10 Tips on How to Save at the Grocery Store

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groceryWe love grocery stores more than we care to admit. But, after a round of shopping, we invariably feel like we kept overspending. We crunched some numbers, and alas! We’ve got you covered with ten LearnVest-approved supermarket savings tips. You may not want to follow them all the time, but keeping them in the back of your mind will save you money, we promise.

1Stay Standard. Stick with standard grocery stores and avoid premium ones, like Whole Foods. As much as we love Whole Foods, we did a double take when we read the findings of CIBC World Markets: “A family wanting to ‘convert’ from purchasing regular products at its local supermarket to purchasing natural/organic products at Whole Foods could expect to pay over 60% more for groceries.” (Some of our friends refer to the place as “Whole Paycheck!”)

2Avoid the Prepared Foods Section. Grocery stores make a hefty profit by charging you a high premium for convenience, rather than basing pricing on the cost of the ingredients. For example, Fresh Direct charges $7.99 for one 11.8-ounce serving of portobello mushroom ravioli with three-tomato sauce. Compare that with $2.99 for a 13-ounce bag of portobello ravioli—okay, so you have to boil it yourself—and $3.50 for a jar of pasta sauce that will last far beyond one serving.

3Cut the Pre-Cut. No more pre-cut fruits and veggies. A whole pineapple produces more than five cups of fruit chunks and costs $5.99 at Fresh Direct, whereas one cup of pre-cut pineapple chunks is $3.49. If you bought the whole fruit, you’d get pineapple at the price of $1.20 per cup—savings of nearly 70%!

4Treat Life Like a Party. Buy large bottles of soda and juice rather than collections of little cans. A 1.5-liter (48-ounce) bottle of Coke costs slightly more than a dollar at the grocery store, while a single 12-ounce can of Coke generally costs a dollar by itself. Buying the larger amount in cans would cost you nearly four times the price.

5Do Not Buy Bottled Water! Water is the most abundant resource on the planet and everyone in the United States should have access to clean tap water, so there is no reason to burn your hard-earned cash on a bottle of Evian when you could drink for free. The one-time cost of a BPA-free, eco-friendly water bottle is $14. Buying bottled water can easily amount to over $800 within two years. Plus, plastic waste is a huge environmental issue, so you’ll be saving two things at once: your wallet and the environment!

6Be Generic. Generic brands often pack the same punch as their name-brand counterparts, and sometimes they’re nearly half the price. Determine which generic products correspond to which name-brand items by comparing main ingredients. If they appear to be mostly the same, go for it! We eavesdropped on user forums and found some savvy budgeters who have saved 30% on their total grocery bills simply by buying more store brands.

7Get Seasonal. It’s possible to buy produce at nearly any time of year, but purchasing something during its off-season will be notably more expensive. Check out Real Simple’s great seasonal produce guide to learn when various items are in season.

8Act Friendly. If you cook with friends instead of slaving over the stove by yourself, you’ll be able to split the bill and buy in bulk, without the food going bad. Cooking with friends and making enough for leftovers can save you more than 50% compared with what you’d normally spend to make that meal for one. While you decrease the amount you spend, you’ll increase your fun.

9Use Coupons. Although we haven’t been big coupon-users in the past, we’ve come around since learning that 89% of Americans use coupons, and save an average of 7% on their grocery bills as a result (according to the Promotion Marketing Association). The most convenient way to get started is through mobile coupon applications. One we love, Yowza!!, lets you find and use coupons on your iPhone or iPod Touch (other smartphones coming soon!) without printing a thing. This means lots of savings without the embarrassment caused by digging out coupons from your purse. Created by actor Greg Grunberg from Heroes, the out-of-this-world application allows you to produce a bar code on your phone and hold it up to a checkout scanner.

10Play the Field. Not all grocery stores are created equal, but experience will teach you which stores in your area have the best prices on various items. Weigh that against the convenience factor and have at it!

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  • meghan

    shopping at whole foods may be more expensive immediately, but what is the long term cost of eating & feeding your family food produced under questionable circumstances? filled with preservatives that cause cancer (aspartame), or sprayed with pesticides and chemicals that have long term effects we haven’t even yet fully discovered?

    • The LearnVest Staff

      Hi Meghan,

      Great point! To play devil’s advocate, though–couldn’t you try to buy organic goods from a “regular” supermarket or look carefully through ingredients on more mainstream goods? Have you found that Whole Foods actually has cheaper prices on some organic products than normal grocery stores?

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  • Ralph Shrader

    coupons aren't cheaper in the long run as they are usually for name brand items which are cheaper most times by buying generic

  • Milica Kata

    I compared my Whole Foods reciepts to those from Jewel (Midwest grocer) and was amazed to find that Whole Foods was actually cheaper for most of the items I bought! nShopping on the “outer isles”, buying minimal meat, maximizing my produce purchase, buying generic wherever possible and sticking with my staples from the bulk section I was able to get more value from Whole Foods than I ever did from Jewel or even Aldi – so long as I was cooking from scratch and not “add water, oil, egg” box meals.

  • Kathyhwerner

    If you shop carefully with coupons, you can same by buying a stockpile of whats on sale with coupons. Many stores offer Buy 1 Get 1 deals and double the face value of coupons, so if you stockpile (buy for 5-6 weeks) you can get a lot of food for a lot less money. My favorite site is http://www.southernsavers.com to get started.

  • Grrrlx

    I do have to say – that there is ZERO embarrassment in using coupons. I don’t know what social/emotional stigma some people may have developed about coupons (coupons are only for dirty poor homeless people, etc.), but it’s becoming quite a little game to see how much savings my husband and I can rack up at the store!