South Side Grocery Bargains, Week of Oct. 12-18, 2011

Before we get to this week’s best bargains, I wanted to point out this op-ed peice by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman.

Normally, the food writer is among the least politically outspoken people in any newsroom. But Bittman is not shy about expressing his support for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and his disgust with some of their critics. Whichever way you come down on this issue, it makes for some interesting reading.

On another note: For 40 years, I’ve been throwing away those junk mail Valuepak coupon envelopes. But the sorry state of our economy has forced me to reconsider every aspect of our spending. And guess what: There’s actually some really good deals in there, and it’s very localized as well.

Unlike the coupons in the Sunday papers, which seem to be targeted at a national audience, the Valuepak envelopes contain discounts from businesses in my neighborhood. It’s a pretty good deal. Check it out!

Another item: Has anybody else noticed how food prices, especially meat pricing, are creeping higher and higher? I’ve found that even the toughest, throw-away cuts of beef are priced at $2.49/lb and above. Scary.

Anyway, enough with my rant. Let’s start saving some money!

In the meat section, Cermak Produce has chicken leg quarters for $.59/lb. Fresh Pick Market has bone-in chicken breast for $.69/lb and whole chickens for $.79/lb. Freshline Foods has beef shanks for $1.99/lb, contrary to my ranting above.

In produce, Fresh Pick Market has green cabbage for only $.19/lb, bananas for $.29/lb, cauliflower for $.59/lb, and Romaine lettuce for only $.69/head. At Freshline Foods, broccoli crowns are only $.69/lb. Cermak Produce has celery for only $.39/lb and Hass avocados for $.33/ea.

Ultra Foods has iceberg lettuce for $.50/ea, limit 2.

Over at Pete’s Fresh Market, Bartlett pears, bosc pears, lemons or red delicious apples all for $.14/each. Also at Pete’s avocados are only $.58/each and pie pumpkins (the medium sized ones for cooking, not the larger ones for carving) are $.98/each. Meanwhile, at Tony’s Finer Foods, limes are only $.05/ea, and the carving pumpkins are $1.99/ea.

In the grocery aisle, Food 4 Less has Campbell’s chicken noodle or tomato soup for only $.60/can. At both Cermak and Freshline, 8 oz cans of tomato sauce are only $.33/ea. Cermak also has 15 oz cans of diced or stewed tomatoes for $.79/ea.

Tony’s has 20 lb bags of Riceland rice for $6.88, or $.34/lb. Cermak has El Gallito dry pastas for $.33/lb. And F4L has 4 lb bags of sugar for $2.25.

In the dairy department, F4L has Kroger yogurt for $.40/each.

Bachelors take note: In frozen foods, Tony’s has Jack’s 12″ pizzas for only $2/ea.

Finally, for this week’s Bargain of the Week we go to an unexpected place — Menard’s, which has a 24-pack of Microwave Popcorn for $3.99, or less than $.17/bag.

Join the growing community of bargain hunters. When in your travels you notice a great deal, share it in the comments section below. And make sure to subscribe to my blog so you can get the best prices at area grocery stores every week. It’s free and easy; just click on the button at the top.

Thanks for looking at my blog!

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South Side Grocery Bargains — Week of Sept. 21-27, 2011

At the gym the other day, I watched Jim Kramer from the Mad Money TV program do a peice on the increasing popularity of dollar stores.

Dollar store stocks are on the rise because the struggling economy is forcing more and more consumers to seek out stripped down, rock bottom bargains.

That resonated with me because I visited a local dollar store this week for the first time since they were known as “five and dime” stores.

Bud, our new puppy

Bud, our new puppy

As readers of this blog may remember, we recently got a new puppy and, though he is a very good boy (good boy!), he is still prone to “accidents”. So I needed a can of Lysol.

I went to Food 4 Less, which usually is reasonably priced on most items. I was first shocked then angered to find they were charging $4.25 for a small can of Lysol. I mean, come on, that’s criminal!

So later I stopped by one of the many dollar stores in my area (and there certainly do seem to be a lot, once you start looking for them) and, sure enough, they had a comparable can of disinfectant — off brand, but so what? — for $1. And once I started looking around, I noticed a lot of other $1 items that I’ve been paying a lot more for at grocery stores.

So, Jim Kramer, you were right. Until the economy improves, the dollar store will be getting a lot more of my business.

Speaking of great values, let’s start saving some money!

In produce, there are a lot of $.10 sales this week. At Pete’s Fresh Market, a dime will get you Bartlett and Bosc pears, limes, plums, Idaho potatoes and Washington onions; and at Cermak Produce a dime will get you peaches, banana peppers, bananas, carrots and red potatoes.

Although this week I’ve had a lot of luck at Farmer’s Markets, other grocery store produce bargains include broccoli crowns for $.69/lb at Freshline Foods; iceberg lettuce is $.79/head and beets are $.33/lb at Tony’s Finer Foods; and cauliflower is only $.68/lb at Cermak.

There are a couple of good meat specials this week. Pete’s has whole chickens for $.78/lb; both Pete’s and Ultra Foods has bone-in chicken breasts for $.98/lb; and Tony’s has chicken leg quarters for $.49/lb in the family pack and chuck pot roast for $1.99/lb, which is perfect for this pot roast.

In dairy, Ultra has a dozen eggs for $.88; Tony’s has a gallon of milk for $2.49; Pete’s has Imperial margarine for $.88/lb; and Food 4 Less has Yoplait yogurt for $.50/ea.

There are a couple of good frozen bargains out there this week. At Tony’s 16 oz frozen vegetables are $.69/ea; and Ultra has Tony’s Pizza for only $2.00/ea, a good “buy and stock up” price.

In the bakery, Ultra has Butternut bread for $.88/loaf and fresh baked 16 oz white, wheat or French bread for $.58/ea.

Finally, in grocery, Cermak has La Preferida pinto beans for $.59/15 oz can; Pete’s has Del Monte vegetables and 15 oz Centrella tomato sauce for $.49/can; Ultra has 8 oz Kraft salad dressings and 18 oz Open Pit BBQ Sauce for $.88/ea; and Pete’s has General Mills cereals for $2/box.

And for this week’s Bargain of the Week, we return to Ultra, where you can stock up for school lunches with Armour Small Lunchmakers and 12 oz Oscar Mayer Bologna or Cotto Salami for only $.88/each.

Have you found any great bargains out there? Why not share them in the comments section below? See you at the grocery store!

Grocery Shopping Secrets – How to Avoid Overspending at the Checkout Line

Grocery stores are no longer the innocent corner markets set up by mom and pop. They are now highly complicated marketing machines designed to maximize profitability by drawing shoppers to the highest-profit items and hypnotizing them into reaching for products they don’t really need.

Here’s the top ten ways to improve your odds of overcoming the house advantage created
by sophisticated contemporary grocery store design:

10.   Leave the Kids Home –No matter how stern you want to be, it’s naturally difficult to say no to your child, especially if they start causing a scene. Avoid the drama by leaving them home, if possible. If you must bring them, give them something inexpensive right away – such as a box animal crackers or a juice box – to distract them until you can make your way the checkout counter.  But be careful, you will still have to run the gauntlet of the checkout line, where the most colorfully packaged, overpriced impulse items are right at kid grab level.

9.   Use a Hand Basket – If you’re planning to buy only a few items, reach for the hand basket rather than a shopping cart. You’ll force yourself to carry your purchases  throughout the store, discouraging you from adding items you don’t need. Big, empty shopping carts subconsciously trigger an impulse in shoppers to want to fill them up – which is why shopping carts seem to get bigger every year. If a store doesn’t offer hand baskets, let the manager know you’ll stop shopping there until they get them.

8.   Watch Out for Bells and Whistles – Are there flat screen TVs at the checkouts showing “cooking shows” that are really ads in disguise? Is the wine section elaborately decorated to look like a vineyard? All those extravagant extras are built into the price of your groceries.  Odds are, another store without the glitz will be less expensive.

7.   Read the Signs  – Most stores have “circulars”, or paper ad sheets, at the entrance. These are great for identifying sale items before you start shopping. While walking from your car to the door, make a point of reading any sale signs posted on the store’s windows. Usually, these are the store’s best values, loss leaders designed to lure passers by in from the street.

6.    Compare price/ounce – When comparing different brands of the same item, ignore any “sale” pricing and compare cost per ounce. Stores are legally required to post these below the sale price. You may need a calculator to figure this out and many stores discourage this comparison by making the print very small, so bring your reading glasses.  You’ll be surprised how often a sale is no bargain.

5.    Look for the generic – When it comes to canned or dry items, there’s usually a generic, or “packer brand”, alternative. In many cases, these come from the exact same production line as the name brand, but are less expensive because there are no marketing
and advertising expenses built into the cost of the item.

4.    Don’t shop hungry – It’s a physiological fact: People who have not eaten before going to the store are more likely to load up on unnecessary items. Make sure to eat a little
something so you are not at the mercy of low blood sugar or hunger pangs. Be strong! Your family is depending on you.

3.    Use Store Card – Many big chain stores now offer deep discounts on certain items to customers who use their loyalty cards, which also allow store owners to track your purchases and market directly to your preferences. But the costs of these discounts are
simply added to all the other items that are not discounted. Sign up for these free cards at the big chains, but try to buy only the discounted items. You usually will be able to find the non-discounted items on your list for less somewhere else.

2.   Zone Your List – Grocery stores are like casinos: The more time you spend in them, the more money you’ll spend. Remember, marketing experts work hard to convince you to buy their products. Minimize your exposure by zoning your grocery list for maximum efficiency – group produce with produce, canned goods with canned goods, etc. Also, spend less time shopping by going during the least busy hours  — after dinner or early in the morning, if possible. If you only shop weekend afternoons, odds are you’ll be stuck in an aisle longer and end up buying more items.

1.    Stick to your list – This is the most important rule: If it isn’t on the list, don’t buy it. Carefully create your shopping list before you set out, listing every item you need for the menus you have planned. Before you leave, double check to make sure you don’t already have any of these items. While shopping, if you are tempted to reach for an item not on your list, resist this temptation and make a note to come back for it another time. You’ll be surprised when you get home how much you really didn’t need that item.

Coupons, Who Knew?

I admit it, coupons have never been my thing.

Occasionally, I would half-heartedly wade through the Sunday paper and clip out a few coupons for products we sometimes use. But to me, the whole thing seemed like a lot of
work for very little benefit.

And then there’s the embarrassment of pulling out my coupons at the checkout line, inconveniencing the cashier and causing shoppers behind me to roll their eyes.

What’s next, a coin purse?

Well, that was all before our stagnant economy forced us to reconsider every aspect of our spending. Coupons are now a necessity: deal with it.

Fortunately, using coupons is a lot easier than I thought. It turns out there’s a whole community of people in the same boat, so there are sophisticated resources available to share information about what’s on sale where, and how to maximize the use of coupons and other discounts.

Tap into some of these resources you can easily slash your monthly food bill with very little effort.

For example, instead of going through Sunday’s coupons page by page every week, just write the date on the front page of the coupon packet and throw it in a pile. You can save these up week after week.

Then, when it’s time to shop, go to a website that catalogues every one of these coupons –  http://couponmom.com or http://hotcouponworld.com, for starters – and search for the items you already are planning to buy. These free sites tell you the dates these coupons appeared and when they expired. Go to that date’s packet and clip only the coupons you need.

These cataloguing sites also list any online coupons currently available, either from
individual stores or directly from manufacturers.

Easy, right?

Instead of searching through store sale pages (nine came in our mail Monday), try visiting a site that already has done the comparison shopping for you, such as http://www.facebook.com/ChicagoFrugalista or http://moneysavingmom.com/. There’s also forums for users to share money-saving tips and special offers they have
found.

Another great tip is to not throw away those printed coupons some stores give you with your receipt after you check out. These are called Catalina deals and are usually future discounts for products you just bought – so you’ll likely be buying them again soon. Other times, they are for cash or percentage discounts on future purchases – such as $10 off your next purchase of $40 or more.

Catalina Deal

Catalina Deal

Here’s some other great coupon tips I found:

  • Use coupons only if the item already is on sale. Grocery stores typically put items on sale once every six weeks. Wait long enough, and you’ll be able to substantially increase your savings.

  • Don’t worry if coupons expire. There will always be more coupons.
  • Look for stores that offer double coupons, either every day or on a particular day of the week.
  • Obviously, don’t buy something just because you have a coupon for it. An exception would be if the coupon makes the product free, such as when a double coupon combined with a sale price brings the cost to at or below $0.00. This actually happens.
  • Don’t throw out your junk mail anymore, you can’t afford it. Instead, mine it for treasures. Some of those offers you won’t find anywhere else.
  • To minimize embarrassment, find the right checkout line. Younger, less experience male cashiers typically will check you out quickest and with minimal fuss. Older, female, veteran cashiers hate coupons and are  more likely to slow  you down, according to one coupon website.
  • Sign up online for free sites such as Living Social, Groupon, or CouponMob. Sure, you’ll get a lot of junk emails, but occasionally there will be steep discounts on products or services you really use.
  • Planning to eat at a restaurant? Go to Coupons.com, input your zip code under “Restaurant Deals” and up pops dozens of local places offering deep discounts on gift certificates (such as $20 for a $50 gift certificate at Leona’s in Oak Lawn, one of our favorites). There’s usually a  minimum purchase, but if you’re planning on dining there anyway, that’s free money.

Let’s face facts: Times are tough right now. We can no longer afford the luxury of ignoring the discounts offered to us every day. Fortunately, there’s an entire subculture out there anxious to share information to make using these tools simpler.

Now, where’s my coin purse?