Every week for 52 weeks, I’m sharing a different way you can save $100 this year. If you do all of these things, you’ll be able to save over $5,000 this year alone! Many of these things will likely be things you’re already doing, but hopefully all of you will pick up at least a few new ideas or some inspiration from this series.
When I mention how I save a lot of money by shopping at more than one store, I’m often met with resistance:
“But I don’t have time to go to more than one store! I can barely make it into Walmart once a week.”
“That’s not saving money! You’re wasting all sorts of time and gas running around to fifteen different stores in one day. Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective and efficient to just do all your shopping at one store each week?”
“I’m glad that works for you, but I don’t have near the patience or organization to even attempt something like that!”
Let me be clear: I am not advocating going to 15 different stores that are 45 minutes away from your home in order to save $2 at each store. That’s not saving money, in my definition. Instead, that’s wasting enormous amounts of time and effort and producing little to show for it but wear and tear on your vehicle and an exorbitant gas bill.
What I am advocating is taking a little bit of time to scout at your nearby stores each week and pick a few which have the best sales and deals. Then base your grocery trip planning on shopping only at those stores.
How to Get Started Shopping at More Than One Store
1) Make a List of All Stores in Your Area
Don’t just list the grocery stores, think of any possible place you might be able to buy grocery-related items:
- Dollar Stores
- Scratch and Dent Stores
- Overstock Stores (Big Lots, etc.)
- Big Box Stores (KMart, Walmart, Target)
- Warehouse Stores (Costco, Sam’s Club, B.J.’s)
- Drug Stores (CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid)
- Asian Markets
- Bulk Foods Stores
- Farmer’s Markets
- Health Food Stores
I’d recommend searching online or pulling out the phone book to see if you have any of the above stores in your area if you’re not sure. And ask your friends and neighbors if they know of any great places to shop which you might not know about.
If you live in a small town, this should be simple. In fact, you might only have two stores to choose from. (And if you only have one store to choose from, you’re exempt from any of this legwork!)
If you live in a larger town or big metropolis, this is going to be a bigger undertaking. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the options, limit the stores to those within a 5 mile radius or which are close to areas you regularly frequent.
2) Visit Your Area Stores and Record the Prices of 25 Items You Routinely Buy
- Price Book (by Store) :: Record the prices for products at a single store. This can be done first, and then the information transferred to individual product sheets like, like the Price Book (by Product) form below.
- Price Book (by Product) :: Record the prices for a particular product at multiple stores.
- Half-Sheet Price Book (by Product) :: Record the prices for a particular product at multiple stores, but laid out two to a page.
Once again, if this feels overwhelming, just pick two or three grocery stores to start with. You’ll have plenty of time to branch out in the future. Don’t bite off more than you can chew and end up burning out on this whole bargain-shopping thing before you’ve even really started!
3) Determine Which Store(s) Regularly Have the Lowest Prices and Best Sales
After filling out the price book forms and finding out your local stores’ coupon policies and mark-down policies, you will have a pretty clear picture of which stores are best to shop at on a regular basis. However, most stores run their sales cycles every twelve weeks or so, with a few incredible sales and loss-leaders thrown in on occasion. To get a more accurate picture, I’d recommend tracking the sales at a few stores for three months.
This does not mean that you necessarily need to go to five different stores and fill out a price book form every week. But I would recommend scanning the sales fliers each week and actually visiting each store at least once a month.
4) Consider How Much Time You Have to Invest
Time is money. So if it’s scarce for you, don’t expect that you’ll be able to spend six hours grocery shopping each week. That’s just not feasible or realistic.
I’d suggest that you be willing to set aside at least two hours each week if you want to see fairly significant savings. Invest 30 minutes in planning and clipping/organizing coupons and an hour and a half in shopping. In that time-frame, you should be able to plan your shopping trips and shop at one to three stores. It might sound unrealistic right now, but the more you practice, the better you’ll get.
But I Don’t Have Two Hours to Spend!
Maybe you don’t. But how important is saving money to you? Is it worth giving up time spend watching TV or working on a hobby? Look at your schedule and see if there is something you regularly do each week that you’d be willing give up in order to save money.
You might find that clipping coupons and reducing your grocery budget can become a fun hobby in and of itself. And it’s one of the best hobbies ever because it doesn’t cost you money, it saves you money. Plus, it greatly benefits your family!
If you have more than two hours to invest per week, you can tailor your plan accordingly. Perhaps you have time to hit four or five stores, instead of two. Or maybe you have time to research more deals and clip more coupons. Do what works for you. However, don’t overdo!
5) Rotate the Stores You Shop At
When the weekly sales change in your area, sit down and quickly scan the grocery store fliers (most larger chains offer their fliers online), your price book, and your coupons, and decide which stores are running the best sales. Keep in mind what your schedule is for the week and what areas of town you’ll already be in. Based upon which stores have the best deals and what your schedule looks like for the week, plan your shopping trip accordingly.
Even though I’ve been bargain-shopping for years, I’ve rarely shopped at more than three stores in a week. A more normal week would include a stop at either Aldi or Dillons (a Kroger affiliate) and a stop at the health food store to look for mark-downs.
However, for years, I’ve rotated the stores I shop at, depending upon the sales and what coupons I have. Over a six-month time period, I may have shopped at nine to ten different stores–but I never shop at all of them in the same week, or even in the same month!
That’s the beauty of shopping at more than one store. You don’t have to shop at five stores each week, or even more than one. But you can rotate which stores you shop at every week in order to get the best deals and lowest prices.
Note: Don’t Feel Obligated to Hit Every Deal
I think one of the biggest mistakes new bargain-shoppers make is that they discover this world of great deals and get so excited about all the money they are saving, that they go a little overboard. Pretty soon, they are completely burnt out and go back to spending large amounts at the grocery store each week.
The better approach is to take it slow. Pick and choose the best deals to do and don’t worry about hitting the others. There will always be another sale on milk and cereal or whatever else it is that seems like such a great deal at the time. Pace yourself and you’ll find that you enjoy it a lot more.
In addition, realize that it’s okay to step back and take a break every now and then. Sometimes, I’ll shelve my coupon box and just do my shopping at Aldi for awhile. Or sometimes, we will just skip shopping and eat from the pantry that week. Maybe I didn’t get the rock bottom prices that week or miss out on some stellar deal, but over the course of the year, it’s much more money-saving and sanity-saving to pace myself.