Food & Finance – Where to Shop & Save

by in View All Posts, January 29th, 2009

I’m back! How did the foray into Food & Finance work out for you?
(and a big “shout-out” to reader Robin Koury — nothing like the goal of a warm and sunny vacation (particularly in late-January) to keep you focused and motivated!)

Last time, we were discussing how to shop – budget, make a list, clip coupons, use cash. This post focuses on where to shop, and here’s the surprise…

No location is off limits! I’ve heard everyone weigh-in on getting the most bang from your food bucks – even CNBC’s Jim Cramer. My experience has shown me that there are benefits and pitfalls to every shopping venue. Use the tips below to minimize your spending and maximize your return. And remember to post updates on your successes and your setbacks. We’re all in this together!

Yours in food frugality,


i. Weekly sales and specials
ii. Circulars are great for shaping budget and meal planning
iii. Customer affinity programs often provide for additional savings
iv. Maximize variety
v. Store brands often far cheaper than major name brands
i. EXCESSIVE VARIETY – Potential kryptonite to your budget – stick to your list
ii. LOSS LEADERS/TEASER SALES – Stores use teaser sales and specials to draw you in, but the bulk of the items you need may actually be less expensive elsewhere. Do your research.
iii. SPENDING INCENTIVES — Customer reward programs provide a reason to spend more money – and the rebates are only good for the purchase of goods – no cash is returned to the customer. (e.g. Spend $100 and save $10).

The Point: Can be cost-effective and time-efficient, especially if you utilize sales and affinity programs, but beware of over-spending triggered by the variety of available goods or rebate “incentives”.

i. Lower per-unit prices than grocery stores
ii. Buying in bulk may reduce the number of trips and the chance for budget-busting temptation
iii. Some clubs have rebate programs (i.e., refunds on total purchases made throughout the year).
i. LIMITED SAVINGS — sale or promotional prices at grocery stores can be lower than the per-unit prices at warehouse clubs
ii. DANGEROUS IMPULSES — On-site product samples are a constant source of temptation –designed to trigger expensive impulse purchases. (Don’t shop when you’re hungry!)
iii. MEMBERSHIP FEES — Requires payment of a membership fee – do the math first
iv. SPENDING INCENTIVES — Any rebates you receive are not cash back, but certificates or gift cards only used to purchase of goods and services offered by that club
v. WASTE — Buying in bulk is only an effective savings tool if you actually use everything you purchase before it spoils, gets stale or becomes boring — BEWARE
vi. LIMITED DISCOUNTS — You cannot use ordinary manufacturer’s coupons in warehouse clubs. They often provide a book of coupons specifically for use in their stores

The Point: Great for buying items with a long shelf-life or those you use frequently (e.g. cereal, paper towels). Fresh produce and other perishables are a good option for larger families or for groups of friends to divide. Beware – it’s costly to give into temptation when buying in bulk. Also, choose wisely to avoid waste or spoilage.

i. Serious foodie heaven! The best location for high-end, hard-to-find foods — organic and pesticide-free produce and packaged goods, imported goods, cage-free, grass-fed, hormone-free and antibiotic-free milk and dairy products
ii. Often a pleasant, no BEAUTIFUL, experience – bountiful produce, wide aisles, soothing lights — AAAAAAH
iii. Specials and sales; particularly on local goods and in-season produce
iv. Prices can also be reasonable on non-specialty goods (e.g. milk or bread) – sometimes they are less than conventional supermarkets
i. EXPENSIVE! (generally speaking). If you work hard enough, you’ll find some deals
ii. TEMPTING! Go in for Arborio rice and come out half-a-paycheck lighter and only one bag.
iii. INEFFICIENT! Hard to stick to your budget and buy everything on your list. Be prepared to hit the grocery store, warehouse club or online grocer as well

The Point: You may catch a bargain here or there and the experience alone may be worth the visit, but save the heavy-duty shopping for more conventional venues.

i. Easier to avoid temptation without all the food samples
ii. Online services tied to your local supermarket often honor the same rewards discounts, sales, specials and coupons as in-store
iii. EFFICIENCY MAXIMIZED. For many of us, time is money. A few minutes online and your groceries arrive at your door hours later
iv. Many online grocers include additional helpful information on their sites, including menu planning assistance, nutritional information and recipes
i. THE DEATH OF THE “CASH-ONLY” RULE. One of my shopping rules is to use cash only. That’s not possible if you are ordering online, and for some it’s too easy to add an impulse item or two with a quick click. Use your debit card, and if that doesn’t provide enough discipline, log off, get up and go to the store with your cash.
ii. DELIVERY CHARGES AND MINIMUMS. It’s not uncommon for delivery charges to be higher for smaller orders. If your order is less than $100, you could wind up paying in excess of 10% of your total for delivery charges. Some online grocers will not deliver small orders (e.g. less than $60).
iii. MISSING THE THRILL. Some may find it strange, but there are those of us who actually enjoy the shopping experience. If nothing else, walking up and down those aisles burns a few calories.

The Point: Efficient way to obtain many of the same savings you would find at your local supermarket, provided that you are purchasing enough to justify delivery charges and can handle charging purchases to a credit card.

(Photo:, Brookstone)

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Comments (9)

  1. Robin Koury says:

    Thanks for the shout out! Your tips have helped me save even more than usual. Oddly simply marking items as a need or want makes me think twice about each item on my grocery list. My true weakness is specialty stores…The lights shine brighter – the produce really pops and upon entry my creative culinary juices start flowing. However, if I’m not careful in a matter of moments my cart is filled a bounty of pricy (but delicious) goods. Consequently, my next trip to the traditional grocery store is usually grim as I find myself longing for the specialty food store. Rather than deprive myself of the specialty stores altogether I opt for dining in rather than dining out once a month and turn myself loose in the store. Usually, the cost of a week’s worth of specialty ingredients – followed by a week of over the top delicious meals equals the cost of one dinner out! Thanks for all of the great tips…Now more than ever they are incredibly helpful!!

  2. Edna says:

    I’ve never bought groceries on line, but I feel that this is a good way to eliminate some of my bad habits. I would then stick to a list,and know that only those items that I call in would be delivered. When shopping at the grocers, I’m always adding to the list, and always over spend spending. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Audrey Bowman says:

    Wonderful advice and very helpful. What I especially agree with is buying store brands because of lower prices. I’m totally dedicated to Hellman’s mayonaisse, Heinz ketchup and Scott’ toilet tissue. Otherwise I’m for buying the sale items and store brands for most items. I also limit shopping at the super stores because bulk buying does not always work for my family. Now that I’m reired, I have more time to make shopping lists and buying mainly what’s needed.

    Thanks for great advice….very helpful.

  4. Cindy says:

    One thing you left off your shopping venue lists is farmers markets. Farmers markets are a budgeters dream. By buying direct from the food source and cutting out the retailer all together, you get more for your money, the grower makes more profit, and buying locally helps support your local economy in a win, win, win cycle. Plus, your food will be fresher and last longer so less likley to spoil before you can use them. Another great money saver!

  5. Jane says:

    Another possibility – the dollar store. Our local dollar store has cleaning products, canned goods, pet food, paper goods and fresh bread, rolls, etc. The quality is equal to what I find in grocery stores, but nothing is priced more than $1.

  6. Karen Bump says:

    And don't forget stores like Aldi's, Save a Lot, etc. In my small town, Aldi's provides serious competition to Walmart, even though they carry fewer items and take debit, cash or food stamp debit cards. This week a gallon of milk is only $0.98!! Can't beat their prices for kids snacks, baking basics, canned goods and cheese. They have fresh vegees , frozen meats, and now fresh meat and pork.

  7. Susan says:

    The numero uno tip to saving money on groceries is going to ethnic markets. I go to the Korean market or Ranch 99 for produce and marinated meat. Where else can I get 1 lb of marinated korean bbq for $3/lb and green onions for $.20/bunch? and a local Persian market for my meats and pita bread ($.69/pack!) And their filet mignon is also 5.99/lb regular priced! Ahhh…I love my ethnic supermarkets.

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