As prices keep creeping ever upward, I thought it might be useful to take a step back and revisit my old couponing and saving roots. Here are five ways to save on groceries, even as inflation runs rampant.
You all know by now that I love my ALDI shopping and meal planning! However, those of you who have been paying eagle-eyed attention will also note that my ingredient photos generally contain a mix of ALDI brand, name brand, and other store brand products. There is actually a method to this madness.
How to save on groceries
Back in the day, before I started writing about ALDI, food, and… ALDI food, I started out as a “coupons and deals” blogger. I spent quite some time chasing the next deal before transitioning largely over to ALDI shopping a few years ago, but have still dabbled in couponing here and there, whenever a good deal struck my fancy.
Now, as inflation has been hitting even ALDI’s everyday prices (especially on staples like meat, produce, and dairy), I find myself moving back just a bit more into couponing. I’ve also been spending just a bit more of my time looking for better deals. So, I thought it might be useful to share a few of my favorite grocery saving tips here: Just some basic ideas on how to get started.
1) Shop more than one store
When I suggest shopping more than one store, I don’t mean to drive around wasting time and gas looking for deals. You’re not actually saving, if your costs there offset your savings on food.
But here’s the thing: I drive past other grocery stores to get to ALDI. Lately I tend to pop into one or another on the way to ALDI for my main stock up trip, just to pick up a few loss leaders. So…
Shop nearby stores
If you’re lucky enough to have multiple grocery stores in your area, think about what’s nearby and about what store(s) you pass on your other errands. For instance, I drive right past my local Jewel-Osco grocery store whenever I go to ALDI. Now, this Jewel sports just terrible everyday prices on produce… but has actually been running nice $.99 and $1.00 produce sales over the last few weeks. (Always know your prices here; some items such as baby carrots & mangoes were still cheaper at ALDI, even with this sale.)
Just during the week of the produce sale pictured above:
- Strawberries: $1.00 at Jewel; $2.49 at ALDI
- Blackberries: $1.00 at Jewel, $2.29 at ALDI
- Celery: $1.00 at Jewel, $1.49 at ALDI
- 3 lb bags of onions: $1.00 at Jewel, $1.89 at ALDI
- Mushrooms: $1.00 at Jewel, $1.89 at ALDI
- 3 lbs potatoes: $1.00 at Jewel ($.33/lb), 5 lbs potatoes, $2.89 at ALDI ($.58/lb)
- Coleslaw: $1.00 at Jewel, $1.59 at ALDI
The amount of cheap berries my kid went through that week, I can’t even tell you! But when I popped in on the way to ALDI to buy those berries, I also grabbed the mushrooms, onions, potatoes, celery, and coleslaw (as well as a couple of other loss leaders) to use when making meals that week — at around a 40% savings over their ALDI price.
Where else can you shop?
Is there another grocery store near where you work, or right near your ALDI? Don’t do all of your shopping there, but watch their ads, and stop in only for their loss leader sales. Is there a produce market near you? Their prices often beat ALDI’s, especially on seasonal items. Do you have a Costco membership? (This might be worth it for the gas savings alone right now…) Maximize your use of their $4.99 rotisserie chickens, and watch the monthly savings booklets for deals.
This coming week, for instance, my local Meijer store will be running a “ten for $10 get the 11th item free” sale. I pass Meijer on the way to my fiance’s house — so, you can bet that I’m going to be stopping in there for a few things like $1.00 pepperoni (as opposed to $2.49 at ALDI), $1.00 baguettes ($1.89 at ALDI), and $1.00 pasta sauce ($1.49 at ALDI).
What’s on sale in your own local stores this week?
This also includes online shopping
I also do some of my shopping for grocery and household staples online. By online shopping I don’t mean Instacart and the like, since third party services add their own markups. I do, however, make use of sales and coupons from Amazon subscribe & save — which has been especially helpful for products that are hard to find in stores lately, such as my cats’ preferred brand of food.
By watching coupons and sales online, for example, I just picked up a 22 lb bag of Purina ONE cat food on Amazon for $7.50 less (pre-tax) than the smaller 16 lb bag runs at Target… if I could even find it on the shelf right now. Even if I used coupons at Target, Amazon works out to a much better deal, and their giant bag of cat food even ships right to my door.
I’ve written up a step-by-step guide for you on how to maximize your savings with subscribe & save, and often update this lengthy list of cheap subscribe & save “filler” items.
2) Stock up when prices are low
Whether you’re using coupons or shopping sales, save by buying extra when items are at their lowest price.
- When the everyday price for a pound of butter is $3.99 at ALDI, but it goes to $2.49 around Thanksgiving, buy extra for the freezer.
- When the everyday price for a box of name-brand cereal is $4.99, but it goes on a loss leader sale for $1.49, pick up a couple of extra boxes for the kids.
- When the everyday price for a pack of chicken drumsticks is $1.99 a pound, but it goes on sale for $.99 a pound, grab extra to freeze for later.
By making a point of adding a couple of extra sale items to every shopping trip, you’ll gradually build up a little stockpile of groceries that you’ve picked up at their lowest price point. You then “save” every time you shop your pantry when making dinner, rather than picking up a product at its higher everyday price.
Always look for clearance
Stocking up on sales absolutely includes stocking up on clearance, so look for stickers or browse your stores’ clearance sections during every trip. Half price meat? Get extra for the freezer. This is where I really love the big red clearance stickers at ALDI, since you can spot them a mile away. While clearance items are often short dated, many things freeze well — and with some items, a “best buy” date is not a hard-and-fast expiration date.
3) Eat around what’s on sale
Hey hey, this is where the meal planning comes in! Using ALDI products for your family meals helps you save in general. But if you are doing your own meal plan, maximize your savings even more when you center your meals around:
- What’s on sale at the store, and
- What you have on hand at home
We naturally tend to plan around what we feel like eating in a particular week, or to repeat our families’ favorite meals. But what we feel like eating that week may not be in season, or may not be affordable at that time. If you instead plan your meals around sale meat and produce, as well as the sale items you’ve already squirreled away in your freezer and pantry, you can save even more.
For instance: Let’s say you think about making Italian beef sandwiches this week, but chuck roast is now up to $6.99/lb… and not on sale anywhere. Maybe it’s a good week to instead make Italian chicken sandwiches with a pack of $1.99/lb chicken breast that’s on sale. Browse the sale ads and think about what you have in the freezer before making your meal plan.
4) Use coupons and cash back apps
Amazon Fresh recently opened a store near me. Their everyday prices? Not so good. Their grand opening coupons (and loss leader sales)? Fantastic — I’m talking on the order of “$10 off a $20 purchase” coupons. I’ll shop there as long as they keep putting out introductory coupons to entice people in, but they’ll drop off my list once the deals fade.
Look for coupons in your local paper and/or mailed weekly ads, print them online at manufacturers’ sites, and always be on the lookout for tearpads and other product coupons in your local grocery stores.
Couponing has changed over the years, and now many coupons are digital only. Check your local grocery chains to see if they offer online coupon savings programs, such as Meijer mPerks, Kroger digital coupons, or Jewel-Osco for U. These programs sometimes also offer personalized prices, rewards offers, and free-after-digital-coupon products to entice shoppers to try new products, as well as cheap-after-digital-coupon loss leaders to entice shoppers into the store.
Cash back apps
Now let’s get even trickier, and talk about combining coupons with cash back apps to save even more! Here are my two favorite cash back apps, plus a nifty recent example for you.
I don’t often buy cereal, to be honest — but last month my local Jewel-Osco store ran a super sale on select Quaker cereals at $.99 each when you bought five boxes. Right there, that’s cheaper than ALDI, right? Even better, though: The store also had Quaker displays in the cereal aisle with a coupon tearpad offering $2.00 off five Quaker products. Using this coupon at checkout brought those five boxes of cereal down to $2.95.
But what’s even better than five boxes of cereal for $2.95? Yes! It’s getting $5.50 in cash back on those five boxes of cereal. Let’s do a little coupon math here:
- Cereal, $.99 a box when you buy five boxes = $4.95 for five
- Using a $2.00 coupon = $2.95 for five
- Getting $5.50 as a cash back rebate = a profit of $2.55 from buying cereal
I kept some cereal, gave away some cereal, and felt quite pleased with my savings that week.
I’ve written here in a little more detail on how cash back apps work, but basically these apps provide rebates for buying given products, which you can then cash out for $ or gift cards.
5) Don’t be brand loyal
My picky, picky cats are hooked on their Purina ONE cat food (and that aisle at Target used to be so full, and run so many more sales!). However, the human members of our family are brand-loyal to very few food items.
Have you seen the recent viral TikTok videos about people refilling brand-name jars of mayo and more with their ALDI-brand equivalents? This of course started long before TikTok was a thing: Often our perceptions of a given brand’s quality is affected more by advertising or just plain habit than we realize.
Whether you replace a given brand with another name brand item on sale, one for which you have a coupon, or its store brand equivalent, flexibility will serve you well.
What are your own tips for saving on groceries?
I’ve just scratched the surface here, but hopefully the above tips will get you thinking about how to save, especially these days.