Thwarting Grocery Terrorism

Today’s guest post is from Stephanie, over at Stephanie in Suburbia.  Homegirl hails from the Twin Cities and between her husband, their dog and their darling daughter (Wee ‘Burb!) she always has me laughing and nodding from my blogging perch at the dining room table. 

When she compared her copy of How to Cook Everything to the Velveteen Rabbit, I knew that we might be life-mates on some level.  I should like to think that if we were to grocery shop together, we’d probably dominate the Extreme Coupon-ers WITHOUT EVEN USING ANY COUPONS.


Since I’ve discovered Kat and her blog here, I’ve gone to her for oh so many things. She convinced me to try Grey Suede Revlon nail polish, to try to create my own Style Cubes for fashionable outfits, and most importantly she revealed to me the mysteries of Aldi.

For those of you who don’t have an Aldi near you, or who are as afraid of its mystical properties as I once was, it’s owned by Trader Joe’s, though it features mostly generic items. Whereas Trader Joe’s is set up to entice the customer to sample odd organic wares, Aldi is more like “meh, we don’t care, buy it if you want, we have to be here either way.”

You should know, by the way, if you ask Kat her opinion on something, you will not get something along the lines of “totally, you should try out Aldi.” Her exact response to me when I told her the less-than-stellar things I had heard about the store was “I owe you a step-by-step beatdown” and, you guys? A few days later in my inbox I had her complete review, including her shopping list.

So with that and her guidelines in hand, I set out for Aldi, only all too happy to discover it’s down the street from Trader Joe’s. So now what used to be a monthly excursion has turned into a once a week jaunt.

Which means it’s time to change-up my price cheat sheet. Wait, you don’t have one?

My price cheat sheet is a dynamic Word document I try to update every few months. Essentially it’s my guide to what’s really a deal. Say for example, your local grocery store ad shows you the deal of a lifetime for OJ at 2/$5. Well, my friends, I can tell you right off the bat that the USUAL price for this particular OJ is $2.50 so this is not, in fact, a deal, but rather a marketing gimmick made for people like the Old Stephanie who would stock up.

But no longer! New Stephanie started this list actually for Costco, because it was hard for me to really grasp whether things were a good deal or not. By creating a list of the most competitive prices for items I repeatedly use, I was able to save myself from making the classic OJ mistake.

While it started primarily as a way to track baby items, which are insanely expensive and rarely on sale, I began realizing it had its advantages in other areas too. My particular list has changed now because Wee ‘Burb is eating mostly (ok, in theory) what we’re eating. So I deleted my baby items from the first list and focused more on produce, which is something we eat a ton of here in Casa Suburbia, and also something that’s frequently marked as a deal when it most certainly is not.

What stores you choose to compare, of course, is up to you. I chose my primary grocery stores, and now I have added in Aldi and Trader Joe’s. And then for items I may purchase in bulk I check Amazon and Costco. For baby stuff I also added in Walmart and for good measure.

To build this original list I needed about three months of receipts, so I am working at a slight deficit with the Aldi items because I’ve only gone a few times yet. But the idea is still the same: review each receipt, discover the lowest price for a particular item, and mark it on the sheet. It’s also helpful if you put a letter or something by the store so if it’s not on sale anywhere, you recall where it’s the cheapest. Also make sure to mark the quantity down. At the end of the day when you’re comparing for bulk prices, all that matters is the unit price, so try to get as close to that as possible. I didn’t do that for a lot of my initial list, so that’s my goal for the next one.

Lastly, don’t forget to check a few Internet shops, too, just to see if an item that’s non-perishable might be cheaper if you bought in bulk online.

I then print this list and fold it and keep it in my wallet for when I am out and about and discover a “deal.” It’s also ideal for those of you who are jumping on the old coupon bandwagon, because there’s just nothing worse than discovering a store has thwarted a manufacturer discount by jacking up their normal price and then encouraging you to use a coupon that would only bring it back to its original price. It happens, people. Don’t let grocery terrorists win!

Do you have a list or cheat sheet of what’s cheapest in your area? How do you make sure you’re not overpaying for items when purchased in bulk at places like Costco ?


9 responses to “Thwarting Grocery Terrorism

  1. You are a superstar Stephanie! I always admire people who can find good deals because I am simply incapable of doing so. When Maya was little I would shop at Costco because of the diapers and wipes thing but now that we don’t need stuff in bulk like that I simply shop at my mom and in-laws places because THEY shop at Costco. So really, I’m doing them a favor by taking stuff off their hands that would probably get wasted or go bad. 🙂

  2. Steph,
    Please come do my grocery shopping…

  3. Stephanie, this is a terrific idea. I can’t believe I’ve never done it!

  4. Wow, I’m impressed! Other people are just as crazy as me. I have typed lists as well. But, it’s more about comparing organic prices. Because I feel that those can be so variable and there are items you really don’t NEED to buy organic.

  5. Stephanie, you are my hero! I have a similar strategy, but my list is more mental. I know what prices are for our most often used items, and I always verify the unit price of the sale items–like the 2 for $5 deal on two smaller boxes of Cheerios, when the larger box has more than those two put together, and costs $3.99, etc. I used to shop 4 different stores, but being that I tote 4 kids with me to shop, I’ve cut that down to two. Saves my sanity.

  6. Wow- this is a really fantastic idea. I occasionally catch them in the marketing trap, but it’d be great to have a master list like this. Very impressive, and thanks for sharing a great idea!

  7. Dang girl! You are uber-organized. Can I just hand you my list and you go for me?

  8. Wow, I’m a total shopping LOSER. And thanks to my inherent anal retentive tendencies, paired with my competitive nature, I’m now going to have to go compare all my prices and start a spreadsheet. Where have you BEEN all these years! (Oh, BTW, thanks Stephanie!)

  9. Pingback: Another Crack at Meal Planning | Tenaciously Yours,

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