Ultimate Guide to Grocery Store Savings

grocery store savingsWorking as a helper clerk at QFC for three years, I acquired a great deal of knowledge about the products sold inside of a grocery store. I also saw first-hand how people shop and the amount of money they spend on each trip, much of which was unnecessary. As a part of my job, I was tasked with stocking inventory on the shelves, which was directly connected to how well the product sold and what price it was at.

So, here are some tips for those of you who are looking to increase savings every time you go to fill up your pantry:


1. Read grocery store advertisements like businessmen read the Wall Street Journal

Grocery stores pay a lot of money to put their ads in the newspaper, and there is a reason for it. Some of them have great offers that are often overlooked. If you want to shop smart, you have to educate yourself, especially if you have several grocery store chains located within the same vicinity vying for your business.

Constantly check them and compare to see who is selling what and at what price. Don’t be fooled by the adjectives or adverbs they use to describe their prices. It’s pure math. Easier it’s less or more than another price.


2. Carry around coupons

Coupons seem tedious and more suitable for a petulant Baby Boomer, tearing them out of an ad or newspaper with a pair of rusty scissors. But coupons can help trim down costs. They’re the proverbial pebbles which fill up the bucket of water for the crow. But there are a few things to keep in mind so you don’t get irritated having to deal with it, because it can be painstaking at times.

One, you need to keep them organized. Stuffing them in a disorganized drawer in the hopes of being able to find that 50 percent off for a pack of beer the day it expires is not the approach you want to take. Categorize them by their expiration date and what product its for. Discard expired coupons, in the event that your 91-year-old grandmother finds it and tries to use it at a Bartell’s.

Two, read the fine print. I say again, read the fine print.  And trust your instincts. If the coupon or ad seems too good to be true, it generally means either it’s not true, or it’s in a hideously limited supply which has already run out by the time you’re finished reading the ad itself.


3. For bread and dairy products, look for the “Manager’s Special”

At QFC, one of my responsibilities was to go through the entire dairy section and look for items which were approaching their sell by date. Those items were then marked 50 percent off with a “Manager’s Special” sticker and code. The bakery employees also do this with their bread products.

If you’re looking for bread or dairy to eat within a day or two, this option is fantastic, especially with the rise in prices for dairy. When I first started working at QFC in 2005, yogurt was around 50 cents. Now, it’s around 60 cents, when it’s on sale. A few days ago, I was looking for something to buy for lunch, and I found a large tub of yogurt for one dollar and 40 cents on “Manager’s Special.”

In case you are worried about expiration dates, remember there are two types of dates; sell by and expiration dates. A sell by date is the day the store is required to sell the item. If it does not sell, then they must take it off the shelf, and usually it is donated to a local food bank. An expiration date is the day the item itself goes bad and is no longer healthy to eat. Usually, the store has both dates on the product and are roughly separated by a week.

So don’t worry about buying a “Manager’s Special” item for health concerns. Dairy item will be good for at least a week, though I would recommend you eat it sooner than that. Bread I would eat within a day.


4. Ignore the “buy five, get one free/half off” sales pitch

Unless you intended to buy a large quantity of the product regardless of the sale, you’ll end of spending more money than you intended to, making the whole savings concept pointless. The point is for you to save money, not spend more money just because you’ll save on spending you wouldn’t have done otherwise.


5. Wait for expensive items to go on sale, then fill the cart full

The best sales are the ones where the product is at least 20-30 percent off. 50 percent off is a gold mine. Clearance items are Fort Knox.

However, referring to what I said earlier, unless you actually use the item in question, don’t buy it. There is no point in buying something just because it is cheaper than it was before.

As a rule of thumb, if you like a product which continually gets more and more pricey, hold back until it goes on sale, and then stock up on it. I always hold back on my favorite soup, which is now $3.15 a can, and instead wait until it is four for six, or $1.50.


6. Give the generic/store brands a try

Depending on your financial situation and food preferences, generic brands are ideal because they’re generally the cheapest. At QFC, Kroger and QFC brand foods and products were always substantially cheaper than the regular brands. In some instances, this is not a problem, because the products do not have much of a difference.

Some, however, vary in quality, so it is a question of how hungry, or frugal, you are. For other national chains, Fred Meyer and Safeway both have store brands as well.


7. Big brand store chains are not always the least expensive

Going to college at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Wash., I was a bargain shopper living on a tight budget. Therefore, I was very selective about where I did my shopping, and had grocery ads flooding my mailbox. I received all sorts of coupons from Macys coupons at Mypoints to penny saver ads with CVS coupons.  I was surprised to find that the Safeway did not actually have the best sales. Instead, it was the local trading company grocery store, which sold many items for half the price. Moral of the story; don’t simply shop. Do your homework beforehand.


8. To buy or not buy in bulk

I have spoken to a lot of people about buying in bulk from places like WalMart or Costco and the truth is it is not always the solution. These places definitely cut costs by selling en masse to consumers, rather than individual packages. The issue, however, is whether or not this will curb your costs are increase them. It can be ideal, because you can buy a large supply of food for much less than you normally would at a small local grocery store.

Yet, having shopped at the Issaquah Costco every day after church for years and years as a child, I believe most people tend to buy more than they need or intended to and, thus, spend more money. In a store that is, for all intents and purposes, really just a giant warehouse crammed with every desire of the human heart, there is a terrible temptation to buy everything you see and not realize the price once you see the number appear at the cash register. At that point, most people will be too embarrassed to bail items from their cart like cargo from a sinking ship.

I have not shopped at WalMart as frequently, but if you have ever watched South Park’s episode on it, you’ll understand what I’m getting at.


Go out and shop smarter!

Therefore, the question you have to ask yourself before shopping these places is “how much do I need?” as well as “do I have willpower to resist purchasing more than I need?” If you are buying for a group of five or more, Costco and WalMart are where you want to go for bulk food. Anything less, you might want to run some calculations to determine where you’ll spend the least.

Lastly, some grocery stores, like Safeway, have gas rewards programs for shopping inside of their stores. Money spent inside of the store goes towards points that can be redeemed for gas, ranging from 10 cents off to a dollar off per gallon. Membership at stores like Fred Meyer and QFC can be used to save 10 cents off every gallon at Shell gas stations. This gives big store chains somewhat of an advantage over local stores.