How to save money at almost any store

Today I had a grocery list of about a dozen items. My preference, always, is to go to Winco, the most affordable grocery store in my town.  But it is half an hour from home.  And I’d be going right by a couple of different stores on the way home from church this evening: Paul’s, a small grocery store with some awesome prices and some terrible ones, and Albertsons, big and generally expensive, but with 10# of potatoes on sale for 99 cents this week.

The potatoes were a real lure (do I have a strange mind or what?) but in the end I went to Paul’s.  They almost always have milk on sale (usually with ‘points’).  They often have excellent sales on meat and fruit.  And they have a habit I utterly adore:  they clearance random things to move them faster.

This week– sure enough — they had milk for $1.78 a gallon.  They had prices on dish soap that were comparable to other places.  I paid $1.50 more for bacon than I would have at Winco.  None of the meat prices knocked my socks off, so I passed.  (We just brought one of our cows to the butcher this week anyway– my freezers will soon bulge with beef.)

But the clearance items were lovely this week.   I got canned evaporated milk (2 days past expiration) for 25 cents a can.  Crispix cereal was a buck a box.  And Shasta root beer was $2.50 for a case of 24.  We don’t drink pop often– the kids probably have a can every month or so — but this price was so good that I got 3 cases.  It’ll be perfect for a youth group party we’re planning next month.

Always when you’re shopping there’s a tension between wanting to save money and needing to limit your time grocery shopping.  This evening I opted for the more ‘expensive’ store to save time.  I paid a dollar extra for a couple things I really needed, but I also saved 50% or more on several items, and overall still ended up saving money at that store.

I think you can make almost any store work for an occasional trip by remembering the following hints:

1.) Knowing your prices from store to store helps you make reasonable choices.  If you know you’re paying $3 extra for that can of cocoa powder, you just may decide to buy it someplace else.  But if the milk is only a dime more and it will save you half an hour to buy it at the higher price, go for it.

2.) The corollary to knowing your prices:  be willing to temporarily go without non-essential things if it means buying them at a more affordable store later.  You’d be surprised at how many things you can live without for a few days or a week.

3.) Check sales.  (Duh) There are stores I only set foot in when the sales are good.  I visit Albertson’s less than once a month, but a few weeks ago I bought 20 boxes of cereal there for $1 each.  And those on-sale potatoes.  I walked right by all the rest of it, thus escaping with most of my money.

4.) Shop at stores that offer clearance items, bulk food, and generics. Much money can be saved with bulk and generics.  Clearance too– I personally am not afraid of canned goods that are a few days past their date.  Obviously I’m going to avoid dented or bulging cans, and sniff food as I open and prepare it.   But nothing horrible magically happens to a can 72 hours past the date stamped on it. (Casual Kitchen has more on this topic.)

What about you?  How do you get the most out of a ‘high-priced’ store?

{ 27 Comments }

  1. Great tips! I get more out of the expensive store by taking advantage of their coupon doubling. I’m really a cherry picker at the higher end stores and I buy our staples at Aldi.

    Here’s a question for you though, do you ever pass up on great clearance finds because you don’t have any extra money in the budget? I hate to do this but I am getting better at it.

    • I am almost always willing to go over budget for the month to stock up on something on sale that I use routinely, because it will save money in the long run.

  2. the only time I buy evaporated milk is for a special recipe during gift-giving holiday season.
    What will you be doing with 4 cans of it now?

    All else you say makes sense (no news there)

    • I like to keep evaporated milk on time for enriching cream sauce or cream soup recipes. It is cheaper and less caloric than half and half but adds a nice rich taste.

      • Cream Sauce. I miss it so.

        I use a bit of sour cream when I make a chicken noodle casserole. Might have to try some evap milk.
        Thanks for the tip 🙂

  3. Great tips. I also have to weigh convenience against cost, and sometimes the decision goes with convenience and sometimes with saving. I keep canned goods for a long time, I do not worry too much about expiration dates on these. My husband is a food scientist and he says for most things it may slightly effect the flavor if it is getting older. I have been known to keep canned good for over a decade (not a good idea–I just threw away a can of salmon away that collapsed in my hand when I picked it up).

    The 2 best ways that I save money at the expensive store:
    1) they sometimes send coupons for $8 off an $80 purchase
    2) in March or April they usually run a promotion that if you buy a $300 gift card, they will add an extra $30 onto the card. They have a limit of 4 cards. I try to budget so that I can buy all 4 cards and save $120 over the long haul. Then I leave one card at home so that if I need to ask my kids to run to the store when I am working, they have a gift card to use and I don’t have to worry about them having cash or me owing them money. This has been a lifesaver for me. The gift cards do not have an expiration date, an added bonus-better than coupons.

  4. Oooh, $1 for a box of Crispix is an amazing price!

  5. We’re frugal shoppers and have always been so. We’re fortunate to have a lot of grocery stores within a few miles of our home. 6 different major chains, I think. Don and I usually shop together, and enjoy the time together. And then, there’s the coupons. We’re diligent with the coupons. But all that won’t keep us from buying some wonderful, expensive treat. Right now I’m thinking about King Crab Legs.

    • Yup– we do extravagant things now and then too. That’s one of the reasons we shop carefully: to have the freedom to do that occasionally!

  6. Albertsons is actually my favorite place to shop…. twice a month that is. I ONLY shop there when they are running their “double coupons” which is around the 1st and the 15th of every month. I take about an hour…YES an hour 🙂 and clip all the coupons I need and usually get about $150 – $200 worth of groceries for under $5. We have a huge stock pile and I basically then only need to buy milk,fresh fruits, veggies and organic meat the rest of the month. Plus it’s fun! Some people like knitting… I like coupons 🙂

  7. All hail Mary….finding a name brnad cereal for $1.00!?
    Wow. I’ve never seen that unless it was a generic brand or something.
    When it comes to saving money at the grocery store, it’s all about organization. If your anti-coupon (I’m not, but many people I know are because of the time it takes them & lack of offers that interest them) you have to be a planner! A grocery list is an ABSOLUTE must. Sale fylers should be reached for true savings with the value vs. time argument and of course the ever popular often mentioned here “price book”! I’m still working on mine in prep for a major money saving project next year. Plus knowing your often cooked receipes and snacks often help…list them out for better memory somewhere. Finally having a meal plan calendar is a real time & money saver at the grocery store. Plan your calendar around the objects on sale….but remember always have emergency “fish sticks, hot dogs, or chicken nuggets” on hand for when life happens! They are worth their weight in GOLD & quick & easy & help YOU from getting fast food/take out!

  8. I try to get the 10/$10 when it happens. Canned goods, boxed goods, etc. I stock up, but only on stuff I regularly buy. For instance, yesterday I needed 3 things for a crockpot recipe, one of them was on sale for $1, so I bought 3. Now I’ll have it when I need it next time and it should last me all the way to Thanksgiving since I only make this recipe about 1x/month.

  9. Just curious about the dented can comment. Why are they a problem? Is it just a problem if you don’t know what caused the dent? What if I drop the can and dent it? Just wondering, because I’ve never heard to avoid those before.

  10. Sherry Blair says:

    Such a timely article for me — yesterday following a full work day I had a regular dentist checkup after work, but needed to stop and get ONE item on way home. The closest grocery store to my dentist office is one I seldom shop at (location and higher prices are why I don’t usually go there) but I knew it would save me time to go there. Ended up picking up the one item I needed at about twenty cents more than I usually pay “regular”; also needed milk (call from husband with that news) and I paid another twenty cents more for it, too. But while walking down a couple aisles I found two other items I needed—one at the regular price I pay and the other saved me fifty cents. So, I came out ahead money-wise and even with a few extra aisles gone down probably saved myself a minimum of 20 minutes. Keeping a price log (both in notebook and in head) helps at times like this to determine whether to save time or money (or both, if all goes well).

  11. To address the dented cans–it is my understanding that small dents will usually not have an affect on the quality, I am not sure about large dents. However–if a can is bulging-get rid of it. That means there is something going on in the can that you do not want.

  12. We keep an eye out for coupons for new/tranferred precriptions! We have a grocery war going on in our area due to new stores so there is always something. Since we have prescriptions that need filled and the copay is the same no matter where we go, I’ll move pharmacies to keep the giftcards rolling in.

    I have one now for a prescription I’ll pick up tomorrow. $25 giftcard and a coupon for $15 off of $50. I’ll stack them and still look for sale items and items on my list!

  13. Great tips. I’ve been doing these as well.. make alist, don’t bring the kids, buying in bulk and using coupons. With everything so expensive right now, we want to save as much as we can, right? especially with groceries, gas and clothing.

  14. Our local expensive store has Gold Medal flour for 99 cents per 5 pound bag, limit two. I’m lining up two dollar bills on the counter so I can go everyday and walk out with only the flour, lol.

  15. I have a few stores that, like you, I only visit if there’s something great on sale. Recently, that was block cheese at $2/lb (20 lbs, please!). But my favorite store recently had pasta for $.50/lb (30 boxes).

  16. sillygeese says:

    I’m currently preggo with no littles at home, two in private school, so I will sometimes shop every day for exercise and deals. Free with coupon items usually have stocking issues and I don’t like to clean out shelves, so I will buy a certain amount everyday. There are other legal ways to get free groceries, it just pays to know all your stores policies. Out of dates,price check your receipts, are just two ways in my area to get free groceries.
    I admit my menu planning has been lacking lately, I have found myself menu planing on the fly at the store when I find clearance meat. Meat on its last sale day marked down need to be cooked that night or frozen that night.

  17. Evaporated milk is something we use alot of. It is awesome in macaroni and cheese, especially if you need to reheat it. Just put a little on , and its creamy as when first made. Also great in reheating potato dishes. We also use it when we run out of milk, just add as much water as milk and you have milk. Its also great for cream soups and gravies. Enjoy.

  18. Great tips – thanks!

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