You vs. The Grocery Store

by Emily · 14 comments

in Living Frugally

How do you beat the grocery store at their own game?  They spend an obscene amount of money on research and marketing in an effort to separate you from your hard-earned dollars.  How can you fight back?

Some things I do to keep my final total down:

  • Plug in. Have you ever paused to listen to the muzak playing over the loudspeakers of your local Piggly Wiggly?  It’s no accident, they’re conspiring to lessen your inhibitions and keep you there longer so you spend more by playing slower music.   My remedy is my mp3 player.  It’s full of my choices in music, none of which make me want to dawdle over that extra Butterball for the freezer (unless it’s on sale).  A plus is I get to bop around in my own little world and the lady trying to get me to sign up for a store credit card leaves me alone.  🙂
  • Chew on this. Next time you go shopping, go armed.  Grab a pack of mint bubble gum from the candy aisle (NOT the checkout – they charge $1.09 for one pack of gum, the candy aisle had a 3-pack of the same gum for $1.89).  Chewing on gum will keep your mouth busy and the mint will stop you from smelling the fresh baked bread or roasting chicken that the stores will tempt you with.  Also, some say mint helps with mental clarity.  And who couldn’t use a little of that?
  • Full Tummy. Common sense – don’t go food shopping hungry.   Shop right after a meal, or bring a snack from home.  Just as an army marches on its stomach, so also do you shop on one.
  • Refreshment. The greatest invention of the 21st century is the shopping-cart-cup-holder.  Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea at home and bring it along in a thermal mug.  You can walk by that Fourbucks kiosk at the entrance, tip your mug, and say “no thanks, I’m good.”  That’s a great feeling.
  • Solo Flight. I have a 6-year-old son.  When I shop with him, I estimate he costs me $3 for every 5 minutes we’re in the store.  It costs me $5/hour to have a sitter watch him (or it’s free if I can get dad to do it!).  If it’s possible, leave the kids at home.
  • BYOB. Those nifty green bags all the grocery stores are selling these days can be a big help.  My local Kroger credits $0.03 per bag that I bring, whether I use it or not.  Sure, it would probably take more uses to make up the $0.99 price tag then the bags will last…unless.  When you first buy your green bags, take them home and reinforce the seams with a sewing machine.  It’s an easy way to make them more durable, longer-lasting, and even more green!
  • Integrate Shopping with Exercise. Searching high and low will grant you the best deals, so do your stretches and lunges to save a bit of money and get tight buns at the same time.
  • Clearance Racks. Check them first before shopping that department.
  • Cultivate Global Tastes. Don’t be afraid to check your Mexican/Asian/Middle Eastern aisle.  Sometimes you can find the exact same item from another aisle for cheaper there.  i.e. canned chickpeas in the bean aisle usually cost $0.99 for a 15-oz can.  Garbanzo beans in the Latino section?  $0.79.  Or, if you’re feeling particularly thrifty, hit the local ethnic groceries.  Latino markets are famed for their cheap produce.
  • Coupons. If this is your thing, go for it.  Combine them with the loss leaders if you can.  I’m not going to go into this – if you need more information Google it and you’re guaranteed to be overwhelmed with help.
  • Write It Down. If you do most of your grocery shopping at a particular store, look on their website for a store layout.  Then arrange your shopping list by aisle.  Less time wandering the aisle = less time to impulse shop.

These are my strategies.  Do you have any tips to survive the grocery store with your budget intact?


1 Beth April 19, 2010

Good ideas, Emily. I wouldn’t have thought about items being cheaper depending on where you find them in the store. One thing about the reusable bags–here in France they let you bring in your worn-out bags for a free replacement, so you’re not spending to buy a new one. Yet another financial incentive for being frugal!

2 Kelly April 20, 2010

One example I’ve noticed is with nuts- if you go to the snack aisle a little bag costs about three times as much as a much bigger bag in the international aisle.

3 Jersey Mom April 19, 2010

A lot of grocery stores, mine included, put their bakery right where people walk in. The fresh smell of baked bread always makes me hungry!! =) I really do just try to stick with the list though… at times I’ll buy an extra pie. I can’t help myself!
.-= Jersey Mom´s last blog ..How We Met =-.

4 Kelly April 20, 2010

You think that’s bad- try coming to France! The smell of fresh-baked baguettes wafting throughout the store… mmm!

5 Kayla K April 19, 2010

I grew up in a big family where the bi-monthly grocery trip included a heaping cart of groceries. Now that I’m on my own it’s easy to buy too much, but planning ahead keeps me on track.

I always plan ahead by looking at the store’s weekly ad online, and then choose my meals based on what I have on hand and what is on sale. I don’t always stick to my list because sometimes I run into great deals, like red-tape bananas, that I will freeze and use later.

I’ve found that coupons are usually for foods that I don’t buy anyway. However, if I notice that something like toothpaste or toilet paper is on sale I will search online for a coupon.
.-= Kayla K´s last blog ..Use Old Tights For Headbands =-.

6 Kelly April 20, 2010

I really learned how to cook when I was working in a group home and every night I cooked dinner for 6 residents and 3 staff. It was a real challenge to cook for just one or two people after that! Now, that experience has come in really handy, because I cook for five every day and always try to make enough to have some leftovers for my DH and I to take for the next day’s lunch.

7 Sarah April 19, 2010

I completely agree with plugging in! I listen to my Dave Ramsey downloads, that always keeps me on track. Don’t forget to unplug when you get to the checker though. It just seems rude to have the buds in your ears while you are interacting with someone. Great tips!

8 Kelly April 20, 2010

This is a great tip- I’ve never even thought of it. And especially listening to a podcast on personal finance and frugality- that must really help you stay motivated!

9 Simple in France April 20, 2010

I actually try to avoid grocery stores all together when I can. I buy bulk at an organic co-op for my staples and from the farmer's market for veggies. If I do go to a grocery store, I try to stick with one that has stable prices–they are usually better than the ones who have tons of fake sale items.

Having a list is a great idea, but so is making whatever you can from scratch. If instead of buying bread, crackers, cookies and pasta you buy flour, salt, sugar, oil and butter, you'll usually find a way to come out ahead–at least in my experience.
.-= Simple in France´s last blog ..Risks you’d take to live your dream =-.

10 Kelly April 20, 2010

I’ve started ordering almost everything online- I can even get local, organic, meat, cheese and fruit and veg online. It really helps me stick to a budget when I don’t have to actually go into the store.

11 Monroe on a Budget April 20, 2010

Tip: Look for the freebie shopping bags! It’s Earth Week in the U.S. (don’t know if it’s international). This is a good time to find freebie bags either from store promotions, or from local recycling agencies during the Earth Day expos and outdoor fairs.
.-= Monroe on a Budget´s last blog ..The stuff you need to cook at home =-.

12 Nancy April 20, 2010

I do 2 major shopping trips per month (menu completed & list in hand). This means less time spent in the store throughout the remainder of the month so less impulse spending. If I do make an additional trip to the store it is for milk and fresh produce.
.-= Nancy´s last blog plan | the cheating version =-.

13 Cronopio May 7, 2010

Take Pollan’s advice and stick to the perimeter! Helps avoid the processed crap.

14 Erich the Mad Bassist May 7, 2010

I get a lot of use from my bread machine: usually half wheat, half white prepared with the basic white setting. My secret of success is finding a store that has the vacuum-packed bricks of yeast that cost a small fraction of the Red Star jars. Just empty one in a mason jar and keep it in the fridge.

At my local Fred Meyer (now owned by Kroger, so I imagine it’s the same story on the east coast,) I enter the PLU (Price Look-Up) code for a bag credit at the self-checkout and use my backpack. A nickel doesn’t sound like much, but I usually don’t need their bags anyway.

The best thing is hitting the farmer’s markets on the edge of town. Lower prices, better produce, and the social experience.

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