, etc. With meats, poultry and fish that are on sale, you can pat off all the liquid (liquid on meats can cause freezer burn when frozen), wrap individually, and put in a large freezer bag. Then you can pull out exactly the amount of pieces you need as you need them.
- AVOID THE HEALTH AND BEAUTY ITEMS. These will seldom if ever be priced lower than drugstores and the larger discount stores. You are paying higher prices at the grocery store for the “convenience”.
- SHAKE OFF WATER FROM PRODUCE. If you’re paying for produce by the weight, shake off the water from the mister before you bag it…water adds weight to the overall cost.
- And last but not least….WATCH THE SCANNER AND CHECK YOUR RECEIPT. There are many times something is marked down that doesn’t scan at the sale price. The times I don’t check my receipt or watch the scanner are the times I get home, realize I was overcharged and have to go back to the store…save time (and money) by checking before you leave.