Lessons Learned … Per Store Strategies Part Three

Today, grocery store strategies.

Aldi – good for basics and canned items. I have had bad luck with their fresh items, I haven’t liked their fruits and vegetables or deli meats. Or cheeses unless I’m using them in recipes. I will get items like crackers and chips, canned vegetables if they are being used in recipes, and baking staples such as flour and food coloring. In general, I just haven’t found that they offer items of good quality, so I buy things in which that’s less of a factor. The prices are definitely lower than most grocery stores, sometimes even lower than the BOGO prices, so if it is something I need quickly that isn’t on sale at that time, Aldi is a good choice.

Bi-Lo – I check the deli, meats and cheeses, produce and dairy for in-store markdowns. In general, I don’t buy things when I need them, I buy them when they are at the lowest price. If that means six pounds of hamburger meat, fine, I’ll get it and split it up into smaller packages and label and freeze it. If that means I get deli meat sliced for $2.99 a pound instead of $9.99 a pound, I’ll get more than one pound, and again split it into smaller packages and label and freeze it. Most dairy items will freeze also, and marked down breads and produce should be used or frozen quickly. The pre-packaged vegetables will also get marked down, and that works out great for soups, stews, casseroles, etc. so I will put them in baggies and label and freeze them. For center store items, I tend to not be brand-loyal so it is easy to wait for BOGO sales and even better, to wait for something to be half price and then use a coupon to get it way lower. Things like laundry detergent, cat litter, drain cleaner, plastic wrap … all store easily so when they are at the lowest price, I buy plenty and save them.

Publix – very frequently, once a month or more often, they will offer an in-store coupon for $10 off of a $50 gift card when you buy $50 in groceries. The $50 of groceries is considered before coupons, so if you get what you usually get anyway, you’ll get a gift card for 20% off. Sometimes they specify the gift card – if it’s a gas station gift card, that’s great, because everyone needs gas, and your best prices online for discounted gas cards are rarely over 2% to 4%. 20% is an awesome deal. It might be that it is a Visa, MasterCard or American Express, which is always great as well, because every major store will accept that credit card which means you will be walking in the door paying 20% less for whatever you buy. Even better … get the gift card, then the next time you are grocery shopping, pay for it with the discounted gift card. No matter how you do the math, you’re saving a lot of money.

Ingles – I rarely shop there. I’ve read the circular every week, and I’ve tracked the prices, and there are very few items that are really a lower price than the other stores once you figure in BOGO, coupons, and fuel perks (Bi-Lo) or gift card deals (Publix). Just overall not worth it. However, if you are a die-hard fan, the only strategy I would recommend would be check for the BOGOs and be really, really careful with your coupons. I could write for ages about the problems with their coupon policy, the number one problem being that their employees rarely understand their policies and thus the well-planned deals you may think you will get can evaporate in an instant when you have a cashier (or worse, manager) who does not clearly understand their own store policy. Also, they have their own fuel perks program, and bless you if you ever save any money with it. You would get 5 cents off per gallon for every 100 dollars you spend on groceries, and there are no bonus deals, and it is only at Ingles gas stations. Bi-Lo’s program is so far superior I can’t even imagine a reason to chase the Ingles deals. Between bonus deals and extras with the Bi-Lo program, I once had a four-month run of FREE tanks of gas. And that was when gas was well over $3 a gallon! Since the price per gallon has dropped, yet the Bi-Lo bonus deals are still awesome, I don’t know when I will have to pay more than a dollar for a tank of gas in the foreseeable future. Not a dollar per gallon, a dollar per TANK. Wow, I really took a detour here. I was supposed to discuss Ingles, and I ended up talking more about Bi-Lo. Point is, why bother with Ingles. The other stores are far superior for saving money and far less likely to irritate you with their anti-customer problems.

Food Lion – eh. Regular prices are too high, they don’t double coupons, and there’s no fuel perks incentive or gift card goodies. I haven’t been in a Food Lion more than a few times a year, usually just when they have a great price on in-store meat. They will sometimes have a manufacturer’s tie-in with Catalina deals, meaning if you buy a multiple quantity of a particular item, you’ll get a printed coupon at the register good for money off your next visit. May or may not be worth it.

Target food store – hit or miss. The best offers are in the circular, you will see “$5 off $35 in frozen foods” or something similar. They do take coupons, but they do not double them. Sometimes worth it, sometimes not. I do shop at Target a few times a year. Also, I frequently get Target gift card deals, so it’s like free food when that happens.

Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar – frequently good deals on non-perishables like trash bags and cleaning supplies, and often their regular prices are lower than the lowest price at the grocery store. Also, pretty often they will have one-day-only coupons for $5 off $30, and they do take manufacturer’s coupons (they do not double them) so you can get an overall good deal on many items. I would recommend use your Price Tracker to find the best items for your wish list and get them when you have a store coupon to stack on top.

Farm stands, farmer’s markets, other fresh food locations – buy in season and freeze where possible. And just accept you’ll have to budget more for fresh food.

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