Break Out of Your Grocery Rut (and Save in the Process!)

by Lynn B. Johnson on April 18, 2013

Supermarket SavingsSome people shop at the same store at the same time on the same day, week in and week out. If this sounds like you, you’re missing out on some great bargains. Here are some ways to break out of your grocery rut and save money on your food budget.

Couponing? Nope.

Couponing is only a good deal if you’re actually going to use the item you’ll save money on. I don’t use coupons because typically they’re only good for processed food items that I don’t typically purchase. Instead of spending time going through every coupon in the newspaper, spend your time more wisely by leafing through every local grocery ad delivered to your mailbox. Even if you don’t typically shop at these stores, they might have just the thing you’re looking for that week.

You can also use technology to be more efficient in looking for savings.  Food marketing institute data shows that more than half of all consumers (52%)  ”use technology in their grocery shopping,” via online coupons or checking prices at multiple store Web sites before going shopping.

Branch Out

Don’t limit your search to one store, especially since most people are going to the grocery more than once per week these days.  The average person made 2.2 weekly trips to the store in 2012, up from 1.7 in 2011, according to the Food Marketing Institute.  Besides, you’re likely to pass by more than just your preferred grocer in your day-to-day travels. Local-owned stores are a great place to find good deals. Also, if you’re local to a smaller chain store like Trader Joe’s or Aldi (my new favorite), these are great places to find inexpensive produce. Aldi has also started upping their organic offerings.

Pay Cash

You should definitely scope out any cash-only grocery stores in your area. We have one in Cleveland called “Marc’s.” They only take cash or Discover card —quaint, huh?— but they have the cheapest bananas and some of the best deals on meat in town.

Editor’s Note:  Merchants who accept credit cards typically don’t assess surcharges on plastic payments in order to cover the cost of processing them.  The base prices that everyone pays, regardless of payment type, typically reflect that added cost.  That means if you pay with cash at such establishments, you’re essentially subsidizing plastic users, without earning any rewards.  The average cash-using household thereby gives $250 each year to their more credit card friendly counterparts.

Scope Your Store

Nearly every grocery store has a rack of price-slash items. Get to know where this is and look there first. It might not hold a typical item, but a $3 bottle of children’s gummi vitamins at the beginning of cold-and-flu season quickly pays for itself. Likewise for boxes of pie crust or muffin mix.  You might also find a similar rack in your produce section — a great place to purchase veggies for tonight’s dinner, or stew ingredients for your freezer.

Don’t Be Snobby

You’d be surprised at how many stores have at least one aisle of grocery items these days. Drug stores and even gas stations can be great sources for low-cost items; I’ve found particularly impressive deals on canned fish (clams, tuna) at my local CVS and Rite-Aid stores. Additionally, I used to live near a convenience mart that had the lowest milk prices in town. If you limit your scope, you’re spending unnecessarily.

Buy Bulk and In Season

Most vegetables can be flash-cooked, cooled, and frozen for future use. If your local store is running a ridiculous sale on in-season produce, take advantage! Individually frozen fruits can be used later for pie. My mother-in-law has taken even this a step further by purchasing a food dehydrator; now, she grows more produce than she could ever eat fresh, but dehydrates it and then reconstitutes it with water or broth when she needs a side dish. Very, very clever.

Keep an Open Mind

Expert cooks —or resourceful smartphone users— can save money by evaluating special on-sale ingredients. A can of light coconut milk and some green curry paste are the base for a delicious Thai entrée. Bookmark some Web sites for recipes —I like and— and then when you’re shopping, enter the ingredient into the search bar. Viola! Inexpensive and exotic dinner, if you’re willing to stretch a bit.

Cooking at home is less expensive and more personally satisfying than ordering take-out.  Grocery shopping is the first step. Incorporate it into your daily life and you’re likely to enjoy a wider variety of food at a much lower total cost.

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