Ways to $ave at the Supermarket

Shopper at CheckoutIn case you haven’t noticed the sting of the supermarket checkout, reports reveal that food prices are soaring and experts don’t expect them to fall anytime soon.  In fact, according to the most recent US Consumer Price Index, food prices experienced one of the sharpest increases last month and world-wide economists are predicting a 2-3 percent increase in food prices this year.

If sticker shock at the supermarket checkout is making you think twice about buying some good-for-you–and often pricey!–food, here’s 7 strategies to use to $ave Big at the Supermarket.

1. Find Farmer’s Market Bargains

Produce has the reputation of being pricey, but that’s not necessarily true.  Of course, if you’re buying New Zealand apples in the middle of summer or Chilean raspberries in the winter, you’ll pay a premium to cover the transportation costs. Fresh fruit and veggies are most economical and nutritious when they’re in-season. The most economical produce you’ll find is at the farmer’s market. Selecting locally grown, seasonal produce like asparagus in the spring and early summer instead of fall can save you a bundle–sometimes dollars per pound less!

2. Fresh, Frozen and Canned are all OK

Canned and frozen fruits and veggies can be a great way to get your produce servings without breaking the bank.  And, according to recent studies conducted at the University of California-Davis comparing fresh, frozen and canned produce, all stack up well nutritionally. To cut down on the sodium and sugar added to canned fruits and veggies, opt for those labeled “reduced sodium” or “canned in juice.” If those aren’t available, get in the habit of giving canned products a quick rinse before eating or cooking with them.  I always have a freezer stocked with frozen berries and veggies.

3. Buy Organic Only When It Matters Most

Organic foods can cost anywhere from 20-100% more than conventional products, consider buying organic when it really matters or forgo altogether and shop at farmer’s markets instead.  When choosing produce, if you’re not eating the skin, fear of pesticide residues is not an issue, so look for conventionally-grown options for significant savings. I never buy organic bananas, avocados, mangoes or other thick-skinned options.

4. Find Big-Box Bargains

Full Disclosure: I do not generally shop at big-box retailers as I prefer to support family-run supermarkets. If you shop at the mega-centers, you can find great bargains.  One study from UC-Davis found that produce sold at warehouse or club store fruit and vegetable prices were 14% less than independently owned grocers and 17% less than chain supermarkets.

Due to the volume of products they sell, the no-frills stores that require less overhead, and pricing strategies, big-box retailers sell food and beverages at steep discounts compared to grocery chains.  Consumer Reports found savings of 35% on a pound of peanut butter, 47% on Cheerios and 29% on a half-gallon of Tropicana Orange Juice. And, USDA studies have found that these unconventional stores like Target, WalMart and Costco provided a savings of up to 27% compared to large supermarket chains.

5. Shop the Perimeter

While shopping, spend the majority of your time in the supermarket shopping the perimeter where the healthier, less processed and fresh foods are found. Since much of food costs are tied to processing, packaging and marketing, commodities and bulk foods are generally always a less expensive proposition than processed foods.  For example, potatoes are downright cheap but potato chips, not so much.  I try to make sure 80% of what I buy is from the perimeter and 20% is from the processed, interior grocery store aisles.

6. Be a Food Sleuth

The least expensive items in their category as brands pay higher slotting fees to be placed at eye level so that cost may be passed on to consumers with higher prices.

7. Seek Social Media $avings

Instead of using Facebook and Twitter to follow your favorite celebrities latest “cause,” become a “Friend” of your favorite food brands and you’ll find many e-coupons for good-for-you finds.  Often, the best savings are sent from the major food brands to their social media “friends.”



  1. Jennifer Gilpin,MPH,RD,CDE says

    Start a vegetable garden in your yard this summer. Many veggies are easily grown in pots, and you have nearly free, freshly grown produce all summer long!

  2. says

    1. Experiment with some less familiar but very nutritious foods. Try main dishes based on beans, lentils, or split peas paired with rice or pasta. A head of cabbage costs next to nothing and you can get a “hot meal” veggie out of one half and use the rest for cole slaw, salad, to stuff sandwiches, or add to soup.
    2. Homemade soups also can use up your leftovers economically.
    3. You can invest in some reusables (for example at reuseit.com) to cut down on what you spend for sandwich bags, food wraps, etc.
    4. Love the “grow your own” veggies comment! You could take it a step further and can or freeze the produce you grow! This requires an initial investment in canning supplies, but the products taste so great in the middle of winter!

  3. Laura Stepp, MA, RD/LD says

    1. Compare store brands to comercial brands. In my experience the store brand is equal to the commercial brand. Ex: Natural peanut butter is nuts and salt – why pay for the name brand?
    2. Buy one get one free – buy only one – 1/2 price.
    3. Buy one item or a personal portion size. It’s ok to buy one apple, one bell pepper or 4 slices of deli meat or cheese. The consumer need not feel like they have to buy by the pound.
    4. Go to the store website. They often have coupons on their sites just for their store. Downside: they expire with a day or two of printing.

  4. Hope Damon RD, CDE says

    Learn to enjoy preparing food – so you cook from scratch regularly. Eat to meet your calorie and nutrition needs – lots of savings when you don’t overeat:) Have breakfast for dinner once a week – eggs, oatmeal pancakes and whole wheat French toast are nutrition and dollar bargains. Use leftovers for lunch – so easy as long as you put them in portable containers the night before (Crate and Barrel has wonderful affordable glass containers with sealtight plastic lids so you avoid keeping your food in contact with plastic – and they don’t leak!) My favorite money-saving tool is a rubber scraper – it is amazing how much food gets left in the jar, can etc and disgarded – think spaghetti sauce, mayo, peanut butter, most anything.
    Totally agree with the grow your own – even city dwellers can often yield lots of delicious salad veggies grown in buckets. Very rewarding.

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