This is part 3 of a series dedicated to saving money on food and groceries – usually the second biggest expense outside of rent or a mortgage for most of us. In part 1, I covered the 6 food characteristics that I am not willing to sacrifice in order to save money. In part 2, I detailed a simple 4 step process to saving money on groceries through disciplined routines. In this part, I’ll cover the 4 retailers that I get all of my groceries from, how often I shop there, what I get there, how much I spend, and some coupon/discount opportunities.
Where I Shop for Groceries
1. Trader Joe’s
You have to love Trader Joe’s customer and price focused approach to retailing. They are still family owned and privately owned at that. And I hope they always stay that way. Here is The Trader’s principles to business:
- We buy direct from suppliers whenever possible, we bargain hard to get the best price, and then pass the savings on to you.
- If an item doesn’t pull its weight in our stores, it goes away to gangway for something else.
- We buy in volume and contract early to get the best prices.
- Most grocers charge their suppliers fees for putting an item on the shelf. This results in higher prices… so we don’t do it.
- We keep our costs low — because every penny we save is a penny you save.
- Frequency: Once/week
- Items: All weekly non-produce, and select produce items
- Weekly expense: $50
- Cost Savings: Trader Joe’s doesn’t do sales. However, their prices are so low and the quality is so good that I still feel like I’m getting a bargain. If I had to some up Trader Joe’s in one phrase, it would be ‘high value’.
- Best Deal: Trader Joe’s Tuna for Cats – at $0.48 it beats any can of cat food anywhere per oz., and the cats love it! Any of the Trader Joe’s generic label foods are typically a great value.
- Why I shop there: Trader Joe’s is simply where it’s at. Mostly organic/natural foods, unique offerings, a pleasant shopping experience, and absolutely great prices. To the latter, for the few non-Trader Joe’s brands they carry, I have seen the prices at about 30-40% less than Meijer and Kroger. Before Trader Joe’s, I never thought that grocery shopping could be an experience that I didn’t dread. Trader Joe’s has changed that. I shop there for all non-produce and some produce items.
2. Whole Foods Market
We’ve all heard the ‘Whole Paycheck’ pun, and it’s true – Whole Foods can be expensive. However, it doesn’t have to be. I count on them for high quality organic produce, and I usually can find a few bargains on a weekly basis.
- Frequency: Once/week
- Items: Organic produce
- Weekly expense: $20
- Cost Savings: Whole Foods almost always has some good sales on in-season produce and their produce is significantly better than anything I’ve had outside of a farmer’s market.
- Best Deal: I’ll often be able to pick up avocados for $1/ea and bell peppers for $2.99/lb. A few weeks back, I was able to get a 6-pack of delicious grapefruits for $2.50.
- Why I shop there: I am not willing to sacrifice my health for cheap pesticide doused produce. I’m willing to pay a little extra, but as you can see by my total expenditure, it’s really not that bad.
- Coupon Offers: Printable Whole foods coupons can be found on their site.
Kroger has recently seen a growing share of our grocery spend due to their excellent inventory management, online ordering, pickup, deals, and more.
- Frequency: weekly
- Items: low cost generic store foods, produce, and heavily discounted items
- Weekly expense: $50
- Cost Savings: low cost generics, Kroger Plus Shopper’s card discounts, digital discounts, and other promotions
- Best Deal: typically a handful of very good digital coupons you can ‘clip’ online and apply at checkout online or in store
- Why I shop there: online features, high quality generic store brand items, coupon opportunities
- Kroger Coupons: I put together an extensive list of Kroger ad, digital coupon, & credit card discount opportunities.
You have to be careful with Costco. They pull you in with good prices on bulk food and before you know it, you’ve bought a new LED TV (their Vizios are at great prices, by the way). As long as you are disciplined, you can find some real bargains on food. And there are 5 ways to shop at Costco without a membership.
- Frequency: Once/Bi-Monthly
- Items: Dogfood, canned beans, frozen pizza, frozen fruit, frozen berries, olive oil, vitamins
- Bi-monthly expense: $120
- Cost Savings: Costco mails out coupons every month. If I’m lucky enough to get a coupon for a product we usually purchase, we’ll stock up on it.
- Best Deal: 50 lb. bag of high quality Costco dog food for $25. Costco gas is usually notably cheaper than other local options.
- Why I shop there: We have Costco down to a science. Make 6 trips a year, stock up on stuff that we can’t get cheaper anywhere else, and avoid high ticket luxury goods. Costco’s alcohol prices are also great. I also get a 2% return on my Costco Anywhere Visa. It works great for us!
- Costco Coupons: Costco members will get mailed coupons on a monthly basis. You can also find a list of Costco rebates on their site.
Bonus Tip: once you have your favorite grocers nailed down, you can do a grocery price list spreadsheet, and compare costs per volume. This will really allow you to cut your grocery bill without much sacrifice.
Grocery/Food Chain Discussion:
- Where do you get most of your food and why?
- What is the best value you have seen from each of the retailers you get food from?
- Have you been able to cut back on your food expenses through a particular purchasing strategy? Please share!
- If you only had one store to shop at, where would it be?
- Anyone had good experiences with Aldi? I’ve never shopped there.
Grocery purchases has been on my mind a lot lately, too. We have a Costco membership, and I have this love/hate with Costco. I’m saving all Costco receipts for a year to see if it’s really worth it for us to be members. We buy stuff like toothbrushes/toothpaste, some cleaning supplies, paper products, the olive oil you mentioned, wine, cereal, juice sometimes, some fruit and/vegetables, but we can’t buy many perishable products because there’s just two of us. Once I’ve completed this experiment (in January!) I’ll let you know. Great post!
Costco – olive oil, frozen pizza, some spices, occasionally chicken, toothpaste, wish they could sell wine in my state! (approx. $60/month, we still get distracted by other items at Costco)
H-Mart – Fresh Veggies/Fish, probably not organic, but great selection of fresh veggies and exotic fruits. We pretty much buy whatever is on sale, curry it and see what happens. Sometimes the greens we’ve never heard of are a total miss, but at $0.48/lb, always worth a try. We’ve discovered some new things we really enjoy, such as Mustard Leaves.( approx. $30/week for 2 people, we’ve noticed if we go over $30 of groceries there, it lasts more than a week, and we attempt to keep things fresh)
I figured out my whole groceries routine about a year ago when I got serious about cooking my own food. For every two weeks I spend one day at three different grocers. I’m a little nuts about it because I have a spreadsheet listing the price/unit for every item I purchase.
Trader Joe’s – Yes, it’s got great deals on organic foods, but not everything is a bargain. I do the majority of my shopping here, including dairy, meats, pasta, cereals.
Aldi – I recently discovered this German grocer and it was a strange experience at first but then I got used to their setup. There is some sort of relationship with TJ’s (it’s been debated from what I’ve researched) because you’ll find a lot of their produce items withe the same packaging as TJ’s. Their produce is on their last days of expiration but if use them soon, you’ll be getting a great deal.
Jewel – I hate this place. But I’ll go in there anyway to find some deals on produce. I find your interest in anti-pesticide produce appealing, so I may consider switching one day and quit Jewel altogether.
One other place you might want to consider is ethnic grocers – and you don’t have to have any interest in cooking ethnic food. You can find great deals on staples like cooking oil, produce, flour, and even on items like tin foil and cookware.
We shop at trader joe’s for as much as we can! I love that store and it saves us oodles. Especially because the store is not full of unwanted things that I might put into my cart. The unwanted items or special items are too expensive so I pass them up. But the everyday items are cheaper than Target and better quality.
We shop at Target for home goods and for meats (sale on chicken is hard to beat)
I do want to try whole foods for produce now. We have a great farm nearby us where we buy produce in season. But if whole foods has a better deal than trader joes, I am in!
We get our food from Kroger’s, Sam’s Club, Walmart, and the Angel Food Ministries.
– Kroger’s is on my way home and doubles or triples most of the coupons I use.
– Sam’s Club and Angel Food Ministries help us stock up on the main menu items and frozen vegetables.
– Walmart is where we get the items that are cheaper than Kroger’s with a coupon.
If you like their monthly menu, Angel Food Ministries is a cheap way to stock up. They are a non-profit business (not charity) that operates by volume. The more people that are ordering, the cheaper they can get their menu items.
If we don’t like AFM’s Signature Box menu, then we stock up at Sam’s Club.
All perishable items or side items that can’t be bought in bulk, I buy at Kroger’s or Walmart depending on price.
I do 90% of my shopping at Trader Joe’s. They are awesome. :)
Hyvee is my local grocery store (they are regional – NE,KS,MO,IA mainly). I go there once a week for all my groceries. Costco is once every 6 weeks. Very important to bring a list to Costco and stay on that list. Costco is not always the cheapest. Many items I can find on sale at Hyvee for less $ or same price and much smaller volume. Costco can have some very good wine pricing. I used to love going to Trader joe’s for 3 Buck Chuck when I lived in Chicago. I like sticking to one store because I know the layout and what prices to expect.
I haven’t shopped at Costco before. I can’t find a place that offers good deals on soda.
But Costco might be fantastic for certain foods. Being Canadian though, the other grocery stores are a little out of the question for me. :P
I really have to agree with not penny pinching for the pesticide riddled produce, and that Costco really pulls you in on there big name items. Even with there food you sometimes spend 50$ more because you never add it up, lately I have been going with a pad so I write down the prices and add them up. Meijer is new tho, I will have to see if one is in my area.
OK, a couple of my favorites:
SPROUTS (formerly Henrys) – may just be a So CA store (not sure). Excellent produce much of it organic and much cheaper than Whole Foods. We buy 90% of our fresh produce there.
FRESH & EASY (an American entry by the British Giant TESCO). A small market with a lot of their own branded products which are generally excellent quality and good value. Many pre-cooked, ready to eat packaged foods that make excellent quick meals for lunch or dinner.
We also frequent Trader Joes, Costco, and Whole Foods.
We also have an spectacular and excellent oriental market nearby (San Diego) called “Ranch 99”. The variety of foods, produce, meats fish (many swimming) frozen packaged, will make your head spin and your brain say “what the hell is that?” – we love it. I think they are only located in CA, TX, AZ, WA, NV and HI. If yyou are lucky enough to have one nearby – its a “must visit”.
Between Trader Joe’s and Winco my family of seven enjoys a budget of less than $400 a month on a whole foods, largly vegetarian diet (we serve an animal protein approx six of our 21 meals a week).
Can’t beat a Winning Company! Winco is currently located in Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Utah. They are amazing, especially their bulk section. Also, they are an employee owned company with great benefits and incredibly low mark up. Plus they are begining to have Walmart/Target shaking in their boots out west.
We have a 3 store system- Daily Deals is a good clearance store, and you never know what you’re going to get. We try to get snacks and meat there, but since you never know what they will have, you could walk away with neither but still get a great deal on mayo, ice cream, and Gatorade. Next we go to Aldi. Almond milk, most of our staples, diapers, etc. We have a science with Aldi. Lastly Meijer, for anything we didn’t get at the first two. Usually we buy meat, and anything on sale.