Updated on 04.11.07

How To Pick Out A Grocery Store After Moving – Or If You’re Looking To Save A Few Dollars

Trent Hamm

Where there's a helpful smile in every aisleWhere 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.

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  1. Julie says:

    Your findings totally suprise me. I am also a central Iowan and I always assumed Fareway was cheaper than HyVee. I live only a few blocks from a HyVee, but have recently started driving across town to the Fareway because I thought I was saving a few dollars.

    Actually I do save money at Fareway. I really hate the layout of this store so I am usually in and out very quickly because the annoyance factor is so high. At HyVee I tend to linger around end up getting several unplanned items.

  2. Amy says:

    To go a step further you can compare which stores have types of food for better prices. Better prices on meat at Store A and better prices on produce at store B and don’t only shop at one store. This is of course balanced by time and gas and it depends on your area whether it is convenient. For me the various stores are located next to other activites and errands and I am able to combine trips.

  3. Beth says:

    This is a great idea. One thing I would at least also throw in for consideration is distance and hours. If the store 10 miles out of the way has marginally better prices, it may not really make sense to go there.

  4. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Julie: that’s the thing. Hy-Vee is far better than Fareway at stocking their shelves to distract you into buying incidentals, but their prices on staple items are a little better. I’ve learned to shop with my eyes on my grocery list pretty tightly. If I didn’t do that, I’m betting that Fareway would be cheaper.

  5. Ursula says:

    Good article Trent! :)

    For those of you in the western states (CA, NV, ID, OR and perhaps WA) …. if you live near a WINCO I suggest checking it out! I’ve been shopping there since the end of last year and I can save literally 50% on my grocery bill compared to what I used to spend at Raley’s or Safeway!

  6. Mitch says:

    I know that Hy Vee is a temptation–every time we are in Columbia, MO I try to make a special stop there for some beef jerky! The national brands I’ve tried are pretty dry and flavorless.

    We have always had to make special trips for certain things, e.g. the WW pasta we like (Racconto/Bella Terra). We stocked up on that in St. Louis (100 miles) away, but sometimes are a little stymied when we want to try online recipes. We need to get our armor on to ask managers…. Country Mart does stock various dhals, though.

    But Most Significant Digit did mention today wanting to get a new mortar and pestle (he left his behind) and use more fresh herbs, but he was concerned about wasting the herbs, e.g. crushing the wrong amount. I thought of starting a container garden, but I killed even my mother’s Non-Dead Plant.

  7. Jamie says:

    I was as surprised as Julie. I just assumed Fareway was cheaper. They don’t take a Credit Card, so they can presumably avoid that markup. Hy-Vee has a better selection, too–but that probably ends up helping them more than me.

  8. Bill says:

    What, no making up a price book for the different stores? (ala Tightwad Gazette)

  9. Gale says:

    Where I live in E. Ohio, there is a Giant Eagle three blocks from my home. They pretty much bought/forced out most of the competition. They have a free fuel program at their gas stations, Get Go. You get 10 cents off for every $50 spent. Every two weeks when I fuel (with an additional 5 gallon gas can) I get 50-60 cents off. So I usually save about $23 every month on gas. I am sure if I shopped around I could save some at another store, but I am not sure I could save $23 each month. And 3 blocks away is pretty convenient.

  10. Madelaine Gogol says:

    I’ll definitely try this. I’ve made a price book type thing before, but this approach sounds much better.

  11. kellie says:


    Have you ever had any issues presenting coupons you print out at Hyvee? I printed coupons from our local newspaper’s website and took them in and the cashier looked at me like I was handing her counterfeit money! She was very aggressive when she asked me where I got them and called a manager over. The manager rang them in and then threw them away.

    In case you didn’t know http://www.hyvee.com also has coupons and you can sign up for a weekly email of their flyer.

    Last but not least do you have a Kwik Trip in your area? Kwik Trip milk is super cheap and I haven’t noticed any difference in taste. The only difference is is comes in bags instead of plastic cartons. It is always 99cents for a half gallon for Skim (not sure about the other kinds). Also you can get a punch card and after buying 10 you basically get one half gallon free ($1.00 off).

    Happy Shopping!

  12. Lisa Knight says:

    It has been a while since I have moved anywhere, but when we did I just watched the local ads & went to the store that had the most items on my list on sale. I got to go to different stores, since week to week the deals changed, as did my list. It was a great way to learn the area as well.

  13. Toby says:

    One factor that you didn’t consider in your calculations is which store has the meth addicts begging for money *in the back of the store* that make you feel uneasy…

    Okay, I’m being facetious, but this actually happened to me. At one of my local grocery chains, which will remain unnamed, right next to the lady with the sample tray, I was approached by a strung-out looking 20-something who was telling me some sob story about not having gas and needing to drive someplace.

    Let me just say that I avoid that store like the plague now. Although they have sucked me in with a loss-leader on occasion, but it is in-and-out when that happens, I never “shop” there. Do they have better prices than the competition? Possibly, but when shady-looking people are begging for money inside the store, that kinds of ruins it for me.

  14. manwithaclue says:

    None of you guys get it… just as certain retail giants out there don’t get it. The proof is in the numbers… When you are talking about poor customer service vs. awesome customer service; the price difference is very trivial. I challenge you to shop your area grocery stores again, but this time look at it from a customer service stand point. Do grocers in stores other than Hy-Vee even act like they care that you’re there? Do these other grocers spend millions in marketing, bringing you simple and affordable meal solutions? How about an upscale magazine that is aimed at making your life easier (for FREE)? Do these other grocers sponsor an OLYMPIC qualifying Triathlon with thousands of participants or donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to a non-profit such as the JDRF Foundation? Do they have in store registered dieticians on staff for your inquiries? Do they even recycle? I could go on and on about how and why Hy-Vee provides “Awesome Stores” with “Awesome Customer Service” and how the others just do the bare minimum. I will gladly spend the trivial five dollars more in order to support a company that brings everything that it does to the table (literally and figuratively)…

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