What's your secret tip for saving money at the grocery store?
September 15, 2008 2:22 PM   Subscribe

What's your secret tip for saving money at the grocery store?

Even when we plan out meals for the week, the girlfriend and I always end up spending a lot more money than we'd like. We eat moderately healthy, love cooking, and pick easy to medium (in skill level required to make) dishes to prepare.

What's your trick for staying cheap and healthy at the grocery store? Looking for ideas beyond coupon clipping.

(Kind of like this question, only for food only (and not just websites!)
posted by nitsuj to Food & Drink (59 answers total) 132 users marked this as a favorite
I go into the grocery store with the intent to not spend over a certain amount even if that means putting things back. Also, I don't restock things unless I am completely out of them. 3/4 empty does not mean empty so therefore I do not replace items until they are completely finished.
posted by rglass at 2:27 PM on September 15, 2008

Check out the loss leaders. These are products that companies sell at a loss, just to get people into the store. They're very cheap.

Also check out The Dollar Stretcher.
posted by Solomon at 2:32 PM on September 15, 2008

Work off of a list.

Have a $$$ amount in mind that you are comfortable spending.

Stop putting things in your basket when you reach your number.
posted by Exchequer at 2:33 PM on September 15, 2008

Don't shop while hungry.
posted by exogenous at 2:33 PM on September 15, 2008 [8 favorites]

Buy generic brands when you can. Avoid prepackaged stuff. Pay attention to unit prices when you're comparing products. Buy produce that's in season.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:35 PM on September 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

We buy bulk/whole foods whenever possible and shop from a list (bulk rice, nuts, and pasta are cheap and can be used in a variety of dishes). Setting a budget for the week and walking into the store with that amount in cash (no debit or credit card) also helps keep the cost / urge to splurge down.
posted by Heretic at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2008

Make a list, stick to the perimeter of the store.
posted by fixedgear at 2:39 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Be willing to shop around and to change your meal plans based on what's on sale. For example, when whole chickens are $1 a pound or less, I always buy one (sometimes two) and roast them that day. Use one for a stew or soup, which can be frozen and re-heated when you're busy, and eat half of the other for dinner that night. The rest of the second bird can be chopped up and put into chicken salad for the next few days.

Freezing and not being afraid of leftovers are two biggies that help me save on my grocery bills. Another is buying in bulk: we eat a lot of granola bars, so I had a friend with a Costco membership get me a case. Now I'm not spending $4 at the grocery store each time I go for a box. It costs a bit more upfront, but it works out to be less in the end.

Another thing that we do is we don't skimp on fresh fruits and veggies. It is ok to pay a bit more for your groceries if you're not eating junk. Although the foods on the perimeter of the grocery store are more expensive per calorie, it's a good idea to stay away from the aisles unless there's something you actually need in them. And re-evaluating "need" vs. "want" - for example, I really don't need those granola bars, but I like and want them, they make my life more convenient, and make me actually eat while I'm "on the go," but do I really need something like cereal? Breakfast cereal is not cheap, so I only buy it on sale and eat other less expensive things, like toast or oatmeal, for breakfast instead.

Oh, and spices are notoriously expensive. Try to grow your own herbs if you can; it's really fun and you save a lot of money.
posted by k8lin at 2:40 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Forget coupons. Those are almost always only for pre-packaged foods, which you shouldn't be buying if you want to save money. It's far cheaper to buy ingredients and cook dishes yourself. Go once per week or less and take a list with you. If you have a farmer's market nearby, use it. It'll be much less expensive than a grocery store for fruits and veggies.
posted by eratus at 2:41 PM on September 15, 2008

Buy generic brands when you can. Avoid prepackaged stuff. Pay attention to unit prices when you're comparing products. Buy produce that's in season.

This, exactly.

Unit prices really, really matter, and I'm always surprised how few people know to squint at the small type and compare them. The differences can be huge, particularly when you compare different versions of the same thing sold in three or four locations in the store (eg on an ethnic aisle, the health food aisle, and two other locations).

Shop where people with big families and tight budgets shop. In some US cities that means shopping where immigrant families shop, in other places you might watch for LDS or other religious families; etc. Don't shop in the small store with high prices next to the student apartments, or in the ultra-expensive health food store. Coops are a mixed bag — sometimes they have great prices, sometimes not.

Buy real food, not prepared and packaged pseudo-food. Ready-made enchiladas in the health food section are expensive; a package of tortillas, a can of sauce, and some filling (meat, cheese, and/or vegies) is cheap and you control what goes in. The same goes for soup, pie, and pretty much anything else you eat. But be realistic, too. Yes, dried beans are ultra-cheap, but nine times out of ten I will open a can of beans (which costs less than a dollar) to save time at very little extra cost.

Frozen vegies (bought on sale) can be cheaper and sometimes fresher than what you find in the "fresh" produce section, unless you have an unusually good produce section in your store. Less wastage, too, because you cook the amount you want and put the rest back in the freezer to eat later.

So: bring a list, set a budget beforehand, and buy real food that is connected to what you are going to eat that week (don't buy things just "because" — buy them because you are going to cook a specific dish on a specific day).
posted by Forktine at 2:50 PM on September 15, 2008

Pay attention to:

1) Ingredients lists. Fancy spice blend? It's probably just a bunch of plain-jane spices that can be bought in bulk. "Let's see, this eight-ounce $9.99 package of Famous Name Spice is just salt, pepper and onion powder. For $9.99, I could buy a half-pound of each of those things and make my own."

2) Cost per unit. It's printed for virtually every product by every store. "Brand X is X cents per ounce, while Brand Y is Y cents per ounce. Hmm, I'll go with Brand Y..."

3) Opportunities to save money on labor costs. Take packaged ground beef for example. You are paying for the labor involved in actually grinding the beef, which you can do at home with a food processor -- and it will probably taste better, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:51 PM on September 15, 2008

Menu based shopping ONLY. Plan for everything - including drinks and snacks. If it isn't on your shopping list, don't buy it.

Plan your menus around eating more rice, beans, pasta, and fruits and vegetables in season. Meat should be something used occasionally, or to provide flavor (think a small amount of sausage in a soup, rather than two steaks). It should not be the the focus of every meal.

Don't go to the grocery store for fresh fruits and vegetables. If possible, go to the local ethnic markets (Asian, Mexican, Russian, or what have you). The produce is better, more fresh (since their product turnover tends to be faster), and much more cheap.
posted by Wavelet at 2:52 PM on September 15, 2008

Eat vegetarian sometimes, it can be cheaper.
Buy veg that's in season
Find out where ethnic minorities shop near you, and shop there.
Find out where there is a market and shop there, not the supermarket. Market stalls have lower overheads.
Plan so that the leftovers from one meal form part of the next. For example, roast chicken one night means cold chicken the next night, chicken curry, then make some stock and have chicken soup....
Learn enough about cooking that you can easily change your meal plan on the spot when you see an offer at the grocery store.
Don't buy things just because they are on offer.
posted by emilyw at 2:55 PM on September 15, 2008

If you're shopping for something on a shelf, you'll find that prices on items above and below eye level are often cheaper.
posted by corey flood at 2:56 PM on September 15, 2008

I find that getting in and out quickly helps. The less time I spend wandering the aisles, the less likely I am to pick up something I don't need. Keep focused on the task at hand.

Obviously, this is easier if you typically buy a lot of the same items and already have a well established plan of attack for getting your shopping done as quickly as possible. If your shopping list is more variable from trip to trip, you might need to... well, make a list. Then, treat that list as a challenge to be completed in 15 minutes or less. Bowl over old ladies if you must.
posted by jal0021 at 3:00 PM on September 15, 2008

I have to second comparing per-unit prices. My local grocery stores will list it on the price tag attached to the shelf (for example, price per ounce, or price per item on a multipack). It helps me calculate whether or not something is tuly a deal - for example, in looking at a package of 6 sponges and cmparing it to the 3-pack, I found it would be cheaper to buy 2 3-packs. Usually we assume that the items that are packaged in bigger quantities are cheaper, but that is not always the case.

I also agree with cooking whole foods and not buying a lot of things pre-packaged. I buy very few things pre-made, everything else I make myself. It has made a difference in my grocery bill and my pantry is better stocked.

Buying in-season will also save money. You will notice those price fluctuations once you start to pay attention to what's in season.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 3:13 PM on September 15, 2008

Forego meat.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:20 PM on September 15, 2008

Best answer: Unit pricing

Absolutely. I'm continually amazed by how many people don't do this. Always look at the unit price. Sure, the ultra-huge tub of peanut butter is on sale, but you're still paying +11c per 100g over the smaller tub.

Ignore 'Sale' signs

Look at the unit price instead. Of course, sometimes there are products you really like, so it's nice when they're on sale and drop to the level of similar-but-not-quite-as-good product.


Always take your list with you. And write down the costs of each item. Keep a running total.


My roommate and I shop together, and we budget around $300/month, usually split into one big run of $200 or so, and then random bits and bobs through the month (milk, bread, fresh veg, etc etc etc). But there's always a bit of a fudge factor... if I were to codify it, I'd say (depending on your finances) pick your budget and stick to it.. but give yourself, say, $25 a month for 'because I feel like it'. Maybe you want some really delicious cheese, or you need five pounds of butter to make a bisque (using the convenient leftover shells from the whole shrimp you bought--more on that in a moment), or goshdarnit you just really want a badass steak.

Planning ahead

This is really the biggest way to save money. If I'm going to roast a chicken, I'm not just going to think "mmmm, roast chicken." It's roast chicken the night of, cold chicken sandwiches the next day, followed by roasting & boiling the carcass to make stock for the lentil soup I'm making later.

Know your store

Wherever you shop, it's likely that it's cheap(er) for somethings and expensive(r) for other things. I bitterly miss the small fruit market by my old apartment where $10 would get me in fruit and veg what $20 would get me at a major supermarket. Better quality, too. Look for these places, they'll help.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:21 PM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

In my experience, at least, usually when stores put something on sale as 3/$6.00 you can just buy 1 for $2.00.

I don't bother myself, but if you're hardcore you can get perfectly edible free food out of dumpsters at various places. There's a place by me where the employees actually carefully double bag all the stuff going in the dumpster so that the hippies can take it.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:33 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

dumpster dive. eat a lot of communal meals with other couples. There are lots of basic meals which I spend very little making: pasta, beans and rice, eggs, oatmeal, chicken in a pot (with veggies, then the next day you can have sandwiches or stuff for burritos), hamburgers, hummus sandwiches. Also where I live there's a couple pretty good grocery stores that sell a lot of great food that is overstock from other places, or where the cans or damaged, or food that's almost out of date.
posted by Rocket26 at 3:36 PM on September 15, 2008

In my city, fresh fruits and vegetables cost a fraction at the farmer’s markets compared to the big box grocery store.

Outside of my personal experience, I’ve heard that the street markets in Asian neighborhoods in large cities have similarly cheap produce. The difference is that the goods at the street markets are “ripe.” Normal groceries would not be able to stock and sell this sort of produce without spoilage.
posted by ijoshua at 3:50 PM on September 15, 2008

Try to shop on tuesday or wednesday, just before the store restocks for the next weekend. Lots of sales, clearance fruits & veggies, closeout bulk items, etc.
posted by Aquaman at 4:06 PM on September 15, 2008

Best answer: Don't waste the food you've got. A common consequence of buying for specific recipes and buying packages with optimum per-unit prices is that you'll often find yourself buying more of a given ingredient than the recipe calls for. Put that extra stuff to use - don't let it languish in the pantry or go bad in the fridge. Instead of buying for seven dinners a week, buy for four and improvise the other three with whatever is sitting around.
posted by jon1270 at 4:20 PM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Know what a good price is for various items.

Shop at various stores and know which one typically has the best prices.

Don't limit your grocery shopping to grocery stores. There are some fantastic deals to be had at Target, for example. I never buy cat litter anywhere but there, and their store equivalent to Crystal Light drink mix is less than half the price of the name brand and cheaper than the store brand at most other stores. I have also found excellent grocery deals at drugstores on specific items.

Don't wait until you're out of laundry detergent (or other consumables) to buy more. Keep two on hand, then when you start in on the second one start looking for a good price to replace the one you just emptied. It'll be on sale eventually.

If you have to drive out of your way for a good deal (e.g. Costco) be sure to stock up. With the price of gas the way it is these days, you have to factor that in.
posted by kindall at 4:29 PM on September 15, 2008

My boyfriend thinks I'm crazy for doing this but just buy as much as you can carry in your arms. Don't use a cart or a basket. Bring your own canvas bag and stop shopping when it's full. It works. You'll plan better. And you'll have more money at the end of the month because you didn't buy a lot of crap you didn't need.
posted by wherever, whatever at 4:50 PM on September 15, 2008

Never buy anything in a box.
posted by rikschell at 4:55 PM on September 15, 2008

If you're lucky, you'll have an Aldi grocery store near you, for buying (at minimum) the standard stuff. And Trader Joe's may have a lot of interesting stuff you won't find elsewhere, but they also have great prices on produce and a lot of other items.
posted by WestCoaster at 5:01 PM on September 15, 2008

I don't know if when other posters suggested buying in bulk if they meant your typical Sam's Club/Costco route, or use the bulk section at your grocery store. However I find that buying certain items from the bulk section at the grocery store tend to yield more food for your dollar: rice, dried beans, coffee, dried fruit (huge difference) and etc. Mine has pasta, flours, and the like but I haven't bothered to check the difference in unit pricing.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 5:19 PM on September 15, 2008

Riffing off of what Cool Papa Bell says about spices above, I've found that spices bought in the ethnic aisle of my closest store (a Publix) has spices which are at least half as much as the ones in the spice aisle.

The ones in the spice aisle are usually Spice Islands or other name brands, and the ones in the ethnic aisle are Badia brand.

But, when you compare a couple of ounces of a spice at $2 in a bag, vs. less unit price for $6 in a glass bottle, buy a set of screw-top glass bottles and refill from the bags.
posted by tomierna at 5:32 PM on September 15, 2008

My grocery store's meat goes on sale every Thursday. We're unit price watchers, so that's the only time we buy meat. Whole chickens, pork loin, steaks and similar will generally go on sale in large packages. While it feels silly for two people to buy five steaks, we'll freeze them individually and then thaw one at a time. One steak is plenty of meat for stir fry or on a salad.

That combined with stringent advance meal planning, planned freezing of leftovers (so we don't get sick of eating the same thing over and over again), and not buying processed food saves us a lot of money.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:32 PM on September 15, 2008

Check you're receipt to make sure you've been charged correctly. Probably every third trip I make to store (whether my local store or Whole Foods), something doesn't ring up correctly. Usually sale items, but often produce. It can often be a dollar or two, and it's much easier to get them to fix it right then. Oh, and watch the scales. I've had them weigh what I knew was less than a pound of spinach, and it came up almost two. So yeah... don't pay for what you aren't buying.
posted by kimdog at 5:47 PM on September 15, 2008

I worked at a grocery store as a teenager and can tell you these secrets:

Make a list of the staple items you buy and what you pay for them. When they go on sale, stock up. You should never have to pay full price if you plan ahead because they'll go on sale before your stock runs out. Supermarkets typically rotate the sale items every 10-16 weeks and if you have more than one chain in town, things will be on sale more often.

For the most part, brand loyalty is for suckers so don't be afraid to buy a competing product if it's on sale. There are some exceptions of course — people are particular about soft drink brands — but you can't really tell much of a difference in garbage bags and baking soda. Also, the store brands are usually made by one of the leading manufacturers anyway so they can be a good bargain.

Bring a calculator and pay attention to unit cost. Manufacturers frequently make products smaller instead of raising the prices (hoping you won't notice the difference). So what appears at first to be more expensive may actually be cheaper per unit of measure. Furthermore, smaller packages are sometimes cheaper per unit of measure than larger packages. Do the math and save.

Stores often put things on endcaps and displays that aren't on sale at all. But because they're not near the shelf where you can compare prices, you'd never know that. So for the most part, avoiding things on endcaps is good practice since those items probably weren't on your list anyway.

Make a shopping list and stick to it. I found that I buy the same things most of the time, so I save time because I typed up a list in a word processor, grouped by area of the store. So my list has "frozen foods" and "meat" and "dairy" and "produce" sections which list things I frequently buy. I printed out a stack of these and keep them in the kitchen so I can check off things as I need them (or write them in, if it's something unusual). That way the list is already ready when I go shopping and I don't spend time backtracking in the store.
posted by tomwheeler at 5:52 PM on September 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

Eat less meat, and cheaper cuts of meat:
stew beef + slow cooker = great stew.
ground turkey & potato curry

Since you love to cook, try making bread. It tastes great, is really cheap, and nothing smells as good as bread baking.
posted by theora55 at 5:56 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Make your own granola, salad dressing, jam, bread and cookies.
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:57 PM on September 15, 2008

Know prices, make a list and only bring cash.

Walk to the store.

Small shoppings throughout the week, rather than "stocking up." This way you always know what you have in the house, you don't overbuy and either lose things or have to throw them out when they go bad, and you only buy what you need for the next couple of days. This is also a great way to stick to a diet. Only buy meal food on these trips. If you want a snack, make a separate trip. You'll buy less and you'll eat less. The only exception to this is beer. You may buy your beer in bulk, from wherever you want.

If there is a neighborhood or ethnic market within walking distance to your house, shop there instead of at the national chain. The smaller space they have to stock usually means more meaningful selection (2-3 brands of bread, for instance, instead of 40) and no bullshit gourmet crap designed to part you from your money. Even if their prices are slightly higher, the smaller selection will probably have you buying less. My experience in Chicago is actually that their prices are lower. If you can, find one with old Jewish zadies, who will educate you on how to shop, whether you want them to or not. I marvel that anyone still shops at the megastores.

If you would have to explain what it is to your grandmother, don't buy it. It's yuppie food, designed to be expensive, snobbish, and little else. Sorry, no arugula unless you grow it yourself.

Since you already like to cook, you're way ahead of the game. Don't buy prepared foods, quick rice, boxed meals, or stovetop short cut products. You will buy less, you're not paying for packaging or advertising, and you're not wasting, or spending money, on what you don't eat from the mixes. The fewer labels and instructions that come with the food, the better (ever see a tomato with instructions?)

Know what fruit is in season. It's cheaper when it's in season. If it's not in season, live without it when possible.

Food writer Michael Pollan recommends staying in the perimeter of grocery stores, because that's where all the real food is. Except for peanut butter and jam, I've found this to be pretty much true.

I have cut my grocery bill by 2/3s following these methods.
posted by nax at 7:04 PM on September 15, 2008

Buy ziploc baggies.

Seriously, I was so excited when I figured out how I could buy things in bulk but only make 1 portion when I had a baggie.
posted by OrangeDrink at 7:37 PM on September 15, 2008

See if your store gives you a five cent sack refund if you bring your own bags. It adds up!
posted by starman at 8:08 PM on September 15, 2008

I tend to have a core bunch of staples with reasonably long shelf lives (eg baked beans, tins of tuna or salmon, tahini, honey, dark chocolate etc). I never, ever, EVER buy these at full price, and when I do buy them, I do it in bulk* - enough for a few months sometimes. It's not uncommon for me to walk out of a store with $70 of goods, where every single item was discounted by 30% or more.

That's a bit like the "loss leader" advice. The catalogues will advertise what's on special this week, knowing that (for example) people who buy Coke also buy chips 80% of the time, so one week Coke will be cheap but chips full price, next week chips will be cheap & Coke full price. If you're cluey enough to buy double Coke in week 1, and double chips in week 2, you're fucking their system, because it's designed with this-week-only shoppers in mind.

*afterthought: by "bulk" i mean many regular-sized units, not some monstrous package with enough inside to feed an elephant things like rice & sugar that don't spoil after opening are an obvious exception.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:23 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find I can keep my budget well under control by doing my grocery shopping online. Is this service available where you are? I have to pay $10 delivery, but it is absolutely worth it, for these reasons:
• I have to plan ahead for meals, and so I just add to my cart through the week, with certain meals in mind. I find I tend to think through purchases and stick to a plan when I'm shopping online, and I don't have to walk past the bargain basement tissues or chocolate or whatnot to get to the register.
• I can stick to a budget because it's easy to see what I'm spending as it subtotals
• The goods are unit priced, which is not the case in-store in Australia
• I can still buy all the specials and discounted items
• It saves me time - it takes me just under two hours to drive to the supermarket, buy everything with my baby in tow, then drive home and lug it upstairs to my apartment. I'd pay myself a lot more than $15 an hour to do this if it were my job, if were my job, so I'm certainly not going to baulk at $5 an hour to have someone set the groceries down on my kitchen floor for me.
posted by lottie at 8:55 PM on September 15, 2008

As others have stated, don't shop while hungry, tired, or under the influence. Go in knowing what you want, ideally on a list; focus on getting that into your cart, not putting other things into your cart, and leaving quickly.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:30 PM on September 15, 2008

I've recommended it before, and I'll recommend it again: HotCouponWorld. The posters there will show you how to combine coupons (for whatever you want to buy; not just cheap, processed crap) with sales to save 50% or more off of your grocery bill. I'm a vegetarian, and I've never eaten Rice-A-Roni or toaster struedel or Anything-Helper or a lot of that processed nonsense, and it's worked for me.
posted by decathecting at 9:54 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Split your shopping between stores. Usually you'll find that one store tends to have particularly good deals on meat, but another has the best produce, and the Thai market has fresh basil for super cheap. Think about your savings when you're shopping - if it's worth the extra gas and time, hit multiple stores in one day.

Certain items are always a rip-off. They include brand name cereal, individually packaged snacks, pre-packaged sliced meats, pre-formed ground meat patties, frozen meals, already-peeled or cut produce, cheese that's sliced or grated or in cubes...

A little bit of extra effort can make normally expensive items cheap. A good jar of spaghetti sauce is at least $5, but you can make better sauce for less $$$ with canned tomatoes and trivial amounts of onions, garlic, salt, cheap wine, and herbs. Dry beans are less than half the cost of canned, and they taste better. Bottles of marinade are little more than vinegar, oil, sugar, and a few cheap spices.

Learn to cook creatively. Sometimes when I'm low on money, I'll look through my dry/canned goods, and realize that I can make a great meal with just a couple of additional items.
posted by scose at 10:46 PM on September 15, 2008

Funny story (not really a story, more like an ongoing experience)? My co-op has this "25 cent bin". Everything placed in there, on its last legs, is just 25 cents a pound. I always make a beeline for this bin and generally get at least 2-3 lbs of the stuff, no matter what it is, and improvise one or two meals out of it. Funny thing is, with the exception of a few ingredients that really to die quickly, I've always managed to make tasty, or at least passable meals with the stuff I buy.

On the other hand, I'm constantly purchasing ingredients fresh from grocery stores, only to have them languish in my fridge, forgotten.

I guess the moral is that if you buy things with a firmer deadline, you will be more likely to use them. I find that I tend to do more and better cooking when I am "living on the edge" with my ingredients.

If you don't have a large family or a large fridge, buying in bulk can actually work against you because you can't store all the food before it goes bad or you get really, really bored with it. My recommendation is to try to buy things that are sold by weight or individual units rather than in bulk, and wait for them to go on sale.

Also, judging by how often food disappears and dies in my fridge, I imagine that a well-organized and clean fridge would do wonders. One day I hope to be able to test this theory.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:59 PM on September 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

how often food disappears and dies in my fridge - eponysterical
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:04 AM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more thing. Check out drugstores. The Rite-Aid by my apartment consistently has Kellogg's or General Mill's cereals on sale for 1.99. I've also found great deals on soda pop at drugstores.
posted by kimdog at 6:15 AM on September 16, 2008

Buy house brands. I don't use manufacturer coupons, because I rarely buy the brands they apply to.

Don't buy stuff you won't eat just because it's cheap. F'rex, while everybody says that name-brand cereals are a rip off, nobody in my house will eat anything but the name brand stuff -- even when I dumped everything into plastic bins, they could tell the difference.

Know what you use, and what a good price on it is. Know how much of it you have in stock. Check the unit prices. Often, the bigger box/bottle is cheaper per unit, but not always; and if you wind up throwing half of the larger container away, it doesn't save any money.

Read the grocery ads. Shop at more than one store, if you can. Make a list of what to buy where. Only go once a week (not counting milk/bread stops if that's all you get), if it's any distance to the store -- it's penny wise and pound foolish to go to the market three times a week if you have to drive over 5 miles to it. (Do milk/bread stops on your way home from other places -- I usually get milk on my way home from rehearsal, or when picking a kid up from an afterschool activity.)

Always use a list. I rarely shop to a menu, but I have a stock of staples in the house, and when I get down to one or two in the pantry, it goes on the list, to be purchased the next time it goes on sale. (This pattern breaks down when MrR neglects to put stuff on the list, but the kids rarely forget.) Have a little bit of flexibility from the list -- if (f'rex) you see that nectarines are on an unadvertised special, and you know that you will use them, get a few, even if they're not on the list.

Don't run out of the things you use often -- stock up (to a reasonable level) when they're on sale. Making a special trip to the store to buy a can of (say) tomato paste at full price because you used the last can three days ago when it was on sale just last week is annoying at best. Especially since you'll probably get more than just tomato paste.
posted by jlkr at 8:23 AM on September 16, 2008

When I lived in England, often times grocery stores used to discount items that were set to spoil in the next two days. You could get a bunch of last minute items at reduced cost.

Not popular here in the States but equally as effective - shopping the dollar store for dry goods. Again you have to be aware of the shelf life date and often times weird brand names but canned vegetables are a great money saver if you rinse them off before use to cut the sodium. Also good to stock up there on all your cleaning/health and beauty products. You have to get over the element of shame, but you can cut your grocery bill drastically by selectively shopping.

Also, if you have multiple grocery stores in your area, price shop. It's often a hassle to make more than one trip, but if you can cut even $0.50 on one item, and that happens several time, you're saving money.

I'm also personally a big fan of the freezer to stock up on things on sale.
posted by howcast at 7:05 AM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

shopping the dollar store for dry goods. Again you have to be aware of the shelf life date and often times weird brand names but canned vegetables are a great money saver if you rinse them off before use to cut the sodium.

Unless it's not a strict dollar store, I'm pretty sure you won't save money by buying vegetables there. Many canned vegetables cost less than $1 a can in the grocery store. Also, most canned vegetables (with the exception of legumes and tomatoes) are pretty awful. Fresh vegetables are usually only slightly more expensive and offer a lot more nutrition and taste. If you can't get fresh, frozen vegetables are supposedly better (tons of comments on the green talk about frozen veggies as a staple; personally I don't like the taste or texture of frozen veggies at all).

In my experience, the dollar store is a fantastic resource for cleaning supplies, first aid stuff, and random items, but not for food. Most of the items they offer are pretty bad, and the prices are comparable or slightly more than a large grocery store. A much better place to buy food is from the "clearance cart" that some stores have, usually somewhere near the front of the store but sometimes in the back in a shelf. Things like opened boxes (with the bag inside still 100% intact), dented cans, and discontinued products are all in there.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:44 AM on September 17, 2008

Everything so far is great - heck, I'll be using a few of them myself. I'm living in South Korea, where preservatives are at a premium. This means everything spoils faster, so I instituted a simple 'left-to-right' rotation system: grab from the right, fill from the left. This goes for every shelf in the pantry and in the fridge - guests are trained as well. A little dorky, but I haven't wasted / thrown away nearly as much stuff as I used to.

The other option (the one I personally follow): carry cash 24/7. Act as though you don't have a bank account / credit card / other plastic card to pull out of your wallet. Take with you the maximum amount to spend on groceries. If you don't have it, you can't spend it. End of story. So you're 10 cents short? A smile sometimes bums a dime off of the next person in line, or you take something off.
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:34 AM on September 17, 2008

Before you go, and when you're sketching our your meal plan for the week, read the ads in the paper. Coupon clipping is a pain in the ass, but making note of what's on sale and working around that for meals is easier. My mom did both this and coupon clipping; she tried to get me to adopt both but I can only stand the planning around sales thing. It's kind of fun too in a dorky way--my local foodie friends and I often commiserate on good deals around town ("Hey, did you see that insane price for bulk stuffed scallops over at The Grotto?" "Yes!! And Sam's Butcher Shop had sirloin at a steal!" "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" "Hellz yeah, surf and turf grill night this weekend!" etc...my boyfriend rolls his eyes or shrugs his shoulders I'm sure, but it's really no different than when he talks to his pals about new imports and obscure CD releases back in print). You then shop in a gas-and-time-friendly strategic way, going to places farther out all at the same time and come home with great stuff.

This is the way to be frugal but still eat like a gourmet. But it also works if you're just going to the local chain supermarket.

Farmer's markets and direct farm vendors are also a good way to go when you want to be savvy and balance relative cheapness with high returns on quality.

And for non-food grocery items, it's best to buy in bulk at a warehouse, if you've got the storage space for it.
posted by ifjuly at 10:59 AM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and: ethnic groceries are the best place to get exotic ingredients. Way way cheaper and just as good if not better quality. And get your European spices at a mom and pop Italian shop in those wholesale-looking containers. Much cheaper.
posted by ifjuly at 11:02 AM on September 17, 2008

I too have gotten some great deals at ethnic stores. In addition, it helps to know what produce is in season--though it won't always be cheaper, so you still have to know what it usually costs. If it's not in season, buy it frozen. Keeping track of price fluctuations and comparison shopping between stores can really help, but I can't imagine having time to do both consistently enough to really save a ton. Canned goods, like beans, tomatoes, and fish are great for saving money, especially if you buy them in bulk or on sale.
posted by 912 Greens at 1:09 PM on September 17, 2008

I buy the half-off day-old rolls. They don't last for long, but I just freeze them so what's the difference?
posted by smackfu at 8:10 PM on September 17, 2008

If you need to buy spices, check out the ethnic foods aisle before you hit the baking staples aisle. In my experience, you can buy certain spices in the mexican food aisle for a half or a third of what what you'll get in the green-topped jars.

And while you're at it, try stopping by the ethnic markets, too. As an example, the grocery store I usually shop at will sell a single Hass avocado for about $2.50, but at the supermercado around the corner, I can usually get two or three for the same price.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:05 PM on September 17, 2008

Also, check to see if your store has a "sell today" section in the meat department. My grocery stores always deeply discount meat that has to be sold today or tomorrow or be thrown out. If you shop daily, like I do, and are willing to keep a flexible menu, you can really save a lot.
posted by Dave Faris at 9:09 PM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I echo the idea of not going hungry to the grocery store. And, working from a list.
posted by sundancer at 11:45 AM on September 18, 2008

1. get your life calm enough so you can focus on applying some of these tips and have the energy to do this kind of planning. It's hard to do this stuff if you are stressed out and frantic all of the time (speaking from experience).

2. Find a good food coop. We save 40 percent on our coop food, and most of it is local. It forces us to learn to eat vegetables that we might not otherwise bother with.

3. Grinding your own flour will cost you up front for the grinder, but save you money in the long run.

4. Not for everyone: when stuff is on sale, buy it in cases and store it in your basement. Some mormons keep a year's supply of food. This will involve lifestyle changes as you learn to cook from the food and to rotate your supply, and you will feel like a freak at first. Disclaimer: I am a mormon, but I think this is good secular advice, albeit a little hardcore.

Personally, we are going to start gardening (after 14 years of marriage). The tomatoes will be better and we'll have a buffer if food prices spike.
posted by mecran01 at 10:33 AM on September 22, 2008

Oh, buying bulk spice might be helpful, if you have some friends you can split a pound of dried spices with.
posted by mecran01 at 10:36 AM on September 22, 2008

Wait for triple coupon week, I saved 40$ when i spent 65$ on my last trip this weekend.
posted by Evroccck at 1:36 PM on September 22, 2008

« Older Help me find movie recommendations for a 50+ mom...   |   How do you have a wedding when you're already... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.