How to Shop for Groceries like a Boss

How to Shop for Groceries like a Boss

It’s happened. That thing countless rom coms and heteronormative popcorn flicks from the 90s warned me about. The thing I swore at the tender age of sixteen would never, ever happen to me.

Dear readers, I have become… my mother.

My fate is sealed and I’ve got proof! At the grocery store, I haughtily wave my cloth bags at the bagger and proclaim, “I prefer to bag for myself.”

It’s not that I hate baggers and seek to force their entire profession out of employment. It’s just that they don’t do it right, with “right” defined as “according to my very particular and neurotic specifications.”

The one time I was in a hurry and neglected to bag for myself, I lost a bag to the straining weight of all the most heavy items on my grocery list. It burst right there on my front stoop, ripped apart by the carelessness of a bagger who clearly had not trained for extreme grocery bagging at the feet of the expert: my mother.

All of which is to say: I take every step of the grocery-shopping process extremely seriously. And if it is also your goal to save money, eat well, and become my mother, then settle in.

Preparing for a mission to the grocery store

A successful grocery run begins long before you even get to the store. You have logistics to plan! An arsenal to gather! Alliances to forge and coupons to clip!

Become a member of the store’s rewards program

Lots of grocery stores have free membership rewards programs. There’s no membership fee, and no annual renewal. All you have to do is fill out a postcard-sized application and in exchange the world is yours.

Your membership at Safeway or Kroger, for example, will get you access to sales non-members can only dream of; “fuel points” that you can use for a discount at their gas stations; and coupons and sales flyers mailed to your home.

If you frequent one of these giant grocery chains and you’re not a member of their rewards program, you are literally leaving money on the table. Don’t choose to pay full price when you could be getting everything on sale, you fool!

Check your cabinets

Don’t buy shit you don’t need. And definitely don’t buy shit you already have. Before you make a big grocery run, check your damn cabinets to make a mental inventory of what’s there.

Checking your cabinets will also help with making sure you use all of your ingredients. If I notice I have all but one of the ingredients necessary to make chicken marsala, then that ingredient is going on the goddamn list. My little household is getting a whole dinner for the cost of a single ingredient within that week’s grocery budget!

Make a list

We’re a coupla Dinks with a Dog (DINKWADs). So we plan to cook one dinner per day and eat the leftovers for lunch the next day. On top of that, I generally know we need a few staples for breakfast and snacks. So a week’s worth of groceries involves the ingredients for seven dinners, breakfast staples, and snacks.

Not only do I make a list, I make a meal plan.

This meal-plan-cum-list helps me avoid running back to the store for extra ingredients throughout the week (a waste of money and time). Plus, I never have to wonder what to make for dinner: it’s on the fucken list.

Use your coupons and shop the sales… if convenient

Coupons are a surprisingly controversial topic. In this battle of the frugal shoppers, I’m an agnostic: neither a coupon clipping evangelical nor a rabid nonbeliever.

If you have a store membership, they’ll mail you coupons specifically tailored to your buying habits. No clipping or hunting required, so there’s minimal time invested in couponing (a verb that strikes fear into the hearts of the strapped-for-time).

You’ll also get sales flyers which can help you to stick to in-season (read: on sale) items. There’s a reason we never eat lamb outside of a two-month window in the spring.

First make your list. Then and only then should you look at those coupons and sales flyers from the mail. If any of them correspond to your list, great! Use them! But don’t go out of your way to use a coupon if it’s going to make your meal planning or cooking more difficult, time-consuming, or expensive.

On the field of battle

Store membership, list, and coupons in hand, you are now ready to join the fray.

Avoid peak hours at the store

Most people go grocery shopping in the middle of weekend days and on their way home from work during the week. This is when the stores are crammed full of harried people with little time, angrily playing bumper cars with their carts and texting their spouses about whether bok choi is an appropriate substitute for collard greens.

You don’t want to brave this melee. It gets full on Battle of the Bastards in the dairy aisle and trust me: you want no part of it.

So give yourself time to carefully compare prices and double-check your list. Shop in the off hours when the shelves are fully stocked and you won’t be competing with Women Trying to Have It All for the last pound of grass-fed angus beef.

Bring reusable bags and bag securely

Once again, we here at Bitches Get Riches are pushing our eco-liberal agenda by encouraging the use of reusable cloth grocery bags. Our motives are purely to crush the capitalist fossil fuel industry and fund the ranks of eco-terrorists. HOW YOU LIKE THEM KUMQUATS, BIG PLASTIC?

… but also? Hardy cloth bags hold up much better than plastic or paper, especially if you’re walking to and from the store. So you’re less likely to lose a whole carton of eggs to the ravages of gravity. I know this from experience.

And while I may be lamenting my transformation into my mother… she was fucking right. At least when it comes to bagging groceries (I stand by my other, non-mother-approved lifestyle decisions). Bag for yourself if you care about the structural integrity of your tomatoes. You don’t want to go back to the store to replace an ingredient crushed because a bagger wanted to see how much they could stuff into a single tote.

Shop store brand

Listen, we’ve been over this. Store brand is less expensive than name brand 46 times out of 30. And most of the time, a generic product contains the exact same ingredients as its name brand counterpart.

So why pay for the privilege of funding a large company’s marketing campaign when you could get the same food for less?

If only Peter Parker had bought the Kroger brand rice, he never would have had to face such a grim reminder.

Buy in bulk

The catch-22 of buying in bulk is that it’s more expensive in the short term, but far more frugal in the long term.

If money’s tight but you’re trying to play the long game, I recommend buying only one bulk item per grocery run (flour, rice, pasta, olive oil, etc). This spreads the cost out a bit and by the time you run out of the first bulk item you bought, your pantry will be fully stocked with bulk ingredients and you can just repeat the cycle.

Compare prices

Grocery store math is the easiest math.

Behold two food products of differing brands. Read their prices. Buy the cheaper of the two.

Condragulations, you’ve just mastered comparison shopping! Throw your brand loyalty and assumptions of quality to the wind! You are here to save money.

There are exceptions, of course—maple syrup and cheese, for example—cases in which the pricier food is well worth the extra cost.

But that’s between you and your god.

Your cheese god.

Use a smaller cart

I can fit a week’s worth of groceries for us DINKWADs into a single half-size cart… but only just. Shopping with the smaller cart prevents me from filling it with impulse buys. If I feel tempted to buy a box of Cheez-Its (The Superior Cheese Cracker), but my mini cart is getting full… it goes back on the shelf.

It also makes it easier to maneuver around the octogenarians and frantic fathers of five in the aisles.

Never buy…

  • Soda: It’s expensive and bad for your health. If you have access to clean water, drink that instead.
  • Sugary cereals: See above. Buy some granola clusters and raisins to put in your milk instead.
  • Individually packaged servings of stuff that comes in larger, cheaper packages: It’s astronomically cheaper to buy a quart-sized container of yogurt and a package of fresh strawberries than it is to buy a week’s worth of individual Dannon fruit-and-yogurt cups.
  • Frozen dinners or prepared meals: If you have time to cook, it’s generally cheaper to buy the ingredients than to buy the prepared meals. And if you don’t know how to cook, here’s why you should learn.
  • Prechopped ingredients: Packages of fresh, prechopped vegetables are priced higher than their unchopped counterparts. Just buy a goddamn knife.
  • Napkins and tissues: What, you think you’re better than me? That’s what paper towels and toilet paper are for.

When the odds are stacked against you

The above advice is for people who live within reasonable distance of a grocery store. It’s for people who have full use of their bodies and don’t live with energy-sapping diseases. It’s for those with a means of carrying a week’s worth of groceries home and a kitchen in which to cook.

That’s not everyone.

If you live in a food desert, suffer from mobility issues or chronic disease, or if you have no other means of transportation besides your own two feet, a lot of frugal grocery options are closed off to you. So what can you do?

The answer is, “The best you can.”

  • 7-11 sells milk by the gallon and whole rotisserie chickens for reasonable prices.
  • Ethnic grocery stores and open-air markets sometimes sell fresh vegetables and fruits at a vastly lower price than major grocery chains.
  • Services like Peapod will let you order groceries online and deliver them right to your door (though the delivery fee makes things a little more expensive).
  • Prechopped or individually packaged servings—while definitely less frugal—do serve a purpose for those with mobility difficulties and chronic illness.
  • Food banks, community centers, and houses of worship for all religions collect and distribute food to the needy. You can find your nearest food bank here.

As with literally everything, shopping for nutritious and affordable groceries is harder for the poor.

What are your frugal grocery hacks? Got advice for those struggling with hunting and gathering? Share your advice in the comments below!

76 thoughts to “How to Shop for Groceries like a Boss”

  1. Here’s a grocery shopping tactic from one of my books. It’s called “goal-oriented groceries,” and it’s simple and *(usually) oh-so-effective:

    Start your shopping list with a personal goal, written in capital letters and preferably with a black Sharpie so that it can’t be ignored. Partway down the list, repeat the goal or write down another one, and so on. An example:

    RETIRE BY 35
    Store-brand multigrain bread (coupon in circular)
    One pound dry beans
    Chicken thighs (value pack, on sale)
    Peanut butter
    One pound ground beef
    Oatmeal from bulk bin
    Monterey jack cheese

    Kinda hard to ignore those goals, huh? Which is entirely the point: Each time you see those all-cap exhortations you’ll be reminded of the reason(s) why you’re shopping so carefully. Money spent on high-end meats or out-of-season tomatoes flown in from Israel is money you can’t put toward a long-term goal.

    Again: This doesn’t mean subsisting on cold oatmeal and six-for-a-dollar ramen. Delicious, easy-to-prepare meals are possible on a tight budget. Suppose you could cut your food bills by $100 (or more) per month. What could that $1,200 (or more) per year do for the bottom line?

    1. This is a DELIGHTFUL savings tactic. I love it!!! I think I’m going to deploy it with all my shopping lists, and also my daily to-do list. Having that kind of reminder front-and-center is super motivating. Which of your books is this tip in? I invite you to make a shameless plug including a link here in our comments section!

      1. Ooohhh! Ooohhh! Shameless plugs — I *love* those things!

        The tactic is mentioned in my first book and repeated in my second, which has a chapter devoted just to food — so I’m gonna suggest that one. The title is “Your Playbook For Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition.” You can get it on Amazon and Kindle:

        Or you can order a PDF version for $5 if you use the discount code RICHES at this payment platform:

        One more thing: The first book has a chapter about how to build an emergency fund out of thin air. I send that one for free to anyone who asks, because I *seriously* believe in emergency funds. Bonus: The same savings tactics can be used to meet other financial goals (e.g., pay off debt, throw extra toward a mortgage, build a “next car for cash” fund). Anyone who’s interested can request the chapter — no strings attached — by writing to me at SurvivingAndThriving (at) live (dot) com.

        Thanks for letting me plug.

  2. The thing about price comparison – most grocery stores in the US (I think it might even be mandated?) list Unit Prices next to the price, it’s usually highlighted in a different color and will show you the unit price. So say one product is sold as 16 oz for $10 but another is 10 oz for $8. Logic dictates just spend $8 right? But actually the larger one is cheaper if you work it out by ounces, 63 cents vs 80 for the smaller one. If you have the funds, then it’s ALWAYS better to get the better deal.

    Stores are sneaky though and will sometimes list one in oz and another in count, ie how many pieces are in the box, so you have to def pay attention and maybe even break out your phone’s calculator to double check.

    And manufacturer’s got wise to people thinking that bigger is always cheaper, so sometimes (esp true with laundry detergent) if you check the unit pricing, the smaller ones are a better unit price.

    In the long run, understanding Unit Pricing will save everyone a lot of money.

    1. This is genius advice, even if it makes grocery store math more complicated. All the more reason to shop in the off hours–plenty of time to calculate unit price. I had no idea about the ounce vs. quantity discrepancy!

    2. Unit prices are the Bomb.Com! I straight up don’t shop at places that don’t give me glorious unit prices (look at you whole foods). My biggest peeve is when they mix imperial and metric (we are in Canada, DAMMIT). The only time I don’t buy the best unit price is if I need a small amount or it will go bad before I use it, cause yeah you save 60 cents an oz but that means jack shit if you end up throwing it out.

  3. Turning into our mother happens to the best of us, doesn’t it? ESPECIALLY when it comes to bagging groceries. Because moms are always right about that shit.

    I do tend to be at the grocery store multiple times a week, partly because I’m walking home and lugging two heavy grocery bags is not the most fun thing I’ve ever done. I also work out right next to the grocery store so running by there multiple times a week isn’t out of my way. One day I’ll be forced to actually meal plan for the week instead of buying a few things at a time!

    My biggest grocery shopping hack? I NEVER go on an empty stomach or when I’m hangry. It leads to lots of sugary junk food or bags of chips, and it’s way more likely to lead to road rage when people are hanging out in the middle of an aisle blocking the way for everyone.

    1. How could I have forgotten this most important hack? You’re so right!!! Many an extra large bag of Hint of Lime Tostitos has met its end before the check-out thanks to my empty stomach.

  4. “It’s not that I hate baggers and seek to force their entire profession out of employment. It’s just that they don’t do it right, with “right” defined as “according to my very particular and neurotic specifications.””

    Piggy… Piggy, honey… Are you sure you aren’t me?

  5. I’d love to go grocery shopping during the week, but then I’d have to take the twins. I fear that the barrage of little old ladies asking “But are they twinnnsss???” and other personal questions like “Did you breastfeed, honey??” is far worse than the angry mob of weekend shoppers. It’s a scary world out there.

    1. You gotta stop wearing your “Ask Me Any Invasive, Unoriginal, Useless Question You Like!” tshirt to the grocery store. It’s sending the nosy random groceryfolk mixed signals!

    2. Here’s the answer to “Are they twins?”

      “Um, no, he’s an only child. Who’s your eye doctor?”

      (courtesy of Mad magazine’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”)

    3. My husband and his sister are twins. I believe their mother dealt with nosy groceryfolk by bursting into panicked stress tears every time she was approached with questions.
      I salute you for braving the weekend mob! And for, y’know… TWINS.

  6. Can I just say how much I love that you thought to mention chronic illness/food deserts? It’s something people just don’t think about.

    In a household with two chronically ill people (not to mention somewhat picky eaters), grocery shopping is a PITA. If his cereal is on sale (it’s the sugary crap you warn again but it’s one of the few things his stomach tolerates for some reason), I buy approximately a gazillion of them. Or, like, 12. And we try to load up on the too-much convenience food we rely on. Then I just try to make peace with our higher-than-I’d-like food bill.

    1. Your thanks means the world to me. I wanted to make sure to mention it, but I realized I didn’t have the expertise to dictate advice to people like you who have to deal with chronic illnesses (or food deserts, for that matter). You’ll get no judgment from the Bitches. Though I’d love to hear of any tricks you find for handling the picky eater/chronic illness intersection!

    2. Yeah, I feel you. I have a bunch of health issues and personal issues myself that makes it hard to follow good money-saving advice 🙁 Things like chopped vegetables and frozen dinner (and soda, because by god I need my caffeine to live and zero cal soda often ends up being the easiest and least sugary option) have been lifesavers to me many times.

      On the plus side, things have been getting better in some ways, and I can still often find useful suggestions in articles like this, but it is always nice to see acknowledgements that not everyone can do everything perfectly. So I too appreciate it!

      (And I can proudly say that I am doing several of these things already! Need to start with reusable bags too though…)

        1. And many stores (at least, in my area) give a small discount for bringing your own reusable bags. $0.05 doesn’t seem like much; but multiply that by a dozen or so bags per weekly trip, and that’s $30-odd per year — enough for a tank of gas or a bottle of good wine (my Kryptonite — not sorry!)

        2. NZ has banned single-use plastic bags, which is rad as! Sadly it’s also lowkey an accessibility thing because I have ADHD aka What Even Is A Memory Disorder and so remembering to take reusable ones is a trial T_T I’ve found that a partial solution is getting bags that can be scrunched up real small and then just keeping one or two in my normal day-bags so that when I go to the supermarket for one thing and end up getting five things that I forgot I needed until I was there, I have bags with me rather than having to stack them in my arms :’)

          1. Dude, I FEEL THIS. I stash reusable bags everywhere in my life: there’s at least one that scrunches up in all of my purses, a bunch in the car, a bunch in the house, and one tied to the dog’s leash!

  7. Like A above, I use the unit price comparison a lot — way easier than doing the math to figure out what the best value is. I also, since I have some disposable income, ruthlessly stock up on big sales — one time whole foods (yes, I know) was selling a pound of organic butter for $2. Really. So I bought fifteen pounds and put it all in the freezer.

    1. I mean, 15 pounds of butter would only last ME a month, but I’m not gonna judge. 😉
      I really wish I’d brought up unit prices in the article! You’re absolutely right–it’s so much clearer than a straight price comparison.

    2. Yes! When I got married our first major appliance purchase was a chest freezer. A great investment. When ice-cream (or really anything that freezes well, I just really like ice-cream!) goes on sale in early summer, we load up.

      Stocking up on sales is key for our household. Products generally follow a sale cycle, so we typically try to purchase enough of something to last through until the next cycle.

      Our grocer also gives a 15-20% discount when special ordering by the case. So when an item is on sale, the discount is compounded by the case order.

  8. You should have titled this: “Every awesome grocery store GIF in one epic post”

    Grocery shopping on off peak hours has actually saved us money! When it’s empty, I have more time to compare prices, and talk myself out of the unnecessary bakery treats. When it’s crazy crowded & my stress level is at midnight, toooons of cakes end up in my cart.

    1. Nothing makes me happier than an appreciation of my gifs. You flatterer! 😉
      Now that I work from home it’s so much easier to shop off peak hours. It has made a world of difference!

  9. I was laughing out loud about the grocery bagging because I am so that person (although I don’t get it from my mom). We go to the cheap grocery store where you have to pack your own bags and I have swatted away the helping hand of my boyfriend more times than I can count. He just doesn’t do it right.

    The biggest money saver for me with groceries is meal planning. The times I waste food or order takeout are the times I don’t have a list of dinners for the week pinned to the fridge. Knowing exactly what and when we’re eating makes it easy and I’ll feel guilty not using up purchased ingredients.

    1. I still have stress nightmares about the kind of “stone soup” meals we had when we lived with 6 roommates. Meal planning is not only frugal, it’s SANE.

  10. The loyalty coupons we get in the mail are basically the only ones I use any more. Mostly because they’re the ones where you can actually get coupons for PRODUCE and MEAT, which comprises a good 75%+ of our grocery shopping these days. And good note on food deserts and whatnot – those things can make it so much harder.

    1. Agreed! I don’t even look at coupons anymore besides the ones the stores send direct, because they’re based off your previous buying habits. Doritos, coke, trix, and Snapple? Hell no that’s not going in my cart. Mixed greens, Greek yogurt, organic beans? Sign me up!!
      Bitches I have never loved you more. You went straight to my frugal, food loving, meal planning heart and sang the song of my people. ♡ Also of note, if you’re a card member they usually have bonus secret coupons on their store website you load straight to the card. Occasionally I’ll shop like I normally do and get a nice surprise when preloaded coupons I forgot about knock my total down.

      1. I was thinking of you as I wrote this!!! You and Budget Bytes are basically my favorite food blogs.
        And I need to get me those secret website coupons! Thanks for the tip.

  11. What an epic rundown of the grocery run. Especially the last paragraph about various reasons people can’t manage because of poverty or chronic conditions. People doing their best is all you can ever ask for.

    I keep forgetting baggers are a thing elsewhere, but I imagine I would have the same reaction. Just let me control my own weight distribution and take responsibility for the squashability of my own ingredients, please.

  12. I love this article – one of my favourite ways to spend quality time with just my dad was by going grocery shopping with him (which is my dad’s job at home, as is cooking, and cleaning #accidentallyfeministhouseholdforthewin) and I love it to this day. Plus, I find a certain joy in being at the shop on a Saturday morning at 7am and leisurely waltzing through the aisles.

    All that being said, are ‘fucken’ and ‘condragulations’ meant to be real worlds (I AM SORRY BUT I CANNOT ESCAPE MY JOB EVEN ON MY LUNCH BREAK)?

    1. My family is the exact same – I grew up going to do the shopping with my dad every week and he was just as meticulous about how you bag groceries as he is about how you load the dishwasher. I honestly think it’s why I make my boyfriend go shopping with me every week – it’s its own form of intimacy to see how people shop.

  13. I disagree, but only to the point of not trying to put grocery baggers out of work. If you are going to do a job, do it well!! And I also get annoyed by store policies where they ask if they can help me out to my car with my groceries… ummm, I’m a 6’5″ tall, fully-abled, 35 year old guy, and you’re some 17 year-old pipsqueak… so no thanks?!
    Yeah, I really don’t have any need for those little teenage baggers. But cloth (insulated!!) bags for the win 🙂

    1. Pretty sure those baggers are required to ask that, lol. I mean, common sense says that you personally are able to take your groceries yourself.

      Two of the grocery stores in my town offered that service as I was growing up (one stopped a few years ago). And let me tell you, as the mother of 3 small children at the time, it felt like a GODSEND to have someone else put the groceries in the trunk while I wrangled my kids into their carseats. That was time and energy I didn’t have to spend, especially since I still had to unload and put up groceries when I got home. Same goes for anytime I had to go while sick, even if I managed to go solo on that trip.

      Also, compounding the issue is my battle with depression for over a decade now. On good days, I’m perfectly okay with putting my own groceries in the car. But on bad days? Just thinking about the effort it requires makes me wanna curl into the fetal position, using my body as a shield to protect the few precious spoons I have left. That’s when I’m grateful for any grocery baggers, or my kids (who are teens/preteens now). I’ve taught my kids the “proper” way to load/unload groceries, so there’s a lot less stress on me when I lack the spoons to do the job.

      Haven’t really gotten to the point of bagging my own stuff, but I watch the cashier as they bag, and most do it properly. Only time I bag myself is the self-checkout at Wal-Mart, and I try to avoid Wal-Mart whenever I can cuz #reasons.

  14. I’m the luckiest of ducks to be able to grocery shop on weekday mornings a lot.

    I keep a list of unit prices in mind so whenever we’re at a store, we know that X is cheapest only if it beats Y price. It’s time I kept a real list, TBH.

    We do a lot of shopping as a couple too because we freaks love grocery shopping and PiC can do the hauling of the heavier stuff so we can afford to buy in bulk and stock up on meats on sale. But as we are CAnians, reusable bags have been a thing for a few years now. I collected giveaway bags from SDCC for the purpose 😀

    A few places we have to diverge:
    – We were debating buying our yogurt in large containers instead of the small cups to save on waste, we really do want to avoid that, but our consumption isn’t consistent enough that we could get through a large tub the way we can get through a loaf of bread
    – we don’t buy prechopped veggies yet but we may have to, thanks to me
    – I DO buy the prepeeled garlic now. It saves me some serious energy so I’m not gasping for breath by the time our food is cooked.

    We are so lucky that we can afford these divergences.

    1. The most magical thing I have found recently is enormous jars of garlic paste. I have only found in at Indian or Asian grocery stores, but it actually retains it’s taste like normal garlic and doesn’t have whatever substance is in the jars of pre-minced garlic. It ended up being like $4 for a large spaghetti sauce jar size.

  15. My advice is to eat more plant-based foods. It is so much cheaper to eat delicious beans, grains, and vegetables (and healthier too) than processed foods, meats, cheeses, etc. A friend of mine just went vegan and she was astonished at how much money she has been saving each week at the grocery store. I’ve been doing it so long that I don’t notice anymore, so her comment was a nice reminder.

    And yes to the timing of shopping as an aspect of savings! I do my grocery shopping at 9am on Sunday morning – where I live, you can’t buy booze yet (not till noon) so the store is basically empty and I can roll down the aisles listening to the audiobook I’ve borrowed from the library, and really take my time in making decisions. Impulse buys are the worst money-waster for me. Plus, at that time of day I can’t buy booze so I don’t impulse buy alcohol (instead buying it intentionally by going to a specific liquor store, which also helps overall savings).

  16. Yes to using the smaller carts! I know my trip is over if my cart is full.
    I basically refuse to go to the grocery store on Friday, Saturday or Sunday but I do brave the after work crowds.
    We eat lots of oats, rice, beans, fresh fruit and veggies, and very few processed foods to keep our DINK spending at $225/month.

  17. Dear Bitches and Friends,
    I follow many of your astute recommendations in my shopping practice, TG!
    But…somewhat ashamed to admit…I don’t bag my groceries and had no idea that there is a “Golden Way” to do this. Somehow missed this (and I am old).
    Any pointers to share?

    1. Great that you asked! Mainly:
      – distribute heavy items among bags, and don’t overload a particular bag
      – use the first layer of items to build a foundation for the next
      – keep delicate, crushable items on top (e.g. tomatoes, bread, fresh herbs)
      – keep cold/ refrigerated items together (retains the temperature and makes unpacking quicker)
      Anyone have any tips for eggs? A dozen is an awkwardly long container…

      1. This is going to sound so weird, but…

        I’m a student and pack all my groceries in my school backpack. The best place for eggs is the laptop pocket – just slide them in vertically; the pocket keeps them closed and the verticalness means they don’t get squished.

        I have found this is also an ideal place to shove a pack of bacon. >.>

  18. Having a plan is so important to save money! There are a few things I won’t buy store brand (cheese is DEFINITELY one of them), but I rarely have coupons because I so rarely buy brand items.

  19. In high school I had a job as a grocery bagger at the local supermarket. There is a science to it. Cold stuff goes together. Meats get wrapped in plastic then put in the same bag, which can also include breakfast meats and cold cuts. Eggs and bread should go in a bag by themselves with the eggs laid gently on the bottom with the bread sitting on top. I do not believe grocery stores are training their baggers anymore because these kids are just putting any and everything together. It’s almost criminal.

    Anyhoo, fighting food deserts is totally my thing. If you read my blog you know that I started a produce market that operates solely in underserved neighborhoods. I run pop-up markets. So needed, but not for the faint of heart. I could talk all day about the challenges of selling fresh food in low-income communities. And don’t get me started on the racism that permeates the grocery industry. But that is all another tale for another day.

    And we all turn into our mothers. It’s inevitable.

    1. Worse . . . They double bag *everything* and sometimes put one thing per bag. Yet, the gov’t. wants to prohibit plastic bags and blame the customer. Store mgt is WAY at fault with not training the baggers. And people are altogether too busy, too often, to even think about that they don’t need a bag for a given item, in a given moment. If you are self-sufficient enough, the toilet paper and paper towels don’t need to go into a bag. I throw them into the back of my pickup. And, if you’re on mass transit, remembering to bring at least one sizable backpack is indeed helpful.

  20. I have major problems with depression/anxiety, and that prevents me from being able to make food for myself as effectively, but i still find ways to cut down on cost. Buying things that can be made for several days of course is always a good idea, but it’s especially nice to buy chicken, stick it in the crock pot, shred it and stick it in the fridge and add protein to other meals, cook pasta and stick it in the fridge. Buy sauces to just add to pasta, buy frozen chicken patties that can just be microwaved and put on bread. I have several staples that are just canned meals that cost a buck a piece, and it’s still not as cheap as i’d like it to be, but it still helps me get up and feed myself because it takes seconds to assemble and minutes to heat.
    And something that has helped me and my spouse Significantly is a slot in our budget for ‘executive dysfunction money’, which is just money for when we can’t summon up the energy to make food, for whatever reason. it’s about thirty bucks a paycheck, and if we can’t do anything else, we can order a pizza or go to mcdonalds, and it’s /in our budget/ so that we can still feed ourself for the day and still have things set aside. it prevents us from doing that any time we’re feeling like shit, and instead makes us more likely to evaluate if we really have the energy to do at least the bare minimum or if there’s a real need to use it.
    Thank you so much for being inclusive. i love yall’s site.

    1. Your thanks means the world to us. And thank YOU for including this advice! I kind of think I need a line item for executive dysfunction in my budget…

    2. My daughter has depression and Bipolar II in addition to chronic fatigue stemming from a neurological illness. Food has been her biggest challenge. Ultimately she has made peace with the fact that, like you, she will likely never be a cook-everything-from-scratch, clip-every-coupon-hit-every-sale kind of person.

      In her book, “Frugality For Depressives,” Abby devotes a chapter to food and another chapter to “stocking up.” The latter is for household items as well as foods you use a lot. (Fun fact: She took advantage of a ridiculously good price on toilet paper on Black Friday 2017. Still have some left — and she and her husband are both home all day.)

      Her overarching theme: Be clear on what you can realistically do and do the hell out of it. She provides specific tactics, but underneath it all is the idea that what works for most people might not work for depressives (or those with anxiety or other health issues). Typical personal finance advice doesn’t work for people whose lives aren’t typical. In fact, her blog’s tagline is “frugality in an imperfect world.”

      P.S. I *love* the slow cooker. Have you ever tried doing potatoes in it? Sometimes I fill it with washed spuds and let ’em bake slowly. Some we eat for dinner and the rest get turned into potato salad (if I’m feeling ambitious) or are sliced, fried and served for dinner with scrambled eggs.

  21. You mentioned services like Peapod and the attendant delivery fees. When I did an article on grocery delivery for Money Talks News, I interviewed people who find that delivery actually SAVES them money, for a couple of reasons:

    No impulse purchases, either because you see something that looks good/interesting/new or because you can’t smell that French bread or those chocolate chip cookies.

    Filling out an order form makes them very aware of what’s in the cupboards/pantry — no additional trips to the store to buy the One Thing they forgot they needed for a recipe. Since you’re also allowed to keep an ongoing grocery list (in at least some cases), it lets you add an item to the list as soon as you run out — again, no more additional trips because you forgot you were out of whatever-it-was.

    You can also do the hybrid version: Order online, pick it up at customer service or have it brought out to the car. Again, you’re not tempted by that new flavor of potato chips or those out-of-season cherries.

    The folks I interviewed also mentioned the time factor. If they pay a $7 to $15 fee and it saves them huge amounts of aggravation and/or time, they’re willing to pay it. And again, it also saves them money if they don’t come home with stuff they hadn’t intended to buy because that damn free sample tasted so damn good.

    Myself, I like doing my own grocery shopping. But I can see where delivery would be a good deal for many others.

  22. Late to the game, and hopefully I’m not repeating something that was already mentioned–but one great strategy is “shop the perimeter” – fruit, veg, dairy, meat and seafood are almost always on the outer edges of the layout of the store (although corporations have started to cotton onto this) with the more costly processed / convenience foods in the interior of the store. As tempting as it looks, I avoid the hot/cold/prepped bar like crazy, too.

    Another things stores love to do, and my local grocery has become NOTORIOUS for this, is REARRANGE shizz. It makes you have to search, which results in you having to browse, and making you susceptible to impulse purchases, as well as providing the stimulation of “novelty”. lolNOTlol. On the plus side, I’ve gotten over my crippling fear of asking store employees where crap has gotten moved to because I’m really sick and tired of a lame-ass hunt EVERY TIME I GO TO THE STORE NOW.

    I always shop from a list, and pretty much at the same store so I could get my weekly shopping for the two of us done in under hour give or take, and depending on the cashier. Granted, I also shop at 5am (it used to be 3am til my store stopped being 24 hours). The first time the shore was re-arranged, it took me TWO HOURS – they had relocated entire aisles, etc. Trying to unlearn a five-year pattern was hard! =0

    Now it seems like they shift stuff weekly! Seriously considering doing the order online and pick up thing. I’ve mentioned the rearranging thing several times in my customer satisfaction surveys but I think that’s just how it is going to be from here on out.

    In the back corner of store, where access to storage, loading dock, bathroomis, the store has a clearance rack and a day old bakery section. Day old bread is great for french toast, breadcrumbs, etc. On the clearance shelves I’ve found makeup, coffee, etc in the mark down area as well. Consistently checking and being willing to dig for things helps, too.

    The store where I shop also has “uglies” in the produce section – the fruit n veg equivalent of “day old” produce. So what if they’re not perfect, I’m going to saute those bell peppers for fajitas, so no one will know, anyway (providing you are willing/able to do the food prep yourself) , overripe bananas for banana bread, and I take sad fruit, chop out any bruises and pre-measure it into baggies and freeze it for use in smoothies!

    Both my husband and I worked retail so we already know how to bag groceries, but I also use the tactic of learning which cashier / bagger knows their stuff then I try to always go to the same register/cashier. Pro-tip they’re usually older folks but not necessarily. Also, if you are not an patient type, proper bagging will sometimes take longer as the bagger has to re-sort, especially if your cart tends to be random. It’s worth the tradeoff for how fast you can put away stuff when you get home.

    The other thing I do is buy giftcards at the store — this requires a bit of planning, and a little more work but lets me game the system – the store regularly runs 2x specials on gift cards, as in they will give you fuel discount points at double the value of the card you’ve purchased. If I know I am going to be making purchases on amazon (and if I’m on budget I DO know) I will buy a gift card at the grocery to get the double points. Around the holidays, sometimes they do 4x the points, so if I can, I buy what holiday gifts/supplies I can on Amazon. It’s not unusual for me to hit the 1 dollar a gallon off gas max discount a couple of times a year this way. I also purchase the cards/groceries/etc on a flyer-points credit card (dedicated solely to this and utilities and paid off fully each month when due) to help cover flight costs for our annual vacation.

    I also feel justified in only using the “customized” best customer store coupons now, I thought maybe I was off key on that, but I too, had noticed that the newspaper coupons are almost always for crappy, junky food, and pretty much never what we really consume.

    We have one or two things will we absolutely not buy generic versions of, and that’s okay.

    I share a Costco membership among a couple of single friends, and other couples without kids. On our own, a Costco membership makes little sense (learned the hard way when a bunch of food went bad and was composted rather than eaten) , but together, we can split out large perishable purchases to make them cost effective for all of us. A bachelor buddy likes to shop there, so we give him a list and reimburse him, which also reduces the potential for impulse buys.

    This has been informative and inspiring, and oddly – has cheered me up a ton.

    Thanks so much,


  23. One thing I try to do is buy meat in bulk when it’s on sale. For example, at the grocery store I use, they recently changed their sale papers to be good for 2 weeks instead of one week, and they had ground beef on sale for $1.78/lb in 9-10 lb tubes (the clear plastic kind, so you can actually see the meat). They also had a 10 lb bag of chicken leg quarters for $2.70 FOR THE WHOLE BAG, and whole pork tenderloin for hella cheap (the one I got was $12-$13).

    Now, keep in mind that I’m feeding a family of 5. There’s no way I’ll use all that meat all at once. So what I did was exactly what my parents used to do: stock up, then repackage all the meat into (store brand) Ziploc bags and stick it all in the freezer, minus what I planned to use that night.

    My next investment is going to be a chest freezer, so I have more room for stocking up when bargains like that come around.

    1. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out how INexpensive chest freezers can be. And it will pay for itself many times over because you’ll be able to stock up when you find good prices on stuff you eat all the time.

      Example: My partner was shopping for a few things when he heard an announcement about 99-cent-per-pound pork loin. That’s an unheard-of price anywhere, but we live in Alaska and the meat prices are pretty awful. So he bought the maximum allowed, because we have a freezer.

      The freezer is also crammed with raspberries, rhubarb and peas from the garden, loaves of bread from the bakery outlet, butter from Costco (I think it comes in five one-pound packs), homemade enchilada sauce (check the criminally simple recipe on and you’ll never buy prefab again), salmon and game meat that people give to us and, yeah, ice cream when it goes on sale. Man does not live by veggies alone.

  24. Are coupons still a thing? The only coupons I get in the mail are the ones from the wholesale club I’m a member of.

    Time impaired people also have to make some compromises between eating like a normal person and not spending several hours a week cooking. I work full time and also have school on evenings and weekends, with a whole crap ton of self directed study that I need to do at home. Most people in this situation live off take out and granola bars. My advice is to pay a little more for food that’s semi-prepared to begin with if time is a major problem–it will still cost much less than take out or entire prepared meals.

    Salad in a bag, pre-chopped vegetables, premade burger patties, rice in a bag, canned beans, and the entire freezer section at trader joe’s exist for people who won’t cook if they have to spend a bunch of time chopping and doing prep work. Instead of slamming people who pay another dollar for the mushrooms to be sliced already, you should be thankful that you don’t have an 80 hour week.

  25. I’ve got advice. About…10 years ago now, I didn’t have a vehicle, and I was using the public bus. Grocery shopping while using public transportation is a headache of monumental proportions. So is getting back from the food pantry with your monthly allotment via public transportation (which I also did). But! I cracked it. I got one of those wheeled carts. Like this one: or this one: Some stores carry them in stock, some don’t. You can also find them online and have them shipped to your house. You’ll want to get one with really good, sturdy wheels and frame. But LORD what a difference it makes. This works for walking to and from the grocery store, as well. It’s much easier to transport 50lbs of groceries in a wheeled cart that you pull along behind you than trying to carry all of it in your arms. And these wheeled carts can go up stairs too, if you do it carefully enough. They can also be used to carry other things – laundry to and from the laundry room/laundromat, and at the time I was using the bus I had also gone back to college, so I used it to carry my laptop and books to and from class, too. They’re awesome. And even if you have a car, you can also use them to get your weekly grocery shopping in from the car to your kitchen in just one trip, and save your back and your fingers. Win!

    Also: if you don’t already have one, invest in a crockpot. They are SO worth it. Back when I was healthier (I have mobility issues now), I’d get a package of de-boned chicken and just throw whatever I had on hand in the crockpot with it – spices (lemon pepper seasoning is a MUST HAVE in my house), any citrus juice I had on hand, maybe some honey mustard, some garlic, etc. And then let it cook all day. Not only is it so easy but it fills up the house with some absolutely tasty smells, too. Win!

    More advice re: coupons. Print-at-home coupons are all the rage now. There’s a website called swagbucks (, that’s my referral code if anyone’s interested in helping me out in return, my thanks in advance) which offers the printable coupons, but they sweeten the deal: you get 25 swagbucks per coupon redeemed (each swagbuck is worth $0.01) and, from time to time, they will also offer a smaller amount of swagbucks (currently 2 per, up to 50 prints) just for printing them. Why would you want these swagbucks, you might ask? Because you can exchange them for giftcards, or cash into your paypal account. And who turns down extra money? Not me.

  26. The single best solution for both cost AND time/executive dysfunction savings is a freezer, as long as you use it right.
    Buy your meats in the huge packs and freeze in individual servings already in your preferred marinades. Saves time later and, on bad ed days you can just chuck it in the oven still frozen and ignore it until it’s done.
    Cook a lot whenever you have the spoons and freeze the excess separately. A baking tray with a silicone mat is perfect for spreading items out to freeze and then can bag them once frozen to save space while still able to retrieve individual portions.
    Freeze components separately. Sauces can either be glopped as puddles or spread thinly and broken up once frozen. If you separate components, multiple meals can be combined into new dishes with little hassle. Spaghetti night, chicken strip night and roast night very quickly turns into chicken parmigiana with oven roasted veggies with almost no spoons. A couple of frozen chicken strips with a chunk of spaghetti sauce and a handful of frozen, grated cheese with some veg takes 5 minutes or less to get in the oven and is then ignored for an hour.
    Buy the huge blocks of cheese and grate most of them into the freezer bags asap. (My electric grater is my best friend). That way it doesn’t have a chance to go bad. Milk can be frozen, too.
    Remember that smaller portions freeze faster, defrost faster and are way more flexible in how they are used later.
    You know that roll of plastic bags at the store or butchers? Find a place to buy those. You might have to find a store owner willing to sell you a couple of rolls or even buy a case from them. They will last you years, are cheaper than ziplock and are more multi-functional. Without the zipper you can fit larger items in, they make awesome piping bags and you can easily use a straw to ‘vacuum-pack’ your items. Add a locking plastic bag clip and they seal just as well.
    Any casseroles, lasagne, meatloaf, etc is nearly as easy to make in huge quantities. Line your loaf tins, pans or other baking dishes with parchment or wax paper and freeze them in the dish you’ll bake them in. Once frozen they can be removed from the dish and slid into a plastic bag for storage. That way they take up less space and your pans are available for other uses.

  27. If you have an Aldi in your town, check it out. Their prices can be beat when another store, like Kroger or Sprouts has a specific item on sale, but overall, they’re our go-to for affordable groceries, particularly paper products and pantry staples. And you bag your own stuff. (Yeah, I’m your mom.) I watch the weekly ads for better deals, and buy them when I find them, but the great danger there is the dreaded impulse buy. Kroger has the cheese counter, complete with delicious samples offered with a smile, by the front door for a reason. Sprouts is safer in this respect, and they occasionally have some truly spectacular bargains, particularly on meat and seafood.

    Ugh, food deserts. Been there, done that. One option for some people might be subscribing to a produce box delivery. They tend to be local or regional, so it might take a bit of research to find one, but most of them seem to be devoted, at least in part, to “rescuing” fruits and vegetables that are a little too big, a little too small, a funny shape, or in some other way deemed unfit for sale at most retail outlets. Some allow customization of the box, some do not, so it’s important to check before signing up. All that I have seen will let you skip an order if you let them know before it goes out, and all will let you cancel at any time. The food will tend to be seasonal, so there’s a bit less freedom of choice than you would have at the supermarket, but hey, if you can’t get to the market, there’s no choice at all, right? Maybe not the perfect solution for everyone, but it is a way to put fresh foods on the menu, and maybe even to find a new favorite fruit or vegetable.

  28. “Prechopped or individually packaged servings—while definitely less frugal—do serve a purpose for those with mobility difficulties and chronic illness.”

    For mental health issues, too, I just wanted to add. When having precut veggies/fruit is the difference between Eating a Green Today (or This Week) and *not* doing that because your brain has launched an offensive against you, they’re a lifesaver.

    Cloth bags: I’m going to start keeping mine in the damn car at this point, because I *have* them and they’re stored *right by the door* to the garage but I STILL forget them every time.

  29. Always check your receipt for wrong prices before leaving the store. If you forget, check it in the parking lot, if you forget that, check it when you get home and then force yourself to go back to the store for the difference.
    After suffering a couple of times of going back for a mere dollar it will really reinforce the habit of checking your receipt before you leave the store. I try to watch the scanner in real time but usually get off task by trying to coach/help with using my reusable bags. Sometimes it can add up to real money.

  30. I have been annoyed by the shift in toilet paper and paper towel labeling which makes it almost impossible to price it and decide the best deal. Now, for some reason, I’ve determined if the square footage {not number of sheets or number of rolls!] is anywhere near the price {289 sq ft/$3} that seems like a decent deal. It seems to work. There was a time when it was easier to make these comparisons . . .

  31. Many years ago when my kids were little we did a grocery store field trip and cruised all the aisles locating and writing down all the items we bought on a regular basis. I took the list home and put it on my computer by aisle (one page, four columns, gets folded into a skinny strip on shopping days). The list gets printed every week and lives on the fridge. As soon as I run low on something I highlight it on the list. Just before I go to the store I use the list to cruise the pantry and see if I need to add anything, and check the store sale flyer to see if I want to add any good deals (only on items I regularly buy). My store is only four blocks from my house so I never shop anywhere else – not worth the effort. Not on the list? Don’t buy it. (Most of the time, anyway.) Can see at a glance which aisles can be skipped any given week. When the store moves stuff around I note it on the list and edit when I get home. Saves me a ton of time and money.

  32. I know I’m very late to the party, but I have plenty of advice for grocery shopping, an art that I mastered thanks to my mother and now I’m teaching my fiancé. I live in Italy so not all the advice may be applicable, but hopefully it will be interesting anyway ^^:
    – most stores have a discount of -30% up to -50% on fresh foods that are close to the expiration date and/or products with damaged packaging that may be discarded otherwise. My mother and I always check the 50% off fridge first where it’s available, or scout the aisles for that sweet mark;
    – my mother trained me to have a reservation price set in stone for each basic product we buy often. If it’s above the reservation price, thanks but no thanks. If it’s significantly below, we may even stock up on it. For example, my reservation price for olive oil is 3,5€/lt, for pork loin is 5,40€/kg, for pasta (rigorously De Cecco, La Molisana or Voiello – never ever Barilla) is 0,99€/kg, for tomato sauce 0,80€/kg, for bananas 1€/kg, for strawberries 4€/kg;
    – in Italy it’s mandatory to list the price-per-kilogram (o per-litre for liquids) which makes it easy to comparison shop! What is better than a universal reference system?
    – in Italy it’s also mandatory to print on the packaging the location of the plant where the product has been manufactured or processed. This makes it super easy to compare brand products and generic products – if they’re made in the same place by the same company, they’re the same! Ravioli made in San Giovanni Lupatoto are made by Rana, and soft drinks made in Ormea or Garessio are San Bernardo, no matter the label they come in.
    Hope that some of this advice can be translated to different contexts!

  33. I started online-grocery shopping during the pandemic and I actually love it and will never stop.

    It makes budgeting amazingly easy since it tallies your running total as you shop, and it cuts completely down on “ooh candy”-types of impulse purchases. You just have to take into consideration the pickup or delivery fee in your total. I just consider it my first necessary “item” and go on from there.

    And the convenience is just amazing. Sometimes when they make a stupid substitute for something you want that isn’t in stock is irritating but it doesn’t detract from the overall ridiculous convenience of the whole thing.

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