HOWTO: Grocery Shop on the Cheap

Oftentimes, people will grocery shop hungry, forget the list wadded in their pocket, and grab whatever looks yummy. Once home, they realize they bought 16 rotisserie chickens, a box of Chex Mix and a 6 pack of Rolling Rock.

In the interest of protecting your wallet, and preventing scurvy, BankRate has got 20 tips for smarter supermarketing. Among them:

Shop Early and Alone: Friends convince you to buy more food, less crowded stores mean you’re done faster and buy less.
Start A Notebook: Most people only really make 20 things for dinner. Keep a notebook so you know what everything should cost–and whether that thing is a good buy at the time.
Buy Veggies in Season: Don’t buy red bell peppers in March. They’re like $800!

20 ways to save on groceries [BankRate]


Edit Your Comment

  1. But did you know that you’re also more likely to reach for those expensive snack food goodies if you’re tired or angry?

    It’s not even a subconsious thing for me. When I’m pissed I’m thinking, “You know what? F— everybody, I’m getting chocolate”.

    …weigh convenience vs. cost when they pick up supplies like painkillers…

    Painkillers are expensive everywhere except places like Dollar Genereal.

  2. saikofish says:

    Don’t go grocery shopping when hungry, either. I used to go right after work, before I had dinner. I always bought way too much food. Then one night I decided I needed to do some grocery shopping (and this was after dinner) and guess what! Didn’t feel like grabbing as many things off the shelf.

  3. RumorsDaily says:

    Those rotisserie chickens ALWAYS look good, hungry or not. And yet, I’ve never bought one. I should try it sometime.

  4. My wife and I usually spend $20-35 a week on groceries. We buy all our fruits and vegetables from a produce store, Michael’s, it’s called. And groceries from discount chains like Meijer’s and Aldi.

    Jewel and Dominicks in the Chicagoland area use deceptive marketing and mislabeled products to cheat you out of sales and sometimes even the information on their price stickers conflicts with what pops up at the register, not to mention that they are very overpriced.

  5. AcidReign says:

    …..Oh, yeah. That Jewel Osco in Willmette is outta sight! Except on liquor. A 1.75 lt of Cuervo was about half of what it costs in Alabama, and the low 4% sales tax made it even better.

    …..I eat red bell peppers year-round. That’s a must-have. They’re still less than $2 a piece in January. No big.

  6. RandomHookup says:

    It took me a couple of years, but I’m now to the point where I can work the coupons, discount cards, sales, promos and rebates to get these folks to pay me to take stuff off their hands. I have a full pantry (and some very happy folks at the food bank), but it is work.

    The real secret is getting on the boards with all the couponers. Everyone is working on the same deals and learning the loopholes, so you can make the deals work better with many focused minds on the problem. There are some people who have figured out how to make it a full-time living being bargain shoppers.

  7. Celeste says:

    I remember the Armed Forces Network (AFN) used to broadcast little tips like this attached to ear-worm type jingles. They didn’t rotate them very often either, so I probably saw their little “Don’t shop while you’re hungry, no no no!” commercial about a thousand times over the course of five years. More than 15 years since I’ve heard it, and the damn thing is still stuck in my head every time I go to the grocery store.

  8. I love the coupons. I was actually chided by the on duty manager at my local grocery store after I had “gamed the system” to wind up with a 14 cent credit on my bill. I was told that I would not get the 14 cents and I would have to pay the sales tax at a minimum. A quick discussion with the store manager put the kibosh on the latter of the two. Unfortunately I didnt’ get to take my 14 cents home.

  9. thwarted says:

    Electoral College Dropout: I’d love to hear how you pulled that off. Share, share!

  10. homerjay says:

    This is a very timely post for me. I have been wanting to learn how to take advantage of the ‘system’ and become one of you (ELC and Randomhookup). Whats the best place to start?

  11. The_Truth says:

    $20-$35?!! a week!

    Dammit im lucky if I get away with $100 a week, and theirs only the two of us too! (And no were not 600pound monsters, were both in shape)

    Im pretty good about the things that I do buy, but I can never get away with cheap meals if I want some variety, anyone have any tips that dont require a ton of ‘spare’ ingredients in the fridge and that dont leave you wondering what to do with 1/2 a can of chicken broth a day later?

  12. WindowSeat says:

    My grocery system is to pinch pennies everywhere else and buy whatever I want at the grocery store. If I want aged Mimolette at $14 a pound, I’m getting it.

  13. sonic0boom says:

    I don’t know about $20-35 a week, but fresh chicken breasts often go on sale here for about $1.75 a pound. We’ll buy 5 – 10 packages (whatever fits in the freezer) plus some other meat or fish to have some variety. The grocery bill on weeks like that isn’t so cheap, but the following couple weeks are usually around $35 or so.

  14. WindowSeat says:

    I should have mentioned that part of my penny-pinching is that I grow most of my own vegetables from May to November (or the first killing frost). It really stretches the food dollars. I can a lot of what I grow, but that’s a false economy since my time is worth more than what I save, but it’s a satisfying hobby.

  15. MarvinMar says:

    My wife uses
    She tells you what is onsale, what coupons are coming out, what coupons to use and which ones to hold for later.
    We save over 1/2 every time we go to the store.
    We usualy hit Frys then Safeway every Monday.
    A typical reciept looks like this
    Total $124.00
    VIP Savings = $34.00
    Coupons = $58.00
    Total = $32.00

  16. acambras says:

    The_Truth: You can freeze leftover chicken broth – Cooking Light magazine suggests freezing it in icecube trays and thawing out however many cubes you need for subsequent recipes. Or you can buy chicken broth in the aseptic (juicebox-type) containers — once you open it and store it in the fridge, it has a limited shelf life, but it’s still a convenient option. OR double your recipe and — voila! — you’ve used the whole can of chicken stock. :-)

    I seem to suck at clipping coupons. A lot of the ones in the paper are for junk food that I try not to buy. Besides, I read the paper online now. I’ve pretty much given up on coupons.

    My favorite tool du jour for grocery shopping is the website for Big Y stores. I can go to the site and check out all the specials. If I see an offer I want to take advantage of, one click and it’s added to my shopping list. I can also add my own items (just type them in). When I’m done, I can print out a personalized shopping list, organized by store section (produce, frozen foods, etc.) and highlighting the sale items so I’m sure to make sure I get the right price at the register (fortunately, they’re good about scanner accuracy). With that list, I do a better job at taking advantage of specials. I don’t know if Big Y’s reach is outside of New England, but maybe some of the other grocery store chains’ websites have something similar.

    Oh, and an important lesson I learned the hard way the other day — GO ALONE. I had 6 items on my list, but my honey ended up putting about 30 more things in the cart. |:-|

  17. KevinQ says:

    Does anybody know where you can get a list of what vegetables are in season when? I’d like to get good, fresh vegetables, but to be honest, they always look the same to me.

    I buy at a farm market when I can, but I’m sure that even they have some stuff shipped in.


  18. acambras says:

    Kevin Q – go to google or yahoo and put in “produce in season”. I did this a few months ago and was able to find several lists.

  19. SpamFighterLoy says:

    I found a couple of new ones on this list; nice one.

    One easy thing to do, that I haven’t found listed yet, is to buy all meat in big packs and keep those double-layer freezer bags handy. When I get home, I automatically unload the big packs into meal-sized portions so I can thaw one at a time.

    I also buy almost everything that is prepackaged (like cake mix, spaghetti sauce, etc.) at Wal-mart. Yeah, I know. But it’s cheap.

  20. etinterrapax says:

    The_Truth, also, you can try Better Than Bouillon, which just keeps forever in the fridge, comes in chicken/beef/veggie/seafood/clam/whatever kind of stock flavor you’d need, and make exactly as much as you need and no more. Canned broth tastes like can to me, but that’s just me. My MIL makes her own, but I rarely have a carcass around for that, and it takes a lot of time.

    I spend only about $40 a week for two adults, and that’s with plenty of fresh foods and almost no coupons. I have a girlfriend who assumes I must be making that up because she spends what I think is an obscene amount of money on groceries–$150-200 for the same size household (technically smaller; no baby)–but I find most processed foods to be far more expensive per number of servings/meals. I could never feed us both ready-made meals every night on our budget, unless we were eating Kraft Dinner four nights a week. I do it by being selective about brand loyalty, buying the cheapest version of an item on the shelf the day that I need it, and viewing the thriftiest food purchases as the ones that get eaten. It’s also helped to be wise about warehouse store purchases. It’s not always cheaper, and it requires a substantial investment of money and space up front, both of which have costs. I feel lucky we have the space now, though; we didn’t always.

  21. Homer Jay: “Whats the best place to start?”

    With just casual couponing, I generally save around 35% on my bills. I get two newspapers (a local and a national, because my local is rotten) and flip through the coupons while I watch Sunday night TV, cutting them out and putting them in a sorter thingie. Then you make a menu, list, and go shopping the day of or day after the grocery circular comes out!

    I save about 6x the cost of my two newspaper subscriptions in a year just by casual couponing, not obsessive couponing, and newspapers are like my favorite thing on the planet so it’s a double-bonus for me. :)

    Truth: “Dammit im lucky if I get away with $100 a week, and theirs only the two of us too!… I can never get away with cheap meals if I want some variety, anyone have any tips that dont require a ton of ‘spare’ ingredients”

    $100 a week for 2 makes me think you’re buying food, not ingredients. :) But let me pimp my favorite cookbooks, the More with Less Cookbook and the Extending the Table cookbook, both from the Mennonites. Healthy, hearty, simple food. And lots of ways to use up similar ingredients.

    We make a menu before shopping so that if we make something using 1/2 a green pepper on Monday, we’ll make something using the other half on Wednesday. Your absolute best friend is learning to make frittatas and omelets. We often do a Saturday night egg dish with all the leftover veggie bits from the week! (Almost anything else will keep, even fruit if you work at it a little.)

  22. AcidReign says:

    …..I’m with Windowseat. If it’s at the grocery store and I want it, I’m buying it. I will chintz on some stuff, like I’ll buy Publix brand frozen veggies instead of Green Giant or Bird’s eye. I also can make chuck and sirloin taste good on the grill, and rarely buy strips, ribeyes or tenderloin. Whole eye of round actually marinates and cooks up almost as well as a rib roast, too.

    …..With two teenaged kids, I buy a lot in bulk at Sam’s club, meat especially. And some things like toilet paper and paper towels aren’t exactly going to go bad if the mega-pack sits in the basement for a few months. Nor are cases of stewed tomatoes, chicken noodle soup, or gallon zip-locks.

    …..I’m not a green thumb, and don’t enjoy gardening. But I do plant a few tomato plants, and herd them through those tall cage things. We don’t really get enough sun with the twenty or so trees on my lot, but they grow OK. Not great, but OK. To water them, I ran some plastic tubing from my central-air conditioning water-pipe to the dirt around the plants. Little bit of water, all the time. Biggest thing is that you’ve got to remember to get up from the computer, go out and harvest the things. Another good tip is to hang a collection of plastic tomatoes from the vines before they start bearing fruit. This will teach the birds and squirels that the plant’s not edible. A few marigolds can help with the bugs, but they need more water than the toms.

  23. RandomHookup says:


    Most of the aggressive coupon boards have sections set aside for newbies to learn how to do it. Here’s the Couponing 101 section at Hot Coupon World:

    You could also check out dealagogo, which has a good size board.

    The biggest warning I give to anyone starting out is that it takes work and a thick skin that comes in useful when the cashiers think you are pulling a fast one or the coupons don’t work the way they are supposed to or the cashiers make up a coupon policy on the spot or the customers behind you in line get irritated and hurl insults at you.

    It’s become more of a game for me now, but it’s awfully hard for me to pay out of pocket for anything. There are just too many ways to get stuff super cheap or free.

  24. $20-$35?!! a week!

    Dammit im lucky if I get away with $100 a week, and theirs only the two of us too! (And no were not 600pound monsters, were both in shape)

    I spend $70-$80 a week but that includes non-food items (all but 3 of the buses run on an hourly schedule so I can’t bounce from store to store). I buy chicken in bulk and Publix veggies, but I never use coupons. For the things I buy that they have coupons for I’d have to buy more than I can afford to ‘save’ money.

    I can’t help but buy rainbow trout when I can get it. I have no business buying something that’s 6-7 dollars a pound but it’s trout. Mmm…trout.

  25. jacques says:

    You can save some money on national brands at Super Target. It varies, but I’ve seen differences of between 30 cents to a few dollars. The key is to avoid perishables there, unless you plan on using them quickly. I’ve noticed it for OJ and milk especially – rather than expiring in 2 weeks, it expires in 1.

  26. thwarted:

    My grocery store has “triple coupon Tuesdays” and price matching less 10% so lets say I bought a 79 cent can of green beans, but the competitor sells it for 69. I get it for 62 cents and I have a 25 cent off coupon, their system doesn’t know enough to only take off 62 cents, so I make 13 cents on that item. For stuff I didn’t have a coupon for specifically I will occassionally get a 2 dollar off coupon, etc. All in all on that trip I’d only bought (about 30 bucks MSRP of groceries) but just about everything was on a coupon or sale. When it all added up I was in the black instead of in the red.

  27. sadiesadie says:

    my husband and I go to the grocery store and spend 230$ every 2 week for a month and its just crazy i buy all the cheap things i dont know what im doing wrong?