Saving on Groceries is More Important Since Covid

The millions of you who are unemployed thanks to COVID and are searching for ways to save money -- I've got them.  Here are some ways to save on groceries:


Miscellaneous tips on shopping at a supermarket. The most expensive items in the supermarket are shelved at eye level and most bargain merchandise is shelved just above eye level or below knee level.  Most supermarkets have a bargain area at the back of the store while most warehouse stores put the bargain area in the center, although some will put it in various locations throughout the store:

(1) Find out which supermarkets in your area will double or triple coupons, will honor their competitor's coupons, will stack coupons, and will accept expired coupons.

(2)  Be aware than when you see a deal marked something like "three for $3", you usually don't have to buy three of the items to get the discount -- you could just buy one for $1.

(3)  Items in display cases that jut out at the end of aisles are not necessarily on sale.  The supermarket puts them there because people assume they’re on sale.

Compare supermarkets.  Don't shop at the closest supermarket just because it's more convenient.  Driving a mile or two down the road can save you as much as $50 per week on groceries.  You might find that products you routinely buy at one supermarket are priced as much as $1 or $2 less than they are at another supermarket. One should also compare the unit prices on the store shelves to find the better bargain.  For example, many people assume you get a better deal if you buy more product, but often the unit price reveals that buying the 8 oz. instead of the 12 oz. is more economical. 

Keep an Eye on Supermarket Prices.  Most supermarkets change their prices so often that the price you’re charged at checkout doesn’t match the price on the shelf.  Keep tabs on what everything costs using an app or writing it down on a piece of paper while you shop, then compare it to your actual sales receipts to find out if you were overcharged, then demand a refund. 

Don't buy frozen meals .If you empty the contents of a frozen dinner onto a plate you will quickly realize that you are getting very little food for what you are paying.  Do you realize you are paying $300 a pound for that tiny bit of veggies on the side?  If you lead a busy lifestyle, set aside a weekend afternoon to make your own frozen dinners and meals prepared from scratch.

Buy cheese at the deli counter, maybe. One would think that purchasing cheese from the deli would be more expensive than picking up a block of cheese in the dairy aisle but often the opposite is sometimes true.  Compare the price of deli cheese to that in the dairy section before you buy to find out where it is cheaper. The prepackaged artisanal and specialty cheeses sold in the deli area are usually 30 percent more expensive than those in the dairy aisle.

Don't buy pre-cut meats. You’ve probably seen the packages of meats already cut up for you in the supermarket -- a package of two pork chops, some chicken tenders or ground beef already formed in to burger patties. You are paying a premium for the supermarket to cut up your package meat for you in this manner, usually more than double the price.  Doing the cutting yourself will save you about $1 per pound or $223 per year for the average family of four. Often the store’s butcher will do it for you free. 

Don't Buy Pre-Washed and Prepackaged Salad Mixes.  The pre-washed and pre-cut salad mixes are very convenient, but they are priced three times higher than the loss salads you can buy whole and wash and cut yourself.

Fruit.  Buy fruit that is in season to get the lowest price. Fruit that is out of season and must be shipped in from far away countries is very expensive and often doesn’t taste that great because it is picked before it is ripe.  Fruit that has already been washed and pre-sliced costs 75% more than fruit you have to wash and slice yourself. For example, sliced watermelon costs three times more than buying it whole.  It is often cheaper to buy frozen fruits, particularly when they’re out of season, since frozen fruit costs 50% less than fresh fruit.  The oranges and applies that are already in bags are 50 percent cheaper than buying loose fruit.

Vegetables. The bulk packaged vegetables, such as onions and potatoes, are usually 50 percent cheaper than the loose produce. The opposite is true of many vegetables, such as carrots, that have been pre-cut for you.  Pre-cut vegetables sell for as much as five times more.  Cut your own carrots and save a bundle.  An even cheaper alternative might be to pick your own fruits and vegetables at a food co-op in your area.  Search for one at LocalHarvest.org.

Shop the bulk bins.  Certain items, such as beans, pasta, grains and spices, are significantly cheaper if purchased from the bulk bins rather than already packaged.

Shop at farmer’s markets.  Farmer’s markets are cheaper than supermarkets when fruits and vegetables are in season, as much as 25 percent less.  You can always buy fruits and vegetables at a discount here and freeze them for later use.
Beauty and Health Products.  Discount stores, such as Walmart and Target, sell beauty and health products for less than supermarkets.  Drugstores, such as Walgreens and CVS, tend to sell beauty and health products for more than discount stores and supermarkets.  You might find beauty products selling at a discount online at Beauty.com or Drugstore.com.
Paper products.  The big warehouse stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco sell paper products for less than supermarkets, and you save even more if you buy them in bulk.  Another place to look for bargains on paper products are the dollar stores.
Buy generic rather than store brands. Generic and store-brand products are often processed at the same plants as name brand products, but they are much cheaper because they aren't advertised, usually about 30 percent cheaper. Research has proven time and again that the quality and taste of generic or store brand food is equal or superior to the name brands.  A significant portion of the price you pay for a name brand product is to cover the high cost of advertising it in the various media.  This is why name brand breakfast cereals cost $1 or $2 more than the generic brand and why Tylenol or Bayer pain relievers cost $3 or $4 more than the generic brand that isn't advertised. Stop paying for all those television commercials and print ads and you will save more than $500 per year.
Consumer Reports did a study and found out that generic brands are of the same quality as name brand products, so why not buy generic and save?  Store brand milk costs about $1.50 less than the name brands; generic laundry detergent usually costs $3 less; generic soda pop costs about $1 less; and bread is also about $1 cheaper.  You could save $6.50 on just these four products.  Consumer Reports found that the average person could save more than $30 per grocery trip just by buying generic.  That's $120 per month right there, but you can save much more if you get rid of your loyalty to the nationally advertised brands.
Buy day-old bread. The bread at the day-old bakery is almost as good as the bread in the supermarket, yet it is half the price of fresh.  Visit a day-old bakery and stock up on bread and other products you can freeze and use later.  How much you can save depends on how much bread you consume.
Use more nonfat dry milk. Nonfat dry milk is cheaper than regular milk.  Use it in place of or combine it with regular milk to reduce the cost of your overall milk consumption.  Your savings will be significant if your family consumes a lot of milk each week.
Leave the kids at home. Caving in to pressure from crying children begging for certain cereals, snacks and toys adds, on average, $6 to $20 to the weekly grocery bill.  Leave them at home and buy only what your family really needs.

Don't eat meat every night.  Fixing vegetarian casseroles and such several times a week can save the typical family of four about $3.00 per meal or $15.00 per week or about $800 a year.  Vegetarian-based casseroles, stews, soups, bean / rice dishes, and omelets are good substitutes for meat-based meals.

Buy meat and chicken when it’s on sale.  Stock up on chicken and beef when they go on sale every few weeks.  Chicken usually drops in price by 50 percent when it’s on sale, and beef about 20 percent.  Buy meat and chicken when its on sale and freeze for later use.  Save even more by purchasing these products in the family-size packaging or bulk at a wholesale or large discount store such as Costco.  Both poultry and meats are up to 40 percent cheaper when purchased frozen rather than fresh.

Seafood.  Frozen seafood can cost up to 40 percent less than fresh seafood.  Most people aren’t aware that most seafood has been frozen sometime in its life since fishermen freeze it immediately after the catch, so there is no reason to pay more for fresh seafood.  Canned tuna and salmon cost less than fresh seafood. Whenever seafood goes on sale, it’s a good idea to buy a lot of it and store in the freezer.

Eat beans and eggs more often.  If you prepared a vegetarian meal twice a week instead of preparing meat, poultry or seafood, you could save about $750 per year.  Beans and rice are very inexpensive, and a tasty Tex-Mex meal or a spicy bean soup is a very inexpensive dinner twice a week. The average egg costs 15 cents.

Stay Away from 100 Calorie Snack Packs.  It might be convenient to have a 100 calorie snack pack handy whenever you' or the kids are hungry, but you are paying a fortune for those prepackaged snacks.  This is the way manufacturers are significantly increasing the cost of food without the consumer realizing it.  If you like the convenience of snack packs, buy the products you like in bulk and sort them into plastic bags for easy use.

Stop Buying Bottled Water.  The myth that bottled water is so much better than tap water is just that -- a myth.  At least 40 percent of bottled water comes directly from municipal water districts in other cities; therefore, you might be paying a premium for water that isn't any better than the water coming out of your tap.  And bottled water is outrageously expensive.  Bottled water costs you 6000 times more than the same amount of water from your tap.  And those plastic containers and bottles are very hard on the environment, and think of all the fuel used to ship those bottles to your local supermarket.  Americans use 2.5 million bottles of water every single hour. Billions are wasted in this country each year on bottled water and it's one of the dumbest things Americans waste their money on.  If you drink bottled water because your local water tastes bad, you can significantly improve the taste of your tap water by letting it sit out so the chlorine can evaporate.  Just fill up a gallon jug and let it sit out for half a day and much of the bad chlorine taste will go away. Average annual savings for a family of four:  $800.

Don't Buy Organic All the Time.  Some fruits and vegetables are over sprayed with all sorts of nasty pesticides while others are not.  It is a complete waste of money to buy organic produce when buying non-organic is just as good.  The best example of this is broccoli.  It doesn't take a lot of pesticides to grow broccoli so there is no reason to pay more than double per pound for this vegetable.  Other vegetables, like corn and onions, also require little pesticide use.  Fruits and vegetables with thick rinds are reasonably safe from pesticides.  Some fruits and veggies, like peaches and berries, are sprayed generously with pesticides, so one might want to choose organic here.  Consumer Reports did a study several years ago and found only negligible residues of pesticides on non-organic produce.

Don’t buy spices at the supermarket.  You can save a whopping 85 percent on spices if you buy them in bulk at a health food store rather than at the supermarket.   The supermarket chain, Trader Joe’s sells spices for significantly less than other supermarkets.  Avoid the name-brand spices like McCormick’s and purchase off brands instead, such as the Great Value line of products sold at Walmart, including spices.

Wine and beer. If you are willing to buy wine that has a blemish on its label or a discontinued bottle design, you can find good wines at bargain prices at AccidentalWine.com or Wine-searcher.com.   Flash sales of wine occur at Cellarthief.com.  Most people don’t realize that many supermarkets will give you a 20% discount if you purchase six or more bottles of wine at the same time and the wine in supermarkets is cheaper than at a wine store.  Many wines start to be deeply discounted in late summer to early fall when grapes are harvested and new wines are coming on to the shelves.  Shop for wine at Costco since it is not only about 30 percent less expensive than wine stores, it is known for its quality and is often picked as a good place to buy quality wine at a discount.  Greek and Spanish wines taste just as good, but cost about 25 percent less.  Supermarkets usually put beer on sale around holidays, such as Independence Day and Labor Day.  If you like to drink beer regularly, stock up when it goes on sale.

Join a Warehouse Club.  If you are willing to spend about $50 for an annual membership, joining a wholesale club like Costco or Sam’s Club might result in savings of up to 50 percent on certain products, particularly canned goods such as soups, vegetables, beans, boxed pasta mixes and the like. You can share a membership with friends and family and go shopping together. You can purchase bulk groceries at wholesale prices from Amazon.com too.

Buy Flowers at the Grocery Store and Not From a Florist.  Fresh flowers at the grocery store cost less than half of what they would if you purchased them from a florist.

Join a Supermarket’s Savings Club.  If you aren’t concerned about a supermarket keeping track of your purchases, you can join its savings club and save up to 20 percent every time you shop.  Customers are issued loyalty cards and have access to special deals and coupons.  Some stores might allow savings club members to double coupons as well and have exclusive access to buy one, get one free deals.  Some stores might allow you to earn points towards free merchandise or cash back.  For example, many stores allow customers who participate in their loyalty programs to earn discounts on gasoline purchased at the pumps outside the store.  Many supermarkets allow you to download coupons from the internet onto your loyalty cards for extra savings.  If you can’t keep track of all your loyalty cards and you have a smartphone, visit the website SavingStar.com to download an app that will help you keep track of all your loyalty cards.  KeyRing.com offers an app that allows you to scan in your loyalty cards to your smartphone.

Start a Grocery Shopping Notebook.  Supermarkets usually put the same items on sale every three months or on a regular cycle.  For example, if chicken is 20 percent off in January, it will likely be 20 percent off again in April, August and so on.  Buy items in bulk when they are on sale and freeze them if necessary.  Keep a record of your purchases in a shopping notebook so you know when each item is due to go on sale again.  You can save hundreds every year by only buying items when they are on sale.  If you use a coupon, in addition to the sale price, you save even more.

Buying a Larger Size Isn't Always Cheaper.  Consumers seem to think that they will get a discount if they buy a bigger box or can of something, but if you look at the item price you might find this isn't so.  For example, the larger box of dried skim milk is often more expensive per ounce than the smaller box.  This can be true of many items, so take a calculator with you to the market and do the match.  Find out how much an item costs per ounce or pound and then you might find out that the smaller size is actually cheaper.

Be Aware of Product Downsizing.  Many manufacturers are downsizing the size of their products without changing the price so you should be constantly aware that this is happening.  Just about every category of items found in the grocery store has been downsized, including cereal, coffee, sugar, body soaps, frozen foods, hygiene products and even yogurt. You must compare the unit price of the package with that of other sized packages to find out which is the best deal.  Use your phone’s calculator to find out how much an item costs per weight as compared to another. Manufacturers resort to several tricks when downsizing a product:

(1) They put a big dent in the bottom of the jar so it looks the same size as before, but contains less product now. The next time you’re shopping for mayonnaise, peanut butter or yogurt, flip the package over and look at the bottom to see if there is a big dent in the bottom of the jar.
(2) They leave the package the same size but put less product in it. Two competitors’ products might look like they contain the same amount of product because the packaging is the same size, but if you look at how many ounces they contain, you might find one item has two more ounces than the other and is probably the better deal.  For example, two cans of tomatoes might be the same size, but the weight might indicate that one has 8 ounces while the other as 7 ounces.
(3) They take out ingredients without telling you to reduce their manufacturing costs or they add ingredients or change the ingredient mix without telling you.  For example, you might purchase a particular brand of peanut butter with little or no added sugar for your kids, and then one day you realize that they added extra sugar to it without announcing it on the front label.
(4) They put a tiny bit of product in a big, oversized container to give consumers the illusion that they are getting more for their money.  Have you ever noticed how vitamin bottles and aspirin bottles are oversized.  They put a few pills in a huge bottle.

Shop at the Drugstore.  There are certain items of food that are actually 20 percent cheaper at drugstores like Walgreens, CVS, etc.  Surprisingly, it has been found that milk and eggs are about 15% cheaper at these places.  So is soda pop and cereal.

Shop at Dollar Stores.  On average, dollar store prices are 70 percent less than any supermarket on certain items.  In particular, some products are 90 percent cheaper, such as paper products like paper towels and toilet paper. Dollar Stores are a good place to buy cleaning products, toiletries, plastic containers and party supplies.  Stay away from certain products at dollar stores, like electronics, electrical cords, and batteries since they lack any certification and might be fire hazards.  Don’t buy over the counter medications here either because they might be fakes or have expired expiration dates.

I hope all of the above tips help you save lots of money the next time you go shopping.

Jeannie Boyd