Jun 18, 2018

The Best Way to Save Time When Grocery Shopping

During this past school year, my weekly routine on Mondays was to go to Ralphs and then Trader Joe's. I couldn't help noticing a pattern: I would often spend an hour at Ralphs and less than a half hour at Trader Joe's, yet the majority of my groceries were from Trader Joe's.

Upon reflection, I realized the truth of the maxim "time is money."

I spend so much more time at Ralphs because I'm on the lookout for deals. I have a list, of course, but often I'm just doing a price check on an item - if something is a certain price, I'll buy it, especially if I have a coupon. If the price is higher than I want to pay, I'll wait. When there's a Mix & Match sale - for example, Buy 5, Save $5 - I walk through the store looking for unadvertised items that might be included. All of this takes time, which is fine with me because my priority is to save money, not time.

Saving Time by Shopping at Trader Joe's

But if your priority is to save time, then consider doing your grocery shopping at Trader Joe's. Their prices are competitive with other markets, if not lower. And the prices don't change every week, so you don't have to constantly check them. You can just go in, buy the items on your list, and leave. Plus, Trader Joe's store brand products are non-GMO and they have many organic options.

Are you concerned about the savings you might be missing out on? Let's consider a few examples off the top of my head:
  • One-pound bags of pasta like penne, farfalle and macaroni elbows are $0.99 at Trader Joe's. Barilla pasta is on sale for $1 this week at Ralphs, and there's no coupon available. Sometimes you can get pasta for $0.49, but those deals are few and far between, so you'll have to stock up when they come around, and then store the pasta somewhere in your house.

  • The cheapest eggs at Trader Joe's are $1.59 for a dozen. Sometimes Ralphs has a dozen eggs for $0.99, but that's rare and usually around holidays, like Easter. The sale price at my store right now is $2.99.

  • One of the main reasons I shop at Trader Joe's is for milk. They have the lowest price on gallons of organic milk at $5.49. Ralphs has Simple Truth Organic milk on sale for $5.99 per gallon, but the regular price is $6.49, and for some reason, my store often has limited stock in the refrigerated milk section so I wouldn't go there planning to get milk.

  • Cereals like Frosted Flakes and Crisp Rice are $1.99 per box at Trader Joe's. You can regularly get cereal for less than that at Ralphs, but sales vary a lot so you have to stock up when you see a low price on your favorite variety and store the extra boxes.

  • Clif bars are $0.99 at Trader Joe's, but they're on sale for $0.88 right now at Ralphs, which also also carries a greater variety. Again, if you have a place to store them, you could stock up at Ralphs, where the regular price is $1.25.
As you can see, you can definitely save money by shopping at Ralphs for some of your groceries, but the savings isn't that substantial if time is at a higher premium than money.

Having said all this, I do need to acknowledge a few shortcomings with my suggestion to shop at Trader Joe's if you want to save time:
  • Trader Joe's doesn't carry everything you probably want to keep in your kitchen. For instance, I swear by Frontera enchilada sauces, but they're not sold at TJ's. And some products, like canned pumpkin, are seasonal. Their limited selection means you will have to supplement by shopping someplace else. But you could so online (Amazon carries Frontera sauces as well almost any other pantry ingredient you could want) or shop at Target, which has a substantial grocery section now.

  • Some of TJ's store brand items don't hold up. As an example, I was so disappointed with the quality of their American cheese that I stopped buying it years ago and have stuck to the Simple Truth version from Ralphs (which my kids prefer over the Horizon version).

  • The produce quality at TJ's is unreliable at best. My friends and I have discussed (and the internet has confirmed) that Trader Joe's produce is often of sub-par quality, in that many items spoil extremely quickly. Having said that, however, I have a limited list of produce items that I like to buy at TJ's, including butternut squash in the winter (so much cheaper to pay $1.79 for a whole squash than to pay per pound), lemons, rainbow carrots, riced cauliflower, whole cauliflower, and vacuum packed cooked beets. I'll also often buy bagged organic potatoes and sweet potatoes, zucchini and bananas.

  • Their parking lots suck. There's really no other way to say it. Almost every Trader Joe's I've ever shopped at has a tiny parking lot with too few and extremely small spots. The only way I can shop there is to go before 10 a.m., and I realize that's not feasible for everyone. This may be a Southern California thing, since so many of our stores are old, but that's how it is here.
So obviously I can't recommend shopping exclusively at Trader Joe's. But when saving time is more important than saving money, you should consider doing most of your grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, where you might be spending a little more money, but you'll be saving a lot of time.

How do you save time on grocery shopping?

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Qwendykay said...

I love this, because over the years my time has become more valuable. I haven’t used an actual paper coupon in two years... the deals aren’t as plentiful and for me. And it’s more time and cost effective for me to shop at Sprouts and Target. Then I shop the ad at Ralph’s... and stock my pantry and freezer with items that are on sale. My sprouts and Ralph’s are right across from each other so I can hit them both quickly.

It’s been really freeing to just let the bargain hunting go... I no longer feel the need to drive five miles to Walgreens for two free items... it’s not worth my time. If our Trader Joe’s was closer I’d shop there more often, right now it’s just not in my regular zone of driving.

I think it’s really a life hack to just let it go and shop at one place.

Chief Family Officer said...

I love the way you put this. I would shop at Sprouts if that was more convenient for me, too :D