Better Budgeting: Bargain Grocery Shopping

Bargain Grocery Shopping

Black Belt Shopper (featured column)
submitted by Larry Wiener 

"Vons' Double-Coupon Policy Is Expiring Soon"

That was the headline for an article in the business section of the LA Times. at the time, Vons also did not accept computer generated coupons from sources such as smartsource. Another chain, Ralphs' will now only double one coupon for a specific item per visit. Does all this mean that the days of bargain grocery shopping is over? Hardly. It just means that we need to change strategies.

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Over the past several years I would go through the Sunday supplement every week and cut out coupons. I would then go to the two chains that doubled coupons and often find that the item I wanted to buy was on sale as well. I racked up some pretty significant savings that way.

More recently, however, I haven't been doing as much couponing. I haven't found as many coupons for items I wanted and the savings aren't as great. I don't find myself making coupon runs every week anymore. Does that mean that my food bill has gone up? Not really. I just have noticed that as coupons become less important, I discover new ways of saving on groceries. New resources have emerged and I actually like some of them better.

Dollar Stores  

These are springing up everywhere and they have more to offer than ever to the budget-conscious grocery shopper. Here in California the two main chains are the 99 Cent Store and Dollar Tree. Dollar General stores offer staple items often of similar quality to the supermarket and deeply discounted prices. Quality can be an issue on some items. I have found that many of the trash bags, for example, at dollar stores are of inferior quality. I depend on dollar stores for pasta, soft drinks, many health and beauty items, and boxed meals. You don't have to wait for a sale. I even buy penny-a-minute long distance at the dollar store. Dollar stores have become more popular, especially among the upper income set recently.

10 for $10 Deals

In response to dollar stores, some supermarket chains are offering items on sale for 10 for $10. While they hope that you buy ten of whatever they are selling, you can buy as many or as few as you want and still pay $1 each. Some supermarkets even have dollar aisles that sell items similar to dollar store ones on a permanent basis. In a way, this is better than couponing if you have a large family because you can get as many or as few as you want of something rather than being bound by how many coupons you can muster up.

Ethnic supermarkets

I know people in my area who almost never go to a mainstream supermarket, but who buy all their groceries in Asian markets. Besides selling ethnic foods, many of the larger ones sell more basic items often at great prices. Because these markets have a built-in clientele, they don't have to advertise much. They are interested in having their customers do a greater portion of their shopping in ethnic stores and reward their buying with low prices.

Warehouse Clubs

If you have a large family, warehouse clubs can provide you with the right balance between economy and convenience. Large quantities of food are often (though not always) well-priced. That means you don't have to shop for all grocery items as often and you generally get good quality food.

Closeout Stores

Stores like Big Lots have also gotten into the grocery business big. Wanting to compete with dollar stores and other low-cost providers, these outlets buy odd lots, closeouts, and other grocery items cheap and sell them at low prices. Often they have the name brands that you see in the supermarket, but their selection is limited to what they can get a good deal on.

Bulk Buys 

Some stores, such as Henry's Marketplace here in the West allow you to buy staples without the packaging from big bins. They provide plastic bags and you buy as much or as little as you want. You save because packaging is expensive, in some cases more expensive than the item itself. Many of these stores also have a great variety of offerings, such as rye flour, that you can't find easily.

Farmers' Markets

These weekly events often offer top-quality produce at reasonable prices. They may not always be the least expensive places to buy produce, but the quality is usually very high and the prices are generally reasonable.

Specialty Grocers

When the workers at major supermarket chains here in California went on strike a few years ago, I discovered that I could buy staples such as ground beef and bread cheaper at Trader Joe's, the store I go to for pesto dips and other specialty items, than at my local supermarket. Once again, Trader Joe's doesn't endeavor to carry every conceivable brand, just items they think are worth carrying and at great prices.

Supercenters

Both Walmart and Target are opening up supercenters which include full-line supermarkets. Prices are excellent. While some consumers are boycotting Walmart hoping to encourage them to be better corporate citizens, these centers have a great deal to offer to a cash-strapped family trying to feed everyone.

Free Grocery Saving Tips

Couponing still can pay, depending on where you live in the U.S., and your own grocery needs. Michelle Jones, the founder of BetterBudgeting.com, offers free coupon tips (how to use and NOT use coupons) every month in her featured column, Coupon Savings. You can read them at GrocerySavingTips.com.

Suppliers are constantly changing their marketing practices and we budget-conscious shoppers have to change with them.

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Copyright © 2006 by Larry Wiener. All rights reserved.

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