Grocery Geek California Style

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Well, when I hit the ground here in So Cal last week, I was a little wary as to how I was going to swing my $400/mo food & toiletry budget. That was one of my major accomplishments of last Spring – reducing our food costs by half. Can I do it in the Golden State? Some are skeptical. Well, I’m here to prove them wrong.

(Just go ahead and tell me I’m not capable of something.)

Anywho, Grampa Jack treated us to a trip to Trader Joe’s. While full of “fun food” and a few good prices on milk and butter, TJ’s is not going to be a regular stop on my grocery gathering route. But, one can always dream…. For those of you who don’t know TJ’s – it’s like Aldi and Whole Foods got married and had a baby.

One of the things I’ve noticed about this area (a suburb of San Diego) is that grocery stores and pharmacies are not parked on every street corner as they are in Kansas City. So, I will be a little more judicious in my shopping. And it is going to take me a few weeks to see how each of the major markets (Vons, Albertons, and Ralphs) operates. This past week I visited two.

Ralphs – I hit this store before our trailer full o’ stuff came, so I was just picking up a few meals’ worth of food. I didn’t bother with coupons, but kinda cased the joint, so to speak. Ralphs is a Kroger company, so they offer double coupons as well as frequent markdowns for quick sale. The markdowns I saw were not near their dates, but just products or sizes they were discontinuing. Coupled with coupons they would be great bargains. There is a Ralphs on the way home from FishPapa’s work, so he may be the Go-To Guy for Ralphs shoppping. We shall see.

Yesterday morning I made it to Albertsons. They had tons of deals going. Tons! They operate similar to Walgreens and CVS; Buy 10 of this, get $3 off your order. Instead of a coupon, you get instant savings. I like that. The crew there was super nice and friendly.

The butcher asked if I needed something, and I explained my $400/mo budget and my target price of $2/# on meat. He immediately became my advocate! He said to call him each week and he’d help me score the best deals they had. How cool is that?!

I noticed that regular prices are very, very high. Much higher than my sweet SuperWalmart back in KC. So, loss leaders and stockpiling are the name of the game from here on out. I’m going to have to nab the good deals (which are very good, even by national standards) when they are to be had. Here’s my list to give you an idea of what I am working with. Any suggestions on how to swing the CA grocery thing are always appreciated.

large bottle cooking oil 9.99
2 gallons nonfat milk for 4.99
2 # rice 5.99 (ouch!)
eggs 2.49
buttermilk 1.99
large container yogurt 2.79
Better than Bouillion 5.99 (organic was the same price as reg, so I got the OG)
tomato sauce 3/1.00
BirdsEye Steamfresh 1.04/bag (sale + coupon)
sugar 1.75/5# (sale + coupon)
Heath toffee bits .70
Hershey chocolate chips .70
butter 3.00
Sara Lee sandwich bread 1.40
Campbells cream of chicken .60 (sale + coupon)
frozen pretzels .65/box (sale + coupon)
Daisy sour cream .35/8 oz. (sale + coupon)
mayo 3.00
super large can pintos 2.00
Nestle cookie dough .75 (sale + coupon)
Balance bars .70 (sale + coupon)
Softsoap .35 (sale + coupon)
Zone Perfect bars FREE (sale + coupon)
Fast Fixin’s chicken nuggets and strips .25 (sale + coupon)
ground beef 1.99/#
Boneless, skinless chicken breast 1.79/#
Sargento grated cheese 1.75/8 oz.
36 ct corn tortillas 1.69
Pepperoni 3.50
misc produce

Grand TOTAL $124.52

Not bad. This should cover at least a week with extra for the stockpile. Come back Monday to see my menu plan.

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  1. Mrs. Querido says:

    Wow…you go grocery geek!

    Wish our Albertsons had such friendly staff. But they do have awesome deals πŸ™‚

  2. That is actually very impressive… I am from Indiana, and I would have thought the prices there were a lot worse! And you really did well. I think we would go poor on buying milk alone, though. We have 4 boys (also!) and they drink SO MUCH MILK! I go to Aldi’s here and pay $2.29 a gal and we get 6-7 gallons a week… I’m glad you are back and blogging also. ANd that you made it! You are a brave woman! God Bless you!

  3. mommykerrie says:

    yeah! my kc writing/homeschooling/mom of a bunch/money-saving mentor is back online! do you know coronado island? we were there recently … gorgeous! have fun living in ca again!

  4. Thanks for the encouraging words, ladies.

    Sarah, the milk price I listed is for TWO gallons, so it was really only $2.50/gallon which is a stellar deal, even in KC.

    Kerrie, I got your email. You’re so sweet. I WILL write back. Thanks!

  5. I used to love Ralph’s but always found them pretty expensive. I did the bulk of my shopping at Vons. They always had good sales to combine with coupons. Now, this was all years ago when I lived in San Diego so things may have changed. I also LOVED this one store….naturally I forgot the name…I think it started with an H. It was mostly all produce and bulk food. Super cheap and really great quality.

  6. I live in the SB area, and I’m adjusting to SoCal grocery prices as well. I don’t have a family yet, but I’m a grad student, so saving every penny helps! I’ve discovered that Albertsons will occasionally have awesome prices on produce, but the Farmer’s Market is tastier (though not entirely convenient). I’ve heard Vons is like Safeway…so deals can be mixed (a Safeway deal isn’t always a “deal”), and I haven’t been to Ralphs.

    Have you found an ethnic grocery store yet? That’s my next stop–spices, rice, meat for carnitas (mixed in with other stuff, it stretches FAR), and four/tortillas should be cheaper than at a regular grocery store (I found tortillas for $4.99/pkg at Albertsons! Rip off!)

  7. We live in Central Cal. and I do some of my shopping at Vons – mostly just sale/ loss leader/ quick sale stuff. They do occasionally run some fantastic deals which are usually on The store which has the best prices around here is WinCo. Check to see if they have one down there – I’m not sure. I love that WinCo is open 24 hours a day! You do have to bag yourself and it’s like a warehouse in there but our in-the-produce-business friends here in the valley say that WinCo has the highest produce standards of all the Cali. chains.

  8. Well, you know exactly where I am:)

    I did those Albertson’s deals, especially the 70 centers.
    Our Albertsons markes down the hamburger every eve at a certain time to 1.49lb. Even the serloin if there is any left from the day.

    You are absolutely right Jessica, out here it’s loss lead or loose. Beyond that, it’s costco for some things, TJ’s for frozen vegies and pasta things, and Food For Less for everything else. Some people rag on FFL produce but if you go with the fruit that is in season it is local and usually good, and very much cheaper.
    I bought the Albertson’s apples 2/3 deal and then was mad at myself when I got to FFL and local apples (you know those not so shiny ones that look like they came off a farm) were 89cents a lb.

    At this time of year, it’s a good idea to go visit farms and buy in bulk. Especially apples which can last for months in many different ways.

    Sorry to ramble.
    Enjoy the sunshine! We still have plenty of it.:)

  9. JessieLeigh says:

    Sounds like a great trip!

    Hurray for a butcher-buddy; those connections are priceless. I have a very helpful butcher-buddy at my Meijer but he’s never offered for me to CALL him. You must seem nicer than me! ; )

    Looking forward to seeing your prove any doubting-Thomas folks wrong!

  10. hi jessica,
    here is my 2 cents worth…i don’t know if you have a stater brothers down there???… when we lived in so cal there were a few and i always found them to be much lower in price than the big three. also their store brands were very good. then there is also foods for less. these stores vary greatly in terms of cleanliness and their meats/produce. sometimes their fruit looks as if the staff has been bowling with the fruit after hours….:)you might try to find a grocery outlet too. again, hit or miss but sometimes you can find some great deals!
    ok…probbaly more than 2 cents worth:)

  11. Being from the southeast, I don’t recognize these grocery store names, but it sounds like you did very well! Glad you got there safely and glad to see new posts-yay!

  12. Garden Gal says:

    I've been living in N. CA for about a year & a half & I'm still a bit stumped as to the best ways to save $$. My toughest issue is hubbs is a huge meat eater, which kills the grocery bill & fruit is just outrageously priced – hardly anything that's under $2 a lb.

    So, I'm now driving 15 minutes out of town to hit the SuperWalmart. Never really shopped there before, didn't try the meats, but fruit was a bit cheaper & of course, canned goods, cereal, etc. were much cheaper.

    I'm also hitting a local fruit stand / store. Definitely cheaper & so much tastier! Again, it's about a 15 minute drive out of town, so not super convenient. My "goal" is to make a monthly menu rather than a bi-monthly menu, do the WalMart thing once a month & then the fruit store twice a month. I'm eager to see if there will be any real savings. I've cut my grocery bill down about $200 since moving here, but that's for 2 adults & 1 child…not great.

  13. Ethnic grocery stores are your friends!

    Produce is often cheaper in these stores because they buy riper stuff at the wholesale markets. Whether because picked longer ago or because picked closer to ripe, the bigger chains don’t want it because it won’t last during the time of taking it to their own warehouse and breaking it down to redistribute to their stores. Ethnic markets are usually single stores or small, local chains, and know they can turn over this produce quickly.

    Bulk goods like rice, beans, noodles, etc are cheaper because their customers demand them.

    Larger Oriental groceries often have great fish and seafood. Mexican groceries have good meats and fresh tortillas and yummy pastries.

    oh, how I miss living in SoCal. (will be returning to just north of you in Orange County next year!)

    PS: Food for Less is sort of ‘semi’ ethnic. Owned by Albertson’s but designed to satisfy the customer base in more ethnic neighborhoods.

  14. Welcome back to Cali!!!!
    Every Wednesday I put up the best So Cal grocery store to shop at in terms of weekly deals. Check it out if you’d like πŸ™‚
    http://adollarhereadollarthere dot blogspot dot com

  15. When we were in San Diego the best deals were at Henrys, Costco and Poway farmer’s market.

  16. Christina says:

    I’m glad your Albertsons is so friendly. Ours is horrible. I get flack every time I use coupons there. I have to avoid certain checkers because they actually refuse to even scan my coupons unless a manager is called. But they do have good lost leaders sometimes.

    We just started using a co-op company called Azure Standard. You might be on their route. If you’re looking for bulk staple foods, or anything organic or specialty (like non-dairy) their prices are pretty good.

  17. Hey, thanks, everyone for all the tips. I’m actually going back to ALbertsons this afternoon to get a few more things to stock: bread, chocolate chips, chicken. The price is as good as it gets.

    I’m also heading to SProuts for the produce.

    Danielle, are you in Santa Barbara or San Bernadino or a different SB?

  18. Santa Barbara πŸ™‚

    After moving here, my grocery spending has DOUBLED from what it was when I lived in central, and then northern CA.

    You can bet that with grad school, wedding planning, and such that I’m REALLY searching for the deals!

  19. Welcome back to CA! So looking forward to hearing about your shopping finds and so excited as living close to Christina, I shop at the same Albertsons and I’m curious to see and hear about all the great deals you find each week. My question is where do you find all your coupons, ie: on skinless chicken breast? I clip from the Sunday paper and a few web sites. Thanks!

  20. Hey Margie, that was a typo about the chicken. I have had coupons for fresh chicken before (from the newspaper) but not this time.

    As for coupons, I buy several copies of the paper each week and raid the recycle bin at the library or Starbucks. I also print them online.

    One Albertsons here gave me a hard time about internet coupons, so I called the corporate office and ratted on them. Albertsons has a very good coupon policy. They shouldn’t be hassling Christina. The 2nd store was great — and where I scored such great deals.

  21. Domestic Chicky says:

    Hi FishMama!
    I live in the other SB county you mentioned -welcome back! My only suggestion so far is to buy boullion in the spanish foods aisle – it’s the same brand, same (and bigger!) sizes, but sometimes almost half the price.

    Going back to lurking now! πŸ™‚

  22. Stellathomas says:

    Being a mother means so many things to so many women. For some they can be Mom and work outside the home. Others choose to be Stay at Home Moms. Both have their pros and cons, ups and downs. I, personally, am a Stay at home variety mom. It is very rewarding.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    Try Winco for their bulk bins. Rice, oatmeal, baking items, spices. Cheap and great quality and worth a small drive! Stater Bros. has great sales and decent prices for a chain. Mexican markets are terific for cheap produce and inexpensive on other grocery items!
    Have fun!

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