The Truth About Grocery Store Flyers

One tactic I mention regularly for saving money on your food purchases is to watch the grocery store flyer for sales, then plan your meals (and shopping lists) around those sales. This tactic really works – I’ve saved quite a bit doing this over the years.

However, things aren’t quite that simple – you can’t just trust the store flyer.

Over the last several months, I’ve been keeping track of prices on several key items that we buy all the time. Garbage bags, fresh spinach, toilet paper, grapes, Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers, and so on.

I know what the typical price is on these items – I even have a small price list that has the usual prices for them.

So, a few weeks ago, when I took a long look at the flyers from my grocery stores of choice, I happened to notice that some of the “big sales” listed in the flyer weren’t on sale at all. The price was exactly the same as what I usually paid.

What gives? I did some research – calling and emailing a few people I know in the grocery business – and I came up with a few interesting facts about grocery store flyers.

For starters, a large portion of the spots in a grocery store ad are actually paid placements by the product manufacturers. That “sale” on Coca-Cola? It’s likely that Coca-Cola – or a local distributor – paid your grocery store to have their product inserted into the ad. The price of that “sale” item is often unchanged from the normal price – the only reason it’s in the flyer is to put a few more bucks in the pocket of the grocery store itself.

Why would a company pay for such placements? According to Tod Marks of Consumers Union, a mere mention of a product in a grocery store flyer can send sales of that product up as much as 500%. Thus, in many cases, the small cost of the product mention in the flyer can easily be recouped by a big bump in sales.

Another technique often used in flyers is quantity-based tricks. Let’s say, for example, that you typically buy a quart of cottage cheese for $1.49. In the flyer, you might notice that cottage cheese is on “sale” for $0.99 – but it turns out that this is the pint container, not the quart. Without careful reading, one might head out to the grocery store and grab that $0.99 “bargain” without thinking about it, actually paying more per pint of cottage cheese.

These two factors lead to the real question: how can you trust grocery store flyers at all? Here are some tactics I’ve found that work well for finding the real deals in the flyers.

First, ignore “brand name” products. Quite often, these are placed by the large food companies and don’t actually reflect much of a bargain at all. Just skip right past them. Occasionally, one of these might be a “loss leader,” but you can usually only find them if you’re really good at filtering out all of the noise.

Second, focus on the fresh items. The items that are fresh – fresh produce and fresh meats – are rarely branded at all. These items tend to be the real sales in the flyer (but not always – you should always have a good grasp on what the real prices are).

Third, “quantity” sales are often tricky. Let’s say you see some particular item on sale – 2/$5. That could mean a lot of things – it might mean that the items are actually $2.50 each and you don’t actually need to buy two items to get the discount, or it might mean that just buying one item will cost you $3.29 or so – which isn’t really a deal at all. Read the fine print and don’t just immediately buy more than you need or assume it’s a great deal.

Finally, know your quantities. Sometimes, “sales” loudly proclaimed in a flyer are for very small sizes. Once you’re actually in the store, however, you’ll find that the the larger size is actually the better deal, even though it’s not on “sale.” Sales on small quantity items almost always indicate something that’s not really a bargain (unless you can couple a coupon with it and get it for free).

Flyers have a lot of good deals, but there’s a lot of noise as well. Figure out how to filter through the noise and you’ll save yourself a lot of money on groceries.

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  1. deb says:

    My husband falls for this stuff all the time. I’ll tell him to pick up and item (like wax paper) if it happens to be on sale. He’ll come home with 2 and say it was on sale for 2/$2.50. The normal price is $1.25. He does this all the time. If I didn’t hate shopping so much I’d stop letting him go the few times he does. Also, I’ve noticed one of our local stores, Meijer, will have “price drops” where for example the price was $2.00, and now the permanent price is $1.99. they put a tag on the shelf that looks “almost” like a sale tag, and it’s listed in the flyer too. Sure enough, my wonderful husband will now stock up on those “sale” items. Sigh.

  2. Jolyn says:

    I use grocerysmart.com. They organize all the sales into a big spreadsheet that’s organized by store. It tells you what the full price is and what you’ll be saving. That way you don’t have to go through all the mailers.

  3. Johanna says:

    I’m not sure I see why the small-quantity “trick” is so scandalous. It’s usually the case (but not always, as you’ve pointed out) that the price per unit is cheaper for large packages than for small packages – and that may still be true if the small package is on sale but the large package isn’t. If you can’t figure that out, that’s your fault, not the store’s.

    And paying a higher unit price for a smaller package isn’t necessarily a rip-off, especially if it’s a perishable product that you only use in small quantities. If you only use a pint of cottage cheese in the time it takes for it to go bad, it’s not a good deal to pay $1.49 for a quart rather than 99 cents for a pint. But if you can get the pint for 99 cents on sale rather than the usual price of, say, $1.19, then that *is* a good deal, for you.

    One of the grocery stores I shop at sometimes promotes products in its flyer that are not on sale, but it always clearly labels them with “everyday low price” or something like that. That doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.

  4. Jane says:

    I’m pretty sure that most grocery stores allow you to buy 1 at the sale price instead of 2 or more. I know this is not the case at Walgreens and other stores, but I’ve never been to a grocery store that didn’t allow that.

    It really irks me when one of our stores will have things on “sale” and then I will look at the regular price and realize that it’s 2 cents cheaper. A price book is invaluable if you want to be sure that a store is not tricking you. You should at least have an idea of what your staples go for and what a good price is for them.

  5. Kim says:

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention Trent! I am careful to plan my list around the sale items featured in the store flier and pair those “sales” with coupons if I can. Tonight when I go, I’ll surely be more observant of the prices and quantities!

  6. Dr. Faith says:

    I’ve always been frustrated when I see Target and Best Buy ads where they’ll advertise a game or electronics thing and the price is EXACTLY the same. That isn’t a sale! $59 for a new game isn’t a sale – so stop advertising like it is!

    This is also why it is a good idea to have an idea of how much things cost that you regularly buy, so you know when it is a true sale and when you’re getting ripped off.

  7. Rebecca says:

    Ignoring the brand name stuff in the flyer can lead to losing out. Sure, some things are listed that aren’t really on sale, but I’d say about half of the things in my grocery flyer are actual deals, compared to regular price. I just look at the regular shelf tag, and compare it to the sale shelf tag that’s put over/under it. It’s easy to see if you’re actually getting a deal.

  8. Des says:

    You don’t need an “eagle eye” to find the loss leaders in the circulars. They’re almost always on the front page, and they usually jump right out at you because the store WANTS you to see their great deal – that’s why they offer loss leaders in the first place.

  9. sir jorge says:

    greatest post ever, you’re so dead on about these

  10. KC says:

    I’m not much of a grocery shopper or cook for that matter. I buy the same things each week. Its either on sale or its not, but I’m buying it if I need it. However if it is on sale and not perishable I’ll buy more of the item. But I really don’t look at sale flyers. There are 3 main groceries in my area. 1 is simply not convenient to get to and of the other 2 one has more of the items I like (like a certain deli meat and a certain cookie I prefer).

  11. Laurie says:

    As a local central Iowan, I was wondering if you’ve checked out Hyvee’s revamped website. They’ve been offering an online exclusive ad for a while but they’ve recently added store coupons online, as well as links to printable manufacturer’s coupons. The in-store specials link is also neat because it shows everything that’s on sale and the actual savings, though it can be cumbersome to look through all of the sales. Just thought I’d bring it to your attention!

  12. What I’ve noticed: the real deals are on the FRONT page of flyers (grocery and drugstores) and on the last. But you need to know your prices.

    That’s why I bought 6 months worth of coffee last week!

  13. Amanda says:

    Trent,

    I have a question about prices on fresh produce…namely melons. Some weeks cantaloupe (for example) is priced per pound and other weeks it’s “on sale” for a set price per melon. I never know what is the better deal. Any advice on keeping track of this?

    Thanks,
    Amanda

  14. Becky says:

    I blog mostly about grocery store junk. I find with the 2/$5 sales (or 10 for $10 is very popular in my neck of the woods) – it’s almost always really “$2.50″ or $1.00″ per item. If you actually had to buy the 2 or 10 to get the discounted price, the flyer would say “Must buy #”.

  15. LC says:

    I always use the unit price shelf tag. I get what I need, and buy what seems cheapest. But certain stores are overpriced on everything. Nevertheless, there seems to be a lot of cheap food right now.

  16. George says:

    I don’t drink coffee, but if I did, I’d be wondering how quickly the stuff goes stale. Does it really stay fresh for 6 months?!?

  17. Brigitte says:

    I’ve run into this myself. I never buy sour cream on sale–ever. I buy a 3lb tub at a time for $4.39. The 1lb tubs go on sale for 2/$3. So, it’s $1.50/lb, 3lbs would be $4.50… more than the $4.39 AND more packaging waste? I’ll pass, thanks!

    Hot dogs made me laugh last week. BIG SIGN by the hot dogs, “2 for $6!” Sign underneath? “Normally $3 each.” Hm….

    Meijer: Blue top on the sign says “Everyday deal” or “price drop”, not on sale; Red top on the sign that says “SALE!” means it’s on sale. Reading for the win. Also, they only have about half the sale items in the ad paper (and only 2/3 of the ad paper is sale items).

    I’ve found I cut my grocery bills nearly in half by simply buying what I need when I need it. If it’s a GREAT deal, then I’ll stock up, but I don’t scour ads–it just makes me think of more things I want and won’t eat.

  18. Kathy says:

    So, when I’m buying Mt. Dew 3 12 pks for $10 or 2 24 pks for $11 that’s not a deal over the usual price of $4.50 for a 12pk or $6.99 for a 24 pk?

    Good to know. I’ll go talk to my 3rd grade math teacher about how she’s steered me wrong all of these years. :)

    And if you add coupons to the mix, it gets all wacked out. Price per unit is almost a required calculation since sometimes the smaller sizes get you better deals (I notice this mostly with peanut butter)

  19. Danielle says:

    Only recently have I noticed the 2 for one sale not being a sale at all. Just as comment #1 mentioned. Apparently, I’ve lived under a rock for several years. I appreciate your blog!

  20. Jamie says:

    I know that they also sell the end caps at Costco- companies pay to have their products shelved there rather than down the aisles. They get you with the samples too- just for fun, sit at the front of the store and watch what keeps passing by in the carts- 10 to 1, those are the items that they are demonstrating. My husband falls for that one BIG TIME!

  21. It is a sales tactics that mostly done in the slow period. If one dooesn’t know the prices before that person will actually think that it is a sale for that particular item. Reduced prices are actually on the goods that does not sell fast enough. Fast going products are only used to attract customers in the stores. So once you see for example the garbage you will actually believe that the sale is on this particular product but in reality it is not.

  22. thefamilynomics says:

    Some items are really on sale in the flyers while some are tricks because they usually advertise $3 for 2lb. While the regular price may be 1.39$ per lb.

    But there is an easier way to figure out these math jargons, check the unit price. At Costco and many other stores in small print they write the unit price (price per lb or price per OZ).

    I wanted to respond to Amanda’s question about when melons are actually at sale. I consider the per melon sale to be better because these types of bigger fruits are more than a pound per piece.
    So when you get 99 cents each honey dew. You may be actually may be getting 1.4 or even 2 pounds for 99cents.

  23. mes says:

    One of the grocery store tricks here is to have a big collection of items “on sale” for, say $2 each. If you buy $20 worth of those products, you get an extra $3 off, so each product really costs you $1.70. If you feel inclined to stock up, you can get some good deals. But you really have to watch out because they’ll have stuff on the list that is way overpriced even after the discount.

  24. Jason says:

    As with anything, there are ways to “game” the grocery store flyers. If you are into couponing — as my wife is — you can take a lot of stuff home for very little money. At one of the two main grocery chains in our city, my wife was able to pick up 14 1.5 quart cartons of a high-end brand of ice cream for a total of $3. That’s right, she managed to get 8 for free by combining manufacturer coupons, store coupons (she received $10 back), and “catalinas” and then spent $0.50 each for the other six. It is amazing what she is able to do on a weekly basis — and how much we are able to donate to food pantries as a result.

  25. Jules says:

    This is why I don’t consider it a waste of brain space to remember the prices of almost everything. Often, my boyfriend will mention that he’s going to pick something up, and I’ll tell him which store to go to for the best price.

    What I want to know is why supermarkets never have sales on the things I actually buy. They’ve always got sales for cookies and bread and pudding and brand-name shampoos, but never for veggies and fruits and nuts.

  26. Stacy says:

    These are called “Phantom Sales”. I use a site called “The Grocery Game” to know what to buy when… it’s worth the $5/month to me.

  27. amy says:

    Amanda – For melons when it sold per pound it is already cut for you and would rarely if ever be cheaper than buying the whole melon which is sold at a per melon price.
    (Exceptions may apply at store I am not familiar with.)

  28. I second(or third or fourth!) the front page recommendation. Most of the sales that are worth hitting are right there. The rest of them are often take or leave kind of prices.

    The bottom line is that you need to know your prices. If you know you can get chicken breasts for $1.99 a pound or less, you won’t be taken in my a sale where you can get two pounds for $6.

  29. Jules, I should have added that the store doesn’t stand to make as much money off of produce. Companies sponsor sales on their products (you can see this by observing that all the grocery stores have sales on Coke products on the same week), but I highly doubt that produce suppliers do the same thing.

  30. Matt Schonert says:

    Another flyer trick to look out for is alcoholic beverages. In some states (including mine, Michigan), it is illegal in a retail store to sell alcoholic beverages below the price set by the state regulators. If I recall Michigan’s policies correctly, wine can be marked down no more than 25%, and packaged liquor cannot be marked down at all.

    The store may include a whole page of wine and liquor “specials” in their flyer when in fact these are probably, as you describe, paid placements by the manufacturers.

  31. Ken says:

    Interesting tidbit about grocery stores getting kickbacks from large companies for ad space…you do need to know details to win at their games.

  32. Elise says:

    I have found much of what you say to be true, too. Sometimes you can get a good deal – but only if you know the typical price of what you’re buying. Great post!

  33. Mary says:

    Comment #2: Can you give me the exact URL for GrocerySmart? I don’t get much at GrocerySmart.com. Am I missing something? Thanks!

  34. Shelly says:

    My grocery store is based on “everyday low prices,” so they don’t follow any of the general guidelines mentioned here or in the comments for their weekly ads. The front page usually shows a big picture of their weekly recipe and the cost of one of the items, with the rest of the space used for showing some of their fresh produce.

    Inside, they focus a lot more on in-season items than sale items. So much of the ad isn’t really “on sale.” They group things together primarily by meal ideas. If something is on sale, it says “with shoppers’ club card” underneath. And there are plenty of additional items on sale with the shoppers’ club card within the store that are never advertised. Those sales often last for weeks or months, not for 7 days.

    You really just need to get to know your store and its policies. I know that at my store I don’t have to buy the quantity specified on a deal to get the deal price, and they’ll double coupons up to $.99 (except some internet coupons). I know to look for the yellow signs around the store, and they make their unit prices prominent so you can compare. They don’t hide the fact that many of the items in their fliers aren’t on sale.

  35. Kasy says:

    I shop the flyers frequently, so I’m quite familiar with the average price of the the frequent things we buy. I write the sale item down, but only so I can compare it to the off-brands and similar brands to see what the best deal really is. What helps me is to bring a calculator and average out the price compared to the weight. Then you can really tell if you are getting the best deal ounce for ounce/pound for pound.

  36. Mister E says:

    Flyers aren’t books of sales they’re books of advertisements.

    There will be a few sale items, usually clearly marked and on the front page and the rest of the flyer is just ads for products they carry. Some stores publish flyers without sales at all, just advertisements.

    That’s how it works around here anyways.

  37. pammycakes says:

    So basically you’re telling me that the three boxes of healthy cereal I got for free this week after the store “sale” and coupons were not a good deal?
    I study two flyers each week. I know what I purchase regularly and what the regular price range is so when a good sale comes around I stock up. That equals money in my pocket not theirs.

  38. joan says:

    I have cut our grocery bill by buying items on sale and using coupons for a lot of the items we use regularly. I go through the grocery flyers each week and list the items at each store that are ON SALE, that means the items that I know are being offered at a lower price. Since I have to go past each store sometime during the week, it isn’t out of my way to stop in and pick up what is on sale. I know the prices of the items that I usually buy. I have a good memory for that. If I couldn’t remember the prices, I would use a price book. So, at the same time; I will pick up items that are not on sale that I need and usually the prices for those items are the same at all three stores, if one store is higher for that item; I will pick it up at one of the other stores. I seldom go to the store just to pick up something of which I am out. Today, I have to go to the postoffice; the store in that area has some great sale items; milk, eggs. produce, and some canned soup that I don’t need right now; but is one of our favorites; so for 25 cents a can, I will get the limit. They also have cereal on sale for which I also have a coupon, I don’t use the cereal or even like it; but my single son who has three sons and two other boys living with him will get the cereal. This might not work so well if my errands during the week didn’t take me past all the stores. I plan my menus around what is on sale; and I usually find marked down meat and bakery because I go early in the morning.

  39. Georgia says:

    Our local store has just put up a sign that it will not accept computerized coupons as there are too many fakes out there.

    As to the coffee, a 34.6 oz tub, just opened, has a use by date of 6/28/10. It is airtight as long as it is not opened. When opened, as I live alone, it usually only takes me 4 months to use up this amount. It has always been good through all that time. I usually “burp” the tub each time I open and close it to be certain excess air is pumped out.

    As to savings, I have about 20 tubs of this coffee on hand. It is Folger’s Custom Blend and Walmart had it on sale for $5 for about a month. Since the other stores I shopped in had the same brand for $6.98 and up, I feel I got a good bargain. If it looks like it will be around too long, I will just donate some to the local church. They have meetings, dinners, etc. and would use it up much faster and I wouldn’t feel I had lost my money. I have a tub in my car now to take to the local food bank where I volunteer. One lady brings cookies, coffee, and soup for the volunteers to eat and they can put money in the till so she can buy more.

    I actually had one coupon for .59 off a tub of Folgers. Walmart, at that time, had it for $6.98. But right next to it was a tub of Maxwell House for $6. So the coupon went unused. I used it later on one of the $5 tubs.

  40. Penny Pincher says:

    Lots of good info on this entry.

    I first became aware of the practice of placing non sale items in the flyer 2 years ago. After my daughter was born, I had to pay a lot of attention of my grocery bill. Now I know why its in there.

    I have most of our household’s grocery items prices rolling around in my head. I’ve rememdied that by getting a notebook to log stuff. That’s this summer’s project.

    I’ve also discovered Aldi’s. Ahhhh….. :)

  41. Dana Booth says:

    Great post. These flyers are great, but I always read them carefully. Another clue to watch for is If it doesn’t say “sale”, it’s probably not one, just the normal price.

    One other thing that I think was mentioned above, but is worth repeating, is unit prices. Remember to watch these. Also remember that while the larger quantities usually have the better unit price, this isn’t always the case!

  42. dgreen says:

    There are State laws that regulate the “2 for $5″ sales. Here in Michigan the retailer must sell you one item for the $2.50 or whatever the case may be. I have noticed in other States that not all prices are marked on the products. Michigan requires that all items be clearly marked with the everyday price. Laws also prevent calling an item on sale with it’s everyday price. So in Michigan we will see “Everyday Low Price” ads instead of using the word “Sale”.

  43. beth says:

    This post and the replies pretty much sum up why I have quit even looking at the flyers. I put together a rough meal plan based on what I have at home and then head to the store. If what I’m looking for it on sale or reasonably priced IMO, cool. If not, I put something else together while there or skip that particular meal in the plan (there’s enough in the freezer at home to make a few meals on the fly at any point in time). The time spent pouring over the flyer plus a cookbook plus an inventory of everything I have on hand simply isn’t worth it. I can spend half the time and usually not any more money by throwing together ideas from the ingredients on hand and back-filling from the store.

  44. Andy says:

    In some states (e.g.: CA, MI) stores are required to sell “x for $y” items at the corresponding price for one item.

  45. paul says:

    To DEB,

    aka “deb @ 2:10 pm June 17th, 2009 (comment #1)”

    Why are you busting on your hubby?

  46. jim says:

    having worked for the largest grocery store chain here in Texas as an overnight grocery stocker (their prices are already usually rock-bottom and all their price tags indicate price per weight/quantity), it’s hard to get it much cheaper unless you use the in-store coupons which they have hanging all over the store anyway for you to grab.

    however, also having worked for the big orange home improvement store, I can tell you that Massachusetts and Michigan are the only two state that require a price checker at various locations in the store for customers to check the real price of items.

    one last note: if an item has been on sale and the tag is left on the shelf advertising that price, but the price was changed in the computer register, be sure to tell them when they ring it up. many states have a law about that. if it is adv’d at the lower price on the shelf they MUST sell it to you at that price.

    oops, one FINAL note: we saw it happen all the time and I’m sure no one here does it, BUT, don’t try and switch sticky labels on products so you can try and buy it cheaper when going thru the Self Check-Out. (1) the cashier manning that station generally knows the prices, and (2) don’t you think they have the weight of that item programmed into the register computer? DOH!

  47. paul says:

    Someone please tell me what the deal is on Ice Cream?

    The sale prices are HALF of posted retail. …and nearly of third of the shelf is on sale for that half price.

    I NEVER pay sticker on ice cream. It seems my flavor is always on sale half-price somewhere on the shelf.

    It’s just puzzling to me why these ice cream “sales” are so prevalent. There must be some industry reason. Is it a expiration date issue?

  48. Larabara says:

    Deb, I once felt your pain, but I found a way to convince my husband to take the time and search for proper bargains at the grocery store.

    I was always the bargain hunter at the grocery stores and would take my time to find the good bargains, but my husband would always shop with the “just grab what I need and get out, because I’m a man on a mission” method. Honestly, those were his exact words–he never looked at the prices; he only wanted to get the stuff and get out. This was a HUGE frustration for me, and meant that if we were to save money (and keep the peace in the home), I would insist on doing all of the grocery shopping. He figured that if he had to be frustrated with me always getting lost while driving (I have the world’s worst sense of direction), then I had to put up with his shopping method. Then one day I informed him that most grocery stores are very aware of his (and most men’s) inexperience in the grocery bargain game, and take full advantage to bilk them out of their money, the same way that some car repair shops work against women’s inexperience with car repair (for this reason, he insisted on always taking the car in for repairs).
    Well, we went shopping together, and I told him that the stores take advantage of his “grab and go” method by deliberately placing the most expensive items at eye-level, from where he always grabs. For the first time, he compared the prices, and the differences were remarkable. He was on board after that. It almost became a cat-and-mouse game to get the most out of the grocery store, and it became an adventure whenever we went shopping. It was strange to me that after several years of frustration, all I had to do was compare the grocery stores to the car repair shops, and he understood the conspiracy.

    We saved so much money that he recently got me a GPS system for my car, which saves a lot of time, a ton of gas (and the gas $$), and elimiated a HUGE frustration for him–now that I no longer get lost all the time. It’s a win-win for our peaceful home! Now if only I can get some car repair savvy……

  49. Larabara says:

    Sorry, I was too busy telling my life story that I forgot to mention about flyers!!!

    I always plan my meals on whatever’s on sale on the front and back pages. This is usually where the meat, vegetables and fruit are on sale. I almost never look inside the flyer, and on the rare occasion, it’s just a cursory glance.

  50. Non Consumer Girl says:

    Last week I went to the store to purchase a 2 for 1 deal on chicken pieces as advertised in their flyer. This was the only reason I stopped at the store. The item was nowhere in sight, didn’t even have shelf space amongst similar items.
    After asking several staff who had no idea, I spoke with the manager who organised a voucher for me for next time I was in the store that they would let me have the item at the advertised price.
    It seems very dishonest to have flyers to entice you into their store and then not even have the item.

  51. Ann Davis says:

    I read comment #2 by John and
    went to grocerysmart.com and
    then was lost–it’s a page full
    of sponsored ads–where do you go
    to get that spread sheet of prices
    etc that you spoke of? Trent–did
    you check out this site? Just wondering
    sounds like it would really be useful to
    all of us. Annie in MI

  52. sara says:

    Oh man! I’m probably in a different part of the country from everyone, but I buy almost everything off of the sale fliers. It’s all fruits/veggies/grains, though, and eggs and meat sometimes, not the packaged stuff.

    I first read the big chain grocery and see, like this week, oooh, kiwi, 4 for $1. Ah!

    Then I read my sales flier – 1st and 4th pages – for the international grocery. Their sales on fruits and veggies are always better. Kiwi 10 for $1, for example.

    I guess because their clientele is making most of their meals by scratch, produce and fruit are always really cheap (and good!). The great sale right now has been 3 lbs of oranges for $1. Also, peaches and nectarines are 2 lbs for $1, and Italian squash 2 lbs for $1.

    My roommate and I buy what is in season, and I cook up the veggies with rice/lentils/beans sometimes meat, and we’re good to go.

    If anyone lives in LA, I highly recommend Jon’s!

  53. Jeremy says:

    Another thought about quantity and sales. Sometimes the price of the 2/$X is more than buying one unit of a larger size. For example hot sauce was on sale last week. 2/$5 of the 16 fl oz size. The 23 oz size was less than $5! My wife and I love hot sauce. So buying the larger size is justified. Just because it is on sale and in the flyer does not mean that it is a bargain.

  54. Larabara says:

    I live in LA, and one of the many advantages is the relatively low cost of produce, especially in summer months. Most of the seasonal produce is featured on the front and back pages of my store flyer. Shipping costs figure in the prices. A lot of produce is grown in California, and doesn’t have to travel far to get to the grocery store. I buy in bulk and freeze everything I can to help stretch the food budget in the winter. I’ve heard good things about Jon’s, and it’s on my route from work; I’ll check it out and compare their prices to my neighborhood independent grocery store. If the prices and quality are right, I’ll be shopping there!

  55. DrFunZ says:

    Yep! We have been brainwashed – Stop and Shop came out with their “Everyday Low Prices” just as the recession hit. Apples that were usually $.99/lb were set at the “Everyday Low Price” of $1.29+/lb. There is nothing low about it; it is actually higher! But it sure is everyday! Even unbagged lettuce heads! 2 heads for $5. So, I weighed the heads; they were 6 oz each. 12 oz of green leaf for $5!! Making it WAY more expensive than meat! So much for eating lower off the food chain.

    The best deal if you can find it? “Abundance” brand cereal from Ocean State Job Lots. 2 giant bags with whole grains, extra fiber, dried fruits and almonds and no added junk – only $3!! I now buy all tuna, sardines, pasta, salad dressings and like items from this type store. Off-label for some things is just fine – 0r, in the case of the cereal, even better!

  56. John says:

    @Shelly. Sounds like my favorite store, Wegman’s.

  57. Danielle says:

    My aunt just turned me on to grocerysmarts.com and I love it. You need a passcode, but I found the one for my area by typing “California Grocery Smarts passcode” into Google.

    What I love about it is the links to online coupons for whatever sale items have them. By the time I’m looking at Grocery Smarts, I already know what I want to buy and this helps me save even more. It also helps me find items that are less than 50 cents (like hand soap, last week, which I needed and stocked up on for 45 cents each).

  58. Katy says:

    The comments about husbands really cracks me up! It’s so true that the grocery stores KNOW that most men (and some women) tend to “grab and go”, and they really use that to their advantage. Can’t blame them. That’s how businesses work. But being informed goes a long way towards being in control of our spending. Thanks for the tips and info, Trent! (I’m glad you shared about how companies buy space in the sale ad…Good to know…)

  59. Darin says:

    Most stores that have “sales” also attach temporary prices to the store shelves over the regular price. Rather than keep track of the regular price, I make it a habit of carefully pulling back the sale price sticker or plastic insert to see what the regular price is.

    At the grocery store I shop at (Cub) they usually indicate what the difference is, but other stores do not.

    I have caught myself several times before buying a larger quantity of an item on sale only to discover it’s not much of a savings.

  60. Jennifer says:

    Sales fliers can be misleading for sure. For instance most people think that something listed in the sale flyer is a great deal. But it might only be on sale a few cents. This isn’t a great deal. Also, sometimes the sale on a 16 oz package is still more expensive than than regular price of a different size (I am talking per ounce here). As nice as it is to get the sales fliers, you have to be careful.

  61. Isaac Grover says:

    Trent, thank you for this article. Before my wife passed away, she did all the shopping so I never had to care about this stuff. Now as a single parent, I have not only learned my grocery store, locally owned and operated, but also plan the week’s meals loosely based on the weekly flyer. Also, I have determined that the house brands are in many cases less expensive than the name brands even with the sales and coupons.

  62. Kristen Sullivan says:

    Trent thanks for this piece.

    In addition to taking advantage of the right sales – I try to cook frugally too. FiLife publishes “frugal recipes of the week” that might be worth a look:

    http://www.filife.com/stories/frugal-recipe-of-the-week-ginger-fish-marinade

  63. Cheryl says:

    This was a great post! I have recently started shopping for grocceries online, and it’s turning out to be great. For $10 they bag your entire order, and I usually find a $10 off coupon for an order of $100 or more in their flyer. To have them delivered it is only another $6, which I would pay for gas to go there anyway. I shop the sales and use coupons. This past week, my bill would have been $194 and I paid $144. I try to stick to meats, produce, and not a lot of pre-packaged meals. They always have deodorant, toothpaste, and cereal on sale, and the brand varies by week, so I buy the sale brands then use coupons. Some weeks I stock the freezer, like wheat bread, hot dog and hamburger rolls, and all my bread items, buying 4 each. That way I have them there when I need them and can skip that item in my cart for a week or two! Having a big upright freezer makes this great! They also have specials for money off your next order. We had a killer fruit salad one week, since blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, and mangoes were all on sale. We buy roasts on sale and cut them into steaks, throw them in a zip loc with marinade and toss some into the freezer for a poor sale week. About once a month I go to Walmart for the things that are cheapest there and stock up. We’re feeding a family of 7 and my kids are high school and college age, so it helps to stretch those dollars! Online shopping makes it easier to resist those impulse items roaming the aisles! AND you can shop at midnight from your couch!

  64. Christa says:

    One easy way to find your way through the noise in grocery store ads is to use a company that tracks prices and finds the great deals in each ad for you. A great one in Southern California is: myfrugalicious.com

  65. Camille says:

    A few months ago our local Kroger brand store had their store brand sour cream “on sale” in the flyer for 4/$5 for the 16 oz. The week before I made a mental note of their non-sale price (the sour cream had been on sale weeks before for $1.00): $1.16 was the non-sale price! It pays to keep a price book!

  66. kriswithmany says:

    I’ve been very annoyed with “reduced price” or “price drop” recently. I’ve seen the stores I shop at raise the price, and list the “normal” price as being even higher than that! I’m sorry, it hasn’t been that price for a long time, if ever!

  67. Amy says:

    I stock up sale items when I know we’ll use them. I do look online for coupons that match my list before I go in the store. I’ve been browsing coupon generators like this one to find some incredible coupons http://www.crazybargain.com/2009/06/coupon-of-the-day.html

  68. Bargain Babe says:

    Wow, this is a great post. I’m going to link to it on BargainBabe.com. Thanks for these insights!

  69. Bonnie says:

    You make a lot of valid points. I have my own price point for my items and only use the flyer as a guide. So, a 12pk of canned soda only becomes of interest when it’s 4/$8 or 4/$9 and since they shrunk the size of the ice cream containers yet again, my price point is $2.25/48 oz of Breyers. So when my partner’s favorite cereal went on sale in one of those “buy 10″ to get the low price, I found several other things that we use on a regular basis too. The cereal will get used quickly even though it has a great expiry date and I have a pantry for storage, so it worked out.

    Thanks for the great tips!

  70. J. says:

    At least twice that I can remember, Target put something on sale for higher than the regular price. My price book helped me to discover this, and I always shop sales carefully there.

    I definitely find the sale flyers useful for produce, meat and some canned goods and staples. But most of the things in the sale flyer are overpriced name brands or convenience foods that would be cheaper to make from scratch.

  71. JD says:

    Grocery sales are many times very confusing for the average consumer. It is intentional with many stores. Most customers will not question their charges unless it is blatently obvious. They count on that.

    We have a store here which advertises ‘buy one get one free’…in the fine print at the bottom it states that you must buy two in order to get the second one free. You used to be able to get one for half price if you only wanted one. Now if you buy one you are charged full price.

    There are also the ads of items on sale for y price but if you buy 10, you get it for a cheaper price. Little gramma who lives on a limited income, alone, and who would probably not use 10 of something in five years is forced to pay a higher price. This is true for college students, and anyone living in challenging circumstance. I find this very discriminating.

    They are force feeding you to buy more than what you actually want or need. Or if you buy 10 of a particular participating product you get another $5 off. If you shop for this you have to be very careful to not get an item not included.

    Also…don’t assume that all flavors or types of something are on sale. You can have Hamburger Helper on sale, but there can be one or two flavors that are not on sale. Most ads will state ‘selected varieties only’…..this covers their butt in any ad disputes.

    Stores put a few really ‘hot’ items on sale. This gets you into the store, and 90% of people will buy more once they are in the store. And the price you are paying for the other items is usually covering the cost of the hot sale items.

    It is true…stores do sell shelf space and ad space. In this store the potato chip section is 90% Frito Lay, because they pay for the space. They will grab every dollar they can at any expense.

    The same goes for all the stuff hanging in the aisles on strips. These items are virtually all profit for the stores. Gift cards are also all profit for a store.

    As far as regular tags and every day low tags…you can have a regular price tag that(for instance is 1.00). The item changes to an everyday low price of 1.00 with the regular price changing to a higher price. In reality there is no change.

    I have a lot of comments I could make on corporate management, the employee struggles, and the customer service. But that is a whole different story

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