This is the second part of my Grocery Shopping Guide. In this part, we are going to learn how to pay less for grocery shopping list and how to use grocery shopping apps.
How To Buy What You Need And Nothing Else
In the first part of the guide, I’ve shared with you my methods on how to buy only what you need, use it and avoid spoilage. (Here is a link to the Grocery Shopping Guide – Part One, in case you’ve missed it)
First, let’s do a quick recap of the process of reducing the amounts of grocery products you buy and store at home:
1. Fridge and Pantry Check and Clean Up – check what is hiding in the back of your fridge and in the mess on the pantry shelves. Throw away all the spoiled items and try to use those that are close to the expiration date as soon as possible. Reduce the amounts of products you store by using what you already have first, before restocking again. Organize the storage to make the inventory easily accessible and estimated with a quick glance.
2. Understanding of your weekly and monthly needs – list the main products and amounts that your family consumes on a weekly and monthly basis. Don’t pile up more than you can use – your house is not the supermarket’s storage warehouse.
3. Return what you don’t need – when you end up not using some items, don’t be shy! Return them to the store. Keep the recent receipts handy (and don’t forget to get a cash back on EVERY receipt using the CoinOut app).
4. Make a shopping list before you enter a supermarket – have an open list (I keep it on the kitchen counter) and add items as soon as you realize you need to buy them for your weekly or monthly needs. Think about next week’s meal plans and finalize the list, before heading out to the supermarket. Avoid spontaneous shopping, as it could lead to spending more than you planned without getting what you need.
After completing the Part One of the guides, you should know exactly what to buy. Now we need to find out how to buy it at the best price.
Before looking for the best way to shop and save, let me ask you a question:
What Type Of Shopper Are You?
What do I mean?
As I see it, there are three main goals when choosing the way you shop: Cost, Quality and Convenience. Like with many things in life, you can’t have them all and need to prioritize. Quality – everyone is different on the level of quality expectations. For example, I think that an egg is an egg, they all taste the same to me. My husband would only eat brown organic eggs, as he thinks they taste much better. We both don’t care for buying organic produce (don’t even start this discussion with me, LOL) and just use the regular veggies and fruit from the supermarket. However, we do care a lot about the chicken and other meat products, and would never buy any frozen stuff (e.g. frozen meat, prepared meals etc).
Convenience – this is about time and hassle. How much time are you ready to spend on grocery shopping? How far are you willing to drive? How many stores are you able to visit during the week? Some people don’t have any spare time or value their time so high that they order everything to be delivered from Amazon Fresh, Fresh Direct or other online delivery services.
Cost – well, probably no one wants to overpay, but the attitude towards cost can vary between people, either because of the personality or due to the situation. Some people are on a tight budget and must count every penny. Others are much more relaxed and don’t care whether a pound of apples costs $1.99 or $2.99.
In most cases, you will be able to achieve only one or two of these three goals.
Think for a minute and answer
What is your choice of goals?
I can share with you that in our family, the Quality and the Cost prevail over Convenience. We shop at a bunch of different grocery stores: Restaurant Depot, BJ’s, Shoprite, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Mitzuwa market, Citarella, Key market and local mini market.
Of course, we don’t visit every store every week, but you get the idea.
If the Cost is not one of your priorities, I guess you won’t be reading this guide in the first place. Given that, maybe you are in the same boat with me, trying to get the best products for the lowest possible prices. Then continue reading, I’m going to share my methods of managing this madness.
Where To Shop? How To Find The Best Available Stores?
There are different grocery store types from warehouses to tiny vegetable stands. What are the best stores for your family size, food preferences, and needs?
As with any project, you’ll have to do some research first. Look around in your neighborhood, your town or even at a distance you are still willing to drive in order to get some great deals. Ask your friends and neighbors where do they shop and learn about all available options.
Let’s see how you can split the shopping between different types of stores and get the most from each.
Sounds tiresome? I recommend to check the various options and make an educated decision about savings vs. your time. Who knows, maybe you can find creative solutions that combine both goals.
Bulk stores are not only for restaurants
Bulk stores target restaurants, catering services, corporate buffets and similar businesses in the food industry. You might need to be a business owner to get accepted as a member. Most of the products are sold by units or by cases.
The bigger the amounts you buy, the better the price. Some cases are really huge, like 40lb of chicken thighs or 50lb bags of sugar, but there are many items that easily fit a big family.
Surprisingly, there are many choices of regular size products as well, like a bottle of olive oil or a pack of sliced salami. In many cases, either the price or the quality of the products will be better than a similar or the same item in other stores.
As a family of five, with two refrigerators and planned weekly meals, we visit Restaurant Depot on a bi-weekly basis. Our favorites there include meat, fish, olive oil cans, 5lb packs of cottage cheese and plain yogurt, 5lb loaves of Munster cheese, 5lb bags of some vegetables, 6 box packs of herbal tea. The quality and the prices of these products make the trip out of town worth it for us.
Here is one creative idea how to make it work for you – organize a “shopping pool” with your friends or neighbors, when one person drives to the bulk store and buys goods for several families. We do it with our relatives and split the bill. This way you save money and time as well, as everyone can take a turn shopping every now and then. You can even split a large case of a quality product between the participants, to lower the price of it.
Wholesale Membership Clubs
The clubs like Costco, BJ’s and Sam’s club offer a huge variety of products, both family and standard sizes. They charge an annual membership fee and might offer a credit card with a higher than usual cash back for the in-club purchases.
Private label products are an additional option to save as they are priced lower than brand alternatives. Many clubs carry organic options along the regular produce.
In our area, the closest club is BJ’s and we shop there once or twice a week. BJ’s platinum membership costs about $100 per year and gives a generous 5% cashback. A quick calculation reveals that just $2,000 annual purchase volume (it’s only $167 per month) is required to pay back the membership cost.
At BJ’s we buy not only the basic weekly groceries (milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, sugar, flour, cereal, snacks, bottled water) but also all the personal care, health and household items (soap, shampoo, vitamins, cleaning supplies, over the counter meds).
BJ’s monthly and weekly coupon brochures are great for savings. As loyal customers for more than 5 years, we know what products are available in the coupon cycles, and plan our purchases accordingly, so we never have to pay the full price for them.
With all the benefits, there are still some items we can’t find or don’t like to buy in the club. For example, sometimes we only need one butter squash or half a pint of heavy cream and the amounts sold at BJ’s are too much for us. The brand’s selection is not always sufficient as well.
Supermarkets, like Wegmans, Shoprite, Stop&Shop, ACME and others, provide a large selection of products and allow you to buy small amounts of produce. These chains publish weekly circulars and announce the products on sale for the next week. Checking the circulars can help you with meal plan ideas based on cheap ingredients and their availability.
In our neighborhood, we are lucky to have Shoprite just next to BJ’s, making it super easy to visit both on the same shopping trip. Whatever we can’t buy at BJ’s, we supplement at Shoprite.
Local mini markets
Sometimes, you only need one onion or a bunch of parsley. Instead of driving to a supermarket for just one item, buying it in the local mini market is not a bad idea at all.
Once in the store, check around. Often you’ll be able to find some vegetables on sale or special deliveries from local farmers.
I know there are additional options, but not every store is available in our area. For example, I’ve read a lot of positive feedback about Aldi stores. Their customers are excited about the quality, selection and prices. Unfortunately, I don’t have any personal experience with Aldi.
Compare The Prices
After you’ve checked all the shopping locations around, you’ll have to do a bit more detailed work: learn the prices of the regular groceries you buy in different stores and compare.
Do you know the cost of your favorite cereal box? A gallon of milk? Dozen eggs?
Well, if you don’t, then it will be really hard to help you save money. There is no escape from this homework. I don’t expect you to learn by heart the prices of all available products in every store, of course. It takes some practice to notice and remember the regular prices and discount offers for the items you are interested in.
If you ask me, I probably would be able to tell you the price of any item I’ve purchased at any grocery store in the last few months. But I’m a shopping nerd, I know it.
You can start with just a sample list of the most important groceries. This way, it will be easier to find groups of products that are cheaper, let’s say, in the wholesale club, versus those that get better discounts in other grocery chain stores.
Private Label Vs. Brands
Private label is a popular way to grow the profits of the chains. For example, BJ’s has contracts with several food and cosmetics manufacturers who supply the products under BJ’s private labels, Wellsley Farms and Berkley&Jensen.
These products are usually cheaper than the brand alternatives, as there are no advertising and marketing costs.
While you are checking the prices of your favorite products in the nearby stores, look on the shelves around and try to find some private label items similar to the brand products you are used to buying. It might be worth to try them if there is a significant price difference in comparison to the brand ones.
For example, I’m pretty sure that there is no quality gap between Shoprite private label baking soda and other brand products.
Plan Grocery Shopping Trips
After collecting all the information about available stores, their opening hours and prices, it’s time to plan your grocery shopping.
Step #1 – Define grocery shopping routine – What? Where? When?
List the stores that would be part of your grocery shopping routine. Decide what products you are going to buy at each store. Of course, some can be interchangeable depending on current sales promotions.
Set up the schedule – how many times per month or week are you going to visit each store? I’m not trying to pretend that we can plan everything in advance, but you should have a basic plan.
Just to show you what I mean, in our household, we have planned bi-weekly trips to Restaurant Depot and Whole Foods, a weekly trip to BJ’s and Shoprite, and a monthly trip to Trader Joe’s. We visit other stores occasionally, based on their sales promotions or our specific needs like holidays, birthday dinners etc.
Decide what membership cards are cost-effective for your needs. Don’t forget to get the free loyalty cards of grocery chains, as you might need the card to get the reduced price for the products on sale. Loyalty cards also come handy for digital coupons apps, as I’ll explain in a minute.
Step #2 – Collect the information about sales and coupons
Sign up for the weekly circulars (many stores have email options) and mailed coupon books. Go through them and try to figure out which products are on sale and at what frequency. From my experience, the stores have recurrent cycles, when the products will be on sale, let’s say, once in two months.
Look up for manufacturer coupons in Sunday papers. Don’t worry if you didn’t get them – they are usually available on websites like coupons.com.
Your goal is to plan the purchase of these products, especially non-perishable items, such as canned food, toilet paper and cleaning supplies in such a way that you never need to urgently buy them at the full price. We do it successfully with all household and personal care items and a lot of pantry inventory as well.
Do you know that BJ’s (and probably other clubs) allow using both their own in-store coupon AND other printed manufacturer coupons together?
Other stores, like Shoprite, will DOUBLE manufacturer coupons with a value under $1.
Step #3 – Use digital coupons and grocery shopping apps
There are several awesome grocery shopping apps that can be used all together. The apps will help you find even more digital coupons and get cash back for the products you buy anyway.
There is no risk and no cost in any of them. All you need is to sign up and start saving.
Some apps require scanning of the receipts, others can link the loyalty cards and automatically add the savings to your account. You can check out all of them and decide which one fits you and your shopping style. I just use them all and have fun with it.
No time to scan? You can delegate this task to your kids who are old enough to handle a cell phone. Let them earn their pocket money!
The best grocery shopping apps
Ibotta offers $10 sign up bonus. It’s the most popular grocery coupons app where you need to scan the receipts to redeem the offers. There are additional options to make more money, like cash back for online shopping and special bonuses as well. (>>Ibotta full review)
FetchRewards offers $2-$3 sign up bonus with code A9KJM. You will get cash back for ANY receipt from ANY grocery store in the US, without the need to browse and activate rebates. Any purchased product from hundreds of participating brands is eligible for a bonus. (>>FetchRewards full review)
CoinOut – this app gives you money for ANY receipt, just download the app to your mobile and scan the receipts. Fast and easy. This is like finding nickels, pennies, and dimes every day. For US only. (>>CoingOut full review)
How to save with grocery coupon apps
Here are some tips that will help you to maximize your savings:
1. Before completing your shopping list (and you know from the first part of my guide that you MUST have the list before heading out to the supermarket!), check what rebates are available. Adjust the list by choosing the brand on sale or adding the products you are sure to use. Don’t buy things only because they are on sale.
2. Keep all your receipts clean and flat, don’t crumple them in your back pocket.
3. Add scanning to your shopping routine. My own way to do it is to scan the receipts immediately after I come home from shopping.
That’s all from me for this time.
What are your saving tips? It would be fabulous if you can share them with me in the comments below.
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