While on our customary jaunt to Market Basket (hat tip to our local discount grocer) last week, it struck me that today’s grocery store is presented as a one-stop shop. There’s food sure, but also a plethora of household accoutrements: toilet paper, spatulas, slip-n-slides*, diapers, dog chow, and everything in between.
*Sidenote: I wonder how Frugal Hound would do on a slip-n-slide…
But per usual in the frugal weirdo’s realm, with convenience comes danger. We all know we’re going to pay more for just about anything in the category of “time saving,” but it only occurred to me last week what insidious financial perils lurk in the aisles of your average supermarket.
Fear not, to stave off these lurid and deplorable supermarket wallet-killers, Mr. FW and I assembled the below list of things we never, ever buy at the grocery store. Now, this is obviously based on our own experiences (like everything else in Frugalwoods-land!), so your mileage might vary depending on where you live and what you consume on a regular rotation.
And now for a quick rundown of the Frugalwoods grocery situation for any new readers: our total grocery bill for two adults runs $300-$350/month. Since we don’t eat out or get take out, this amount includes every scrap of food and drop of drink we consume all month long, plus coffee and alcohol (that line item was admittedly more relevant when 50% of us weren’t pregnant ;)…).
Want to know more about what we do buy? Check out these fine (if I do say so myself) texts:
- Our Frugal Grocery List Revealed
- Why We Don’t Meal Plan
- Our Epically Frugal Lunch Recipe
- Are You Going To Eat That? Never Waste Food Again!
- Breakfast: The Hidden Destroyer
- Eat ALL the Things!
- Frugalize Your Groceries
And now, prepare to be scandalized and terrified by this shocking list of things to never, ever buy!
Six Things The Frugalwoods Never Buy At The Grocery Store
1) Food that’s in a package.
In general, if it’s encased in some sort of packaging, it’s going to be more expensive. I’m looking at you soda, cereal, boxed cake mixes, cookies, jars of sauce. These are all things you can make from scratch for way cheaper (yes, a frugal form of soda included).
Baking a batch of cookies will cost pennies and be far more scrumptious than those that arrive in cardboard. Same goes for cereal. Some frugal weirdos like to DIY their first meal of the day–my mom, for example, makes granola from scratch. And others of us, yours truly included, like to go the bulk route to the tune of $0.10/serving for raw oats from Costco*.
There is a glaring exception to this prescription and they are called chips. We buy packaged chips (which are $2/bag for the Market Basket brand) to accompany our homemade guacamole. It’s easier than making them from scratch and it’s $2 we’re willing to spend.
*Note on Costco: there’s a $55/year fee to join and so you’ll have to calculate whether or not it’s worth it to you. For us, the savings we reap in dog food alone make it worthwhile, so we’re happy to pay the price. We also don’t have a Wal-Mart in our area, which can be a great option in lieu of a warehouse membership.
2) Food that’s already cooked.
If someone else cooked it, you’re going to pay for that service with almost no exceptions. Frozen dinners, prepared hot meals, salad bars, packaged sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, and that ilk are all pricier than their raw component parts.
Now that’s not to say there’s no place for the occasional packaged/pre-made meal in the home of the extremely frugal.
As I’ve shared, Mr. FW and I maintain a reserve stash of Costco frozen pizzas for emergency situations. These ‘zas are $3.50 each, but that’s far more reasonable than succumbing to take-out on a night when we’re too wiped to cook. However, subsisting on these pre-made options full-time will undoubtedly inflate the ol’ grocery bill.
3) Anything sold in the checkout line.
Candy, magazines, cube-shaped breath mints covered in flavor crystals (???), tiny packages of mixed nuts–these encapsulate the epitome of the impulse buy. Such individual tidbits are priced far higher than their bulk analogues found a mere few aisles back. Plus, let’s be honest, if you didn’t buy it before you got to the checkout lane, you probably don’t actually need it.
Pursuant to my opening salvo, the convenience of buying non-grocery paraphernalia alongside your broccoli is almost always a frugal fail. Lightbulbs, paper, pens, laundry detergent, and shampoo are in the grocery store for your convenience, not for your savings.
There are a few rare instances where we’ve discovered that such objects are cheaper at the grocery store, but those examples are scarce as a frugal weirdo at a BMW dealership.
To determine if this holds true for your personal supermarket, you’ll need to conduct your own price comparisons. But I’m willing to bet you’ll locate non-food for a better price at a non-food store.
5) Bulk items.
A typical run-of-the-mill grocery store is simply not designed to vend genuine bulk goods. Patronize your grocery store for what they excel in: small portions of fresh produce, dairy, meats, and grains. Leave the bulk efforts to the champions of huge quantities: Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and others in that genre.
There are atypical deviations from this rule where grocery stores will run specials on massive allotments, but make sure to calculate the price per unit (i.e. per ounce of coffee, per pound of bananas, per hundred feet of toilet paper) to ensure you’re actually getting a screaming bargain.
Bulk deals apply to both household goods and food. For Mr. FW and I, the following products are vastly less expensive at Costco: toilet paper, dog food, rice, olive oil, oats, canned tomatoes, beans, limes, avocados, spices, pasta, olives, capers, shampoo, vitamins, and more.
6) Anything that costs more than $10.
A trend Mr. FW and I have noticed in our grocery receipts is that we seldom, if ever, purchase a single item over $10. This totally makes sense since we’re not buying packaged, pre-made, non-food, or bulk products. The stuff we do buy (produce, dairy, the occasional meat) is pretty cheap per item.
If you’re seeing single items ring up above that $10 threshold, I’m thinking one of four things:
- You’re shopping at Whole Foods, which is a personal choice and I won’t judge you for it. Just be aware that you’ll pay less basically anywhere else that sells food.
- You’re buying bulk or non-food merchandise that would be better procured at either Costco or Amazon.
- You’re buying fancy cheese (which is delicious and something we do from time to time).
- You’re buying specialty commodities such as spices or olive oil, which are almost always more economical either from the likes of Amazon or Costco.
How Do We Know Where The Best Prices Are?
I’m the first to admit that Mr. Frugalwoods and I might be what you’d call a tad obsessed with snaring stellar deals on food (and everything else we buy, come to think of it). Thus, we’ve probably spent more time than your average greyhound mulling over where we source our stuff.
But here’s the thing: you can do this too with minimal effort! How? You only have to figure out your cheapest outlet for dog toothpaste one time; thereafter, you’re officially cruising on the blissful ease that is frugal autopilot. Once you know your thriftiest option, you’ll never fall victim to overpayment again.
Here’s our four-step method for finding the lowest prices on everything from mangos to dental floss:
1) Put all of your receipts for household goods and groceries in an envelope. If you want uber frugal bonus points, you can reuse an envelope.
2) Carry that envelope with you when you shop and compare the prices in store to the prices on your receipts from other stores. Use a calculator to determine the price per unit (unless you’re one of those people who can do mental math–I most certainly am not), so that you know you’re comparing identical quantities.
3) When comparing prices before purchasing bigger ticket items such as electric toothbrush heads (which in case you’re wondering are cheapest on Amazon), write the amounts down–don’t forget the quantity!–and carry that piece of paper with you to the store/home to your computer. You could also use your smartphone in store to research online prices.
4) Memorize where your stuff is a bargain and only buy it there.
And that’s all there is to it. Within a few weeks, you too can be rolling through grocery shopping with the greatest of frugal ease. These techniques contribute to the fact that we don’t bother to budget–there’s simply no reason to when we know where to sniff out the best deals. And once you’ve established your own routine of frugal shopping prowess, you’ll be thrilled at the savings.