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6 Easy Ways to Reduce your Grocery Bill

Grocery store prices are on the rise – in April, George Weston Ltd., owner of grocery giant Loblaw, increased prices by five percent. Whether you’re a student living on residence, a senior on a fixed income, or a young couple with two children, food prices affect everyone’s budget. If you can save even just $5 a week on groceries, it will add up to savings of $260 a year.

Having worked in the grocery industry for over seven years, starting as a grocery clerk working myself all the way up to a department manager, I’ve learned a thing or two about groceries. Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to cut your grocery budget.

Price Matching

Who doesn’t like one stop shopping? Instead of driving around to five different stores – and spending a bundle on gas – discount grocery chains like No Frills (“Won’t Be Beat”) and FreshCo (“Cheaper Guaranteed”) have introduced price matching programs.

The process is simple – show the cashier the flyer of a major competitor with a better deal and they will match or beat the price. Some restrictions apply – you won’t get a price match if it’s a different brand or package size. Here’s a word of advice – instead of fumbling through flyers at the cashier, use posted flags to mark the pages of the various flyers.

Stop Paying for Brand Names

If you’re in the habit of buying brand names then listen up – name brands can cost between 10 to 50 percent more than generic store brands. When you’re buying a name brand you’re paying for the product’s marketing budget. The savings from buying store brands can really add up; if you save $10 a week by buying store brands, you’re saving $520 a year – that’s like 5 to 6 weeks of groceries for free a year!

Discount Chains Can Save you a Bundle

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve flipped through the so-called high-end grocery store flyers for Loblaw and Metro and laughed at how ridiculously high the prices are. Most of the time the sale prices at the high-end stores are the same or even higher than the regular everyday prices of the discount stores likes No Frills and Food Basics.

Having worked for a discount grocery store, I know that the discount stores and the high-end stores use the same warehouse, so essentially you’re paying $1 more for every item at the high-end store. If that adds up to $20 a week in extra spending, that’s $1,040 a year you could be saving by simply shopping at a discount chain.

Rewards Programs

Who said the best things in life aren’t free? PC Points is one of the best rewards programs out there. Whether you pay with PC Mastercard or a PC Financial debit card, every time you make a purchase you earn PC Points. Once you earn 20,000 PC Points you can redeem the points for $20 off your next grocery bill. Bring cloth grocery bags next time you shop – you earn PC Points for that too! PC Points add up quickly – you can easily get $20 of free grocery every month.

Watch that receipt!

Next time you’re in the grocery store be sure to review your receipt – price scanning errors happen more often than you think. Most major supermarkets are members of the Retail Council of Canada; they will honour the Scanner Price Accuracy Vountary Code: if an item for $10 or less scans incorrect, you will get it for free or it’s the price is over $10 you will get $10 off the regular price.

Some stores I’ve worked for try to “encourage” customers to pay the correct price; be persistent and politely assert that you would like the item for free as per the Retail Council of Canada and the store will be more likely to comply.

Reduce impulse purchases

Spending 5 to 10 minutes preparing a grocery list every week can save you time and money; you won’t be tempted to buy items you don’t need. Also, don’t go shopping on an empty stomach. Lastly, if you can, leave the kids at home; you’ll end buying sweets you don’t really need.

Do you have any tips to saving money on groceries? Share it with us.

About the Author: Sean Cooper is a single, 20-something year old, first time home buyer located in Toronto. He has experience in the financial sector as a Pension Analyst, RESP administrator and Income Tax Preparer. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce in business management from Ryerson University.







31 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. 1. Brandon

    “Stop Paying for Brand Names”

    This is win-win-win because:

    1. It’s cheaper
    2. You’ll go through that disgusting yellow box of frozen burgers even slower than normal, so you’ll shop for groceries less often.
    3. You’ll lose weight because you won’t want to eat anymore.

    Also, having worked at Loblaws 10 years ago and Food Basics 7 years ago I can confirm they get their food from the same sources, but the in-store hygiene is what makes me drive an extra 3 blocks and pay a little more. Ignorance is bliss…

  2. 2. James

    Um… the return on PC points is 1%. Hardly the “best” program out there. There are many cash back alternatives that are 1.5% – 2%, some even higher. Also, to “easily” get $20 of free groceries each month, you need to be spending $2000 per month. I suspect that is not “easy” for many people.

    As with Brandon, I too have insider knowledge of the food distribution system. While many products ship from the same warehouse, the order in which they leave the warehouse is well scheduled. Fresher products go to customers willing to pay more.

  3. I agree with Brandon on the discount grocery chains. It sure does look like they are run down and have poor cleaning practices. I still shop there from time to time – but definitely not always. I can’t say I’ve noticed the large price differences you mention though – it always seemed to me that things were similarly priced. However, where I’m from, we don’t have a lot of smaller discount stores anyway.

  4. 4. Echo

    Buying in bulk for certain items is a good way to save money. While a warehouse store like Costco can sometimes increase impulse buying and encourage waste, if you can utilize the items then you will definitely save on groceries. We buy our meat their and then divide the package into smaller portions for freezing.

    If you create a meal plan in advance then you can use that to make your shopping list and make sure you stick to it. That should avoid buying anything that you don’t really need, and also save you money on future trips to the grocery store picking up items that you forgot the first time.

    Lastly, try and shop on customer appreciation days (10% or 15% off). The stores are busier but the savings can be worth it.

    As for PC points, it may not be the best rewards program in terms of the percentage you get back, but it’s very easy to collect and redeem points. It’s 1% on any purchase, anywhere with no spending limit. Other programs may have higher rebates but only on gas or grocery purchases, or up to a maximum of $600/month. If you shop at PC stores, PC points is a great rewards program.

  5. We plan our meals out for the week before we go shopping. We look at sales that allow us to get things for meals cheaper, and we also look at what we have in stock, as well as taking advantage of sales to stock up on non-perishables.

    I will have to see if our store price matches. Right now, my wife will often go to a second store to grab some items if there’s enough to make it worth it, but maybe we can avoid this extra stop. I never thought to even look at our stores policy!

  6. 6. JPRodrigue

    There is no mention of the ingredients of the food you are buying for cheap. Sometimes a 10cents difference will increase my sodium intake (or saturated fat), for the same can of soup, 3 fold! Not always a healthy choice…

  7. 7. Elbyron

    I agree with Echo that Costco can be a great way to save money on groceries, particularly for large families.

    I don’t agree about the PC points though. They don’t give you any points if you use a credit card other than their own 1%-return Mastercard. So I basically have the choice between using debit and getting 1% worth of points, or using my Aspire card to get a 2% return. I wonder which I’m going to choose every time? And of course, there’s the 3% you could get back using the Smart Cash card that Echo alludes to, provided you haven’t already spent $600 on gas & groceries for the month. And even if you have, that card still gives you the same 1% that you would get for the PC points!

  8. 8. Gael

    I do a big shop once a month (the first Tuesday of the month) at Coop for 15% off everything–even sale items. The rest of the month I check the emailed weekly flyer for Sobeys and grab some of their amazing weekly specials

  9. 9. ITS

    In Calgary Loblaw’s owns Superstores. Superstores are the cheapest grocery stores around here that I know of…Superstore is nowhere near high-end here. If anything it’s the very low-end, as opposed to Safeway, Co-op, and Sobeys who are consistently fancier and more expensive… I thought these were my big four chain choices for groceries… (other than Costco and Walmart)

    What’s No Frills and Food Basics?

  10. 10. Andrew F

    No Frills and Food Basics are smaller than Superstores and don’t have general merchandise or full-service meat counters, deli, seafood, etc. Loblaws is in the process of building No Frills in the West.

    All the products come from the same warehouse, but the discount stores usually get a different grade of produce, meat, etc. than the premium stores. Obviously for dry goods, Kraft salad dressing is Kraft salad dressing. Usually you get smaller apples, celery that might be more banged up, etc. I find for produce a lot depends on the produce manager at that store. They might get excellent product delivered to them, but if it is not handled, stored and rotated properly it can easily be ruined. I have seen premium stores that had trainwrecks for produce departments, so it really depends on the store.

    As far as store brands go, the downmarket one is usually okay to bad, but often the upmarket store brand is as good or better than the name brand goods. In some product categories, stores might only carry their own brands.

  11. 11. Ed Rempel

    Hi Echo & Elbyron,

    Costco can be a huge temptation to impulse shop or buy non-grocery items. We have seen the cash flow for thousands of families and when we find someone that is spending much more than we would expect, it is usually because they do most of their shopping at Costco.

    On average, our experience is that Costco shoppers spend about $200/month MORE than people that shop at any other grocery store. Of course, this is mainly because they are buying non-grocery items which might be a good deal.

    If you shop at Costco, you have to be very careful if you hope to have any savings and to avoid paying $200/month more.

    Ed

  12. 12. cwf

    Eat less meat and you’ll see a huge savings on your grocery bill!

  13. 13. QEW

    I agree with some of the posts that meat takes a major chunk of grocery bill. I spend $175 – $200 on meat alone for a family of three. I quickly go through all flyers online on Friday and make a list. I buy following in bulk if they are specials toilet tissues, cleaning supplies, hand soap, Dove soap, shampoo, cookies, cooking oil. I price match. I use coupons. I short I am frugal

    I typically shop at FreshCo, No Frills and Sunny Market in Toronto. Sunny market in Don Mills has good quality with low prices. There produce & sea food is fresh. There stores are as clean as Loblaws.

  14. 14. Jungle

    Just wanted to point out, the no frills here do not allow the cashiers to price match without calling the supervisor first. This causes huge wait times at the cash.

    Walmart is much better; the cashier has authority to price match without calling the supervisor.

    I am a big grocery saver and I can tell you we have saved thousands. Some good mentions by Echo on creating a list, Ed on the Costco rip off, Money Beagle on making meals.

    On thing that really helps, is planning meals based on what’s on sale this week. For example, if ground beef is on sale, we try to plan meals with that and stock up. If chicken is on sale, we plan meals on that too.

    We also have a list of cheap meals. Things like grilled cheese, tuna sandwhich, hot dogs, pasta dishes are all cheap meals. We enjoy them, too.

    Last year, my wife and I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner for just over $9 a day. We brown bag to work every day for lunch and pretty much shop loss leaders and discount grocery stores only.

  15. 15. Echo

    @Elbyron
    To determine the best rewards card it all depends on how much you spend on your credit card each month. The Aspire Card has a $120 annual fee, so if you don’t spend over $2k/month it’s probably not worth it.

    There are more ways to earn PC Points than just the 1% back on the PC MasterCard. If you shop at PC stores (as ITS alluded to, they have the cheapest grocery prices on a basket of goods) they have bonus PC point offers on certain items all the time. If you bank with PC Financial you can get even more points.

    @Ed
    As I said in my earlier comment, Costco can encourage wasteful spending. For my situation, I stick to my list of items that I know are cheaper than other grocery stores and that can be eaten in a reasonable time without wasting them. Also, I truly believe they have the highest quality of products for certain items, especially meat.

  16. 16. Astin

    The “buy store brand” method always comes up in these kind of posts and is a prime example of tunnel vision.

    Sure, you save some money. But more often than not you lose quality and health. An exception could be PC brand, but those are often just as pricey as the major brand options. But the old yellow-labeled no-name and its equivalents are usually far lower quality, and higher in salt, sugar, or fat to cover up the lower-quality ingredients being used.

    The No Frills and Food Basics near me are pretty hit-and-miss when it comes to produce, so I stick to farmers markets and mid-high-end stores where I know the quality will be better. Then it’s a question of gas and time if I want to pick up packaged groceries elsewhere. If I need a box of cereal? Stick at Loblaws. If I need cereal, vegetable oil, vinegar, a can of tomatoes, milk, butter, and eggs? Then it’s worth the trip to No Frills.

    Want to save money and not go store brand? Make more stuff from scratch, and widen your view.

    Burgers – buy ground meat and make your own. Or if you have access to a grinder, buy cheap cuts and grind it yourself to make burgers.

    Buy large cuts of meat and cut your own steaks from them. Buy a whole chicken and eat for a week instead of buying a bunch of breasts. Or if you have to buy breasts, get ‘em with skin and bone and deal with it yourself.

    I can’t remember the last time I bought a salad dressing – almost any variety can be made in less than 15 minutes at home. Even mayonnaise only takes an egg, oil, lemon, seasoning, an immersion blender and a few minutes.

    Bread is all of about 5 cheap ingredients and 10 minutes of actual labour (plus a few hours of waiting).

    Basically, anything you can buy pre-made can be made at home. It’s just a question of dedicating the time to it. If you want that time for something else, then you find the balance that works.

  17. 17. nobleea

    Agree that the PC points isn’t great as it forces you to use their credit card. The MBNA smartcash credit card offers 3% cash back on groceries and is not limited to loblaws locations.

    I almost exclusively shop at superstore out west. Safeway for quick need items. In my experience, no one can tell where the food was bought if it has been prepared in a great recipe. If you’re making a salad, well that might be different.

    I’m surprised no one’s mentioned the most obvious way to lower your grocery bill…Grow your own! An apple tree or two will grow more apples than you can handle in just a few short years. If stored properly, apples can last well in to winter. Same with potatoes. Rhubarb is a weed that grows without ANY care. Tomatoes grown at home are easy and taste a billion times better than anything you could buy at any store. Cherries and pears can be grown in pretty much any Canadian city. Raspberries and blueberries also grow without much care. They’re all over the back alleys around here. They’re usually so prolific that owners don’t mind it when people pick their berries.
    Suburb folk usually insist on having the well manicured lawn with pretty flowers that aren’t useful, just pretty. Mix it up with some fruit and vegetable plants.

  18. 18. Frugal Greenie

    For a completely different opinion – I have moved to a local farmers cooperative delivery service for all my fresh vegetables and fruit. I love it. I get it delivered to a pick up point in the city. I hate grocery shopping. It doesn’t cut out completely the trips to the grovery store but it saves me alot of time. I also get all my milk delivered. We don’t have alot of choice where I live for grocery stores only Superstore and Sobeys but I value my time highly. I also despise going to buy a sale item only to find it sold out and the entire trip a waste of my time.

    Seriously cuts down on impulse purchasing.

  19. 19. Jimmy McJimerson

    @ Frugal Greenie – What are some of the associated costs? Everything I’ve looked at or read about cost much, much more than any grocery store.

  20. 20. jolayn

    I’m wondering if anyone would like to comment on how much they spend on groceries per month. In my family’s case, my wife and I consistently spend $700 a month, and this does not include formula or baby food for our 10 month old son. We live in the Prairies and use many of the tips mentioned in this article and the comments.

    $700 per month seems high to me, especially when we collect coupons and shop around for good deals. We don’t eat extravagantly, but we do try to buy fresh and healthy food.

    Does anyone know what a typical Canadian couple spends on groceries?

  21. 21. Alexander

    I really hate groceries. Me and my wife have found a local farm, not far from our city. We are driving 30 km and get fresh eggs, fruits and vegetables. It`s a lot better and we are more healthful.

  22. 22. nobleea

    Jolayn;

    We spend about $450 a month on food and groceries as a couple in Edmonton.
    I have heard of numbers as low as $300/mo and as high as $1200/mo for a couple.

  23. 23. Maggie

    Hi @Jolayn:

    Seems to be me that the amount you spend is perfectly reasonable, especially for a family.

    I am part of a couple and we try to spend about $100 per week which works out to about $430-$450/month, just like @nobleea but what gets us is the eating out on top of that… Probably an additional $200-250…

    Just wondering if others could also comment on their grocery spending habits? Anyone?

    Thanks!

    Maggie

  24. 24. cmac

    We spend about $300 per month as a couple in Vancouver. However, we don’t buy meat or cheese. I’m sure that saves us a ton of money. Also, we buy from a small local grocery chain which is way cheaper than any of the major chains. We do include some organic produce in that budget.

  25. 25. Frugal Greenie

    Jimmie McJimmie – sorry for not responding – I have been away. I have a 20 week vegetable share and a 20 week fruit share for about $900. (5 months) – feeds a family of 3 no problem and fourth mouth is currently enroute. :) I am having issues having too MUCH food and am managing by feeding extra inlaws. Here’s the link if you’re lucky enough to live iin or around Halifax. http://www.taprootfarms.ca

    If you live in Ontario you will likely already have a significantly lower grocery bill than we do here – for example you probably pay around $4.99 for 4L of milk. We pay about $7.20 here in NS. It was shocking to move east from Ontario 5 years ago. Cost is about perspective and time as well. I figure I also save about 1 1/2 hours per week regained in travel time and grocery shopping time. Add in the reduced impulse shopping $$ – no opportunity to spend money and for me it’s worth it. I also like buying local and being green. I also know where and how my food is grown and by whom. (A lot of what we get is organic.)

  26. 26. cannon_fodder

    I only buy expensive steaks (and sometimes other cuts of meat, like stewing beef or veal) from Metro on Sunday evening. That is when they have marked down the beef that is about to run into the best before date. If I don’t save at least 30% then I don’t buy it.

    It’s been fantastic – we get to enjoy really good cuts at low grade pricing.

    I also have been known to scour the bakery racks for marked down goods there, too. Whether it’s cupcakes, bread, bagels, or pies, the savings can be quite substantial.

    I love the SCOP – just got a free tub of ice cream last week from that. Now that’s truly a “sweet” deal.

  27. 27. Jean

    I always try to avoid the brand names but there are times where it is a necessary evil. For me, things like soda and Ketchup, the taste difference between the Brand and the generic product is definitely there. So my taste buds in that case always side with the brand names. For the most part though I always go with the brand names as I dont enjoy spending extra money for essentially the same product.

    One thing I try to do to save money is to try to make the least amount of trips to the store as possible. It used to be that we would make trips to the local shopping center just to purchase one or two impulse items but that was when the gas prices were lower too. Now we usually go every 2 to 3 weeks and always make one big purchase.

    -Jean

  28. 28. Stephanie

    I spend about 350$/mo for a family of four in Alberta. We make our own bread using a breadmaker, and eat from scratch wherever possible. Breakfast is usually oatmeal or toast during the week (family favorites), lunches are brown baged. We do 60$/ week on the basics, 10$ for grains, 20$ for fruit and vegetables, 15$ for dairy and 15$ for meats. The remainder is for any extras we need, or for sales to stock up on. We buy organic beef from a rancher nearby at 2$/lb for a 1/4 cow, giving us everything from steaks to ground beef. We do a monthly shop at Superstore for any nonperishables, and do a weekly trip for everything else at Co-op. Plus we walk to Co-op, and thus avoid the gas.
    - Stephanie

  29. 29. Anna

    I used to agree with “stop buying brand names” until I had to go on a diet to figure out migraine food triggers. If you have any type of health issues that make you sensitive to things like MSG, you can’t avoid brand names. Store brands are cheaper because they include things like yeast extract and other additives that I didn’t find in the same brand name products. Even as I eat frugally, this means more buying fresh and not throwing out a lot of food. Cheap, store brand food is no longer an option.

  30. 30. Keith

    clearance stickers, 50% off grains deserts and other items close to expiry date (easily frozen and portions taken out when need be), 30% off meats close to expiry (easily frozen and taken out when ready to eat). It is essentially buy three get one free. And we are lucky to have 3 grocery stores in about 10 blocks so between the clearance sales, price matching (when items are out of stock at one) and mid week shopping day/night out, along with coupons, as long as you are in store savy with coupons and clearence, you can save a bundle.

    I agree with one person who said sometimes the taste of a brand name is well worth the price.

  31. 31. ag

    Learn to cook. Dont throw anything out. I mean ifu onky need half an onion the dice the other half stick it in a containet and pop it in the freezer. U may apend $400 a month on groceries but start counting how much of that u throw out. Im a single person and i on average spend $50 a week on groceries. And i make fantastic homemade meals. Implement more beans into ur diet. Less meat is less money. Less dairy is also less money. Eat u leftovers. Make ur own bbq sauce, salad dressing, and cereal. Make your own soup and broth. Buy ur chickens whole and butcher them yourself.

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