Feeding your family is taking a bigger bite out of your budget each month — and the high prices at grocery stores are sometimes to blame.
The average American household goes to the grocery store 1.6 times a week and spends an average of $102.90 a week, according to data from the Food Marketing Institute — making food one of the biggest budget items for the average family.
What’s more, Americans say they’re spending more than ever: A recent Gallup pollfound that 59% of Americans report spending more on groceries than they did a year prior, while just 10% reported spending less. (More Americans said they were spending more on groceries than on any other item measured.)
But while we know we’re spending a lot at the grocery store, it’s hard to figure out why, thanks to the overwhelming number of items sold — the average grocery store sells 43,844 items, so who can keep track of prices? — and our ever-changing shopping lists.
To help families spend less at the grocery store, we asked experts to provide some shopping “rules” on what not to buy at the grocery store.
Beer and wine
Beer and wine can sometimes cost 10% to 20% more at grocery stores than at warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s says Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert for Coupons.com and a MarketWatch columnist. What’s more, you can often shop for alcohol at a warehouse club even if you haven’t paid for the membership, she explains: “Alcohol laws vary state-to-state, but in general it is against the law to charge a membership fee for alcohol purchases, so score deals on your favorite wine and spirits even if you’re not a member.”
Individually packaged snacks
Small bags of chips, Goldfish and other kids snacks are typically far more expensive at the grocery store than they are on Amazon , where you can save 10% — and sometimes even more --off grocery store prices, says Joanie Demer, the co-founder of The Krazy Coupon Lady; Amazon usually beats the warehouse clubs on these prices too, says Demer. To get the maximum savings on these items on Amazon, use their “subscribe and save” feature (this gives you 15% off when you regularly order the item, as long as you subscribe to order five or more items), plus their digital coupons, she adds.
If you’ve got a special occasion coming up, don’t head to the grocery store (or a specialized bakery, which is even more pricey than the grocery store usually) for the cake. Instead, hit up a warehouse club like Costco or Sam’s, says Demer. While Costco might sell a half of a sheet cake for $18, the grocery store will sell a quarter cake for roughly that same price (or sometimes even a few bucks more than that, she notes). Plus, Costco, like the grocery store, will add writing to your cake.
Kitchenware is “priced for convenience” at the grocery store, where “you’re looking at overpaying by 30% on average for basics like frying pans and baking sheets,” sayssavings expert Andrea Woroch. Instead, says Kendel Perez, savings expert withCouponSherpa.com , shop for these items at discount retailers like TJMaxx and HomeGoods. Woroch says that these items may be particularly good deals at these stores during popular holiday sales like the 4th of July.
Even though many grocery stores devote a large swath of an aisle to things like pens, pencils and paper, they’re not offering good prices on any of this, says Demer. She recommends that people who are shopping in July and August buy some of these items at office supply stores like Office Depot or Staples SPLS, +0.59% because they will be offering many loss-leader items for next to nothing (think pens or pencils for a few cents) as part of their back-to-school sales. Another option for inexpensive items like this is the dollar store, though your selection may be limited.
Pavini says that consumers should avoid buying fresh flowers at the grocery store because they can get the flowers at wholesale prices at local flower markets. “After the florists go in the morning, many flower markets open to the public to sell what’s left for the day,” she says. She notes that most cities have a local flower mart, and you can find out where yours is via a quick Google search.
Razors and other personal hygiene products
Demer says that everything from body wash to razors to shampoo is typically better-priced at big-box stores like Target and Walmart than it is at the grocery store. She recommends downloading the stores apps (Cartwheel for Target and Walmart Savings Catcher) and coupons to save even more on these items; adding sales and coupons to big-box stores already lower prices on hygiene items can sometimes save you up to 90% off grocery store prices, she says.
“Batteries are definitely a better buy at club warehouse stores,” says Erin Konrad, a spokesperson for CouponPal.com. Indeed, Woroch says that she has found double the quantity of batteries at warehouse clubs for the same price as the package sold at the grocery store. Another good bet for batteries is Amazon, Konrad notes: “You can get a 48-pack of AA batteries for just $13.49, plus you can save even more and get free shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member.” And “if you don’t mind not buying a name brand, dollar stores and the 99 Cent Store also carry batteries, so you could stock up and spend just a few quarters,” she adds.
Cleaning supplies — everything from detergent to bleach to multipurpose cleaner — are far better deals at big box retailers like Walmart and Target than they are at grocery stores, says Woroch. “Save even more by grabbing the generic brands which will work just as effectively for 20 to 40% less,” she adds. “For instance, bleach is a single-ingredient cleaner so there’s absolutely no variance in products between the name brand and generic — you’re simply paying for packaging in this case.”
Greeting cards, wrapping paper and balloons
You can save $5 or more by buying these items at the dollar store, says Woroch. And that’s especially true with greeting cards, she says: “You can find cheaper options with similar sentiments for 50-cents at the dollar store, saving you $2 to $6 a pop.” Perez says that the dollar store has such good prices on greeting cards that she stocks up when they have one of their frequent two-for-$1 sales.
“If you have access to a spice shop or natural food store that sells loose spices, or ones you can purchase by the ounce, shop those stores for spices instead of grocery stores,” says Perez. “At the supermarket, you’re paying for glass or plastic storage containers you likely don’t need.” And Woroch says consumers can save up to 90% on spices by buying them at a local ethnic market.
Instead of buying pet food at the grocery store, Woroch recommends you become a member of the loyalty program from a pet store so you get rewards on the food that way and buy the food using discounted gift cards, which can save you up to 25%. “Alternatively, ordering pet food online can often save you more by selecting the ‘repeat delivery’ deal option savings of up to 15% off orders,” she says — noting that sites like Coupon Sherpa offer coupon codes for popular pet food sites like 15% off repeat food delivery at PetFood.com, free $15 gift card with $50 purchase at Petco and $15 off $74 at PetFoodDirect.com. Added bonus: “Most of these sites offer free shipping,” she says. Finally, she adds that warehouse stores often have good prices on pet food, and that discount stores like Marshalls and HomeGoods offer pet supplies like toys for much less than the grocery store.