Honestly, I hate grocery shopping. But buying food is a necessity, so I might as well save a ton of money while I shop! My goal is to get out of there as fast as possible while spending as little as possible, and since I have been doing this for years and <ahem> years, let me share with you my ninja ways to save money on groceries.
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*Updated January 2017
A strategy for navigating the store to save money
I should mention that I shop once a month, and just run out for milk in between. That’s how much I hate going.
In my town, there are three stores where I buy groceries. It all depends on what I really need to get, and the not-so-urgent items. First, I check the flyers with the store coupons that come in the mail. The types of items that are on my grocery list, store coupons, and prices determine which one I will be going to.
Note – I said “store” coupons, since I never clip, use or hunt down manufacturer’s coupons. I tried that years ago, and it seemed to be a huge investment of time with little savings. Your mileage may vary!
Shop the perimeter – produce
1.This is the first section that I hit. At two of the stores I go to, there is a well-hidden baker’s cart in the far corner of the store that has reduced produce – vegetables and fruit for 99 cents a bag! That is the very first thing I head for at either store. Last trip, I picked up: two bags with 2 grapefruit per bag; a bag with 10 clementines; two bags with 10 apples each; and a bag with about 8 oranges. For 99 cents a bag! I did see bags with 2 large eggplant per bag, but I already have a few containers of eggplant Parmesan in the freezer. The best part is that there is pretty much nothing wrong with the reduced stuff! One of the apples was a little soft, and one orange had seen better days. That’s it.
One day, I overheard the produce manager taking to one of the staff about how they determine what gets reduced. For that store, it’s based on what was for sale in the regular bins and how many customers they thought would be in the store that day. I’m guessing that as new stock comes in, they try to move out the older stuff by marking it down.
As I look over what is available on the reduced racks, I determine what I will be cooking right away – for eating that week, and for stocking up the freezer. So for instance, if there are bags of green peppers, I’ll make a ton of stuffed peppers – keeping a few out for dinner to serve with garlic mashed potatoes, and packing the rest in containers for the freezer. And when I get fruit, I make a bowl of fruit cocktail to have in the morning with my homemade yogurt, and then make some apple turnovers.
If items that are on my list aren’t in the reduced rack, I’ll choose carefully from the regularly priced bins; skip the not-so-urgent items, and/or stop at the little produce store that is next door to where I get my hair cut.
Shop the perimeter – meats
2. I look for the huge, family-size packages and what’s on sale. Even though I am only cooking for myself, I buy meat (and just about everything else) in quantity when the price is right. (I also buy shredded cheese and American cheese in the huge packages too.)
When I had a tiny apartment and just the small freezer part of the fridge, used to buddy up with a friend and we would split the large packages between us. Now I have a full-sized freezer in the basement, in addition to the one in the side-by-side fridge. [ Side note – if you have the space, get a full-size freezer! It will pay for itself – especially if you buy a “scratch & dent” one like I did. ]
For cuts of meat, my staple items are chicken thighs (super cheap!) and 85/15 ground beef. Other cuts if they are on sale are; boneless pork chops; eye of beef for roasts; skirt steak for fajitas; stew beef for stroganoff, stew or chili; wild-caught salmon; whole chicken; ham steaks and andouille sausage for jambalaya. Oh. And I only buy meat once every two months.
Avoid the Aisles of Temptation
3. Now that I have shopped the perimeter of the store, I go up and down only the aisles where the stuff on my list is. I swear, this is where the stores try to suck you into buying more than what you really need. If I don’t have cereal on my list, I don’t go down that aisle. Period. Avoid the temptation to more stuff in your cart! The candy aisle is one that I never go down.
Another tip is to look at the very top shelves, and the ones close to the floor. Stores like to put their more expensive items right at eye level, to make it easier for it to jump into your cart.
Buy store brands
4. Seriously. They are usually made by the Big Name companies – without the costs for advertising, fancy labels and packaging. A friend of mine did accounting work for one of those Big Name places that made bagels, and said the local supermarket chain bagels were the same exact ones.
Now if members of your family are going to give you the stink-eye and not want to eat the store brand stuff, try this: slip the inner package of store brand oat cereal into an empty Cheerios box. They will never know the difference. (and don’t ask me how I know that.)
Now some store brands do taste a little different, but you won’t know unless you try it, right? After one taste of the store brand, I found out that Campbell’s tomato soup is the ONLY tomato soup for me. And just this week, I discovered that the store brand puff pastry sheets were difficult to work with, because they weren’t packaged as well as the ones from Pepperidge Farm. Other than those two items, in all my life of grocery shopping those were the only two things that didn’t work for me. And I am pretty picky about flavour.
Now when it comes to price, you will see a huge difference from the manufacturer’s pricing. The canned vegetables in the photo above were on sale for 39 cents a can. WOW! (Oh. The cans in the far back were bought at the discount grocery store – they only have manufacturer brands, but at store brand prices.) Which brings me to my next tip..
5. When I saw the canned veggies for 55 cents, I bought enough to fill the shelves in my pantry – enough to get me through most of the winter. Bonus – no having to run to the store before/during/after a snowstorm!!!
I also pick up items like in the above photo at Ocean State Job Lot – the discount store nearby. Their prices are usually far below those of the grocery store, but the selection varies from week to week. When I see stuff I use a lot of, or fancy stuff like the pear infused vinegar, I grab it for the pantry. They aren’t really a grocery store, but more of a close-outs store with a small section for non-perishable food items. Stuff like spices are 89 cents, and twice I have found jars of name brand caviar for $1.00 – the same jars that sell for $6.99 in the grocery store. They have a great selection of olive oil, vinegars, along with jams and nut butters, so that is where I get those items when they have them in stock.
TIP – check expiration dates on EVERYTHING – no matter where you shop. Stores are sneaky and like to put the soon to expire (or horrors – expired) goods at the front of the shelf. Reach to the back and read those dates, since they will normally have a longer shelf life.
And another tip – don’t be like me and not put on your reading glasses in the store. That’s how pumpkin pie “filling” ended up in my house, and not the pumpkin puree that I use. <blech>. Labels have a funny way of looking alike when they are blurry. Now I put my glasses on as soon as I enter the store. Problem solved.
Limit or don’t buy packaged foods
6. Yeah, I know. This one may be a little tough for some people, but cooking from scratch will save you a boatload of cash! I make just about everything from scratch, and have always done so – even while working full time (8+ hours/day, plus 3 hours of commuting). I do most of my cooking and prep all in one day, which I will go into in another post. Once you use this method, you will be amazed at not only how much money you save, but how much time you free up during the week! Imagine coming home from work, and all you have to do is grab a plate and microwave for 3 minutes!!!
How much is a loaf of bread these days? I haven’t bought a loaf in…ummmm…years.
TIP – buy a bread machine. I bake bread once a week, and it costs about $1.00/loaf – whole wheat or light rye are my go-tos. The bread machine I use is the Sunbeam bread machine, and it’s the second one I have had in about 20 years. I use it not only for bread, but to make dough for sweet breads and pizza dough. It’s paid for itself many times over, and who can resist the smell of freshly baking bread?
In summary, that’s how I save a ton of money on groceries.
- Reduced produce
- Huge packages
- Avoid aisles with stuff I don’t need or want
- Buy store brands
- Stock up
- No packaged food & cook from scratch
By shopping infrequently, I also save money on gas! And there is still enough food in the freezer and pantry to keep me fed (and anybody who comes to visit too) for weeks.
So, what are your thoughts? Will you try this and see how much you save? Let me know in the comments!
Be sure to read this post on Make a Shopping List & Save Money!