In my first post in the Eat Well, Spend Less series, I encouraged you to shop at all the stores in your area. Today, I’m going to show you a little bit more what I mean by that, and get into the nitty gritty of how I shop at all the stores in our area to get the best deals.
Colorado is probably not the place that would initially come to mind when you think of places to get great grocery deals. Yes, we do have a lot of great local producers of beef, dairy, produce, and more, but we’re not exactly famous for a fabulous growing season or other amazing agricultural conditions.
For whatever reason, though, we do seem to have a lot of grocery stores that are fairly competitive with each other, in my opinion. The only other two places I’ve ever lived seemed to have fewer grocery stores, and not nearly as many different chains competing with each other.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the chains we have in Denver (and most of these are in Colorado Springs, too): Albertsons, Avanza, Costco, King Soopers, Natural Grocers, Rancho Liborio, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Save-A-Lot, Sprouts, Sunflower Market, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods.
That’s fourteen different stores, most of which have multiple locations – and that doesn’t even count the smaller gourmet or health food stores, ethnic markets, spice stores, or butcher shops!
So, while we may not have the largest farmer’s markets in the US, we do have lots of different stores to choose from, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of as many as you can as you seek to Eat Well, Spend Less!
Let’s get down and dirty: I’m going to go into detail about the stores I shop at and what I buy at each store. These are going to be pretty specific to Colorado, but even if you’re not from our beautiful state, I hope you’ll find some helpful tips and that it will get you started thinking about how you can maximize the stores in your area.
I only stop in to Albertsons when the deals are good – this is a store that I am generally scared to buy anything at shelf price. They tend to have good deals on meat: through Tuesday, whole chickens are on sale for 79¢/lb, and it’s usually the place I find rock-bottom prices on pork ribs, petite sirloin steaks, london broil, and other cuts of chicken.
Their other “bargain hunter specialities” are Old Orchard frozen juice concentrate, Marcal paper products, Yoplait yogurt, and Mezetta peppers, among other things.
Albertsons is also just about the only store I find good Manager’s Specials on about-to-expire meat. It’s very hit-or-miss, but I’ve been able to stock up on some amazing meat deals here!
This is my favorite grocery store by far: great customer service, reasonable shelf prices, and great sales. Their shelf prices are just a tad higher than Walmart’s, but if they’re on sale even a little bit, you’ll likely be beating Walmart, often by quite a bit.
I tend to find good deals on produce, dairy, and non-perishables at King Soopers. This is the only store that I can find produce on Manager’s Special or markdown: red-tape bananas are a good bargain at 39¢/lb and they’re usually just a little bruised, bagged salads are marked down pretty regularly, and my favorite produce markdown is Wholly Guacamole and Wholly Salsa. If I’m lucky, I can find it on Manager’s Special for $2, and they are usually coupons to go with it!
I always checkout their dairy markdown section – most King Soopers stores have some sort of a dedicated area for Manager’s Specials in the dairy section. When I can find buttermilk that’s half-off because it’s about to expire, I buy as much as I can and freeze it. I’ve also found cottage cheese, eggs, and sour cream on Manager’s Special. Just make sure you know your regular and sale prices – sometimes things are marked down, but still cost more than you can get them on sale.
I don’t often buy meat at King Soopers: they are typically higher than other grocery stores. For example, boneless, skinless chicken breasts almost never go on sale for less than $1.99/lb at King Soopers, while other stores have them for $1.88 or less quite frequently, so I never buy them at King Soopers – I just wait for a better sale at a different store.
I don’t like their ground beef – it’s not ground in-store and last I checked, had a “flavor-enhancing solution” added to it. Yuck!
Their fresh meat that’s on Manager’s Special is typically only marked down to 30% off, and I never buy meat unless it’s 50% off, so I almost never buy meat markdowns at King Soopers. The one exception is breakfast and deli meats: occasionally they’ll mark down breakfast sausage rolls for $1.25 or less, and recently I got 8-ounce packages of organic deli meat (marked to expire on that day) for $2.49.
Some of the other items you can expect to, at some point throughout the year, find rock-bottom prices on are Annie’s mac and & cheese (49¢ recently), pasta (49¢ recently), Lawry’s marinades, French’s mustard, Muir Glen tomato products, Colgate toothpaste, Suave deodorant, frozen pizzas, Mountain High yogurt, Mission tortillas, Cover Girl cosmetics, Huggies and Pampers diapers.
I don’t shop here often, but they do have great prices on organics and bulk foods. Many of their everyday prices on organic bulk products (grains, dried fruit, etc) are equal to Sunflower Market’s or Sprouts’ sale prices.
Rancho Liborio (And Avanza)
I shop at Rancho Liborio once a month or so – not terribly often, because it’s not a convenient location for me, but whenever I’m in the area I plan to stop by! This is a Hispanic market that has amazing prices on produce and meat.
While their quality is not exactly on the same level as King Soopers, I’ve found that their prices are low enough that I can justify shaving off a bad spot on a pepper or potato. The key is to make a big list when you plan to shop here: don’t drive 15 minutes out of the way for just one or two items, because at this store, they may be out, or the quality might be poor enough that you decide you don’t want it, no matter how cheap it is.
So, when I go, I tend to plan an entire week’s worth of menus around the items that they have on sale: often, that will mean a week of Mexican food!
Here’s some of the best deals you’ll find here: fresh tortilla chips (99¢ for a 1-pound bag), peppers (red bell peppers have gone as low as 79¢ per pound, poblano and pasilla peppers go as low as 69¢ per pound, jalapenos are frequently 49¢ per pound), apples (often 49¢ per pound), russet potatoes (not as low as they used to be, but still often the cheapest in town when they’re on sale for $1.50-2.00 for 10 pounds), and some deals in the meat department, like boneless, skinless chicken for $1.50/lb, tilapia for $1.99/lb, and more.
Avanza is a similar market located in Denver only, but appears to have very similar sales. We’ll be starting to cover Avanza this week here on Denver Bargains!
I tend to buy a lot of non-perishables at Safeway: pasta, coffee, cereal, bread, etc. If there’s one store that seems to have the best overall deals on cereal, it’s Safeway; and I’ve found it to be the place I usually buy coffee when they put various brands on sale for $5.99.
They do have some decent produce deals, though not usually more than a couple a week. Meat markdowns are similar to King Soopers: their Manager’s Specials are rarely less than what you’d pay for “fresh” meat on sale. I do buy a fair amount of meat here; usually chicken (except whole chickens) and some beef cuts.
More items Safeway has good deals on relatively regularly: string cheese, bread, chips, Skippy peanut butter, smoked sausage, powdered and brown sugar, Rice A Roni, all brands of cereal, fruit snacks, granola bars, salad dressing, hot dogs, pistachios, and cleaning supplies like Windex and Scrubbing bubbles.
Sam’s Club (and Costco)
I don’t have a Sam’s or Costco membership – someday I’ll write more about why – but I do take advantage of Sam’s one-day pass or open house events to pick up a few things. I’ve found that it’s cheaper for me to shop with a one-day pass and pay 10% extra than to pay for a membership.
Here’s the things I buy at Sam’s: vanilla, heavy cream, fresh garlic, some spices like peppercorns and cumin, popcorn, raisins and Craisins, canned tomatoes, maple syrup, soy sauce, rice, and olive oil.
Things that I sometimes buy if I haven’t had a chance to stock up at a better sale would include flour and pinto beans – those are items that I can usually get cheaper with a sale elsewhere, but if I didn’t have room in the budget at the time or just missed the sale, I’ll buy it at Sam’s.
Sunflower Market (and Sprouts)
If you’re wondering where the fresh produce is in our diet, well, here it is! Sunflower Market is where I buy a lot of our produce – they usually have at least a couple of amazing deals every week, so I try to make those our vegetables for the week.
You can expect to get rock-bottom prices on almost all produce at Sunflower Market, unless you shop at Rancho Liborio, in which case, they do have some deals that are better.
I also buy some meat at Sunflower Market: we love their pork sausage – no nitrates, yeah! It’s on sale for $2.99 at least a couple of times a month, and every couple of months it’s as low as $1.99/lb (stock the freezer!). They also occasionally feature mahi mahi fillets for around $3/lb, and recently had boneless ribeyes for $4.99/lb.
Sunflower Market makes a big deal about their meat being “all-natural”. For the most part, it’s a marketing gimmick; but I do think their beef tastes a little better than Safeway’s or Albertsons’ – not enough to pay more for it, but enough that if it’s on sale at Sunflower Market and Safeway, I’d rather buy it at Sunflower Market.
I don’t buy many non-perishables here, but they do occasionally have good sales on canned broth and organic refried beans. Their bulk section has OK prices, but they don’t have as good of deals in their bulk bins as they used to.
If you’re in Denver, Sprouts has very similar sales to Sunflower Market if you’re closer to a Sprouts.
Target is not a regular stop for me, though they do have some great coupon deals. I’ve found that they rarely have enough deals to get me to make a special trip to the store, but occasionally they do have some great deals.
I stop at Walmart probably once every couple of months, when we need several things and nothing is on sale anywhere else. When I do stop, I’ll usually buy a bit of canned tomatoes, dried beans, select condiments, and sometimes pasta, just depending on what’s in my pantry.
Overall, I have no trouble beating Walmart’s prices by shopping sales at other stores, even without coupons, so I try to stay out. Every time I come home from Walmart, I give Jeremy a spiel about how people think they are saving so much by shopping at Walmart and how they are getting ripped off!
I’m rarely seen in Whole Foods, but sometimes they do have good deals on produce and some non-perishables. If I stop in, it’s pretty hard for me to resist buying some of their ciabatta!
Other Places I Shop
Asian Pacific Market
I stop into Asian Pacific Market (only in Colorado Springs) on occasion and pick up Asian condiments and some produce items that are much cheaper there, like bean sprouts, garlic, bok choy, and Napa cabbage. As with Rancho Liborio, when I shop at Asian Pacific Market we usually have several Asian meals that week!
Ranch Foods Direct
I’ve been buying ground beef at Ranch Foods Direct. When you buy a box of 20 pounds, it’s $2.99/lb, and since we haven’t seen “regular” ground beef on sale for much less than $2.00 or $2.50 lately, I think it’s a great deal.
Their beef is antibiotic- and hormone-free, and tastes better, which, to be honest, is a lot of what matters to me when I decide whether or not to pay more for something that’s “natural”. I have a hard time paying 3x more for organic lettuce when it tastes the same; but I can taste that this ground beef is better, so I’m OK with paying a little more.
I have also been frequently our local spice shops: Penzey’s has been putting out $5 off $10 coupons in the Sunday paper, so I’ve been buying some spices there for a great deal.
I’ve also visited Savory Spice Shop recently to use a Groupon, and while they don’t have coupons like Penzey’s, I enjoy the atmosphere there more, and need to go back to get some more Smoky Hills Cheese Powder to use on popcorn!
I’m enjoying cooking with spices more and more, as I’m starting to learn that spices can be a frugal way to make our tummies feel satisfied!
If Colorado Gets One More Grocery Store, I Will…
Well, I’m not sure what I’ll do – I would probably be thrilled to hear we’re getting a Trader Joe’s or something! But hopefully this post has opened your eyes about to the many different options we have to help us feed our families well while spending less in Colorado!