Grocery Shopping – Money Saving Tips

Grocery shopping money saving tips.

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Want to save money and grocery shopping – learn some great tips from readers and experts here!

How Much Does a Quick Trip to the Grocery Store Take?

How long does a “quick trip” to the store really take? Just a few minutes? Let’s calculate and see where our time goes.
Drive Time: 10 minutes. Let’s assume you only have to drive about 10 minutes to get to the store, or you hit it on the way home from work.
Shopping Time: 30 minutes. Of course, you only need a few items for the next couple of days, but you wander through the produce section and the bakery and the deli. You keep moving, picking up the items on your list and “just a few” impulse items. But what happens if you meet one of your neighbors or a friend in the store? Whew! Kiss another 20 minutes goodbye.

Check-Out Time: 10 minutes. Could be longer if you shop at dinner time.
Load and Unload: 10 minutes
Put Groceries Away: 10 minutes.
There you have it. A “quick trip” to the store can easily eat up an hour and 10 minutes (or more). Limiting your trips to the store can save you time and money too!
Steve & Annette Economides – Scottsdale, AZ

Co-operative Produce Shopping

An orange mini pumpkin, corn, tomatoes and other vegetables.

I am in charge of a produce co-op.  We shop about every 4 to 6 weeks (4 weeks in the prime season and 6 in offseason). For $15 each, we get 3 cooking vegetables (for example, we usually get 12 to 14 potatoes, 8 to 10 onions, 20+ carrots), 3 salad vegetables (3 heads lettuce, tomatoes, 6 to 8 squash) and 3 fruits (15 to 20 apples, 20 oranges, 1or2 cantaloupe).

Our co-op has 10 families. When it’s time to shop, a team of two go to the Dallas Farmers Market to the wholesalers and make selections for a total of $150. The minimum is always 3 salad, 3 cooking, and 3 fruits but when the prices are right, we can get up to 12 to 14 different items.

Sharing Your Bounty of Produce

Then each team takes the wholesale quantities and splits it among all the families. The team that shopped makes the produce available at a specific time for everyone to pick up.

It is AWESOME!  Many times we are able to buy directly from the farmers saving us a lot of money while getting fresher produce that wasn’t shipped hundreds of miles.  It’s great and we love it!   Whitney Johnson – Euless, Texas

Image courtesy of Hin255/

Using a grocery Hand Basket for Impulse Buys

Whenever I go to the grocery store, I put one of those hand baskets in the child seat area of my cart. As I shop I put anything I pick up that is not on my list in the basket. This way I can easily see my impulse items and evaluate them before I get to the check out lane. There are always some things that I don’t really need so . . . they get put back. Margaret – Mt Vernon, WA

Flea Markets Can Yield Food Bargains

Our area has a great flea market across the bay in Oakland.  I’ve found a “damaged food” vendor and have bought some great items for a fraction of the regular grocery store price. Most items have received damage to their box or container, but the food inside was free from damage and still sealed. These vendors are also negotiable on their prices! A real bonus is that on Wednesday and Thursday, entrance to the flea market is only 25¢ and 50¢ respectively.
 Tina Chester – San Bruno, CA

 Stocking Up on Food Items carefully

A stack of blue tuna cans next to a row of cooking spray - stock up and save.

I’m always watching the newspapers for sales. When I see a storable food item at a steeply discounted price I don’t just buy one or two, I stock up on as many as I have coupons for. Often times I pay pennies for dollar items. I always keep in mind how much storage space I have and the shelf life of the item. Dianne Guastella – Midlothian, VA

 Generic brand Food Can Taste Good

My husband and I buy mostly generic / store brands when we grocery shop. When we first started we only bought one or two to see if it was as good or close to the same quality as name brands. Most generic brands are just as good as the name brand and about half the price. We also buy what we can in bulk. But you have to be careful and take the time to see if it’s actually less expensive. Charleen MacDougall – Loris, SC

Shopping Local Saves Our Town Grocer

Sometimes the desire to save money and the desire to do the right thing collide. We’ve started shopping for groceries monthly as you suggested in your book Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half.  Should I shop at Walmart (20 miles away) or at the store in the small town near home (9 miles away)? Of course, groceries are more expensive at the small store, but the owner has said the store can’t survive if people just stop by to pick up the occasional item.

Is saving money more important than supporting the local economy? I think I’ve answered my own question. I’m going to shop at the local store on the day they give a 10% discount to seniors. That way I can save money AND not feel guilty doing so.   Janice Schaeffer – Ozawkie, Kansas (pop.500)

Editor’s Note – Good for You Janice, money shouldn’t always be our bottom line!

Interesting Ways to Save on Food

Here are a few other ways to save on Food
– Eat less
– Gardening
– Fish/Hunt
– Foraging – I froze 43-pint bags of berries
– Sprouting

My favorite grocery store is Aldi’s. For the past 3 months, my food budget for myself has been $45 (per month). I almost never buy processed foods that you would need a coupon for. I only buy low priced “loss leader” foods for the most part. Joy Nash – USA

Keeping track of the Food in Your House

This is so easy and will cost you almost nothing to do.  Just put a notepad and pen in your bathroom toiletries closet and your kitchen pantry, or where ever your family goes to “shop” in your house when they’re out of something. If anyone takes the last one of that item, ask them to simply jot it down on the notepad. Once a week I tear off the top sheet, stick it in my purse, and while I’m already out I keep my eye out for good deals on those items.

Because of the advanced notice, I usually have plenty of time to find the best price in my travels. No more rushing out to the expensive corner shop for a bottle of shampoo or contact lens solution. This strategy also eliminates wasted time and about $30 worth of other over-priced impulse buys, quickly thrown in the cart, due to being in crisis shopping mode! Gail Loperena – Pleasanton, CA

Co-Ops Make Great Expectations

A bushel basket of green beans.

Here is an outstanding idea for saving money on groceries (besides having a garden): a food co-op or wholesale purchasing group. Friends can form a food co-op, give themselves a name, and obtain groceries at wholesale prices if there is a natural foods warehouse in their community. It worked beautifully for about a dozen of us in the Seattle area: we called ourselves the “Better Bread” group — and yes, we did experiment with making bread, too.

We gathered a few friends and met monthly to get the grocery list going. It’s a wonderful way to learn about new foods, “We need three more people to take a few pounds of couscous,” or, “Red lentils are on sale if we get a full bushel,” and, of course, to make lasting friends. The food truck delivered to one person’s home, and we’d converge to have our meeting, discuss a topic or two of common interest, and divvy up the large parcels of interesting groceries.

Warning: after a few months, a high proportion of our members were ‘expecting’ again. We decided it was due to the vitamin E!  Elizabeth Hardisty — Mercer Island, WA 

Grocery Shopping and Wasting Money

A website visitor asked: What is the single biggest money waster when shopping for groceries?

Answer: Cheetos! Well, they’re our downfall.

Seriously, impulsiveness is the most costly habit out there. An extensive research study of grocery-buying habits showed that 60 percent of the items put in a grocery cart are unplanned purchases — they are impulse buys. If you go to the store for 10 items you’ll come home with 16.

By doing some simple planning — a weekly menu based on sale items and creating (and sticking to) a shopping list — most consumers could cut a huge amount of impulse buys from their grocery expenses.

If you want to read the study, Where the Rubber Meets the Road, A Model of In-Store Consumer Decision Making, by  J. Jeffrey Inman, Rosellina Ferraro, Russell S. Winer, click the link below:

Inman Study

(Just be aware that this is a statistical survey and you may have to wade through technical terms you might not understand to get to the usable information).

This is the most extensive study of consumer buying habits ever created. It’s a fascinating look at what we buy and why. They tracked over 50,000 purchases made by 4000 consumers. The study shows that what you intend to buy when you go to the store is NOT what you come home with . . . not by a long shot.

In our book “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half we give readers the ammunition they need to beat this survey and walk away from the grocery store spending less money than ever before.

If you want to read the ultimate guide to Grocery Store Sales Cycles and when to stock up check out this post.

Calculate This – A Test of Your Sales Skills

An android calculator showing a sale price on groceries.

Grocers seem to want to make prices confusing. Being able to quickly calculate the actual unit price of multiples is essential to getting a good deal at the store. Take this quiz and see how quickly you can find the unit price for each of the deals listed.

And remember, just because it’s Ten for $10 doesn’t mean that you have to buy ten of that item.

Sale Price comparison table test.

Draw a line from the Deal Price to the correct Price Per Unit. Prices have been rounded up to the nearest penny.

Note: The answers are not provided . . . we want you to use your head or your calculator to get it right.


Using Rain Checks & Substitutions at the Grocery Store

3 rain-checks from grocery stores.

You work hard to save money on groceries. As you review the food ads, you can even plan your menu around them. And you reorganize and catalog what you have in your pantry and freezer so you know what you have in stock. Then you plan your shopping list and figure the most efficient route to take so you can hit two or three stores in one trip. You’re armed with a great plan and ready to make a killing on the food you’ll purchase to feed your family.

Then you get to the store, and some of their killer loss-leader items are out of stock. We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve run into this situation. It’s so frustrating, especially because we try to limit our trips to the store to once a month. Unfortunately, grocers aren’t used to our type of shopping, so they respond to being out of stock with “We’ll have more tomorrow around 9 A.M. You can come back then.”

When saving money and time are your goals, coming back tomorrow at 9 A.M. just doesn’t sit well. We don’t center our lives around going to the grocery store — much to the chagrin of store managers. So when we run into a situation where a store is out of stock of a specific item we want, we do one of two things:

1) Substitutions 

If the item is something we need for the upcoming month, we ask the manager to substitute a similar item. We’ll try to be sensitive and logical and ask that a store brand is substituted (if possible). We’ve done this with various cuts of meat, cereal, laundry detergent (asking for two smaller boxes that would equal the size of the larger box on sale).

We always explain to the manager that we don’t shop every week and that we have a large, busy family and cannot come back in the morning. We usually find the manager to be very accommodating if we come to him with a logical reason and an attitude of understanding that he might not be able to help us. Managers want happy customers who return again and again, so being gentle and polite usually makes it easy for them to say yes.

2) Rain Checks 

 If the manager turns us down, we go to our next option, and that is to get a rain check. Most stores will do this, but they often put an expiration date on the rain check — sometimes only one or two weeks. Again, we tell them that we shop only once a month and that we need the rain check to have either no expiration date or one that gives us a couple of months to use. Most of the time they will give us at least one month.

We also make sure to ask for no quantity limit or that they put a huge limit on the rain check (like 10 or 20 of an item) if there is no specified restriction in their store ad.

If we go to use a rain check and it is expired, we again appeal to the store manager, who almost always honors it.

This fall we wanted to buy some hams for our monthly menu (we had a couple of events planned where we would be feeding large groups), but there were no sales — the going price at the time was $1.50 to $2.00 per pound. We had a rain check, without an expiration date, with a price of $.99 per pound. Annette was passing by this particular store one night and stopped by. She asked the manager if he would honor the rain check, and when he said yes, she promptly loaded four hams into the cart. Saving 50 cents to $1 per pound really helps!

The Juice Deal

Another time, we wanted to buy some apple juice (we serve it on Sunday mornings as a special treat). We can usually find it for $.99 for a half-gallon container. But there were no sales when we went shopping. Annette had a rain check for Old Orchard juice from a certain store and decided to use it.

As we walked the aisles on our monthly shopping trip, she scanned the juice section looking for Old Orchard apple juice. There were no bottles there. The only varieties of Old Orchard that they had in stock were the expensive Pomegranate / Blueberry flavor for $5 per half gallon or the more expensive straight Pomegranate juice for $8 per half gallon. The rain check specified only Old Orchard juice for $.99 and didn’t limit us to specific flavors.

Annette did feel a bit of compassion for the store and passed on the more expensive variety, but she picked up her limit of 3 half gallons of the Pomegranate / Blueberry for $.99 each. Mmmmmm, it was delicious — and the great deal made the juice even sweeter . . . if that’s possible.

3) Expired Store Coupons 

The final money saver that we’ve discussed with various managers is expired store-issued coupons. You know the type; they are the coupons that have the store logo on them and come in the mail from the store’s marketing department or in special store flyers. Managers of one chain in our area have told us repeatedly that they will take any and all of their own coupons regardless of expiration date — all we have to do is ask.

Managers won’t take expired manufacturer coupons because the manufacturer gives the store only a few days after the coupon expiration date to process and mail in coupons to a clearinghouse for reimbursement. Remember that the manufacturer reimburses the store for the face value of the coupon plus a 7-cent handling fee. Stores want to get their money, so they have to play by the rules specified by the manufacturer.

But when it comes to their own store coupons, the rules change; the stores have no handling fee to recapture.

If you take our advice, out-of-stock items will be less of a hassle, and you’ll end up getting the deal you came in to get. Just remember to ask the manager — you may be pleasantly surprised at the response you get.

For another great article about shopping and checking your receipts before you leave the grocery store, click on the link provided.

For more great grocery tips, visit our coupon savings page.

Grocery Shopping money saving tips with a bag full of fresh produce.

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