Grocery Geek Presents: Places to Shop for Great Deals

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Back in the “old days,” I shopped at SuperWalmart, spending about $200 a week and price-matching with the local grocery stores for the best prices on “loss leaders.” Usually, Walmart was able to beat those prices if I bought generic. I was content with that. Our monthly spending of $800 was well below the USDA averagefood costs for a family of our size (2 adults + 5 children) on a “thrifty” plan.

Then I discovered coupons and sites like Money Saving Mom. As a result, I adjusted my shopping a little. OK, a lot. No longer was I spending 2 hours a week to make my list and haul my body through Stuff-mart. I doubled my time investment — at least — with coupon clipping, computer research and visits to multiple stores. I enjoyed the adventure of nabbing a good deal and my efforts reduced our grocery bill significantly. Depending on what I put on the menu, some months our spending was as low as $400 for the entire month! That extra time was averaging me at least a savings of $25/hour, a pretty good wage for a stay-at-home mom.

Over the last two years, we’ve found a comfortable spending level at $600/month to feed up to 9 people and diaper 1-2 kids. (I include all toiletries and paper goods in my grocery budget, though eating out is usually excluded from my figures.) While couponing has been a HUGE boon to our budget, it isn’t really my sole means of frugally feeding my family. I combine different methods and stores to keep our food costs low.

Here are my three favorite places to shop for great deals:

Costco: We love Costco. It’s like a family event to grab a pizza or a few hot dogs for uber-cheap, stroll the aisles for free samples and then stock up. If money were no object, I’d just do ALL my shopping there, like once a month, and live on convenience foods from their bakery if they didn’t have the raw materials for me to make it myself. In fact we experimented with this last winter, but found that we couldn’t stay under our $600 limit.

Alas, money is an object that I have to pay attention to — if we want to get ahead, which we do. So, we shop Costco wisely and find that our $40 investment each year is well worth it. Costco beats almost everybody when it comes to prices on milk, butter, cheese, some produce like lettuce and carrots, as well as tortillas and some canned products. I usually only buy these items that I know are great deals. Although Costco sells major name brands, they do not accept manufacturers’ coupons, so this is a pretty straight forward transaction.

Local Health Food Stores: Place like Sprouts and Henrys regularly feature fantastic deals on meats, dairy, and fresh produce. I only buy what is on sale and work our meal plans around these items. Sometimes I can use a coupon, but generally this is a non-coupon shopping trip. This week the food pictured above cost me $48.09 without any coupons. That included 8+ pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast, 2+ pounds of cheese, whipping cream, buttermilk, tofutti cuties (for my helpers) and lots of beautiful produce.

Plain Old Grocery Stores: Where I live we have the So Cal Grocery Triumvirate: Vons, Ralphs, and Albertsons which have been around forever — or at least since I was a kid, which seems like forever. I alternately shop at these three depending on what’s on sale and what coupons I have. Vons and Ralphs double coupons but have weird funky limits that their affiliates (Safeway and Kroger) do not have in other states. (They’re just plain prejudice against SoCal; I’m sure.) They also have higher prices than their affiliates on the same sale items. {insert emoticon with my tongue sticking out}

But, I’m still able to eek out some great savings if I watch what I buy, usually limiting it to the loss leaders, catalina deals, and things we “can’t live without,” like pepperoni and basic baking supplies when not on sale. Currently Albertsons has flour $1.50/bag, so I’ll be stocking up. ‘Member my 100 pounds of flour? I don’t think I have enough storage space for that much, but I’m gonna try.

How do YOU shop? What do you do to stretch your grocery dollar as far as you can?

*To get an idea of some great ways to save on your shopping trips, stop by Super Savings Saturday.

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  1. Oh I loooooove Costco! Sometimes I'll meet my friends there and we'll eat and visit and shop.

    I do most of my shopping at Costco and Winco, and I rarely use coupons. Costco doesn't take 'em, as you know, and Winco will take them, but not ones printed off a computer. However, Winco has excellent prices.

    I don't stretch my grocery $ as much as I could, but I'm working on it. I am trying to make more things from scratch, and bought some white wash cloths from Costco to use in place of paper towels.

    I don't buy chicken tenders or frozen lasagna or frozen waffles. I make my own and save the money.

    I try to buy in season, so for instance, we won't be buying grapes until they are in season again. We love 'em but we do without them during the winter fall and winter months.

    I have a pricebook and I try and stockpile items at their lowest price. That way,

    I am always getting it at it's lowest price. I also bulk buy my meats. I buy ground turkey instead of ground beef because it's cheaper (and healthier, I think) and we have a couple of meatless meals a week (like lentil and brown rice tacos).

  2. Hi there, have been reading your blog for a while and love it! You really are an inspiration. I'm trying to change our family shopping habits and like you am gearing up for a move but unfortunately, to a smaller house. Your new place looks great and I hope you settle in quickly and find that "At home" feeling soon.

    BTW, in the UK you can only join Costco if you are self-employed. Its a real pain in the rear as I'm sure it would be a great place for me to shop and save. Oh well.

    Great writing, looking forward to reading more of the FishFamily Adventures x

  3. Have you tried Aldi? It's worth the drive if you don't have one close by. Everyday prices include .69 cents for no hormone eggs, 1.69 for a gallon of milk (limit 4), center cut bacon 2.69, block of cream cheese .99 cents, cereals 1.29-2.19, 6 vine tomatos .69 cents for the whole vine. I could go on and on. I cut my $800 grocery bill by more than half without coupons (I swear) and I spend half as much time in the store because it's a smaller store. The checkout process is lightening fast, cashier puts all items into another cart and then you bag them after the transaction on a counter close by. Bring a quarter for the cart (neat system)…you get it back when you return it. They are all over the world, originating in Germany. Lots of gourmet products and their brand of items is really high quality. Unbelievable facial products, makeup is not so good, great mascara. The one negative is their butcher type meats, ground beef & turkey is great but the "cut" meat is lacking. Although, they have an incredible beef tenderloin for 1.99 each. They even have a meal planner on the web site.

    I'm a home school mom with not a lot of time to track down deals, read the newspaper inserts and go from one store to another just to save a few dollars by clipping coupons, figuring out the expiration date and sorting them. Aldi saves a lot more money than coupon clipping ever would. My 189.00 grocery bill per week is never more than 79.00. No lie. Yesterday, I even bought an 8 gigabyte jump drive for 15.00. My husband loves it too for their manly items! Laundry detergent, softeners, dishwashing detergent….60-70% off what you normally pay. Makes Costco prices look like Neiman Marcus. My family of 5, provides and cooks for a homeless shelter 1-2 times a month and we found that we can give them way better food for a lot less than Costco. I could go on and on. If you've got one near you, try it 3 times….you'll be sold. Very busy on weekends, Monday mornings are best. Sorry for the ramble, but it has really changed my life!

  4. Lindsey, yes, Aldi is a great place to shop. My family didn't like the taste of some of the products we regularly buy, so it wasn't a huge savings for us. But, that is fantastic what you're able to do!

    For those of you West of the Rockies, Aldi was started by the brother of the man who owned/owns(?) Trader Joe's for quite some time. Aldi's setup and prices are similar to what TJ's was back in its "golden years" before it became (IMO) over-priced and not the screaming deals it used to be.

    Victoria, thanks for your kind words. I'm glad that you're being encouraged here. Downsizing can be a good thing. Hang in there.

    Momstheword, great techniques to cut your shopping bill!

  5. I meant to also include in my Adi comment is that their stores have not opened West of Kansas. We shopped there when we lived in KC. But, here in So Cal, we have other options.

  6. I used to just buy grocery store loss leaders, buying many of them at a time. Sometimes, coupons made them free; however, I no longer even bother with coupons. Each month, I buy enough of one thing to last us for the year or at least a very, very long time. For instance this week, I picked up an order of 25lb organic black beans, 25 lb organic navy beans, 25 lb organic green split peas,50 lb of barley and 50 lbs of evaporated cane juice for $250. This is our grocery money for the month, so I won't buy anything until the middle of October when our hundred pound order of cheese is due. Finding storage can be tough, but that is much contingent on the things you choose to keep. i would rather have space for food than space for three different changes of sheets for every bed in the house. As for your hundred pounds of flour, you could put it in smaller containers, hiding them in various places. There is no rule that it has to be all stored together!

  7. How funny that pepperoni is something you can't live without. My 10-y.o. son will agree to that!

  8. I'm in Canada, so we don't have the stores you tend to have in the U.S. Since we don't have a car, we tend to shop at the closest grocery store which also is "high end". I menu plan and we buy on sale. But when I can get to the cheaper stores we'll go. I try no to buy much in the way of processed foods, so that saves $$ too! 🙂

  9. Grocery outlets ROCK!

    If you are fortunate enough to have one or two near you ( I drive about 20 miles to ours), they are a great adventure with lots of treasures!