Now I'm not here to tell you how to grocery shop. I'm going to assume you're a big boy/girl now and you at least have the ability to locate, drive to, and buy things at a grocery store.
But I will admit the first time grocery shopping for more than just some munchies can make you feel a little small and lost. Who knew there were so many types of cooking oil? And why the hell isn't Kraft mac & cheese with all the other macaroni in the pasta aisle? How do I scan my pineapple in the self-checkout line?
Hopefully I can help make things easier for you. Definitely leave me comments if you have more questions on things I didn't cover.
I am a girl who is obsessed with bargains. I generally will not buy any clothing unless it's under $20. I get a hard time because I will sometimes deny myself fries because I don't want to spend the extra $1 at Wendy's. So when I started grocery shopping for myself I had no problem with searching for the best prices on everything. But I know most people aren't like this. Most people will buy the brands they know and the food they're used to having. Now there is no problem with this. I'm just letting you know that there are some tricks that can save you lots of money in the long run. And you know you're going to start needing to save money as soon as you start throwing ragers every weekend.
1. Milk. Who thought milk was so damn expensive? I was blown away I discovered that Stop N' Shop sells it for about $5 a gallon. I guess our calcium will have to suffer. Wrong. They say everything is more expensive at convenient stores. Well, this is true. Except for milk at Cumbies. If you can spare your love for whole milk you can make a killing here. For some strange reason, 1% is cheaper than all the other types. It's less than $3 a gallon here. Luckily for me, there's a Cumberland Farms right down the street from me, nestled between a liquor store and a pizza-by-the-slice. Things like that make me love Amherst.
2. Store brand vs. name brand. Oprah once taught me a wise tip. (At least, I think it was Oprah. It must have been; all great wisdom comes from that lovable black menopausal woman.) There is some law that dictates that whoever produces pharmaceuticals has to make a cheaper brand (hence CVS brand). The secret? It's the same stuff. Yes you are paying double the price for Advil as opposed to ibuprofen, but getting the same ingredients that work just as well. Now I never buy brand name medication, ever. Now, I know this may not be true for food. I've had some cardboard-y Honey-Ohs, and I wouldn't recommend fake Kraft mac & cheese. But there is something to be said about generic brands. A lot of times you can buy things that are just as good for much less. (I am actually a HUGE advocate for Wal Mart's cola.) It's really up to you to experiment with what generic products are up to par. But do not be afraid of them. One tip though. Check the prices of everything because sometimes with sales, store brands are not the cheapest brand. Do a little math on your cell phone.
3. Coffee. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I'm gonna say it anyway. Buying a coffee at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts every day is a big weight on your budget. If you as much of a coffee addict as I am, I understand your pain. But you really need to make your own coffee. Not only are you paying for the coffee, but you're paying for labor, the cup, and ultimately the BMW's that the managers drive. The biggest killer? Iced coffee. Ever think about it? Why is it more expensive? Is it because you're paying for ice? I'm gonna let you in on something: ice is made from water, water is free. The only reason I can think of for iced coffee to cost more is BECAUSE THEY CAN. You are getting less coffee. I don't care if the iced cup looks about twice the size of the hot cup. There is usually so much ice in there that you are probably getting about half the coffee for the higher price. And iced coffee is not complicated for you to make at home. Just add ice! Lots of it, because the hot coffee WILL melt it. So you like mocha? Buy some chocolate syrup and put it in your coffee, that's all it is. Same with caramel. Think about how much you spend on a coffee per day, and then multiply it by how many days in a month, and you'll realize how much that $2 really turns into.
4. The Dollar Store is a beautiful thing; especially when it comes to household supplies. Hell, they even have $1 cases for your iPod! If you've never been to one, I suggest you try it out. I'm not saying you buy their underwear, but there are some perfectly good items you can get for only $1! (Just be careful, not all dollar stores are really dollar stores. Go to ones that say "yes, everything is really $1!") You can even buy food there. They have massive sized bottles of soda and fruit punch that make great mixers. There's only one thing you have to be careful of. Sometimes you might think, "omg this bottle of minced garlic is only one dollar!". But then you go to the grocery store and realize you could have gotten a much bigger bottle for only a few cents more. Don't be fooled into thinking that just because things are a dollar that it's a better deal than the real thing.
5. Sales. In my eyes, there are two types of sales at the grocery store. There's the kind where you HAVE to buy two to get the third one free, and then there's the kind where you can really just buy two of something to get them for a dollar each when the sign says 10/$10. This is very tricky. I don't like to buy too much of something if it's going to go bad and I know I won't use it all. The way that I found the difference is if you look closely at the little sign and when it says, "Buy two get one free (savings $.50 each)" it means you will save $.50 on each individual item. If it doesn't say how much you save per item, then you probably have to buy the two to get one free.
6. Cards. If your grocery store has a card you can sign up for, chances are it's free. And you'll save a hell of a lot more money if you use your card than if you don't have one.
7. Deli vs. packaged. When I first went grocery shopping, I bought all my lunch meats and cheese from the deli, since that's the way my family always did it. I never really ate the kind that comes in a container. Upon further investigation, I discovered that you can often find better deals on the packaged meat. A lot of times there will be 2 for 1 sales and you can get a package of ham and a package of turkey. Some brands have other meats such as bologna or salami. But the only way to decipher which way is really cheaper is to do a little ol' fashioned math. On anything you buy it will always say how much is in what you are buying. Say you buy a 1/4 lb of American cheese. There are 16 oz in one lb. So if you've got a package that costs less and it's got 4oz of cheese or more then you're golden. Math is important here because the deli usually lists their produce by the pound, where a lot of packaged brands list it by ounce. For me, I buy Land O'Lakes cheese at the deli and get my meats from the packaged section.
8. Coupons. Of course coupons are great. However, I don't get a paper that has them (so when I go home I usually snag them from my parents). But, a lot of stores have coupons hidden throughout the store. My eye has been trained to immediately go to anything sticking out of an aisle or flashing red lights. They have coupon dispensers now that you can use immediately, but they usually last a few weeks too.
9. Self checkout? I'm sure a lot of people haven't used this new-fangled self-checkout contraption they have in stores now-adays. I certainly wouldn't recommend it to everyone. However, you are a technologically advanced college student so I think you are ready for this. What I love about self-checkout is that if something isn't what I thought it cost, then I can stop and ask for assistance to take it off my bill. If someone else is scanning my items, chances are that I'm in la-la land and won't realize when the bag of grapes I picked out cost me $7. Yes, it can be kind of embarrassing to ask for help, but they've got them programmed now so that you can just press a button for assistance and don't need to go screaming through the store for an employee to assist you. Lately I've even had managers bagging my items for me. One tricky part about self-checkout is that you have to weigh your own produce. So anything without a bar code on it, you will need to press the button for "produce lookup" and find your item in the computer. Usually this works out pretty well. And finally, another plus about the self-checkout line is that if you're in a bad mood, there's no need to interact with anyone.