Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

It all started with my latest trip to Sam’s Club to stock up on some basics. Lately I’ve been going about every three months for those essentials I buy in bulk. I was feeling great about all the money I must be saving when the cashier said: $722.97. What?! Something must be wrong. Have prices sky rocketed when I wasn’t looking? Is my strategy of buying in bulk not all that it’s cracked up to be?

That’s when I decided to get out my calculator, scour several stores for prices, and figure out how to get the best bang for my buck on everything I buy. I broke down each item by price per pound, price per ounce, or price per unit. I chose to compare prices for select items at Sam’s Club, Kroger’s, Ingles, Target, and Walgreen’s. What I discovered is that there is no one store that’s the golden ticket to savings, but with a little work I could save a lot of money. I now have a new mantra: how low can you go?

I had always thought the grocery chains Kroger’s and Ingles were comparable in prices; not anymore. When I compared nearly 50 regular grocery items, Kroger’s almost always came out cheaper. Ingles won out on a few sale items, but those could easily go on sale at Kroger’s the next week. So even though Ingles is the most convenient grocery store for me, it’s off my regular errand list for now.

When I compared the regular prices for items at Sam’s against the other stores, Sam’s was the clear winner on most goods. So for people who aren’t interested in waiting for sales or clipping coupons, this is probably the best store for them. However, I’m up for the challenge of saving the most money--however I have to do it. I’m convinced if I’m crafty, I can get lots of groceries for less elsewhere.

Here’s an example. The “big rolls” of Bounty paper towels at Sam’s work out to $1.42 a roll. I found the same product at Target on sale for $1.25 a roll. If I found a Target coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon (usually $.25 each), I could bring it down to $1.20 a roll.

Since the regular Kroger’s price is $1.84 a roll, I have my work cut out for me to save money here. For Kroger’s to win out on the price wars, I’m going to have to find $4.69 savings through sales and coupons on a pack of 8. The advantage of Kroger’s though is that thanks to websites like www.cellfire.com, www.shortcuts.com, and www.PGEsaver.com, I can load specific coupons electronically onto my Kroger’s card for free. There is no paper waste, the savings appear automatically at check-out, and they can be used with manufacturer’s coupons for additional savings (a process called “stacking”).

After all my comparisons, I discovered the surprising winner on this particular product is Walgreen’s. Flipping through this week’s flyer (available in the newspaper and online), I found they are selling 12 big rolls for $12; that’s $1 a roll. Armed with my coupon in the weekly flyer and a $7 register rewards I got for buying a $7 item, the total for all those paper towels is $5 before tax (regularly $18.49). If I’d had a manufacturer’s coupon or if they’d had extra savings in their monthly coupon book, I could have saved even more. The young check-out girl is stunned by what I just accomplished and says, “How did you do that?!” I direct her to the real savings expert, Knoxville’s own Coupon Katie (www.couponkatie.com). I’ll write more about register rewards and how to get free stuff in a future blog.

In summary, there were some clear winners at Sam’s that I will continue buying: cheese, fresh salsa, fish sticks, chicken nuggets, frozen blueberries, chocolates, olive oil, potato chips, pure maple syrup, and their yummy cookies. I had been buying all my meat and fish at Sam’s but discovered I could get most of that for less on sale at Kroger’s. At Kroger’s, I’ll be buying most of my fresh food: produce, breads, dairy, and meats. I’ll also see where I can stack coupons and wait until those items go on sale. I’ll be checking the Walgreen’s flyers for sales and register rewards items; I hear they’re great for cleaning supplies and hygiene goods. At Target, I’ll be looking for what’s on sale or in the clearance bins and checking their coupon books as well. Their sale price for canned cokes was the lowest I found from all the stores.

The key is that I’m now armed with prices, which I plan to put on a cheat sheet where I store my coupons. I’ll know what’s a good deal and not impulsively buy something because “it’s on sale.” It all seems so obvious; I’m embarrassed that I’m only now figuring this out. Better late than never, I suppose. I’ll check back in to report on my savings after a few weeks. So let the games begin—how low can you go?


  1. Just wanted to drop you a note letting you know that I read your email and the blog. I was a little shocked to hear how much you spent at Sam's...that's more than I spend in 3 months of groceries/etc at Giant/Target....but then again I eat for free 10 meals a week at work. :) I really like your writing style, it's nice to read a professional's writing as opposed to someone with no training or background. Excellent work! :) My best to you and your family.

  2. Hey - I learned something already! I checked out the coupon sites and plan to use them immediately. Have you used retailmenot.com? I saved 15 bucks in shipping at LLBean. Love the blog so far.

  3. Yes, I know most of you are shocked at the amount I spent at Sam's. That was VERY unusual. The amount of food I bought and stored in the freezer should feed us for several months. We add fresh vegetables every week but mainly pull our meals from the freezer. Another blog to follow on that...