I’m not an economist (duh, I taste food on the internet for a living), but you don’t have to be tapped in to the finer points of supply and demand or understand the inner workings of the global supply chain to have noticed that grocery prices have gone up in recent months. According to the Consumer Price Index, as of June, food-at-home prices had jumped 12.2% year over year. That’s nothing to sneeze at, especially if your grocery budget is already tight.
There are some simple and obvious ways to not break the bank at the grocery store, like buying generic instead or brand name products, making and abiding by a grocery list, and clipping coupons for things you actually use and need, but, hey, maybe something that’s obvious to some shoppers isn’t obvious to others. We asked the Mythical Crew to weigh in on how they save money on groceries and these were some of their suggestions. (Do you have tips or tricks of your own? Put them in the comments!)
Check the Cheap Stores First
You may not be able to find everything you need at, say, Big Lots or Aldi, but if you have time to make two stops rather than one on grocery day, check out a discount store for items on your list before you head to the store where you do the bulk of your shopping. “I’ll see what Dollar Tree has before heading to Ralphs,” says Mythical studio operations coordinator Kristian Rodriguez. “Cap’n Crunch at a discount? Yes please.” Mythical Kitchen‘s Vianai Austin takes a look at what’s cheap at the 99 Cents Only Store. And I know I already name dropped Big Lots above but I really recommend making it part of your grocery rotation if there’s one in your area! Sure, you might fall for some impulse buys (I once came across the entire line of Guy Fieri sauces there), but they also have great prices on pantry necessities like crackers, pasta, and canned soup. You know, not that Guy Fieri’s “Mop & Slop” BBQ sauce isn’t a necessity.
Visit Different Stores for Different Things
This tip sort of piggybacks on the first one, except it applies to all stores—not just discount stores. For instance, nuts are expensive and the selection is bad at the grocery store where my husband and I do most of our shopping (hey, Pavilions), so if we’re in the market for a bunch of nuts (for snacking, granola-making, etc.), it absolutely makes sense to make an additional stop at Trader Joe’s, where they have better-than-average prices on nuts in my anecdotal experience. Other side of the same coin: Sliced deli cheese is almost always on sale on Pavilions, but it’s kind of pricey at Trader Joe’s. Sometimes you just have to make two stops—or more. “I never buy chicken to cook because I can just buy a full rotisserie chicken from Costco for $5,” says Mythical’s director of short form content, Greg Johnson. “But I don’t need everything in bulk so I’ll split the rest of my list between Ralphs, Vons, and Trader Joe’s depending on what I need, what they have, and what’s on sale.” Graphic designer Caleb Hartsfield suggests hitting up specialty markets if a specific cuisine dominates your list. “Go to stores that correspond with the type of ingredients you’re getting,” Caleb says. “For example, I only buy Asian produce from Asian grocers because they’re priced and taste better.”
Sign Up for Your Grocery Store’s Loyalty Card
Some grocery stores, in their benevolence, offer discounts and buy-one-get-one deals to all shoppers (I’m thinking of Publix here). Most of them, though, require that you carry around a credit card-sized piece of plastic and associate it with your telephone number in order to be eligible for the discounts you see on those little yellow tags in their aisles. Yes, it’s a little annoying and, yes, it allows a corporation to track all of your purchases, but loyalty cards also unlock all sorts of deals and savings. As I mentioned, I shop at Pavilions—which is an Albertsons grocery store, along with Vons, Jewel Osco, Safeway, and a slew of others—and their rewards card and app are actually kind of great. The app tracks what you buy, so it’s always offering coupons for those specific products, and it also lets you redeem rewards points as you spend money at the store. I just checked my Pavilions app, and the one reward point I have at the moment could get me everything from a free bag of croutons (and you know I love croutons) to a free 16 ounce tub of sour cream to two free cans of Signature Select green beans. And there’s almost always a coupon in the app for $5 off a $50 purchase. If you can tolerate a grocery chain being all up in your business, it’s a great way to save a little money.
Buy in Bulk and Split with Friends
You may not have room in your linen closet for 30 rolls of toilet paper and you probably couldn’t go through three industrial-sized bottles of Heinz Ketchup before they hit their expiration date—but if you invite some other people to the party, buying in bulk at a discount makes a lot more sense. Mythical design intern Paula Kunateerachadalai says she shops at Costco and then splits the cost of the membership and the products with friends. Brilliant. If you don’t feel like you’ll get your money’s worth from a Costco or Sam’s Club membership, there are other ways to buy in bulk and save. Good Mythical Morning junior writer Meghan Malone says she takes advantage of buy-in-bulk wine discounts at her grocery store. A lot of stores give you a deal when you buy six bottles at once rather than just one or two—and it’s not gonna go bad, so what the hell.
Use Curbside Pickup
There’s nothing more painful than throwing out a bunch of shriveled, on-its-way-to-moldy produce meant for the salads you never got around to making because you ate out all week instead. If you’re at risk of buying a bunch of stuff you don’t need or won’t actually use, taking advantage of your store’s curbside pickup option eliminates the temptation to impulse shop, which can save a lot of money (and eliminate food waste to boot). Mythical associate producer Mikayla Barnes says, “Shopping at curbside pickup stores has really helped me narrow down what I need and I don’t walk around and get distracted with things I don’t need/won’t cook.” Let someone more disciplined do your shopping and then just come grab your bags. Sending off your list to a shopper in advance also give you time to peruse your store’s weekly ad so you can plan your meals around the best deals.