Shopping at More Than One Grocery Store: Worth It, Or a Waste?

A question for frugal shoppers: Is it worth the bother to grocery shop at more than one store? If another store offers certain products at lower prices than your regular grocery store, is it really worth the extra driving to capture those savings?

Unfortunately, the answer is “it depends.”

Here at Casual Kitchen we almost never go to different stores to save money. Instead, we control our grocery shopping costs by avoiding branded products and prepared “second-order” foods, limiting meat-heavy meals, and so on.

Then, we select the one grocery store in our area that best meets our needs. We want a conveniently located store offering the best selection of the goods we typically buy at generally the best prices. As we've seen in a recent post here at Casual Kitchen, we can easily measure this by occasionally skimming a couple of grocery store circulars side by side. Sure, certain items might, at times, be cheaper at other stores, but the store circulars help us make sure we get good value for the preponderance of the items we buy.

In today’s post, I want to share a recent example where I actually did drive to three different grocery stores in a single shopping trip. That’s right: three! I want to show how, once in a while, it is very much worth it to explore other grocery retailers.

However, it’s not worth it to do this every week, and certainly not worth it if your grocery trips cost more in time and fuel than you reap in savings.

Let’s get into our example. Within a 3-4 mile radius of our home, there are four standard grocery stores: Kings, Acme, Stop and Shop and Shoprite (there’s also a Whole Foods, but we’ll ignore it for obvious reasons: this is a post about saving money after all).

Recall that we can let the stores tell us what products to buy, by letting their circulars do the talking as we skim them from home. During one recent week, we saw two legitimate doorbuster items on sale at Acme: a two liter jug of olive oil for $8.76 and a 5 pound bag of potatoes for 99c (perfect for a delicious batch of Easy Potato Peanut Curry!).

But we’re not done. Yet another local store, Shoprite, had its own doorbuster item: 1 lb, 13 ounce cans of tomatoes (crushed, diced, whole tomatoes, etc.) for a paltry 34c a can. So I decided to head over there too, where I picked up a dozen cans, enough to stock my pantry for several weeks.

Thanks to a recent post, we all know the secret to doorbuster sales: buy the doorbuster item(s) and nothing more. But nobody says you can’t spend a few minutes briefly walking around the store to get a sense of the store’s products, their prices (beyond what you see in the circular), and the general experience of shopping at the store itself. Are the prices generally better? Is the store run well?

As an empowered consumer, you don’t just want brands and products competing for your consumer dollar, you want entire retailers competing for you too. Which is why it pays to check out the competition occasionally. Stores will often change up their strategies or their pricing to improve their competitive position. And of course, a store you may have deemed uncompetitive or not worth going to at some point in the past can always improve and become much more competitive later.

In this case, you’re using a doorbuster sale item--and the trip to a different store--as an opportunity to let that store show you what it’s got. Does your “favorite” grocery store still deserve to be your favorite? Why or why not?

Empowered consumers never allow mere habit to dictate their purchasing decisions. This is what makes it worth it, from time to time, to stop in at a competing store and take a look around, while you also capitalize on a genuinely valuable doorbuster sale. Make those retailers compete aggressively for your consumer dollars!

Read Next: "The Consumer Must Be Protected At All Times"

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Ros said...

Can we say 'worth it depending on the distance to the store and the time it takes, and also how good the prices are?'

I regularly shop at 2 stores, with a third occasionally added in. Main store is Costco (much better prices on most things, but you have to use them and not go for impulse buys). One main grocery store has excellent-quality produce and good doorbuster sales on a regular basis (so we stock up on basics on sale and then add produce when the garden isn't producing). The third store is of excessively dubious quality for produce but occasionally has excellent doorbusters, so I'll pop in just for those - and it's across the street from the main grocery store.

There are 3 other grocery stores in town, but they're a 5-mile drive away. I refuse to drive 5 miles and spend more than an hour doing my weekly groceries. I'd rather rely on my pantry and freezer!

Laura @ 50by25 said...

I really think the key is not making a separate, huge stock-up trip to grocery stores, but stocking your pantry on a regular basis so that you can just do a quick pop into multiple stores each week while you're doing other things. It's very rare that I leave my house to go to the grocery store and then go home; I usually just stop at various grocery stores on my way home from other places. That makes it possible for me to reap the benefits of sale prices at every store, without the onerous task of driving to stores all over town.

chacha1 said...

I am a poor example of a "frugal" grocery shopper since I invest hardly any effort in trying to save money on food. For me it's more about avoiding the high-margin items that are only by a stretch described as "food" - e.g. soft drinks and "juices" or "teas," chips & crackers, cookies, highly processed breakfast cereals.

Even in my ridiculously expensive neighborhood I don't feel like grocery prices are inflated. It all depends on what you buy. There are forty different bag teas on the shelf, it is quite simple to choose the brand that is $3.95 a box versus the brand that is $8.

And honestly, I would not go to the trouble of looking for grocery circulars and visiting multiple stores. Any given errand takes about forty minutes in West Los Angeles. I can do three errands in two hours on a given Saturday, and two hours is all the time I'm willing to give that nonsense. If I have one thing to do for me, then pet supplies, then grocery, I'm done.

Marcia said...

I agree that it depends. I went from shopping at multiple stores, to just sticking to the two that were "mostly" good deals, and back to shopping at multiple stores.

The multiple store method cut my bill by 40% last year.

Now I regularly shop at several stores: Costco, 99 cent store, Trader Joe's, Albertson's, Local Produce store, Smart and Final, Ralphs.

Costco has the best prices on several items (milk, cheese, bread), and it's a mile walk (or drive) from work.

Albertson's and Ralph's have good doorbusters. I read the flyers and write down the good deals each week - but I may or may not go. If there is only one item that's a good deal and we don't need it, then I won't go. If I do go, I browse the aisles - because not *every* sale item is in the flyer. Albertson's USED to be our neighborhood store, but they got bought by Haggen, which went belly-up, and now it's going to be a Vons. Which is owned by Albertson's but the prices are slightly higher on many things. If I want to shop at Albertson's, I have to go on my lunch break at work (it's right near Costco).

Smart and Final is my go-to place for brown and white rice in large bags, large bags of dried beans (I'm still waiting for the 10-lb bag of black beans to go on sale for less than $10, and it's not always advertised). This store is near our daycare for our younger child. They recently opened one up near work.

The 99c store has the best prices on veggies, but the quality is hit or miss. So I go there first and buy what looks good. They also have the best price on corn tortillas (99cents for 30.)

The local produce place has overall good produce prices and good variety. And they have a discount rack.

I also shop at the foo foo grocery store and Whole Foods occasionally, and it's expensive. But I go for the things that I cannot find elsewhere, like tahini, miso, etc.

Generally my Saturday morning shop is an hour or less. Each week has one or two other stops mid-week for the stores near work.

(If I lived in West LA like chacha1, I wouldn't shop around either. LA traffic sucks.)