Nerd alert. I love talking about grocery budgets. Why? It’s one of the easiest budgets to trim, and yet it’s also one of the easiest budgets to blow if you’re not on top of it.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve tried a lot of different strategies for reducing our budget (more on that here), and one of the most efficient ways to trim the budget is to know where to buy your groceries.
So, which grocery store has the best deals?
Browse various forums or groups and there’s a lot of info about what to buy (or not buy) at certain grocery stores such as Costco, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Kroger, Amazon, etc. All this info is helpful – if you live in a city with these stores and shop the same grocery lists as your fellow savers.
See what I’m getting at here?
We all live in unique cities, have access to different stores and markets, and all eat so differently. What makes a great frugal meal plan for one family may not jive with your lifestyle, and vice versus.
So rather than just talk about individual stores – I thought it would be more helpful to talk about how we figured out where to buy groceries for our unique family – and then I’ll also share where we shop.
Figuring Out the Best Grocery Deals
Figuring out the best place to shop is straightforward.
First, ask around with your frugal-minded friends who live near you. Where do they find deals? Where do they like to shop? This will narrow your choices.
Track Your Expenses
Shop at a few different places and save your receipts. Start a spreadsheet where you track regular food purchases and the per unit cost at each store. You don’t need to document your whole list, but do track the items you buy regularly like eggs, meat, produce, dairy, household items, etc. Do this for a couple of months to average out sale prices, etc. and then review your results.
Here’s a snippet of what ours looks like – it’s an ongoing document – but you get the idea of how we lay it out, etc.
Track your expenses to discover the one or two (or three) stores that generally have the best deals for the items you buy regularly. Then, think macro. Sure, you could drive around town visiting 5 or 6 stores to get the very best deals on all your items, but are the savings really worth the extra 2 hours it took you to save a few bucks? Your time is valuable. Optimize it.
2. Know Your Base Line Costs
Once you track your expenses for a month or two, you will start to just “know” what your base line costs are. For example, you’ll start to know (without looking at your spreadsheet) that $0.78/lb is a great deal for chicken, or that cheese under $2.50/lb is worth grabbing.
Soon, it will become easy to look at your shopping list for the month or week and know where to shop.
3. Plan Ahead
In addition to knowing where to shop for groceries, one of the biggest helps with trimming our grocery budget has been monthly meal planning (or even weekly meal planning if it’s a busy time). Inventory your kitchen for what you already have, build a menu based on that so you minimize food waste, write your grocery list, check out websites or flyers for any great sales, and shop where it makes sense.
So, What Groceries Do We Buy Where?
Here are the best grocery stores to find a deal in our neighborhood, for how we eat (we eat mostly low-carb/keto/paleo-ish, with minimal processed foods…. well, the adults anyway. We do buy grains and some processed foods for the kids.)
Grocery stores near us (greater Everett, WA area):
- Fred Meyer (Kroger)
- Trader Joe’s
- Grocery Outlet
- Central Market
The cliffs notes version is we do our “big trips” at WinCo, with smaller one-off trips to Fred Meyer and occasionally Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Central Market. Here’s the more detailed breakdown.
Safeway & Albertsons
Due to price, selection, location, and quality Safeway and Albertsons were immediately crossed off for us. I don’t buy anything there. I was surprised to see they were overall more expensive – in our previous neighborhood Albertsons did have good deals and we shopped there often. These two are also farther away (making the cost of driving there an additional cost), so it was a simple choice to avoid them.
For our family, WinCo is the overall winner and it is where we do the bulk of our shopping. For us, WinCo has the best deals on:
- Produce (though shelf life is shorter than other markets)
- Staples (bread, canned goods, spices, bulk items, oils, etc).
- TP and household items
- Beer/wine – not a huge selection, but competitive prices
- Soda/sparkling water
- Frozen items
Items I do not buy at WinCo are:
- Specialty items such as coconut aminos or coconut milk – they don’t have the brands we prefer and the cost is higher
- Coffee – cost is competitive, quality is lower
Another “downside” to WinCo is they do not accept credit cards – so if you’re travel hacking and need to use your credit card for minimum spend, you have to be creative.
The biggest lesson I learned through tracking grocery costs is that Costco is NOT the best deal on everything for our family. Some items we buy because the price is the best. Others we buy because the quality exceeds other brands or because of their fantastic return policy. Based on our findings, our Costco list quickly reduced to a few key items, including:
- Diapers and wipes (but also check Amazon!)
- Coffee (best quality and value)
- Roasted chicken
- Milk, eggs & cheese (same price as WinCo, but if we’re there we’ll buy it)
- Frozen blueberries
- Kirkland frozen pizzas (same price as WinCo, but if we’re there we’ll buy it)
- Electronics (great prices and warranties)
- Car batteries
Items we no longer buy at Costco are:
- Produce (more expensive and seems to go bad before we can eat it ALL)
- Meat (occasionally we do buy seafood for special occasions)
- Paper products – we can often find better deals at Walmart, WinCo or Amazon
- Toothpaste & personal care items – my husband and I are still debating if this is a good buy at Costco. What do you think?
Fred Meyer is the closest to our home, meaning we can easily walk or bike ride for smaller trips – this cuts the cost down! We frequently go to Fred Meyer for smaller grocery trips and find decent deals for:
- Produce (better quality than WinCo, but a bit more expensive)
- Beer/wine – great selection, standard prices
- Meat – Look for the specials and sales and stock up the freezer
- Milk, eggs, cheese – They often have great sales on milk and cheese. We prefer the quality of the eggs here, as well
- Canned goods, especially Kroger brand
Things we don’t buy at Fred Meyer
- Packaged foods – we don’t buy a lot of packaged foods in general, but these are more expensive in our market
Trader Joe’s is really good at making shopping fun (hence so many impulse buys!). If I can stay focused on my list, there are some good deals such as:
- Wine and beer (they have the best per ounce wine cost on their boxed wines!)
- Deli cheese (bries, goat cheese, etc.)
- Tea and coffee
- Nuts, chocolate
- Specialty items like coconut aminos, coconut milk, hot sauces, etc.
- Plants/flowers (for special occasions)
Everything else we skip on. (Tip: Their pre-made meals and frozen items may seem like a good deal, but be sure to do a per unit comparison. Their portions are usually much smaller making them more expensive per unit.)
Grocery Outlet is another favorite by some frugal families. If you regularly buy frozen or packaged goods, they do have great sales and discounts. Our grocery list is mostly produce, dairy and meat – so we tend to skip Grocery Outlet. Occasionally I will shop their for beer/wine, cheeses, and backup freezer meals. Similar to Trader Joe’s, take and use a list, because the deals are tempting!
If you’re not familiar, Central Market is a more upscale grocery store – catering to organic, local, craft, and ethnic food choices. Similar to Whole Foods, it can be quite pricey! The one item I do make a trip to buy there is coconut milk because they have the best brands and the best price – and if you cook a lot of Asian foods, their selection is impressive!
We use Amazon mostly for paper products such as diapers/wipes, toilet paper, laundry detergent, etc. Though, I also find good deals on specialty bulk items like a big tub of coconut oil. Delivery is definitely a bonus, cause time is money. I also use Amazon for one-off purchases. For example, if I need an item but have already been to the grocery store that week, Amazon delivery (and the price) often makes sense.
Another big surprise was that Walmart wasn’t the best deal in our market, for our shopping list. When we lived in Park City, UT is was definitely the best place to shop. When I have a lot of household items to buy such as laundry detergent, dishwasher soap, and toilet paper, I’ll make a trip there, otherwise we skip it.
That’s a Wrap
Knowing where to buy groceries (in your city, for your unique family) can make a huge impact on your grocery budget and takes the guess work out of where to shop. Ask around, do your research, track your spending, think big picture, and you may be surprised with the results!
Where do you shop for groceries? Do you have any other tips or tricks to share? Comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook!