For me, pinching a penny on everything, I mean EVERYthing, is borderline OCD. In fact, I’m sometimes beyond compulsive. I’m obsessed. Since moving to the area, I’ve gone to great lengths to find the lowest average price on just about everything we needed. Below, is the skinny on just about every grocery store in the area, along with the reasons why (or why not) to shop there.
If you like to shop around too, you should check out NNY Life’s weekly round up of the best prices on fresh foods. We keep track of each week’s deepest discounts on meat and seafood, deli items, dairy products, produce and freezer goods.
(If you have input on the list, dear reader, or you can otherwise offer tips on how to improve it, feel free to send me a message or leave a comment!)
CHEAP! Everything that you buy at this store (except meat and sometimes vegetables) is at rock bottom prices. In the past I have shopped at Aldi for staples like eggs, milk, bread, cheese and even “fancier” foods like specialty cheese (this is where I get real crumbly bleu cheese or gorgonzola for our salads). Some of my favorite things I regularly buy there:
Fit & Active Chicken broth (a rare find since it’s a soy-free broth with no added high-fructose corn syrup). I keep at least two boxes in my pantry at all times to use in rice pilafs and other recipes.
Grapes – they consistently have the sweetest (yet cheapest) red grapes in town
Dairy products - from sliced and shredded cheeses to sour cream and cream cheese – their sliced cheese is especially good (and inexpensive). We buy their swiss, cheddar, muenster and pepper jack cheeses to jazz up our sandwiches, their low-fat sour cream and 99 cent cream cheese in some combination almost every week.
Zipper baggies – No, they’re not Glad or Ziploc, but they are about $1 less with no coupons. I buy their gallon size freezer bags and their quart size freezer bags for dividing my bulk freezer buys from other stores. Great quality.
If you’ve never been to an Aldi before, don’t let the store’s interior deter you. That’s the reason the place is so cheap. Yes, you have to put down a 25 cent deposit for your shopping cart – but your car will probably never get a dent in the Aldi parking lot. Yes, you have to buy your bags (or bring them!) and bag your own groceries, but there’s no wondering if you should tip the bag boy! Oh, and they only take debit cards and cash.
My advice is to keep track of the prices of your favorite staples at Aldi, then when couponing, find out if you are beating their price.
You also have to keep an eye out for the food quality. I’m not just talking about their produce and meats. Sometimes their packaged products are chockfull of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and – of course – SOY. If you are going to buy a packaged product there, try to find their Fit & Active brands and be sure and read the label.
NOT cheap – most of the time. Unless we’re talking organic and gluten-free.
Besides the Mustard Seed and Wal-Mart (see below), Hannaford has – by far – the widest selection of organic and gluten-free foods.
Their gluten-free selection consistently costs less than the Mustard Seed, but the two stores often offer different products, so it’s sometimes hard to compare.
Hannaford does occasionally mark things down 75%. I haven’t been able to find a discernable pattern for when or why this happens. At the end of last year, around the beginning of December, I happened across a 75% off bin full of Huggies Pull-Ups diapers, Charmin and Quilted Northern toilet paper and Comet and The Works bathroom cleaning products. The diapers came to around $3 a package and the toilet paper packs I got (the JUMBO packs, not two little rolls), came to around the same amount. We still aren’t through all the TP I picked up. The bathroom cleaning products all rang up to under $1. Man, now that I’m using coupons, it makes me wonder what kind of overages I could have ended up with had I used coupons for each of the products!
Hannaford has no store card and they don’t double coupons. But they do give you a small credit for every shopping bag you bring in to bag your groceries!
My favorite things to buy at Hannaford are:
Soy-free tuna for Hunk
Meat (See Update Below) – I have found – in Watertown – Hannaford’s meat department is the best. They are extremely helpful and their meat is very fresh of high quality.
If you can find a boneless cut of beef on sale, they’ll grind it into burger for you. They ask that you buy at least four lbs. at a time when you do this. Now that the price of beef has gone up, I haven’t been able to pull off ground beef for less than $2 a lb., but it wasn’t long ago I was buying 10 lbs. of ground roasts for $1.99/lb. I think I still have some of that in my freezer.
UPDATE: Hannaford changed their policy and they no longer grind fresh meat cuts. They do occasionally have good sales on meats, but their mark-downs are still high! I can no longer say I find Hannaford’s meat department to be the best. That award goes to Great American supermarket on State Street in Watertown. Yes, Great American.
They have great sales on chicken and pork too.
Hummus – it’s not cheap, but Joseph’s brand hummus is always a crowd-pleaser. No matter how hard I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to duplicate its deliciousness when making it myself and I haven’t seen it anywhere else in town.
Udi’s Gluten-Free bread – about $1 less at Hannaford than at the Mustard Seed
Deli Meat – Their Taste of Inspirations brand has few preservatives and is soy-free (don’t ask me why there’s soy in some lunch meats). Their Taste of Inspirations oven roasted turkey is the best deli turkey I’ve had.
Produce – Decent prices (less than Price Chopper), high quality. When shopping for small quantities for recipes, I buy my produce at Hannaford.
Nature’s Place Organics line is my favorite. I buy their smooth almond butter and jams for Hunk’s almost daily lunch of nutbutter and jam sandwiches.
Price Chopper –
I would recommend you NOT shop at Price Chopper without coupons or a pretty good sale and NEVER without a Price Chopper card! The mark ups in this store are outrageous. But I can guess why – they double coupons up to 99 cents! Meaning that piddling 55 cent off coupon you saw in the paper? It doubles to $1.10 off! I am now always a bit disappointed when I find $1 off coupons. And $2 off 3 combinations? Barely worth my time unless they’re buy one get two free. But that never happens. If only Hannaford would start doubling coupons. I’d never shop anywhere else! (Are you hearing me Hannaford management???!!!)
Price Chopper’s parking lot is ridiculously dangerous and the parking spots are too narrow. There are annoyed people everywhere. I have only twice in all my years shopping there encountered a store employee who was more than the required amount of polite to me.
But I saved 30 cents off 20 gallons of gas last week. (They count your cents off gas rewards BEFORE coupons, but after your Price Chopper card.) If I plan it right I can usually save 25% to 50% off my grocery bill. But I am very picky about what I will buy at Price Chopper.
What I like to buy at Price Chopper:
Anything on sale combined with a coupon! Really, the only way to shop there and retain any semblance of a budget.
Sam’s Club –
Diva calls this “The Vegetable Store.” We tried – for just under a year – to do without a Sam’s Club card and couldn’t hack it. Sam’s Club is the best place to buy everything from car batteries to bananas.
As good as Hannaford’s meats are, Sam’s Club meats are of premium quality, they ALWAYS have boneless skinless chicken breasts (that are like 1 lb apiece!) for $1.99/lb or less and I buy their huge pork tenderloins for just over $2/lb (or less – depending on if it’s on sale), cut them up and freeze them 1.5 lb to 2 lb. packages.
Their produce is of the highest quality and if it’s something you eat a lot of, like salad (which we have almost every night), bananas, apples, avocados (Hunk’s favorite), strawberries, blueberries, raspberries (when in season) – the price is, on average, below other stores.
I also buy my favorite fabric softener there. I’ve tried many brands and Ultra Downey’s Simple Pleasures Lavender & Vanilla is the one I have to have. I look out for coupons for the stuff, but haven’t had any luck yet. They used to make an intoxicatingly lovely-smelling detergent by Tide too, but they’ve discontinued it. Thank God. It would kill me not to be able to afford both!
So, next time they open the store to friends and family of card holders (yes! They do that!), be sure and take a look-see.
I have never shopped there, but I know they also double coupons up to 99 cents.
The Mustard Seed -
I love the Mustard Seed. The staff there is amazingly knowledgeable and helpful. Back when Hunk was a screaming, colicky newborn, they tried ever so hard to help me figure out what I could cut out of my diet or add to his to help.
As much as I love the staff and the variety of organic products, I can’t afford to buy much there. We shop at the Mustard Seed for:
Coconut yogurt – the only kind Hunk can eat
Spectrum palm oil shortening
Kinnikinnick brand Sunflower Flax Rice bread – Hunk kid adores this stuff (he goes through about a loaf a week). I buy it by the case.
Fun fact: They take manufacturer’s coupons! I found Boulder potato chips on sale at the Mustard Seed for $1.69/bag. With the two $1 off coupons I got from coupons.com, I got premium quality chips for Hunk’s birthday party for less than $1/bag! AND they’re soy-free so Hunk could have (most) of them too!
The Mustard Seed also offers a Rewards Program and printable coupons for products they carry. With the rewards program, you get a point for every dollar you spend. 150 points adds up to $5 off a purchase.
They also have a Case Club program, where you can order two cases of a product and receive 20% off. This can cut the costs of your natural and organic groceries dramatically if you team up with friends to split orders Co-op style.
I do a surprising amount of food shopping at Target. At Target we buy:
Silk vanilla almond milk (Hunk’s brand) – at $2.49/half gallon, it is the cheapest in town and their regular milk isn’t far off the average.
Snack products like soda, chips and organic gummies. They also very often have price cuts and clearance sales that aren’t advertised in their circular. I recently bought four boxes of Archer Farms and General Mills cereals for less than $2/box. (Mind you, this was before I started clipping coupons! That seems like a lot now, but if you don’t like using coupons, it ain’t too shabby.)
Cheese & Name Brand Frozen Foods – these are often on sale and you can get them at the same price – and sometimes better – than other stores.
Don’t buy their produce unless in an emergency. The same goes for their meat. Once I bought some boneless skinless chicken at Wal-Mart and I swear, it had a weird texture that made me wonder if it had been made somewhere in a lab. We couldn’t even finish it. I just shivered thinking about it.
Wal-Mart doesn’t double coupons, but if there is a sale price listed on a product in a different store’s circular, Wal-Mart will match the price (this doesn’t count for Buy One, Get One offers).
We shop at Wal-Mart for:
Gluten free products – like rice pasta, Enjoy Life (allergen free) chocolate bars and chocolate chips, Hunk’s gluten-free crackers, the gluten-free, soy-free chocolate cake mix I use for Hunk’s cupcakes and his Earth’s Best soy-free margarine.
Otherwise, we almost never go there for food.
My anonymous friend, CeeCee and I have been going through the coupons from the following sources for our deals:
Note: You can only print two coupons per computer from these sites. Which is why I have my laptop AND my desktop linked to a printer.
Red Plum in the Sunday Watertown Daily Times
All You! Magazine – available for $1.88 at Wal-Mart. I have a subscription for this magazine. But when CeeCee found out the great savings available in last month’s magazine, she went and bought three more of them at Wal-Mart. She has saved way more with the coupons in the mag than she spent. Wish I’d been smart enough to do the same thing!
Now that it’s been almost a month of couponing, maybe I will be soon!