How to Save at the Supermarket—Part 1

Has anyone else noticed food prices are skyrocketing? Honestly, what with a 4.3% increase in food prices this year and a rumour peanut butter prices will jump 35% (what the heck?), I might have to start shopping at Valu-Mart instead of Whole Paycheck Foods. Or not. Even though I consider myself a savvy shopper and love a good deal, I’m admittedly a grocery store snob; big, shiny markets with pretty displays, cheerful employees and free samples of brie on 7-seed baguette make me happy. (Dear Trader Joe’s: Please come to Canada. Thanks.) But since my bank account prohibits frivolous food spending, I use these cost-cutting measures to shop in style—and for healthy foods—while saving money. Here’s Part 1 of Meg’s Grocery Saving Strategies. Stay tuned for Part 2.


Use coupons—wisely

This month’s Self features an article with Sarah Michelle Gellar, who, in offering tips on buying good food for less, says, “I clip coupons all the time. Why should you pay more for something that someone else is paying less for?” Well said, Buffy. I use coupons, too, and I love the show Extreme Couponing. Seriously, with the calculating and strategizing “Extreme Couponers” invest in building their stockpiles of Fanta, Bengay and paper towels, they could likely negate the national debt in no time. (Jim Flaherty, take notes.) Coupons aren’t as plentiful in Canada as in the U.S., especially for fresh foods, but the Healthy Shopper offers significant savings on natural products (check the website to find out where to pick up a free copy or to download coupons). Remember, the key is to use coupons on (healthful) things you’d buy anyway (or want to try)—$1 off a jumbo box of Pop-Tarts doesn’t qualify as healthy downsizing.

Sign up for your supermarket’s discount card

Having lived in three cities this past year, I now tote a wallet weighing five pounds, stocked with rewards cards from Safeway, Save-On-Foods, Choices, Urban Fare, Sobeys, Shoppers Drug Mart, Co-op . . . . I’m convinced it’s all a scam—obviously, the item’s full price isn’t really the full price but the “price we charge people who are too lazy to sign up for our discount card.” Whatever. Just get yourself a card, or 10.

Check your bill

Every month I get at least a couple free things at the grocery store or drugstore. Last month, it was an $8 block of cheddar, a cucumber, shaving cream and Band-aids. How? The Scanner Price Accuracy Code, a voluntary retailer policy (most major Canadian retailers abide by it), requires retailers to refund your item if it scans higher than the shelf price or other displayed price, as long as it’s $10 or less. So check the advertised price and your bill, and if you notice you were overcharged, head to customer service to get your refund. I usually have to ask for it, and it does take a few extra minutes, but more money in my pocket means more money to spend at Sephora put in my RRSPs.

Know that $10 for 10 usually means $1 for 1

Here’s a sneaky supermarket pricing strategy I only learned of recently: when items are “bundle-priced” (I have no idea what the actual term is), for example, 10 cans of chickpeas for $10 or 2 yogurts for $5, you often don’t have buy multiples to get the discounted price. That is, one can of chickpeas will ring up as $1 and one yogurt will be $2.50. This policy applies to most stores, including Loblaws, Safeway, Save-On and Whole Foods, but not all; when in doubt, ask the cashier. The point is you don’t need to buy more to save big (unless you aspire to build an “Extreme Couponer” stockpile).

Shop selectively for organic foods 

I buy organic when I can, but I don’t sweat it when I can’t, such as when it’s too pricey or when organic produce looks as though it’s been sitting on a shipping truck for weeks. I do try to buy organic (or pesticide-free) varieties of the “dirty dozen,” those fruits and veggies, such as apples and spinach, with the most pesticide residues. (Don’t forget to wash all produce well. Organic doesn’t mean E. coli free!) And though I always get free-range eggs, I don’t worry about buying organic milk or dairy products. When I wrote on article on milk for Chatelaine, I learned that, unlike the U.S., Canadian regulations prohibit dairy producers from giving hormones to cows or from selling milk containing antibiotics or preservatives. There’s no evidence, either, that organic foods, including dairy, are more nutritious than non-organic, and studies show it’s better to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables than avoid them because they’re not organic.

When couponing goes too far . . .

Posted on December 1, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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