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Eat Well, Spend Less: How I Shop 10+ Stores

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.

Albertsons

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!

King Soopers

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.

Natural Grocers

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!

Safeway

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

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.

Walmart

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!

Whole Foods

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.

Spice Shops

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!

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Comments

  1. We only have HEB, Walmart, Target, CVS, and Walgreens here in south Texas. The other grocery stores are too small and overcharge for everything. It’s a little frustrating not having a store that doubles coupons but I am able to get good deals here and there. I don’t shop at Walmart eiher unless I have to, but it’s because I don’t like having to wait in line for 30 minutes or more every time.

    • We lived in Texas briefly, and I know what you mean. I *loved* shopping at HEB, but there was very little competition.

  2. We don’t have those stores here. In my own city, I have 3 associated grocers (they are much higher than walmart on most things), a winn dixie and a walmart. Our albertsons is 20 minutes away (but winn dixie normally has the same type sales) and even in our big city it’s pretty much dominated by walmart. But my hubby works for a company that fixes grocery store cash registers. So next time he is going to a sunflower, I’m going to make him bring the ice chest and grocery shop for me lol. We don’t have much here, on the bright side, I think we will be moving to arkansas within the next year for his job, so maybe I’ll be able to save more. :)

  3. Jennifer says:

    Wow–thanks so much! I just moved here to CO from a place that had stores that doubled $1.00 coupons. I have found that I love King Soopers and Sprouts most. I appreciate all your specifics.

  4. I used to feel the same way about Walmart, but now find it a great time and money saver. I peruse all of my store loss leader adds, write them down and price match everything. Although I bring my flyers they dont bother to ask to see them. Their produce is not always my favorite, but sometimes it is just worth the one trip and get it done!

  5. i think this is a great post. i live in dallas but we have the same varieties of stores here and i agree with just about everything you’ve said. i find the best meat prices at the hispanic groceries here as well. the only store we have that you didnt mention is Aldi and it just opened about a year ago. its prices are phenomenal on everyday items, and especially on produce (not so much the meat though). i’ve been to walmart for groceries once in the past year since it has opened, and that was only for a handful of items. if there are good enough sales i have no problem hitting several stores in one week, but they wont all have a good sale every week, so even though it seems like a lot of work to shop them all, in all likelyhood im never temtped into more than 3-4 per week. And once I plan my trips and gather my coupons, i can hit them all and be back home within a couple hours if i wanted to do it all in one day, so its not as shocking as it would first seem.

    • No Aldi, here, unfortunately. They had them where I grew up, so I’m familiar with them – I often wish we had one here!

  6. Carrie, what is the fat percentage of the ground beef you’re getting at RFD?

  7. We used to live in South Texas with only an HEB and Walmart. I enjoyed HEB, but Walmart – not so much. I appreciate the breakdown of the stores. We incorporate some shopping at Costco now, but haven’t got into a routine of the best stores/prices yet. This post helps.

  8. Great post! King Soopers(Dillions here) is also my favorite store by far. Where we live now we only have Dillions, Aldis, Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club and the usual dollar stores.
    Would love a Sunflower Market, because you are right, they always had the best prices for produce – and it was good quality too!

  9. I miss Aldi…I’d even take a Grocery Outlet – my SIL and MIL each have one in their town in CA and OR respectively. My MIL makes fun of it and won’t step foot inside, but last visit, we’d driven out for our vacation in the summertime, and I made my husband stop there the night before we came home, and I spent $100. I tallied up what I’d pay on the lowest sales here at home in Longmont, and what we packed into the truck, even accounting the added weight’s effect on our gas mileage, I managed to save over 85%!

    Our Albertson’s was one in CO that closed 2 years ago, and I miss it for those crazy deals…

    I also recommend checking your area for things like discount stores – we have one about 15 minutes from our house that sells things for 45% – 60% less than Safeway and King Soopers – and the products were literally JUST on their shelves 24 hours prior to arriving. I found a CRATE of apples last fall there and the total price worked out to $0.19/pound. We just finished the last of the applesauce I made with it.

    Thanks for the awesome information – this series has been SUCH a help to us. We’re struggling with rising prices (I’m stubborn and angry at the fact that things are already 10 – 20% higher), and anxiously awaiting our Farmers’ Market and growing season. My seeds are ready to go!

  10. Thanks for the prices on Ranch Foods Direct! They almost always have a coupon in one of the sale magazines that comes to my house- so when I re-stock my freezer soon, I may try them out!

  11. Carrie–Where in Colorado Springs are you? I’m surprised you didn’t mention the Orowheat store near Academy and Flintridge ! :) :)

    • Gah! I totally forgot to mention the bread outlets! Yes, I do stop at the Orowheat store about once a month – though, a Springs Bargains reader commented and said they had raised prices (loaves are now $1.99 instead of $1.79). :(

  12. This is probably a silly question, but in reading all of the post, I didn’t feel like I understood where the best place to buy meat would truly be. I personally like King Soopers and Sunflower for most of my shopping, but I never know where to get good meat. I try to buy from only the clearance sections at KS and Safeway, and when meats go on sale at Natural Grocers. I’d really like to find where the lowest prices on hormone and antibiotic-free meats are!! Plus, we have food stamps right now, so it needs to be at a place that accepts that. I doubt Ranch Foods Direct accepts them, but I could check.

  13. Hi! Great list of grocery stores! I’m in Fort Collins and do most of my shopping at Vitamin Cottage/Natural Grocers, Sunflower Market and the Fort Collins Food Co-op. Other stores we visit are Albertson’s (3 blocks away), Safeway, King Soopers and sometimes (rarely) Whole Foods. I try to buy organics for produce and dairy and free-range/pastured for meats. Natural Grocers has free-ranged/pastured hamburger (80/20) for $4.75/lb, which is a really good deal for that type of hamburger. They also have good prices for dairy, when on sale. NG carries some products that are hard to find other places, and their prices almost always beat Whole Foods. Sunflower definitely can’t be beat on their produce, but you should check out their store brand non-perishables. The only thing I don’t like is their store brand ketchup, but most everything else tastes really good. I also love their sausage sales and they sometimes have sales on their Applegate bacon.
    I shop the Food Co-op for some bulk foods and local eggs. They will also do special orders for larger bulk purchases.
    We get our milk and half & half from Morning Fresh dairy. They also deliver free-range chickens and eggs, as well as a lot of other products. I like this because I don’t have to go to the store to buy milk, and then end up spending money on things I wasn’t planning on. :)
    Also, a tip…always compare prices on conventional vs. organic produce. Sometimes the organic is cheaper than conventional, even at the same store.

    • Great roundup, Ginny – thanks! I agree with checking organic vs. conventional – I was tickeled pink when I found out that organic heavy cream is cheaper than non-organic (though I think it’s ultra high-pastureized, and I’m on the fence as to whether or not that’s good for you. We don’t really “drink” heavy cream, though, so I’m not too worried, lol!)

      • Carrie, I know what you mean about buying/drinking UHT pasteurized dairy. I would rather buy conventional than buy organic and UHT. That’s one of the reasons I like Morning Fresh Dairy, because they are organic (not certified yet) and I *think* they do a gentler pasteurization. Our plan is to buy raw dairy, once we can afford it.

        • I think that’s why paying more for the organic label is so hard for me – there are many things about organic that are better, but there are some things that are not!

  14. Carrie, thank you so much for taking the time to write about all of this! Its very true that we are fortunate to have so many stores. I have lived in Washington, Arizona, Texas and Hawaii and no place even compares to the amount of stores.
    I also completely agree with you about the meat at RFD tasting better. We buy all of our meat from them and I refuse to get it anywhere else. That is our main splurge in our household. The meat definately tastes better and doesn’t “shrink” like the other meats we use to buy. I really do feel we get our moneys worth!
    Thank you again for all the hard work you have put into your website! It is recognized and truely appreciated!

  15. LOVE the look of that spice shop, Carrie. Great tour and overview!!

  16. Jenna mahoney says:

    Where is Range Food Direct?
    I live in Highlands Ranch!

  17. Samantha says:

    Just wondering–what do you mean when you say it’s a marketing gimmick when Sunflower says its meat is all natural?

  18. Great round-up. The only thing I’d add is that, with a little bit of planning, you don’t have to go out of your way to go to places like Rancho Liborio. If you map them all out, you’ll probably find that you drive by one on your way back from some recurring errand.

    A couple of things I’ve noticed:

    King Soopers: best prices on nuts. Usually $3.99 per pound for just about everything, while they’re $7.99 and up everywhere else.

    Rancho Liborio: I haven’t had the same problem with produce quality. Maybe because their bins are so full, you can find the good ones with just a little bit of hunting.

    Target: best prices on house brand OTC drugs. Up and Up versions of just about everything are usually cheaper than everyone but maybe Walmart’s house brands, but we’ve had some trouble with effectiveness on Walmart’s, so we stopped using them.

    Safeway: very good and reasonably priced store-made breads. $1.99 for a loaf of most types, and quality ingredients.

    Cheers!

    • Steve, I agree that you can usually find good produce at Rancho Liborio with a bit of hunting – I have to be cautious in how I describe it, because a lot of people expect to go there and pay super low prices for a King Soopers-quality shopping experience, and that just doesn’t always happen. ;)

      Great observation on the nuts at King Soopers!

  19. I don’t know where you are, but I totally disagree about Walmart. I have been shopping the Walmart Super Center in our area for years. Most of the time , I can’t find lower prices. If I do, I just carry fliers from other stores and they always match the prices. I also shop Kroger and Food Giant for double coupon items. These three stores are within a five mile radius. We also have a little Mom and Pop fresh produce market,nearby. Occasionally Target has cat food or other items on sale. If it is something we use a lot and is a great sale (with coupons) I will drive there and stock up on those items. I think, however, I would go nuts if I had to shop ten stores.

  20. Sorry, just noticed. Denver. Maybe that’s the problem.Maybe things are higher there.

  21. Nice! Im from Tx live in Aurora Co and I miss going Grocery shopping at HEB:/ I wish they were here..but I just go to Wal Mart…as King soopers is nothing compared to HEB:/