Grocery Shopping Tips in MA

Every week I feature different aspects of saving money in Boston with something I have done or do regularly. I wanted to highlight how I grocery shop this week for the Feature Friday post.

I probably could write a series or a whole book of how I grocery shop, but that would be pretty boring so I’ll stick to a few main points.

First things first, I do not shop at the same grocery store every week and I do not shop at the cheapest grocery store. However, I try to shop at the cheapest grocery store for me that week, and try to stick to my $40 weekly grocery budget for a family of two and a dog.

Here’s a few grocery tips that I use to stick to my budget:

1. Know how to recognize a good price: This is really important. How can you possibly know if you are getting a good deal if you do not know what the price is at other stores or the regular price?

Make a list of items that you buy regularly and figure out what the price is at different stores and different type of stores. Canned Tomatoes may be on sale from $1.89 to $1 at Shaw’s but if you can get diced tomatoes at .89 at Target for the everyday price than the Shaw’s sales price isn’t a good deal.

Also, just because you live near two grocery stores owned by the same company doesn’t mean they will have the same prices. For example, eggs are almost a dollar more at one grocery store with the same ownership, both roughly the same distance from my house, just opposite direction. However, the store that has more expensive eggs has cheaper milk. However, if I didn’t pay attention to price while I’m shopping, I may have not known these weird price differences.

Pay attention to prices, and even jot down prices of common staple items to help you remember what prices are good and what aren’t.

2. Shop on sale: Just because that .89 can of Tomatoes is often cheaper than the sale price at Shaw’s, doesn’t mean I will always buy canned tomatoes at Target. I like to buy items when they are at their cheapest possible to help save money. However, if I don’t have tip #1 down, it makes it really hard to recognize a good sales price.

I like to take the weekly ads of Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Roche Bros, etc. and circle items that I need and have a good sales price. Often you will see Chicken Breast for $1.99/lb or less circled, produce like carrots or mushrooms for $1 circled and much more.

After I go through the ad, I like to go on awesome local blogs like Maven of Savin or Coupon Karma to see if I missed any good deals. The nice thing about Coupon Karma is there’s a Top 10 list so you can quickly see what the best deals are that week. I like to see if I missed anything or if there’s a coupon I can use to combine with a sale item to make it even cheaper. Checking out local blogs and reading weekly matchups are a great way to learn prices and see what is and isn’t a good deal. Also, most of the work is already done, so it’s a really easy way to save money.

3. Make a grocery list and meal plan: After reading coupon blogs and my weekly ad, I make my grocery list and I meal plan. Meal planning is a great way to save money because you know exactly what items you need that week. I create my meals plans weekly based on what is on sale. If mushrooms are on sale, I may make Chicken Marsala or Beef Stronganeff depending on what items I have in my pantry or freezer.

I like to know what exactly I am buying each week, what are the best deals, and what’s for dinner too. (It’s also a lot less stressful mid-week since I already have a rough menu planned.)

4. Plan ahead and Stockpile: If you’ve ever seen TLC’s Extreme Couponing, you may be familiar with the term stockpiling. Basically, you buy items when they are at their absolute cheapest and stock up.

You may be familiar with people buying hundreds of items for .04 and stockpiling in their basement. Although some items are extreme, the concept is really smart. You are not running out for cream of mushroom soup pre Beef Stroganoff prepping because you bought some cans at .12 during a winter stock up sale. I know having key pantry items help me meal plan better because I know I have staple items and all I need are the more expensive items like produce and meat when they go on sale.

I don’t have 100’s of items of anything in my stockpile, but I do have items that I go through quickly that I can get pretty cheap during sales cycles. I often see BBQ sauce for cheap in the summer, but I often poor BBQ sauce over meat in the crock pot in the winter, so I will usually buy a few to last me through another cheap sales cycle. Plus, BBQ sauce has a long expiration date and I tend to go through them more in the winter than summer.

5. Use coupons: I will often use coupons with sale items to pay less. However, I don’t always use coupons and I only use them when it’s a great deal. Stores like Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, and Roche Bros will double coupons up to .99 so if you have a coupon for .50/1, you can save a $1 on that product.

Make sure you familiarize yourself with the store’s coupon policy because every store is a little different with coupon usage. However, if you check out coupon matchups on coupon blogs mentioned in tip #2, they do the majority of the work for you, so it’s pretty easy to use coupons.

Also, check in-store for coupons. The best deal I ever did at a grocery store was one I wasn’t expecting. It was chicken on markdown and it had two store coupons on it. After the store coupon on the meat, I got a pound of boneless chicken breast for .03 total!

6. Shop Around: Make sure to check prices and sales for many different stores before you decide on your few favorite places to shop. I usually only grocery shop at one grocery store per week, unless there’s a major expectation.

However, sometimes I will shop at different type of stores to help save money. For example, I never buy spices for $4.49 and whatnot at the grocery store because they are $1 at Ocean State Job Lot or Christmas Tree Shop in a less fancy bottle. Also, if you can, try to buy items where they are cheaper. For example, if you live near Haymarket, trying buying your produce at Haymarket on Friday or Saturday to save money on produce. I also try to buy milk at the convenience store when I’m getting gas because it’s usually significantly cheaper.

Pay attention to prices and figure out what the best place to buy items are for you and what grocery store works best for you.

Please let me know if you have any specific questions about anything mentioned above. I actually shop more often at the more expensive grocery stores because there deals combined with coupons tend to be cheaper than stores with always low prices (and less busy). Again, I rarely buy items that are not on sale with the exception of a few common items like green peppers, bananas, etc.

Do you have any grocery tips to share?