Grocery Shopping | Money Sense, March 2012

Smart Shopping

15 tips to help you be frugal at the grocery store

Click here to read in the zMagGreat cooking may be an art, but savvy grocery shopping is a science. Though not rocket science, it does pay to do your homework and shop for more than your weekly food needs.

Our grocery store gurus offer these tips to help you get a better return on your food dollars while making your shopping experience more pleasant, timely and economical.

Grocery Guru 1:
Money SenseJohn Elliot
Manager of public affairs and media spokesperson for the central division of The Kroger Co.

1. Shop the ad. There are some really great savings opportunities when you follow the weekly advertising over time.

2. Take advantage of customer loyalty programs. Tailored customer mailings hone in on a consumer’s buying patterns to offer specific promotions you might like.

3. Take advantage of reward points. Points can be redeemed for savings on things like gasoline, and special promotions can double or triple the points awarded to provide even greater savings.

4. Cash in with electronic vendor coupons. Sign up on websites like and get big savings on grocery purchases. Download the Cellfire mobile app that makes it easy to access exclusive deals at restaurants, retailers and other merchants. Some savings opportunities can be downloaded to your customer loyalty card –– saving you time and money.

Grocery Guru 2:
Money SensePhil Lempert
A food industry analyst, trend-watcher and editor of

5. Make a list. As you go through your shopping list, take inventory of what’s in your cupboard so you don’t buy something you already have.

6. Get more value with nutritional foods. Choose food with more nutritional value like whole-grain pasta. It may be 10 or 20 cents more per pound, but it’s denser, so it fills you up and you eat less.

Instead of buying jarred pasta sauces that contain high-fructose corn syrup, buy crushed or diced tomatoes and add one tablespoon of olive oil and some spices such as oregano, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.

7. Think seasonally. Consider that there are certain times of the year when getting a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables doesn’t make sense.

For example, don’t buy the expensive imported fresh blueberries. Instead, choose frozen blueberries or strawberries, which are picked at their peak of freshness. They will taste better and have more nutritional value than fruit that was picked before it was ripe. And it will help keep down the costs of transporting food to your plate.

8. Heed the signs. When you go to the grocer to buy fresh fish, a sign might say “previously frozen” –– meaning fish are caught and put in a boat’s freezer or on dry ice. The fish comes ashore, it defrosts and then it’s shipped to the supermarket.

Buy frozen fish. It will be fresher, and you will pay about 40 percent of what the previously frozen fish costs.

9. Start in the middle. Most people start in the produce department, which is set in the front of the store to set the stage for the rest of the shopping experience.

“It’s almost like aromatherapy –– the colors and aromas put you in a better mood,” Lempert says. “What that means is that you are going to spend more time in the store –– and spend more money there.”

Try starting in the center of store with the boxes and jars of “unemotional” food. You may minimize your time and also reduce the amount of impulse purchases you make.

Grocery Guru 3:
Money SenseTeri Gault
Founder and CEO of, which teaches people how to save money shopping

10. Check out the endcaps. Often you can find good savings. Sometimes items are paired up on the display, but only one of the items may be a great deal while the other costs full price.

At times, a better deal may be down the aisle. Sometimes sale items may be out of stock in the aisle but can be found on the endcap –– so keep watch.

11. Keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer. A selection of core items, including spices, nuts, pasta, rice, canned beans, oils, vinegars, broths, tomatoes, tuna and assorted baking ingredients, allows you to pull dinner together with a variety of options.

The night before, pull from the freezer whatever meat you bought on sale. Purchase more than one package, and you have the staples of multiple meals already on hand.

12. Get your child involved. Give him or her a coupon for an item to find while you’re looking for items in the same aisle –– kind of like a grocery store version of Where’s Waldo.

13. There are two main grocery store marketing strategies: Hi-Lo and everyday low prices (EDLP).

“Knowing what kind of store you shop helps you know what buying strategies you should use to save money,” Gault says.

Money SenseThe EDLP strategy promises consumers the lowest available price without coupon clipping or waiting for a discount.

Hi-Lo is used by major supermarket chains like Kroger and Safeway. The regular prices at a Hi-Lo store may be higher than EDLPs at stores like ALDI, Dollar General and Walmart, but sale prices dip much lower than the EDLP stores’ same items.

At a Hi-Lo store, whether or not you use coupons, buy things on sale before you need them, Gault suggests. For example, if you like tuna and find it at a great sale price, buy six or eight cans.

Sale items usually follow a 12-week cycle, so purchase enough sale items at your favorite Hi-Lo supermarket to last for 12 weeks.

14. Learn the shelf life of food items so you can buy quantities accordingly. For example, you can store butter for up to 6 months and yogurt for five weeks.

15. Make a double or triple batch of a recipe and freeze the leftovers for another meal. Gault’s chicken tortilla soup is perfect for that. Find the recipe here.

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