This tip will seem overly obvious to regular readers, but it’s a big one and worth repeating. Last year at this time, I was still doing the vast majority of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s. It was a routine that I began during the 2003 grocery worker’s strike, when I discovered that I love Trader Joe’s. It’s like they were made for me, with their large stock of organic and hormone/antibiotic-free products. Their everyday prices are far and away better than mainstream markets like Ralphs and Vons.
There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?
I discovered the joy of massive coupon use in 2008 when I began playing The Drugstore Game. Last spring, I discovered the joy of carrying over the coupon use to markets like Ralphs and Vons/Pavilions. It really hit home in April, when Vons and Pavilions (which are part of the Safeway family of stores) had their Living Well promotion. When you bought $30 worth of qualifying products, you got a $10 Catalina coupon to use on your next order. And the deal rolled, so that you could pay with the $10 Catalina and get another $10 Catalina if you bought $30 of qualifying products. The promotion went on for several weeks, and I made multiple trips to the store each week because I was getting napkins for 33 cents per package (which was way below my target price), garbage bags for my target price of 6.6 cents per bag, and Huggies wipes refills for $3.
The Living Well promotion opened my eyes to the great deals to be had at the major markets. Since then, I’ve regularly shopped at Ralphs, Vons and Pavilions, and increasingly bought more of my groceries there. And I’ve discovered that sometimes I can get cheaper prices at the major markets than elsewhere.
For instance, sometime this past fall, Vons lowered the price on their store brand gallons of organic milk to $5.49. I’m not sure how long it took me to realize that I was paying 50 cents more at Trader Joe’s, but needless to say, I started buying my weekly two gallons at Vons or Pavilions. But half-gallons are 10 cents cheaper at Trader Joe’s ($3.29 vs. $3.39). Of course, you have to keep an eye on the prices, because Vons raised the price to $5.99 a couple of months ago, but right now they’re on sale through the beginning of April for $5.49 again.
Another example is Challenge butter – last year, I discovered that it’s RBST-free, just like the butter I’d been buying at Trader Joe’s. And by combining sales and coupons, I’ve been able to buy Challenge butter for less than I would have paid at Trader Joe’s.
It’s these kinds of discoveries that I want to keep my eyes open for in 2010 to maximize our grocery dollars. Right now, we spend about 40% less than we did a year ago. I won’t compromise the quality of food we eat, but I’m convinced that with some astute grocery shopping and meal planning, I can reduce that number to 50% or more.