Saving Money at grocery stores
In our last two articles, the Art of Being Cheap discussed why being too cheap at grocery stores probably isn’t the best way to save money. By spending money at grocery stores instead of the restaurant, and by buying in bulk you can save money in the long run. Now that we know spending money on groceries is a good idea, lets talk about how to make your money go as far as possible.
One of the most popular ways to save money on food is to use coupons. The internet is full of blogs and websites dedicated to couponing, and I have met people who love couponing so much they treat it like a sport. So I am hesitant to say this because I know I am going to get some angry emails from devoted couponers, but here goes: I don’t use coupons, and I don’t recommend that you do either.
There are a couple of reasons I don’t use coupons, but the most important reason is that they are too much work. First you have to go to a store and buy a newspaper on the right day of the week (I know almost no one who still has their paper delivered to them), then you have to search through the advertisements to find the ones you might be interested in, then you have to cut them out, then you have to come up with a system to keep them organized so you can find the one you need at the time you need it.
A while back, TLC aired a TV show called Extreme Couponers about people who had mastered the art of using coupons. They spend a ridiculous number of hours organizing their coupons and planning their purchases, devoted significant square footage of their houses to storing huge quantities of groceries, and in the end they would wind up with a lifetime supply of mustard that had only cost them $2. Not only is it horribly inconvenient to have to store a lifetime supply of mustard, but it just isn’t worth the time. I’m afraid I don’t recall the exact numbers, but the stars of the show liked to brag about exactly how much they had saved and how many hundreds of hours it had taken them to save that much. A little analysis revealed that the amount they were saving divided by the number of hours they had spent couponing was well below the minimum wage.
So if you love couponing, go ahead and do it. You’re having a good time and saving a little money, so I’m not trying to stop you. If you really want to save money though, here is a better way:
A better way to save money
A better way to save money is to buy store brands (generic) products instead of the nationally advertised brands. They almost always are of equal quality to the expensive brands. In many cases the store brands are the exact same product made by the same people in the same factory owned by the same company, just put into a different box.
If you are in denial, and are thinking to yourself right now “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the store brands don’t taste near as good as the expensive brands” then I suggest you think about milk and eggs. On a recent shopping trip I noticed that a gallon of name brand milk cost $1.62 more than a gallon of store brand milk while a dozen name brand eggs cost $.60 more than store brand eggs. Do you think there is any difference between name brand chickens and cows and generic chickens and cows? Of course there isn’t! That milk and eggs obviously came from the exact same chickens and cows as the expensive brands, and is of the exact same quality.
If you still aren’t convinced, why not give your family a blind taste test. Make one of your favorite meals using the store brands without telling anybody what you have done. If everybody agrees it tastes just as good as normal, then you know you can safely start buying store brands and saving yourself lots of money. If your family still thinks the store brands don’t taste as good, then I suggest you do what I would do: buy the store brands anyway and lie about it to your family. They sound like brats, anyway.
How much can you save buying store brands
To see exactly how much you can save by buying store brands, I did an experiment. My wife made up her weekly shopping list and we headed off to the store. As she did the shopping I took notes of how much the store brands she purchased cost versus how much we would have paid if she had gotten the expensive national brands. Here is what I found:
|National Brand||Store Brand||Savings|
|# of items||45||45|
We purchased 45 different store brand items that cost a total of $74.53. Had we bought the expensive brand version of the same items we would have spent a total of $123.24. That is a savings of $48.71, or 40% of our total bill. Imagine how much money you could save if you suddenly saved 40% on all the food you buy. That’s a lot of dough!
The best part of saving money by purchasing store brands is there is no work involved. While couponing takes hours of organizing all you have to do to save money when you buy store brands is look at the prices and pick the lowest one. I like things that are quick and easy.
The only bad part about store brands is that they normally don’t take coupons, which is the other reason I don’t recommend coupons. In the experiment I did above I saved an average of $1.08 per item. While you might find the occasional coupon that saves you that much, they are pretty rare. So while store brands save you more money than couponing, they also take a lot less time.
Coupon lovers are welcome to leave their angry comments below. I just ask that you keep the language clean, this is a family website.
Is cutting your grocery budget a good idea (groceries part 1)
Saving money by buying in bulk (groceries part 2)