And now let us discuss how to buy groceries.
Shopping intelligently for groceries is like any other skill: you have to learn it and maintain it. My friend Jasmine knew almost literally nothing about how to properly buy groceries until I walked her through the process. Now she’s a champ! So let’s go over some suggestions.
- Make a list. You can optionally check it twice. Put down everything you think you’ll need, as well as the things you know you need. Having a list will make it less likely that you’ll forget something, and less likely that you’ll wind up giving in to impulse items.
- Pay attention to the weekly ads! They can be full of some fantastic sales and deals, especially on produce and meat. Look into any coupons you might find, too. Most of them aren’t worth bothering with, but some can be quite good deals.
- But don’t be a slave to the ads. Driving clear across town to save $2.00 on frozen waffles probably doesn’t make too much sense, so when you look at the ads, make sure you only pay attention to good deals that are at stores it makes sense for you to travel to.
- Stock up on meat when it is on sale. The stores around me (Safeway, Fry’s, Albertson’s), tend to do some wonderful meat sales. I’m particularly fond of the “Buy 1, Get X Free” ,where X is sometimes two, or occasionally three! Chicken breasts, pork chops, pork ribs, and a (almost always choice) steaks tend to turn up in these sales a lot. Stock up when you can, get a food sealer, and put the meat into a deep freeze. Chicken breasts are especially good for this, as they freeze well.
- Also stock up on these other items when they are on sale. Baking goods (flour, sugar, etc), herbs and spices (keep an eye open for great deals around the holidays), and various non-perishable canned-goods, like higher-end soups.
- Watch for clearance items. Almost every grocery store has a clearance section. Sometimes more than one, with dry foods, frozen foods, and refrigerated foods all having their own sale areas. Anyhow, these are usually items that are discontinued and/or about to expire. If you see some meat that expires tomorrow, but you’re getting it 50% off and want to use it tonight, that’s a good deal!
- Buy in bulk! When you can do so, buying in bulk is a great way to save money. Get yourself a Sam’s Club or Costco card if you can. Most major grocery outlets also usually have bulk dry foods sections, where you can stock up.
- Generic/store brand is usually just fine. I buy store brand stuff all the time. Usually it’s just as good, or close enough, to the brand-name stuff that I can save some money and get what I want. That said…
- There’s nothing wrong with buying quality if you can afford it. I never buy store brand mac ‘n’ cheese. Kraft is the one for me. I’ll either pay for Kraft, or I won’t buy it at all. And that’s fine. If there are certain brands you really like, and you can afford it, go for it!
- No matter how good the deal, if you don’t want/use the product, you’ve been ripped off. Let’s say that Spam is on sale. Ten tins for $10. Not too bad! That’s a great price, in fact! But if you don’t like Spam (Spamity-Spam! Wonderful Spam!), then it’s not a good deal for you. Even if it’s something you kind of like, and might use it, maybe, don’t buy it. If you never use it, or if you just throw it out after it expires, you’ve basically wasted your money.
- Sign up for the store loyalty cards. They’re usually worth it, and are generally the only way to get discounts. If you don’t want to give out your info (at the place where you’re comfortable with swiping your debit/credit card, but never mind), then just make something up. They’ll never know, and you’ll get your discounts.
- Ask for rain checks! If there’s a product that’s on sale, and it’s a really good sale, and you aren’t able to get to the store before it’s sold out, ask if you can get a rain check. You might not, but you probably will, and then you can come back later and get that item at the sale price.
- Pay attention to the price per ounce! This one is very tricky. Let’s say you’re looking at two boxes of cereal. One is $3, but the other is $3.10. Well, clearly the $3.00 is better, right? Maybe. If you look at the shelf labels, at least in the USA, you’ll see something that usually says, “price per ounce”.With those two boxes, say that they look to be the same size, but the $3.00 box is 12 ounces ($0.25 per ounce), and the more expensive is 16 ($0.194 per ounce). You’re getting much more food at a better price by shelling out a tiny bit extra.
- Seriously, pay attention to that price per ounce! Yes, I’m mentioning this twice. It really is a good way to make your food dollars go farther.
- If you don’t do it, you’re paying someone else to. You know those bags of grated cheese you can buy? Have you ever compared the price per ounce on those vs blocks of cheese? You’re paying extra to have someone grate that cheese for you. You’re also paying extra for them to bag your salad items, slice up fruit and meat, and all sorts of other things. There’s nothing wrong with this, just be aware.
- You’re also paying for convenience. Walk into any convenience store, and then go hit a real grocery store, and notice the massive difference in prices. Sometimes you can get genuinely good deals, but for the most part, you’re paying for the convenience of shopping during any hour of the day, parking right next to the door, and having only a couple people ahead of you in line.
- Read the labels on the shelves! Albertson’s is currently having a sale. You can get twelve packs of Coke products for only $2.22 each! Not bad! But let’s look closely at this.
Ok, so what you actually get is four 12 packs for a total of $8.88. Notice where the individual price is $5.99. That’s something that’s very easy for you to miss seeing when they scan the items at the register, and suddenly you’ve spent $12 for two 12 packs instead of the $4.44 you think you’ve spent. This isn’t something that’s limited to this particular sale. You’ll quite often see labels that say things like, “2 for $5.00!” and then in smaller print, “or $3.99 each”, so be wary.
But even more insidious is the other part of this. Look closely. See it? You have to spend at least $25 above and beyond the price of these in order to get the sale price. So this really is a very good deal (cheaper than the store brand, probably!), but you need to understand exactly what the deal is.
I might add more to this later, but for now, I do hope this is helpful, and if anyone can think of things I can add, please let me know!