Where I live, there are no large grocery stores in a twenty mile radius (there are two small “town” groceries that are fine for incidentals, but their prices are rather high and their selection is limited). However, right outside of that radius are several different options for grocery shopping. When I first moved to the area, I more or less picked one of them at random, started shopping there, and never really looked back.
A few months ago, I decided to actually pick out the store that offers the best prices on the staples that I buy regularly so that I didn’t have to worry about always digging for bargains – I could be confident that my store had the best prices for the things I often buy. I wound up moving my shopping to a different store (a smaller chain) after doing the comparison, and I estimate that by making this change, I’m not missing out on anything at all, but I save $5 to $10 a week on groceries now without thinking about it.
Here’s the exact process I went through to figure this out. It’s pretty clever and quite simple, and you can do it with a spreadsheet program very easily.
For about six weeks, I went to a different grocery store each week. These trips were completely normal: I bought all of the normal things I buy on a grocery trip (lots of produce, meats, milk, and so forth). Even if an individual price made me cringe (this happened more than once), I would just buy what I needed anyway, because I found that almost always there was at least a handful of items at which the store was competitive. If a store didn’t have a large number of the items I wanted, I immediately decided I wouldn’t go there again.
Here’s the kicker: I saved the receipts from each of the trips. I usually enter the receipts into a money management program as soon as I get home (I use Microsoft Money) and then toss the receipts away, but instead I saved these receipts in a shoebox for later.
After the six weeks, I gathered up the receipts and did a comparison. I laid them all out side by side and looked for items that I bought at at least a majority of the six stops. This was a grouping of about fifteen items at the end. I then fired up Microsoft Excel and made a grid of these prices, awarding a score of 1 for the best price on that item down to 6 for the worst (and leaving the number blank if I didn’t buy it there). If two stores tied, I gave them both the “better” score.
After doing that, I just averaged the scores – and found a clear winner. It was actually fairly obvious as I was doing the receipts which store was going to win, but I ran the numbers anyway just to make sure.
Since then, I’ve been doing all my grocery shopping at Hy-Vee. In my area, for a married couple with a child who do a lot of cooking at home, they have the best all-around prices. The only other store chain that was even close was Fareway.
Give this simple process a try! It ended up shaving several dollars off of each grocery bill for us without any additional effort – if anything, Hy-Vee is actually slightly more convenient for shopping than our old place.