Saving real money on groceries takes planning. It means using coupons and flipping through supermarket ads each week, as well as visiting multiple stores. For many of us, though, it can be difficult to find that kind of time, especially during the holidays.
Get to know which stores provide the best deals on the items you’re looking for, so you know whether to head for a traditional supermarket, a warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s, or a discount grocer such as Aldi.
What to buy at the supermarket
To get the better deal at your local supermarket, you need to watch the sales each week. Buy in bulk when items you love go on sale, and limit yourself to only the perishables you can realistically eat before they spoil. This is also a factor you should keep in mind at warehouse clubs. If you only need half a gallon of milk, you’re not saving by getting a gallon from Costco, even if it’s a good price.
Grocery stores have more variety per type of item than any other food retailer. You can get exactly what you want, and you can get just one unit of it instead of committing to a month’s worth of the same frozen pizzas.
A recent Kiplinger’s study found that traditional supermarkets beat Sam’s and Costco on several items, especially when coupons were available:
▪ Canned goods
▪ Breakfast cereal
▪ Soda pop
▪ Toilet paper
What to buy at the Sam’s and Costco
In my house we tend to buy meat, cheese and nonperishables at the warehouse clubs. Shopping there can be a heady experience – that giant cart is begging to be filled! Here’s what you’ll actually get a good deal on, according to shopping experts:
▪ Shredded cheese
▪ Frozen meat
▪ Frozen fruit
▪ Wine and liquor
Consumers report that warehouse club frozen food is of higher quality than the grocery store’s, so keep that in mind while you’re meal-planning.
What to buy at discount grocers
Aldi and its competitors can save you serious money, but only if you go in at the right time with a plan. This is a great place to buy dairy: Milk, eggs, yogurt and butter are almost always priced competitively at Aldi. The same goes for baking supplies like flour, sugar and baking soda. The store brand pasta and sauces are a good deal, as is the fresh bread. Aldi’s organic produce can be a great buy, but double-check for freshness. Other things to pick up at Aldi:
▪ Fresh meat (go early on Wednesdays for specials)
▪ Canned broth and vegetables
▪ String cheese and other lunchbox items for kids
▪ Gluten-free items
▪ Salad dressing and other condiments
▪ Frozen seafood (especially salmon and shrimp)
▪ Frozen veggies
Don’t buy paper goods, chips, coffee and cereal at Aldi unless they’re on deep discount – you can do better with a coupon elsewhere.
Our family shops sales at Hy-Vee and pairs those savings with the chain’s Fuel Saver card. For example, over Thanksgiving they ran a “Buy a ham, get a free turkey” promotion, as well as $1 off gas after spending $100. We weren’t hosting Thanksgiving, but we went ahead and bought the ham and turkey to put in the freezer for Christmas. Then we filled up on gas.
Do a little research and stay flexible when you’re shopping. You could find a great deal on porterhouses and eat like kings until they run out. Just make sure you have space in the freezer.
Kat's Money Corner is posted on Dollars & Sense every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little ones, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, click http://twitter.com/savinmavens or visit http://communityamerica.com.