Living where grocery costs are high

As I shared the prices I paid for various items in September, often people would say, “_________ is never that cheap in my area.”   For example, apples for 33 cents a pound.  Well, ten months out of the year, I can’t find apples that cheap either.  Most of the time I pay at least 89 cents a pound for apples.

During apple harvest, I can find better prices.  But 33 cents a pound is an exceptionally good price for apples, even in my area.  It was available at only one store, and was advertised on the front of that store’s sales flyer for the week.  That leads me to guess it was probably a ‘loss leader’ for the store– an item that wasn’t actually making the store a profit, but that they were selling at that cost to bring buyers into the stores to hopefully also buy more expensive items.

My 33 cents/pound pears were the same story, at a different store.  If I’d done all my grocery shopping for the week at that one store, my grocery bill would have been much higher.   But by knowing my prices and cherry-picking the best sales at various stores, I am able to keep my costs as low as possible.


If you happen to live in an expensive area of the country, you can still save money on groceries.  A big key is to buy as much single-ingredient food at the store as possible. For example, instead of buying canned chili, buy dry beans along with beef. Make a double or triple batch and freeze some for later. Instead of buying Eggo waffles, buy flour and eggs and milk, have a waffle-cooking morning, and stick a bunch in the freezer for busy days.


Obviously this ‘single-ingredient’ approach means being willing to cook, either a little every day, or by doubling a few recipes each weekend and sticking extra food in the freezer. Some people love to cook.  Others don’t.   But even resistant cooks often feel better about cooking when they realize cooking can reduce expenses so much that they can afford to work less outside the home, pay off debt faster, or afford that vacation they’ve been dreaming about.


Cherry-picking sales and shopping at a variety of stores is also going to be an important key to success. I know — you don’t have time to go to 5 stores a week.  Neither do I.   But think about how often you go to the store right now. Many people do a big shopping trip every weekend, then still find themselves running to the store 2 or 3 nights a week after supper, for a total of 3-4 trips per week.

I average 2 trips to the store each week.  By planning two weeks of dinners ahead of time,  I can usually get by on 2 ‘big’ shopping trips each month.   On a big trip I will stop at CostCo for milk, cheese, butter, flour, rice, and sugar. Then I drive a mile or two to WinCo and get the rest of the food.  (I love it that those two stores are so close together now!) 


In between those big trips, I keep my eyes open for good sales at other stores.  In my area, it is most often meat and produce at Paul’s, and various random things at Albertsons. These smaller trips are almost always paired with other errands– doctor’s appointments, or soccer games, or church. I run into the store with a very short list, and only buy on-sale items. An average ‘small’ trip takes 10 minutes in the store, and happens once or twice a week.

These tips will work no matter where you live. If you live in an expensive area of the country, your total costs may not be quite as low as in farm country. But you’ll still save money. I’d love to hear from readers who are saving money while living in big cities. What do you do that helps you save money?