Groceries are staples in everyone's life, so we can't really get around needing to buy them. However, inflation does not care that food is essential to our existence, and millions of Americans are struggling to cover soaring costs at supermarkets.
Cutting corners on our most basic needs isn't ideal, but if you are forced to make budgets even tighter or get extra resourceful when buying grocery items -- there are ways to deal.
Finding the cheapest groceries in your area isn't quite as simple as heading to the nearest big-box retailer or club warehouse that positively swears it has the best deals. Instead, some detective work is involved. GOBankingRates consulted with shopping and budgeting experts to learn their favorite tricks for scoring deals on these most necessary items.
Start With an Online ZIP Code Search
"Go to the websites of nearby stores, put in your zip code and scope out their weekly ads," said Kristin McGrath, shopping expert at BlackFriday.com. "This is how you'll find BOGO offers on the stuff you need to stock up on, as well as sales. And this can determine where it's smart to shop that day."
Use the Basket App
"Basket uses crowd-sourcing to compare prices across grocery stores on various items on your shopping list," McGrath said.
Know the Stores That Specialize in Low Prices
Consumers should know which grocery stores (or stores that sell groceries) almost always have the most competitive prices. Take a look.
Aldi: "The retailer has made it their mission to keep prices low, so you can always count on super affordable groceries," said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com. "About the only time you may pay more, or at least more than you want to, is for some select name-brand products they may carry. They also rotate seasonal items fairly frequently so even though it may be a smaller store, there tends to be a decent selection."
Target: "Target has really embraced its own brands in the last couple of years and they are often much more affordable options than the name-brand alternatives," Ramhold said. "Often they're just as good if not better quality as some of their counterparts as well. For instance, you can't convince me Good & Gather hot cocoa isn't the best store-brand out there -- it's so rich and a box of 8 generous-sized packs is like $5."
Walmart: "The store-brand of Walmart is called Great Value for a reason and its prices can be beat, but if you're in a pinch and can only shop at one store, Walmart is usually a pretty safe bet to save on groceries," Ramhold said. "While the cheapest items will usually be under their Great Value, Equate, or other store-brand labels, they can have decent savings on national name-brands too."
Track Sales in Your Area Using Flipp
"Savings apps like Flipp aggregate circulars in one place so it's easy to figure out which stores have the best current deals for the food items you want to buy," said budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. "They even have a cool feature where you record your list in the app and it will alert you when something goes on sale."
Shop Online To Get More Coupons (and Control Impulses)
"In many cases, you don't have to go to the store as you can shop online at multiple stores to take advantage of all the best offers without driving all around town," Woroch said. "This will also help you avoid impulse purchases and you can even find online coupons via deal aggregators like CouponFollow.com to cut delivery fees and reduce your overall grocery spend."
Use a Rebate App
"Use a rebate app like Fetch Rewards to earn points for uploading pictures of your grocery receipts which you can redeem toward free gift cards to grocery stores like Walmart and Target or restaurants to offset future food purchases," Woroch said.
"Take this one step further to maximize cash back by checking the special deals section in the app to see which brands will get you more points for free gift cards faster. For instance, you can get 250 points for Thomas Bagels, 1,500 points for Sea Cuisine Frozen Fish and 500 points for Breyers, Klondike and Good Humor cookies and cream products. If you're open to trying different brands, this is an easy way to rack up free gift cards faster. (1,000 points equals a dollar)."
Download Cashback Plug-Ins
"Download a cashback plug-in like Coupon Cabin's Sidekick tool which will alert you when there's cash back available for an online grocery order," Woroch said. "You can earn 1.5% back at Vons, 1.5% back at Safeway and up to $7 back at Instacart."
Tap Into Fuel Rewards Programs
"Pay attention to fuel reward programs and buy groceries from stores that offer savings at the pump," Woroch said. "For example, Kroger Family of Stores offers a Fuel Reward program where shoppers earn 1 Fuel Point for every $1 spent on groceries. Points can then be redeemed for discounts on fuel at Kroger gas stations or Shell stations. Stop & Shop offers similar savings through their GO Rewards. Check your grocery loyalty programs to find out if a similar program is offered near you and which gas stations will accept those points so you don't miss out."
Don't Drive Far for Deals
Speaking of fuel, you should be mindful of its skyrocketing cost when scouring the 'hood for savings opportunities.
"To save the most on groceries, gas is always a consideration, so I never recommend going out of the way for deals," said Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game and Author of "Shop Smart, Save More."
"However, the best and easiest way to save on groceries is to shop with 2 strategies in mind: stocking up on deals and what I call 'need shopping.' These two strategies are best implemented in the right type of store. Surprisingly, the best deals for stocking up are found at Hi/Lo chain supermarkets. This may seem counterintuitive, but it's true. Hi/Lo markets have high regular prices, but their sales often dip much lower than their EDLP counterpart (Walmart). You're stocking up strategically based on the sales of the week, primarily on the front page (loss leaders) and on other deals, such as multiples of 3, 4, or 5 and/or using a digital coupon."
"Don't overlook your grocery receipt," Woroch said. "I recently scored $10 off $75 at Sprouts and the coupon was printed on the bottom of my grocery receipt."
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