This Unorthodox Shopping Strategy Saves One Dad $150 a Month on Groceries
My wife and I have two little kids -- though actually, they’re not so little anymore. My twin daughters just keep growing and growing because, for some reason, they insist on eating every single day.
Kids are stubborn that way, you know? So aside from housing, groceries are by far my biggest expense.
Like every working parent, I never seem to have enough money or enough time. But I make time to shop at two different grocery stores every weekend, even though it’s a bit of a hassle.
In my experience, the extra effort is worth it – but only if you plan ahead. By sticking to my two-supermarket strategy, I routinely save up to $150 a month on groceries.
Through trial and error, I’ve honed my technique to maximize my savings. Here’s what I do.
Go On a Scouting Expedition
The first step is to compare what your local grocery stores charge for the items you buy the most. When I did this, I found it quite informative.
It may sound like a chore, but it’s worth your time. Think of it as a science project. Call yourself a private investigator on a secret mission.
Just hit a different store on each of your next three or four grocery runs, and note what each item costs (here’s a worksheet to make it easy). To mix it up, try a regional chain like Kroger or Safeway, a big-box store like Walmart or Target, and a discount chain like Aldi or Trader Joe’s.
Different grocers charge different prices for the same items, even in the same neighborhood.
My Two-Store Solution
In my case, the nearest grocery store to my house is Publix, a regional chain in the southeastern U.S. It’s not cheap, but it’s super convenient for me. I could practically throw a rock from my driveway and hit this Publix, although I don’t recommend trying that.
It’s tempting to just grab all my groceries there and be done with it. It’d be so easy. But my poor abused bank account is firmly opposed to this idea.
So on Sundays, I drive 3 miles and 10 minutes out of my way to Aldi, a no-frills discount grocer that has 1,500 U.S. stores in 34 states. There, I load up on staples like milk, eggs and orange juice.
Let’s just say the place isn’t fancy. Customer service is minimal. You bring your own grocery bags and bag your own groceries. There are few name brands, no deli or bakery, no tastefully selected soft-rock music playing from hidden speakers, and products are often stacked in cardboard boxes instead of on shelves.
It’s got cheap groceries, though. A quart of milk at my local Aldi costs a dollar less than it does at my Publix. Orange juice, peanuts and hummus are half the price. Meat, cheese, bread and rice are all cheaper, too.
Next, I backtrack to Publix (or a nearby Winn-Dixie store) to get products that Aldi doesn’t carry. On my way there, I drive right by a gleaming, new upscale organic grocery store. This is where I would shop if I had made more lucrative life choices or had a handy trust fund. In my rearview mirror, it beckons to me like the Emerald City.
Some Quick Online Homework
Let’s back up here. I skipped a crucial part of my strategy -- gathering intel.
Before I leave the house for my weekly grocery run, I do some quick digital scouting for deals and sales.
To get your money’s worth at a mid-priced supermarket like Publix, Kroger, Albertsons or Safeway, you have to take full advantage of whatever bargains they’re offering. Each chain has its own particular rewards programs, coupons and sales gimmicks.
For example, I’m absolutely maniacal about hitting Publix’s BOGOs (buy-one, get-one deals).
Olive oil is buy-one, get-one? Time to stock up on olive oil. Ditto with bacon or pasta sauce or salad dressing. It doesn’t matter to me what brand it is.
On the rare occasions when my favorite cereal or coffee is on BOGO, I snap up a shocking amount of it. (Believe me, it doesn’t go to waste. Never buy anything just because it’s on sale.)
On Publix’s website, I can look up what’s on BOGO or at least on sale at my particular store. Then I do the same thing on other stores’ websites, such as Winn-Dixie or other regional grocery chains near me.
This is how I decide whether I’m stopping at Publix or Winn-Dixie on my way back from Aldi. It’s also how I decide whether to buy chicken breasts at Aldi or at my other destination: Where’s the best deal today? If pork chops are BOGO somewhere, that pretty much dictates where I’m shopping that day.
Next, I download digital coupons for my grocer du jour. Then, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll hit a couple of other coupon websites like Coupons.com or Lozo.
It’s not that much work, really. I have this pregame phase down to a 10- or 15-minute routine.
Sometimes I’ll skip Aldi and substitute my local Walmart Neighborhood Market as my “cheap” option. I find Aldi is the cheapest place to buy groceries, but Walmart has more products to choose from.
Hunting and Gathering: Is It Worth It?
Ultimately, shopping at two grocery stores comes down to a time-versus-money decision: Is it worth your time and effort to save some money?
For me, going to a second supermarket each weekend means burning an extra 50 cents or so worth of gas. More importantly, it adds 30 to 40 minutes to the process.
That’s no small thing for a time-strapped dad with two energetic little kids in tow. I typically take my rambunctious offspring to the supermarket and leave their mother at home to give her a much-needed break.
Confession time: Sometimes I’m not in the mood to do all this. Sometimes I’m really, really not in the mood, but I do it anyway. It has noticeably lowered my grocery bill. Last month, I saved $150.
I steel myself and tackle the whole shopping trip in one fell swoop. I return triumphantly with a minivan full of provisions to feed my family.
Behold the mighty hunter-gatherer and his fearless use of shopping hacks!
Your Turn: Do you visit more than one grocery store on your quest to find the best price?
Mike Brassfield is a veteran writer and editor. When he’s not working, he’s reading or being a dad. He’s on Twitter at @mikebrassfield.