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
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.
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.
Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are great for most of my food needs, however, not as great when I need a lightbulb, razor blades, or basically any personal hygiene product. That’s when I turn to Meijer, a super-store chain that operates in the MidWest.
- Frequency: Once/month
- Items: A few low cost generic label canned foods, hygiene products, and heavily discounted items
- Monthly expense: $100
- Cost Savings: We have a set list of grocery/hygiene items that we get at Meijer. We get what we need for the next month, however, if they have a sale on the stuff we usually get, we usually stock up for 3-4 months worth of that product.
- Best Deal: Depends on the special of the week.
- Why I shop there: If I could get all of our personal hygiene/pet products at Trader Joe’s, I’d ditch Meijer in a heartbeat. Meijer has a heavy concentration of stores in the MidWest, if you’re not familiar with them. They are most comparable to a high-end WalMart.
- Meijer Coupons: Meijer coupons and savings can be found on their site.
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 dogfood for $25, 3 large frozen pizzas for $9.
- 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.