Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Saving at the Grocery Store": Shop at Multiple Stores

Last week I posted on the benefits of making a price book as a money-saving tool for helping you learn your prices. One key benefit of a price book is to show you where to shop. As you track prices for meats, produce, canned goods, and other household items, you may notice that one store will have lower prices on paper products while another store has the best prices on organic fruits and vegetables.

The point is this: No one store has the best price on everything, so if you really want to save money, you have to shop around. Don't buy everything at the same store. 

To determine where to shop, though, requires planning. When I first started grocery shopping for myself, I was a college student and didn't have a thought about making a list before heading into the store. I simply walked up and down the aisles and decided as I perused the shelves what I'd eat that week based on what appealed to my senses, not my pocketbook. Consequently, I'd leave the store with $75-100 worth of groceries for one person!

As I became a little more shopping savvy, I began to make a list based on meal ideas, and I would shop around my menu. So, if I my menu included fried chicken, spaghetti & meatballs, and chicken stir-fry, my shopping list would include all the ingredients I'd need to make those meals. Sure my shopping was less random and at times, I even used some coupons, but I was not saving very much money.

After many years of overspending at the grocery store, I have learned that the best way to save money is to plan meals based on the sales items at 2-3 nearby stores. There are three grocery stores that I frequent based on their low prices or sales items, but I usually hit only two per week right now.

Planning Your Shopping Trip 
Planning and organizing for your trip to the grocery store can be time-consuming, but when you see how much money you save on your receipt, then you know it's worth it! {Last week I spent less than $16 at Publix and saved over $35! That's over 100% in savings! I was tickled pink.} 

This is how I plan each week:

Every Sunday, I will spend a couple of hours poring over the grocery store sales ads in the newspaper. I will then make a list of the meat and produce on sale that week as well as any other foods that we need. 

Then, I will plan our weekly menu around those sales items--plus any items I have on hand in the pantry or freezer--and make grocery lists for each store. I will also pull out any manufacturers' or store coupons and put them and my shopping list in an envelope. I have one envelope per grocery store.  This helps me stay organized and keeps everything I need in one place.

The items listed on the front and back pages of the sales ads are called loss leaders because the grocery store knows that it will lose money on those items. However, the store also counts on making up for the money it's losing by expecting you to do the rest of your shopping in their store where their other items tend to be 20 percent higher!

So, only plan to buy that grocery store's loss leaders and GET OUT! Don't cruise the aisles; don't look at anything but what is on your list.

Once I've planned my shopping trip, the next step is to go shopping!  Because I have small children, I try to go on weekends when my husband is home; I've found that I'm a smarter shopper when I can give my undivided attention to the task at hand and am not distracted by a grasping toddler. My cardinal rule when I go shopping is to only buy the items on my list. If it isn't on the list, then it doesn't go in the cart. Of course there are exceptions to this rule like when I've forgotten that we're having potluck at church, etc. However, I try to avoid impulse purchases by sticking to the list.

Because I have a limited amount to spend each week, I have to be very careful in prioritizing where I shop. I generally shop at the store with the best sales items first to make sure I don't miss out on those deals. {Some stores do offer rain checks, but I've found there to be too many contingencies to fool with them.} For example, if I'm low on chicken and Store A has chicken breasts on sale, then I will shop there first and buy the chicken breasts plus anything else on sale on my list. Then, I'll move on to the next store to buy their loss leaders. My last stop will be at the store with the cheapest overall prices; that is where I will pick up the remainder of the items on my shopping list (i.e., the basics).

Jonni McCoy, the author of Miserly Moms, recommends shopping at the most expensive store first where you buy only the loss leaders and ending your shopping trip at the store that you find to be cheapest overall where you buy the sales items and the rest of your grocery list.

You may be concerned that with all the driving around and the rising gas prices that I'm not saving much money. But all three of the grocery stores I shop are within a 10-mile radius, and I usually shop when I'm coming home from running another errand in that store's vicinity. Still, you will find that the money you save shopping at different stores will more than make up for the cost of gas you are expending. That is, unless you are driving 30 miles between stores.

Do you shop at different stores to save money? Or do you primarily stick to one grocery store that offers the lowest prices on most of the items you buy? 

Praying God's richest blessings on you as you grow in His glory!


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  1. Thank you for this helpful post! Have you done a post yet for which stores are the best to get good deals at?

  2. What a great post! For meal planning I base it off primarily what I have on hand (when meat is on sale I STOCK up). Then I fill it in with fresh produce that is on sale that week!

    As for grocery shopping I pretty much grocery shop the way you do. I have 3 grocery stores I frequent-2 for loss leaders and then Aldi for the basics.

    I'm your newest follower :)

  3. I have a primary store (Aldi) and then look at the ads for two other stores to compare prices. It the sale price is cheaper than Aldi and for something I stock up on, then I will make a trip to another store. :)

  4. Great tips. Thank you for sharing about the loss leaders, I hadn't known that before.

  5. Thanks for sharing how you plan your shopping trips. I love reading how other people do that! I try to shop at different stores, but don't always have the time, so then I have to stick to the place where I can get the best deals and use coupons, which actually ends up being SuperTarget (where I live). If you'd like to, I invite you to share your post at the Thrifty Thursday link-up I host with another blogging friend--and any other frugal posts you find helpful each week! :)