Updated on 09.07.10

What You’re Buying When You Go to a Store

Trent Hamm

Why do you shop at your preferred grocery store?

Think about it for a minute. What reasons do you have for shopping at one store over another? Is it purely the prices? What about the location – is it because it’s close to your home? Cleanliness (like my Aldi story a while back)? Store organization? Convenience? Shopper rewards programs? How they treat their employees? How their company behaves? Availability of certain specific goods? Cost to get in the door (a la Costco and Sam’s Club and B.J.’s)?

All of these (and more) are factors when you choose where to shop. Some stores are going to excel in one area or another and do poorly in other areas. A store that excels on prices will often tank in other areas, like employee treatment (like Wal-Mart). A store that excels on prices and employee treatment fails on cost of admission and organization (like Costco). Experiences in some of these areas will also vary from place to place.

My choice of store centers around a handful of factors. At minimum, a store has to have a certain level of cleanliness or I’ll turn around and walk out.

I won’t bother to go more than about three miles farther than the nearest grocery store to shop, but that rule includes Hy-Vee, Wal-Mart Supercenter, Aldi, Fareway, Dahl’s, Sam’s Club, Super Target, and Cub Foods, so there’s plenty of choice in that range.

I tend to prefer stores where it’s easy to find what I want – the more bad experiences I have wandering around trying to find something, the less likely I am to come back, even if the prices are great. After that, prices rule, in my book.

I’m not too worried about the shopper’s reward policies or their corporate behavior, and the cost of entry issue mostly comes down to “do I save money over the long run.”

What am I left with? I have a handful of stores I prefer to shop at (topped by Fareway) and another handful I’ll stop at for specific sales or specific items.

That’s great and all, but why am I writing about this?

First of all, the sticker price is rarely the bottom line. Almost always, if I strictly chase the absolute lowest price on an item, I end up costing myself more because of the additional costs.

For example, I won’t drive an extra ten miles (and spend that extra time) to save an extra dollar. The automobile wear-and-tear and maintenance costs will eat the savings and you’ll have spent a chunk of an hour chasing that imaginary dollar. I’ll happily spend an extra dollar at a different store to save me that twenty minutes and the wear on the car.

Second, a bit of planning trumps most of the other factors. Be patient on your staples, for example, and don’t be afraid to buy a lot of them when the right price comes along. This requires some planning, of course, but it allows you to buy the items you need from locations that are acceptable for you, ethically or otherwise.

An example: I would have to drive significant extra mileage to hit a CVS (around here, DrugTown is the most common drugstore chain) in order to take advantage of their bargains. What I’ve learned, though, is that patience, planning, and coupon use often trumps their bargains elsewhere, which enables me to not have to spend time and money traveling to CVS to get a “bargain.”

So what’s the best solution?

For me, it’s simply a matter of knowing and using a small handful of local stores, being patient, and hitting the good sales there hard.

Knowing two or three local stores makes them convenient and increases my ability to find things in those stores, making shopping trips faster (and time is money).

It also allows me to narrow my searches for sales. I only really pay attention to a few different grocery store flyers when planning my grocery shopping. I pay attention to coupons, but only in the sense of “this is a coupon for a staple, let’s clip it and see if it eventually matches a store sale.” This attitude saves a ton of time.

In a nutshell, patience trumps “super” bargains for me in that it saves me time and allows me to be choosy about where I shop so I can take advantage of the other aspects of grocery shopping (like convenience and being able to easily find items).

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  1. Wesley says:

    For me it is Wal-Mart. That is basically the only place I go. This is because it is within walking distance, about a 10 minute walk. Their prices are reasonable, although I think their produce sucks but that is okay for me because I get most of my produce from the farmer’s market.

  2. Matt says:

    I end up using a combo of factors as well. Price, cleanliness, food availability/quality, and overall store “feel” top my list. The store I most frequently shop at is Wegmans, which has the added bonus of being consistently rated a top place to work – so the employees are generally competent and cheerful.
    I’d hesitate to shop frequently at places that don’t treat their employees well and don’t use/sell local stuff when available. I think there’s a social cost to doing that, and I’m willing to pay a few dollars extra to help mitigate that social cost.

  3. We live in a fairly rural area, so we don’t have many options when it comes to grocery stores. There are two that are about the same distance in different directions and a third that’s just a little farther. So I guess for me location is the biggest factor. To get a large selection of stores, I’d have to drive at least 30 minutes one way.

    But the nice thing is that two of the three stores within a reasonable range are family-owned, well-run grocery stores. They’re clean, organized well, and offer good deals in my opinion. So I’m happy. :) Also, I agree that combining trips and focusing on a few stores can be better than driving around trying to capture all the great bargains.

  4. AJDS says:

    Fareway in the next town over (15 miles). In a 15 mile radius we have a choice of Walmart, Fareway, or a small town grocery store in this town or the neighboring little town. Small town meaning lettuce priced at 2.59 a head and small bags of lettuce at four dollars.
    I love Fareway because it is an Iowa owned business, it has a much greater grocery selection than Walmart. I like it because it closes Sunday as I’ve worked enough retail to know it is nice for the employees to have a consistent day off.

    Fareway has wonderful produce and a wonderful meat counter. They have good prices and it pays to watch the sales. The store is clean and one time when I was in there I felt almost harrassed (in a good way) because so many employees asked if I needed help. That is something you rarely get at Walmart.

    I do hate not supporting the little local grocery stores but with the high prices they are forced into you can’t really shop there except for specials. The local store does have a good carry out food area- they have mashed potatoes, fried chicken, tenderloins etc.

  5. Adam J says:

    I shop mostly at a supermarket that’s three blocks away because… well, it’s three blocks away. Thier prices are very good on produce and meat though the produce isn’t always the freshest. The meat is great, cut off primals and ground right in front of you. Spices, nuts, and coffee are roasted and mixed on-site.

    I live in a heavily Muslim neighborhood, so certain things (alcohol, pork) just aren’t available. If I want those things, or specialty items that aren’t middle-eastern, I have to do that shopping when I’m visiting my family or girlfriend in my hometown, 45 minutes away. As that is often on weekends, I usually end up hitting the farmers’ market too for fresher (though much more expensive) produce.

  6. tarynkay says:

    I go to a small grocery store which has been owned by the same family since the 1950s. It is like a time warp in there and I love it. They carry a ton of locally made/grown products, produce, milk, and eggs and they are super friendly and chatty every time we come in. I also (weirdly) love that since it’s not a big store, they don’t carry a million different options for anything. My loyalty to King’s probably doesn’t save me money, even though their prices are not very high, but it does make grocery shopping an enjoyable task rather than something I dread. Also I love being able to support the local economy.

  7. Belinda says:

    I am very lucky that I am within a short distance of both a Dollar General and a Meijer grocery. Meijer is considered “big box” by many and they won’t darken the door, but it beats the competition in several categories for me. It is clean, the employees are friendly, the seasonal produce is local (btw, where do the Ohio locavores get their olive oil and orange juice anyway?) And by doubling coupons, they often beat Wal-Mart prices, especially when combined with a sale. I can also view their weekly ad online and make up my grocery list based on that. Talk about a money saver!

    Once a month, I stop by Dollar General to stock up on toiletries, paper products and the like. And I visit Trader Joe’s about once a month for items I can’t find at Meijer (whole wheat pita brad vs. white, for instance). But I do my weekly grocery run at Meijer for everything else.

  8. Annie Jones says:

    For me, pricing is the top factor on my list, followed by a convenient location. I have only had good experiences with Aldi, and it happens to be the closest grocery store to my home, so it is my first choice. We also have a Hy-Vee and Price Chopper (local chains) nearby, where I buy loss leader items and anything I need that Aldi doesn’t carry.

    I will shop at stores that are outside my immediate area IF I’m going to be in that part of town for other reasons. I just check the online ads to see if there are any specials I can use.

    I do not buy groceries at Wal-Mart. I am not a W-M hater per se, but the store is in an inconvenient location, has an inconvenient parking/traffic flow, and is always so very busy that I try to avoid it as much as possible.

  9. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Interesting. For a lot of you, location seems to be the big factor.

  10. Adam J says:

    Well, in my case, there are probably half a dozen small local supermarkets in a five-block radius, but the nearest large chain supermarket is several miles away. When there was a Kroger a mile or so away I went there fairly often because they had a lot of stuff not available at the local place and I could get all my shopping done in one stop.

  11. Julie says:

    I live a block from Hy-Vee and so I shop there almost exclusively. Plus, Hy-Vee has store coupons in their weekly ad, and I clip coupons from the Sunday circular. It gives me a thrill when I can come up with a manufacturer’s coupon AND store coupon at the same time. Yippee! And like you said Trent, like clockwork, if I keep coupons from the circular some will a few weeks later correspond with sales at Hy-Vee. Working with more than one store is a bit mind boggling for me so I keep it simple. In my town they call my Hy-Vee the “Ghetto Hy-Vee” but I like it; it is clean (not always stocked up on sale items though, frustrating!), but workers are friendly and helpful there. I have noticed, people really are clipping coupons! Sometimes I go to the store early in the A.M. before work to make sure I can get some groceries with great coupon savings that week because that stuff disappears off the shelves.

  12. Becca says:

    There’s a TV commercial running in my area that is annoying me right now. A bunch of women sitting around saying they tried shopping at a lot of different stores, but stopped because it was too much hassle, and now they just shop at this one store (which the ad was for). The ad misses the basic concept of bulk buying. You don’t hit all the stores every week. You might go once a month to each place and buy the best deals there, buying a month’s supply every time.

    In general, I agree that for picking up an item or two, location is the most important factor. But the more you buy, the more price is the issue, as the savings of groceries offsets the time and gas.

    In general, it is worthwhile to scope out all food sources in your area AND areas where you travel. There is a health-food store about 45 minutes north of me that has the best deals on bulk cornmeal and oatmeal. I tend to drive that direction only about once a year, when I am going that way for other reasons. I take a few minutes to stop in a buy a large quantity, which I keep in my freezer.

  13. Wren says:

    My prioritites are:
    1. Location – I don’t drive, so I have to go where the bus will take me. The Evil Empire and TJ’s are ten miles in one driection and a regional chain is eleven miles in the other direction. I usually go to the regional chain for most items and once a month hit TJ’s. The only things I buy at WM are pet supplies and cleaning products…and that is under protest. I truly loathe the place.

    2. Cleanliness. Fortunately all my choices here are pretty well-maintained.

    3. Product quality and selection. Lucky me, the regional chain carries most of what I need/want and has an excellent meat and produce section. (In the summer, I get veggies from a CSA that delivers to me.

    Yes, items from my regional chain are a little more expensive than from The Evil Empire, but the store is well-stocked and very clean/pleasant. I also know that they pay their (very well-trained) staff a living wage and benefits. Also, they go out of their way to be helpful. I use an electronic appliance to allow me to see tags and labels. During one of my shopping trips, the batteries went dead halfway through my trip. One of the clerks noticed and offered his help, walking through the rest of the store with me to ensure I got exactly what I wanted from my shopping list. Meanwhile, his manager offered to recharge my reader while I shopped “just in case it’s needed before you get home”.

    For that kind of service, I don’t mind paying a couple pennies more for

  14. Anitra says:

    There are two grocery stores less than 1.5 miles from my house, and several more within 5 miles. I generally take a look at the flyers for several different stores and decide which one to shop at this week based on prices/deals for things I’d like to get that week.

    That said, there is one chain that I NEVER bother with anymore, because their closest store to me has abysmal service and I can never figure out the layout.

    If the deals are all about the same or I’m having a really tough week, I will go to our locally-owned store a little less than a mile away. I can walk there if I want, the bathroom is convenient (important when I am pregnant, have a young baby who needs frequent diaper changes, or a potty-training child), and the staff is friendly. As a sort of side benefit, the store is small, so while there are certain things I can’t find there, a general shopping trip is faster simply because there is less ground to cover.

  15. jgonzales says:

    Location makes a difference, but price does too. Within a 3 mile radius, I have between 10-20 stores when you combine big box, grocery and drugstores and that’s only counting the drugstores once, since I have multiples of most of them within 3 miles.

    My store picks are Albertsons and Stater Brothers for grocery stores, CVS for drugstores and Target for a big box. Stater Brothers is the cheapest in our grocery store options so I do most of my non-sale shopping there. Albertsons and CVS are both literally across the street from me, so they are the deals and Albertsons is my “oh no I need this now to cook!” store. Target is 2 blocks away so my sale shopping is done a lot there.

  16. Amanda says:

    Price. I followed the suggestion (from TSD or GRS?) to look at a variety of stores in your area and just stick to one that has the best prices overall. Honestly I don’t find Wal-Mart cheaper than other stores. Maybe for some things, but not enough for me to waste my time going there in addition to the grocery. I find that I usually buy non-perishable products in multiples when they’re on sale at my “normal” store and it’s cheaper than Wal-Mart. It turns out the store I chose also happens to have rewards, which is a plus but not soley the reason I choose to shop there. It ends up being only about $8 every 3 mos.

    For that occasional non-planned purchase I go to the closet store even though it’s quite a bit more expensive. This probably only happens once a month.

    I also go to Costco. Again, price. However, it’s easy to deceive yourself into thinking you’re getting the best price here. Not always! I rarely purchase produce here. I find it doesn’t last long enough in our home without going rotten. On the organic note however–my husband’s sister-in-law has a friend who is a freak about organics. She called up some of the farm producers of Costco products and found that some of them employ organic practices, without being labeled organic. Costco does seem to have A LOT of organic items in our area. I live in a kind of green community though so they’re probably trying to attract customers and may not have as many in all areas.

  17. Ryan says:

    Walmart has better prices usually, but I can’t stand that they don’t have any self-checkout lanes.

    That would be fine…if they bothered to have more than 3 lanes open at a time.

    Meijer wins simply because they don’t make me wait in line.

  18. Leah W. says:

    I love my Walmart Neighborhood Market. It is cheaper than my local Tulsa grocery store chain. It is a five-minute drive from my house. It is right next to a city-county library, from which I check out magazines and books. It is only a few blocks away from Whole Foods. And with one minor route adjustment, it is on the way home from both work and church.

    Price is a factor, but it wasn’t the deciding factor.

    Good post.

  19. friend says:

    My local co-op for cheese, artisan bread, organic produce, free-range chicken and cage-free eggs, fair-trade coffee, small quantities of spices and bulk flour and rice. The prices are not excellent, but there is a money-back-at-the-end-of-the-year plan for co-op owners in years when they make a profit. I’ve been an owner (member) for nearly 20 years and have gotten money back every year but the past two, and I’m not going to abandon them for that. They give a percentage of profits to community organizations (we can vote on which ones), pay their employees a living wage, focus on local food and support local farmers. Last year they stopped carrying anything containing trans fat or high fructose corn syrup, so I don’t have to worry about those nasty things.

    Best of all–the manager and many of the cashiers remember my name and my family. They greet me, and not in a mechanical or artificial way like they do in the big chain grocery. Once I forgot my wallet and the cashier just told me to pay next time. All this beats price.

    But every couple of months, we also make a big expedition to Super Target to stock up on canned goods, pasta, paper towels and the like–stuff where the quality is just about the same anywhere and the price is right.

    I don’t think this is a money-saving strategy overall, but like Trent does, I spend where it matters to me.

  20. Kelly says:

    I live in a small town. We have a locally owned grocery store that has typical small store high prices. They cater to the majority of people in my town who are on food stamps so I feel that’s one reason they get away with keeping their prices so high. I only shop there when I need something quick or when they have a really good sale on a particular item that I use.

    Otherwise I shop at Walmart. It’s only a 15 min drive away and generally they have the best prices on all the food items my family uses. I also shop at Aldi’s which is right accross the street from the Walmart.
    I also work in a town that has a LOT more choices in grocery stores, Giant Eagle, Wegmans, Tops so if one of those stores has a good sale on an item I use, I will stop there on my way home from work as it is on the way home.

  21. Diffus says:

    My wife shops at three stores every Sunday: Albertson’s, Kroger’s, and Sam’s. She shops the first two because she’s a member of thegrocerygame.com, a website that matches newspaper coupons from weeks past with in-store sales, routinely saving 30-60%. She rarely buys anything at sticker price. She shops Sam’s for milk ($1.29 a gallon; are you kidding me?) and other things that are better purchased there. Total distance traveled is probably about 10 miles, and it takes her about two hours.

  22. Jane says:

    We go to TJ’s maybe 2 or 3 times a month. We drive a little over 12 miles to our TJ of choice (even though there are several closer to our home) because it has an AWESOME play area for little kids. We have a 26-month-old who bolts for the car whenever we announce a shopping trip.

  23. Roberta says:

    My food shopping routine is fairly complicated, but it works for me. First, I live in an urban environment and right near my home is a high concentration of stores: Publix, Superwalmart, and Winn Dixie are all within a quarter to a half mile away (also a Dollar General, which I’ve never tried–should I??). I buy loss leaders at Publix and Winn Dixie, and meat at Publix and/or W-D depending on sales running at the time, with the exception of ground beef which I buy at The Boys, a local family-owned market. I also try to buy all of my produce there, as the prices are great, and outside are $1 bags of various things (changes daily) that are always a good bargain–one day it might be oranges or lemons, another day, romaine lettuce or grapes, or yellow squash. Just depends. I would shop at Walmart more often except that whenever I go there the shelves are so often empty. Huge gaps in the shelves and missing merchandise mean a waste of time for me since getting in and out of that place is a nightmare. If I had to drive out of my way to any of these places, I might consolidate and not go to all 3 (or 4 if you count the occasional walmart attempt), but I drive by these places to and from the train everyday, or to the post office and on my way to and from work, so I’m passing by anyway. Still, it’s kind of nutty, too, I admit.

  24. Julie says:

    For me Fareway wins hands down, except for a very few items that are only carried by a particular store (like Dahl’s).

    I think you’re mistaken though, Trent, about the prevalence of DrugTown (a subsidiary of HyVee, anyway). There are several, but in Central Iowa, there are many more Walgreens. They may not be closer to you, but the way you talk about living “in the sticks”, it’s hard to believe you’re only three miles from all those grocery stores. It’s not like 10 miles is that far. If trips are planned well, it doesn’t waste gas or time and you get everything you want.

  25. Ruthie says:

    For me it’s location and “Can I get everything on my list in one stop??” Being preggo with 3 tots in tow means I’m trying to get as much done in as little time and in as few stores as possible! For us this usually means a mad Super Target dash while tot #1 is in ballet class nearby. I do love Aldi when I have the time and energy, but it’s a bit out of our regular round. My beef with Target however, (that I find is less of an issue with WalMart) is that they don’t always carry the jumbo sizes of things. A goal of mine is to stay out of stores as much as possible, and not being able to get the gigundo pack of toilet paper keeps me from this sometimes. The hubs is always willing to do a Sam’s stop on his way home from work tho, which is faaaantastic! So I’d say location and consolidation (being able to buy maternity clothes and cheese in the same location! :) ) are key for me.

  26. Gina says:

    I’ve played grocery store roulette in the Ames area a long time now and have come to the conclusion that just going to Fareway and sticking to my list unless it’s a spectacular bargain on something I was going to buy anyway is about the best money saver. I had a crazy routine of hitting the discount bread store, Sam’s, Aldi’s, SuperWally, then Fareway for meat and produce at the end. It was nuts spending the whole day to save five bucks only to find that most of the prices at Fareway wasn’t much higher. I manage to feed a family of 6 for about $150 a week just fine.

    Also, I wanted to say that I’ve been liking your recipes lately. Thanks for posting some new dinner ideas!

  27. Jules says:

    For me, opening hours are a big one: I’ve been getting out of work later and later recently and I don’t like being the one in the supermarket trying o pick out a coffee while the store clerks are sweeping up and the shelves are half-empty. Supermarkets where I live usually close at 8 pm; a few close at 7. I go to the only one that’s open until 10.

  28. I think the key is to havemore than one store where you shop. So many times I hear people say “Oh, I shop at such and such.” Like they can only shop at one grocery store. I use one mian grocer, and two others for lesser amounts of shopping. That way, you don’t miss out on much–and it doesn’t lengthen the weekly chore of grocery shopping at all.

  29. FrugalZen says:

    Here just outside Orlando in Florida I have quite a few choices and I base them on my having to pass them on the 12 mile ride to work everyday.

    Bravo Market..independent franchise 4 blocks from the house specializing in Latin foods.

    Aldi…brand new 5 blocks away.

    Save-A-Lot….also 5 blocks away. A somewhat larger version of Aldi’s (one can size, one brand) but a larger selection.

    Publix Supermarket…across the street from Aldi’s higher end but the name brand BOGO’s every week are cheaper than anyones house brands…even doing BOGO on $14 bottles of Olive Oil about twice a year.

    Green Towns Produce…5 blocks almost next to Save-A-Lot…produce not bad.

    Wal-Mart Supercenter…3 miles away…great prices but not a huge selection….grocery manager is stingy on keeping the shelves filled…produce is great though.

    Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market…6 miles.

    Sams Club…next door to Neighborhood Market..6 miles.

    Colonial Farmers Market…7 miles…great produce and lots of Carribean things.

    1st Oriental Market…8 miles…Huge Oriental market in an old Publix store and most of the strip mall has become Asian stores of one kind or another.

    Carribbean Supercenter..8 miles..across from 1st Oriental in what was the real old Publix before then moved across the street into the building that became 1st Oriental 15 years later….great stuff from all over the carribbean and a great bakery.

    And in that same stretch of driving there are 2 more Aldis, one more Publix, and another Wal-Mart Supercenter (with a grocery manager that likes to have stocked shelves).

    So I like to plan my shopping around my drives to and from work and I know who has their sales on what days and usually stop in to see whats on and stock up.

    Having so many choices is one of the VERY FEW pluses of living in a small city. (Don’t any of you try to tell me Orlando is a big city…when your idea of culture is a Magic Basketball game and you can’t fund an orchestra you’re not a big city.

  30. Jeff says:

    Trent, I’m curious what factors you are taking into account when you determine Wal-Mart to treat its employees poorly. Is there an objective standard you are using?

  31. Guy in San Antonio says:

    You can still get the bargains of CVS or someone else that is too far from your home. Wal Mart honors competitor coupons and ads at least they do in Texas.

  32. Marsha says:

    Wegmans, Aldi, Target, and CVS are less than a mile away, and on the way to/from work. Walmart Supercenter is several more miles, but it’s near one of my favorite thrift stores, so I stop there occasionally to pick up those few items that are considerably cheaper at Walmart. I’ve found Walmart prices overall are not the least expensive; even Wegmans has them beat on several of my regular purchases. I’m fortunate that all the stores near me are clean and well-run. I think living near the birth-place of Wegmans (Rochester, NY) has a bearing on that.

    I generally keep an overstocked pantry and several meals in my freezer, so if life gets crazy-busy, I can forgo any major shopping for a while. I think that saves me the most money since it cuts down on impulse purchases and eating out.

  33. Robert says:

    I’d say savings is my main motivator for where I shop, though my favorite gracery store does have a pretty good selection and it’s right along the route I travel to DC to work every day.

    I mostly shop at a store named Giant Eagle. For every $50 I spend there (most gift cards, which are sold for face value, are included in this) I earn a 10 cent discount off the price of gas at one of their nearby “Get-Go” gas stations. When I fill up, I take some gas jugs and get the full 30 gallons allowed each time, so the gas savings alone works out to over $1000 a year for me.

    Thanks to using gift cards I get Giant Eagle gas discounts from half the stores I shop at. If I want to get some towels at Sears, or pick up some stuff for a repair around the house from Home Depot, I stop at Giant Eagle and get gift cards. If I take the wife out to dinner, I often use a gift card from Giant Eagle (if we’re going to a restaurant that they carry a card for anyway).

    Adding to that savings, for every 10 gallons I buy at their gas stations, whatever the price (free is my favorite) I earn a 1% discount on purchases (this time excluding gift cards) in their grocery store, to a maximum of 20% on up to #300. So every month or two I gather up the coupons and make a huge trip to Giant Eagle to stock up, making sure to buy at least $200 worth of stuff before I apply my 20% off… Which then gets me more gas discounts!

    Then to really add to the savings, since Giant Eagle often has some good prices on things that don’t go on sale at the stores some of my coworkers shop at, they will ask me to pick up stuff that is on sale for them. They get a better price and I get yet more gas discounts.

    Other than almost abusing Giant Eagle’s various discount programs (I saved over $1500 in just the last year) I mainly go to a couple other nearby grocery stores (Safeway, Bloom and Giant, not to be confused with Giant Eagle) to take advantage of their loss leader sales. Most of the other grocery stores in my area actually tend to be more expensive than Giant Eagle, so I’d probably still only go to them for a few sale items even without the discount programs.

  34. Julie says:

    I’ll tell you another reason I stick nearly exclusively with Hy-Vee. I use to do my grocery shopping mostly on impulse – I want this, this, this, and put those things in my cart. Now that I am reigning in my spending, I do up a list, go in and get those things only and don’t leisurely cruise the aisles. I tend to be a bit impulsive when I go to another store (particularly Wal-Mart) where I am excited by all of the choices not at my regular store, and I end up spending more because I want to grab stuff. Even Aldi’s. Because I am a sucker for low prices, I might buy stuff I won’t use. I tossed several expired items earlier this year when I cleaned out my pantry. So I have resolved to keep a lower inventory of groceries and stick with a pretty strict purchasing list. Sounds weird, I know, but for me, saving money means playing a lot of psychological games with myself and figuring out how to use discipline. I was such a reckless spender before.

  35. Teresa A says:

    I like to support our local farmers and farm markets. Yes, you pay more….but the food is so much better for you. Investing in your health and overall well being is priceless.

    I find certain stores are better for certain items. One store has better produce at better prices, and overall, they offer better quality food. Another store is great for “BOGO’s”and super sales, but their produce is way over priced. Our local drugstore is great for toiletries and picking up deals on all sorts of things.

    Can’t do Walmart. Their produce is bad, I don’t trust the meat, they always have big, slow lines and the store is WAY too big. It just doesn’t feel right.

  36. Kathryn says:

    I shop exclusively at Publix (I live in W. Central Florida, so we have one every few miles). I never used to use coupons, but I now subscribe to the grocerygame.com, and using their lists along with Publix BOGO free offers, I am saving about 30-40% off my food costs, only buying what I would normally buy. I stock up when things are on great sales.

  37. DivaJean says:

    I live a charmed life- my partner does the shopping but we do discuss buying habits. She buys mainly at the closest grocery (Top’s, formerly P&C, formerly Peter’s) but has occasional (maybe once every month or two) trips to Wegmans for certain items. She also has monthly trips to BJ’s for paper products (TP, tissue, Pull ups for our 3 yr old, Good nites for our 5 yr old) and odds & ends. She does an excellent job with balancing the generics w/ nationally known products & coupons.

    I always tell her I love her best on the days I pay the bills– our frugal styles mesh well.

  38. HebsFarm says:

    Here is a different factor (maybe someone mentioned this and I missed it, I was reading quickly). I go to the smallest store in town repeatedly because I take my elderly relatives out on their weekly shopping trip. They don’t have the stamina to navigate a mega-store, and they need to have consistency or they can’t find anything. Coping with a variety of store layouts is very challenging for them.

  39. Sam says:

    When I lived in Indiana I loved Meijer – the foods quality was good in relation to the prices and I loved e style & quality of their clothes. That chain is the only thing I miss about living there.

    Where I’m at now (Nebraska) Fareway is literally across the street front a giant Walmart & thriving.
    I love that store because I can get in & out in 5 minutes if needed. The prices for the stuff we buy is actually cheaper at Fareway then Walmart and since the store is so small we can get our trips done fast. The meat counter rocks – they’ll even do special cuts if I ask and the store is immaculatly clean. The staff is helpful – if I’m looking for something specific they don’t have they’ll special order it for me and they’ve allowed me to take produce they were going to toss home for the rabbit to eat. They carry a lot of locally made stuff too. I grew up in a small farm town & Fareway reminds me of the small family owned grocery I grew up with.
    The only problem I’ve had with them is their potatoes – but I think that’s more of a vendor problem then a store problem.
    I’d recommend them to anyone.

  40. SwingCheese says:

    I really like Hy-Vee for groceries. Their private label food is of good to reasonable quality, their prices are good, and their meat counter beef all comes from the Amanda colonies, which I love. Their Health Market areas tend to carry some more esoteric items (Flax seed meal, wheat germ, etc.), and the prices where I’m currently living are cheaper than the DSM area. Plus, being headquartered in Omaha, Hy-Vee is kind of a “local” chain (insofar as it is regional). I really like Hy-Vee. I tend to shop at Walgreens for prescriptions only, and I like Sams for bulk items (toilet paper, coffee, etc.)

  41. SwingCheese says:

    Oops – the Amana Colonies, I meant. :)

  42. Terry says:

    I go for food quality first and so I’ve been shopping at Whole Foods for years. I find their store brands to be usually superior to other store brands and their packaging, for example canned foods, are packed in cans that do not leach into the foods — and they are equal if not cheaper in price. I prefer organic vegetables and get them there, or a farmers market near where I live; I also shop at a store about 2 miles from my home that is a smaller version of WF — also at a large store, similar to WalMart, very reasonable, and between those three I keep my budget in line pretty much — the only thing I have to fight with is myself to not buy extras. I have pretty much trained myself at WF to stick to the outer aisles. Also I have to say that for a loaf of bread I will pay more at WF for bread that does not have a gazillion ingredients — just the basics. I avoid genetically modified foods in every way possible.

  43. Tisi says:

    Actually, Walmart’s reputation for bad employee treatment is unwarranted, at least in some areas. My boyfriend just got a job there about two months ago, and I have to say, it’s the best job he’s ever had. Maybe it’s good management, but despite the fact that there is a 33 hour limit on scheduled hours per week, his schedule is flexible, and if he wants more hours there is a manager who will find work for him up to 39 hours a week (and he is limited by corporate). They won’t allow anyone to work split shifts (meaning you go home for four hours between a double shift) and they won’t let anyone close and then open the next morning. Frankly, it’s the best treatment he’s ever had.

    His previous experiences involve being hired, working 40 hours the first week (big event for the business), and working 6 after that until he was let go. He’s had employers who basically refused to give him days off other than one scheduled day a week, and employers who would schedule him to work openings (7am) go home for the majority of the day, and then close (12pm) only to open the next day and get a total of four hours that day. He’s had employers even refuse to pay him for up to a month, and other employers cutting his checks short and using funky math to justify it.

    Walmart also recycles just about everything (far more than the city does in my southern state), stock as much local produce as they can.

    Him working there definitely changed my opinion on Walmart.

  44. Monica says:

    I shop almost exclusively at Publix. It is more expensive than Kroger or Wal Mart, but the shopping experience is 10x better. If you plan your weekly list around the sale ad and BOGO item, I’ve found that it’s actually not as expensive as people think compared to the other two. Shopping at Wal Mart would test the patience of Mother Theresa. Yes, it can save a good bit of money. But at this point in my life (no kids yet) the stress and hassle of shopping there is not worth the savings I’d realize.

  45. Annie says:

    Living in as big a city as I do I can not believe we do not have more shopping choices. I am limited to a Wal Mart Neighborhood Market, a Wal Mart Supercenter, a Target, and Aldi’s stores and there are a couple other chain stores but they are high priced on most items. The Wal Mart Neighborhood market is the closest at approximately 1 mile. The rest are about 3 to 10 miles or more one way. Seems like all the stores are moving farther and farther out to accomodate all the new fancy housing that is being built farther out. I have only had good experiences with Aldi and their produce always looks much better than the other places and the quality of the products is usually as good or better than their competition and the prices are usually pretty cheap or reasonable. I usually buy toileties and cleaning supplies at the dollar store as they will sometimes also have the name brand for $1 vs $3-4 for the same thing elsewhere and it is also quicker to get in and out and they are also within a mile of home.

  46. Andi says:

    As someone who lives in a very rural area (the nearest Walmart or Dillons is over an hour away), I have a little different perspective. I used to make a giant list and head “to town” about once a month so I could shop in a bigger store. About 3 months ago, our small (3 aisle) grocery store was in danger of being closed and many of us in town began to reevaluate our shopping habits. After some honest calculations, what I save shopping at a big store doesn’t really cover my gas to get there. The loss of a grocery store would have been huge for our small (500) community – the nearest small grocery store is 15 miles away. For me, the convenience of having a store close is worth the increase in prices and it helps another local business stay open.

    Totally off topic from the rest of my post – cheap food is not necessarily good food – just my 2 cents as one who is growing and marketing food direct to the consumer.

  47. Kathy says:

    I shop at Woodman’s, which is a chain of grocery stores in Wisconsin (and I think maybe northern Illinois, too. They are based out of Janesville, Wisconsin). There are two grocery stores plus a Wal-Mart in my town, but Woodman’s has them beat in so many areas, it’s worth the extra drive up the highway. The money I save there more than pays for the gas to drive up there.

    Woodman’s is huge, and they have a big selection and variety of everything. They sell a lot of things from local/Wisconsin companies. For example, in their bakery, they sell the brand names of bread, but they also sell artisan breads from a local baker. Woodman’s is also cheaper than the other stores, plus I don’t need to run all over town to other stores to find things one store doesn’t carry.

    I will go to the other stores in my town if I need to pick something up after work or I run out of something. I will go to the other stores when they have deals and sales. I don’t buy produce or meat at Wal-Mart, though, because I’ve had bad experiences with it in the past.

  48. beth says:

    I’m pretty lucky, living in the suburbs of a big city out west with lots of options.My shopping habits have evolved in to a fairly complex list, but I dig it. I get almost all of my produce cheaply from a co-op that delivers to a lot of areas in the West (bountifulbaskets dot org for anyone who’s interested), and I do most of my other food shopping at either Trader Joe’s (aka TJs) or Sunflower Market (a chain in the west that is reminiscent of the old smaller Wild Oats stores before Whole Foods acquired them). But I still have to get my Dr Pepper fix and stock up on toiletries, so I typically have about one Wal-Mart trip a month.

    Only when it’s a last-minute thing (“aw crud; we’re out of butter”) do I typically run to the nearby Von’s (a Safeway chain), Albertson’s, Smith’s (= Kroger), or Fresh & Easy. It is nice to know that I have the option for shopping within a mile in any direction from my house though.

    My decision for Sunflower and TJs stems from a couple things, namely that they’re the happiest grocery stores ever. Everyone who shops there and works there is happy to be there. As opposed to Wal-Mart, where it’s a struggle to maintain sanity just walking in the door. Plus they are skewed heavily toward produce, recognizeable ingredients, regional and/or fair trade products, and environmental protections. And while I’ve had food that wasn’t to my liking at TJs, I’ve *never* run in to something that wasn’t excellent quality.

  49. We exclusively grocery shop at a family owned grocery store rather than the chains, because they consistently have better meat and produce, their prices are about the same, and it just is a lot less irritating.

    We’ve sworn off Wal-Mart forever–not because they don’t have what we need or that their quality or prices are not good, but because it is IRRITATING to shop there. There’s never enough checkout lines open, and I swear most of the people shopping there just got unchained from the basement for their once a week trip to Wal-Mart. It’s crazy. Shopping there just makes me mad, so I stay away.

    I can get what I need at Dollar General or my grocery store for cheaper, and not as much irritation either.

  50. BonzoGal says:

    I have to admit that I let politics influence where I shop. There is a market in my town that recently did some pretty unethical union-busting, and laid off all of their older and longer-term employees; so I avoid them despite their great produce. Shops I patronize don’t have to necessarily be unionized, but I hate mistreatment of employees. That’s also why I won’t shop at Walmart but love CostCo.

    And there’s one store I have to shop at because my husband will ONLY use their store-brand toilet paper- it’s worth the extra trip just to keep his hiney happy! ;)

    I’m super lucky, though- I’m currently surrounded by farmer’s markets, bakeries, butcher shops, and local groceries, all within walking or biking distance. Shopping was much tougher when I lived elsewhere.

  51. Sam says:

    #43 Tisi – I think it’s your regional mgmt of that Walmart. The one by my house has a reputation for not being nice to the employees. A co-workers wife worked there until she had knee surgery & then she was let go since she wasn’t going to be able to work for 4 weeks.
    Another gal I kinda know can never get enough hours & has almost lost her apartment twice because she was having rent money problems.

    That said, I’ve noticed one on the other side of my town has happy smiling employees & I’ve never heard a person that works there say anything negative (even off the clock).
    I just don’t find much useful stuff @ our local WM so I don’t go. & the parking/human traffic makes a short run in there impossible.

  52. MD says:

    I agree, it’s interesting to see how people make this calculation. I won’t set foot in Wal-Mart, for example, for reasons that are a combination of inconvenience, terrible customer experience, ethical squirreliness, and the fact that I’m lucky enough not to *have to* put up with all of the above in order to find the absolute lowest price on everything I buy. Any one of these items by itself might not be enough to make me nix the store entirely, but the combination of all of them is.

  53. Robyn says:

    We live less than a mile from an H-E-B, so that’s my go-to grocery store for the bulk of our weekly shopping. Obviously the location is a big factor. They also have, on average, pretty good prices. I have a specific day and time I go (with the kids) every week, so we see a lot of the same employees week after week. That feeling of community is a big deal to me. It also works out financially in some cases: for example, the produce guys know that if they have ripe bananas needing to go on clearance, I’ll always take a bag (I mash them and freeze them for banana bread or smoothies). Sometimes if they see me before they’ve gotten around to bagging them up and putting a tag on them, they’ll stop me and do it while I wait. Most of the employees are very friendly to my kids, which makes the whole experience much easier and more pleasant for all of us. I also like that it’s a relatively small H-E-B which means it doesn’t take as long to navigate through the store and also makes it easier for me to avoid the temptation of picking up something extra.

    I recently decided to get a Sam’s membership, on the basis that if I buy one gallon of milk a week I’ll save enough to cover the membership (we actually go through about three gallons every two weeks). I also save money on other things I buy less frequently (cheese, olive oil, baking spray, dish detergent, gas, etc.), so it works out to be a good deal.

    We also have a Sprouts and a Sun Harvest reasonably close to home. Sun Harvest has great produce prices, and also sells a lot of bulk goods (I buy oatmeal and popcorn there, usually on sale, at a significant savings). Sprouts opened more recently and has great sales prices but is otherwise more expensive. After a year of comparing sales flyers and shopping experiences, I’m giving up Sprouts and going to Sun Harvest even though Sprouts is closer. Sprouts is crowded and stresses me out, their non-sale items are pricey, and I’m often unimpressed with the quality of their produce. Sun Harvest is friendlier and more laid back, and their overall prices are much better while their sales prices are very competitive with Sprouts and blow the other competition out of the water. Over the course of a year we’ve developed good relationships with employees at Sun Harvest, but only have one or two at Sprouts who seem to recognize us. There are almost always some tasty handouts for us in the bulk goods section courtesy of a friendly employee, and although it’s a minor thing, it does make my 2-year-old happy and that makes me happy — especially since it’s usually something like healthy like dried fruit or a whole grain newton cookie.

    So for me, it’s a combination of price, quality, and community. I make between 2 and 3 total shopping trips a week, which is a bit much, but with small kids I can’t combine them. On the other hand, my kids enjoy getting out of the house and this also gives me good opportunities to train them in appropriate behavior in public settings. It’s cheaper than any number of entertainment options, especially since the extra trips I make are actually saving us enough money to be worth the trip.

  54. Jackie says:

    My priorities:
    1. Selection: If they don’t carry what I plan to buy, I’m not going there. This is big for me because I try to eat mostly organic or “natural” foods, use recycled paper products, non-toxic cleaning products…
    4. Ethics. A big reason I don’t shop at WalMart and do shop at the Farmer’s market.
    3. Location: I have several groceries within a few miles of my house, but only one that I’m satisfied with the selection. It’s not the closest to my house, but it’s on my way home from work. There are others that I’d like to shop at more but they’re a detour. But I do go to the Farmer’s Market most weekends despite it not being in an easy location.
    5. Feel. I guess this is similar to Trent’s cleanliness requirements. In general I think all the supermarkets I might go to are clean enough, but some of them just feel unwelcoming. Sadly, these are often the places with the best prices because they draw big crowds. Win-co is a local chain with great ethics, great prices, a half-way decent selection (it could never be my primary store) and an OK location. But it’s so crowded that the isles are always hard to navigate and the low prices bring in a lot of families, so there are a lot of kids running around and being loud. I think there is something about that kind of crowd that stesses people (including me) out- so many rude people.
    4. Price. I am a thrifty shopper. But I do pay more for many things because I put ethics and feel and healthfulness ahead of price.

  55. Jackie says:

    I almost forgot store layout. For the longest time I refused to go to Albertson’s because the layout is so confusing! I do go in there from time now when they have good sales going, but it’s so inconvenient.

  56. Pat says:

    Like #6 tarynkay I also shop at a locally owned (since 1932) grocery. Their prices are very competitive with all the other grocery chains in our area (including WalMart (which I would never shop at) and Meijer). They have a wonderful meat section and their prices are consistently LOWER than these 2 grocery chains. The stores (they operate more than one in our mid-sized town) are always clean, the staff is friendly and they employ many students from the school I work at. If they don’t have an item I am looking for (like low sodium) I can suggest it and most often they will carry it and see how it sells. Meijer never does that.

  57. Courtney says:

    We live out in the country and the closest grocery store is Walmart, which is about fifteen miles away. I go there every week or two. It’s a very clean Walmart with helpful, friendly employees, and I practically have the place to myself since I shop early in the morning. Once a month or so, we drive 40 miles to Sam’s Club and Hyvee. Hyvee’s prices are generally much higher than Walmart or Sam’s, so I only go there for sale items or the organic Health Market items that aren’t available anywhere else nearby.

    We grow most of our own produce, keep our pantry and freezers stocked, and make almost everything from scratch. I order organic bulk items like oats, beans, wheat and raisins online. This allows us to keep trips to the grocery store to a minimum.

  58. shweta santosh says:

    we are stayin near to super market so there are several groceries. i am liitle bit warried of rising prices. when i am going to big bazar in super market i am buying the things in limit which one is nessecery to me…..
    enternal and timeless is the life- movement………..

  59. Toni S says:

    There are local grocery stores pretty close to where I live, but they are either small and dark looking or too expensive for my taste. I travel 30 minutes to a great family owned grocery store that has really good prices. Right nearby there is a farm where I buy all of my meat, which is raised without antibiotics and growth hormones. I grocery shop once a month (I am single)and find this to be right for me.

  60. Kate says:

    Our “nearby” store is seven miles away, of which six and a half, fortunately, are interstate. I haven’t checked prices on the Wal-Mart, since I dislike the chain, but I know the local Safeway runs consistently higher than its siblings in the nearest city.

    This is one case where location comes in second. Someone said the gas cost too much for them to save anything by shopping in a larger town. The key is to do a *monthly* run. I hit CostCo for bulk items, an Albertson’s for grocery staples, and Sunflower Market for meats, produce, and dairy. I also fill the gas tank, as gas is usually up to a dime cheaper a gallon in the city. The end result is one exhausting day a month that handles most of the month’s shopping, with better selection and a somewhat lower total grocery bill, even with an eighty-mile round trip.

    beth, msg. 42, mentioned Sunflower Market. Trent, if they ever expand that far, you’ll have to check them out. In addition to the great produce selection and people who understand and appreciate !food! they have great meats. And they make their own delicious sausages. And you can grind your own peanut butter, which I love. (A tip, for those who grind nut butters at home or in stores: if you chill as soon as you’ve ground it, the oil doesn’t separate out.)

    Even if it does cost slightly more some months, it’s worth it to have it DONE and over. Of course, good lists are key when doing this type of major supply run.

  61. AnnJo says:


    How “heavily Muslim” does a neighborhood have to be before its grocery stores stop stocking alcohol and pork? I would think it would have to be nearly 100%, unless the decision is made on the basis of community pressure rather than consumer demand. I’ve never been concerned before about Muslims moving into my neighborhood, but if it is ever going to result in not being able to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner or one of my staple meats, maybe I should be.

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