Why Where You Shop For Groceries Matters

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Where do you shop for groceries? Your answer could mean the difference between saving or spending more. Learn why you should shop around, even with stores.

It was only a year ago I relocated to what I thought was a less expensive neighborhood. For the most part, it is, with one glaring exception: groceries.

As many of you know, groceries can be a budget buster if you’re not careful. I had been trying my best to keep costs down in that category, mostly because my fiance loves to eat seconds (and sometimes thirds).

Where you shop matters a lot when it comes to the amount of money you can save, as any savvy shopper knows. However, when it comes to the places we shop for groceries, it can be hard to compromise on price and quality.

A recent article from US News highlighted the downsides of being a “supermarket snob,” and it got me thinking. I’ve never considered myself picky about where I shop, as I usually go where the sales are. But I know others who stick solely to a single chain for one reason or another.

If you’re guilty of this, you may want to take a closer look and be more mindful of where you shop. Here’s why.

The Grocery Store Hierarchy: Reputation is Everything


Depending on where you live, there’s a clear hierarchy going on with grocery stores. That’s because most chains have developed a reputation while intentionally marketing to certain demographics. Name any grocery store and you’ll conjure an image of their typical shopper (hello, people of Walmart).

For example, when I lived on Long Island, Stop & Shop was often regarded as the most expensive grocery store, with Waldbaums and Pathmark tying for second, and Shop Rite usually having the best deals.

Of course, within the past few years, the organic and local chains have been on the rise. Whole Foods is easily seen as one of the most expensive stores to buy food, with Trader Joe’s being the budget alternative.

Then you have the super discount stores like Aldi, ethnic stores, or dollar stores that have the bare minimum. Some people don’t want to be seen shopping there out of fear they’ll look too cheap, while others assume the items they sell are in bad shape.

Most of these stores get their reputation from price and appearance. A great example of this is Target and Walmart. Most of the time, people will say Target is the fancier (and pricier) of the two. Target stores are also generally much cleaner and more organized than Walmart.

However, does having these assumptions do us any favors? Well, I can safely say Stop & Shop was more organized and spacious 90 percent of the time when compared to the other stores I mentioned. Pathmark and Waldbaums always seemed to be in need of a renovation, and Shop Rite was just “okay.”

That perception was reinforced once when I opened a carton of milk from Pathmark and found it had gone bad. It wasn’t near the expiration date – it was brand new. Gross! That really put me off going there for a while.

Bottom line – it’s understandable to want your food to come from a clean place. But does a so-called “dirtier” looking store warrant such a low opinion that you avoid it at all costs?

It’s Worth Experimenting


I’m a big fan of experimenting when it comes to cutting costs (and being frugal in general). You never know if something is a better value or deal until you try it.

The thought of ignoring a grocery store because of its reputation has never crossed my mind. Growing up, I went grocery shopping with my mom, and she always went where the sales were. That meant sampling all the major chains within a 5-10 mile radius of our house.

That also taught me not to “look down upon” a store. While I’m not a huge fan of Aldi, I did go there twice to see if it was worth the savings. For me, it wasn’t (it was also further away), but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad store.

I was forced to experiment when we moved, as I had to figure out the hierarchy in our new location. We went to a new store each week, I scoured all the circulars, and I consulted with my mom, who has similar chains near her.

After a month or two, it was clear where the best buys were to be had. I now alternate between two stores that happen to be a minute away from each other, so when one doesn’t have something on sale, the other usually does. I don’t have to waste time traveling around, and I only have to look at two circulars each week! Worth it.

Prices and Quality


For most frugal shoppers, the decision of whether or not to go to a certain grocery store is often dependent on its prices and the quality of the items offered, not the actual appearance. We want to get the most bang for our buck.

However, I’ll admit I tried shopping at Whole Foods a few times. It was a stone’s throw away from Trader Joe’s, so I said why not.

Well, the store is nice and bright. It smells clean. It gives off “healthy vibes.” But I still hate food shopping. No store’s “atmosphere” will ever make up for that.

I’ll give you another example. A Publix recently opened up near us, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. Is it nice they offer to wheel your cart out to your car? I suppose, but I go there for the sales, not the service.

I don’t consider myself a “cheap” shopper when it comes to food. I like quality just as much as the next person. But the fancy pants level of a store isn’t going to make me any more or less likely to shop there. I go in and try and get out as fast as possible.

Everyone has their own preference, but it’s important to understand why you’re loyal to one store over another. If it’s simply for convenience or because it’s perceived as the best, you might want to think again.

Sure, there’s something to be said for not having to drive all over the place to buy groceries, but if another store is a few minutes away, why not explore?

Where do you shop for groceries? Your answer could mean the difference between saving or spending more. Learn why you should shop around, even with stores.

It Comes Down to Loyalty


It’s not unusual to feel a sense of loyalty to certain stores after going there week after week for so many years. Both my grandma and my mom were greeted by name whenever I went shopping with them.

I think, to some extent, we’re moving away from that. I’m not particularly loyal to any brand, and I’m also not loyal to any one store. If I have a bad customer service experience somewhere, I won’t hesitate to take my business elsewhere.

Shopping around (in the literal sense) has helped me save on many occasions. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be loyal to a store, but don’t be loyal to the extent that you ignore other possibilities out there. Look out for your bottom line and always be looking for ways to lower your grocery bill.


Do you only shop at select stores? Why or why not? Do you know of anyone who refuses to shop where the best deals are? Do you shop at one specific store or do you shop based on sales?

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Erin M. is a personal finance freelance writer passionate about helping others take control over their financial situation. She shares her thoughts on money on her blog Journey to Saving.


  • Will @ Phroogal says:

    I total know what you mean when you say a store smells clean. That’s such a huge bonus. I grocery shop for about 1.5 hours/week. That’s a lot of time spent in somewhere. It better be a good somewhere. 🙂

    • Erin says:

      Whole Foods is definitely a little unique in that aspect. While I like stores to be clean, I’m also a fan of bigger aisles and a decent layout so people aren’t getting bottle necked in the store!

  • Paul Moyer @SavingFreak says:

    For anyone looking to save money on groceries without the hassle of deal shopping and couponing, Aldi should be their first stop.

    I have actually deemed Aldi the “Man Shopper” store. Since there is only one of each type of item you can go in and get out faster than any traditional grocery store. You don’t have to look for which ketchup is cheapest you just grab the one ketchup and go.

    Also, the prices are less than any other chain. Most times even the sale price at Publix is higher than the Aldi price.

    • Erin says:

      Haha, I love that – the “Man shopper store.” I can see that! I do like choices when it comes to some things, but in general, the less decisions you have to make, the quicker your trip is.

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    I’m not that loyal too stores…except maybe Target =) For the things that I don’t get there, I generally go to the closest supermarket which is KeyFood since it’s the most convenient. We definitely try to shop and sales if possible and Aldi’s is great and we also go to an ethnic supermarket which is really cheap and has certain items that aren’t found at a regular supermarket.

    • Erin says:

      I’d really like to find an ethnic supermarket around here, as I always hear they have the best prices. We go to Target for a lot of misc. items, otherwise, I find regular grocery stores have better sales on food. Their meat tends to be pretty expensive!

  • Gary @ Super Saving Tips says:

    We generally shop where the deals are, using two different chain stores in our area to get the best prices for that week. The one that’s more convenient (literally around the corner) is the one that’s overall a little higher priced, so while we may run there for a couple of bargains, we do the bulk of our shopping a bit further away. It’s a good idea when you move into an area to do a bit of comparison shopping on a list of 15+ items to see where the best regular prices are, no matter what your “impressions” are. But this also holds true if you’ve been shopping the same store(s) for a long time…sometimes they change pricing strategies or a new player comes into the area.

    • Erin says:

      Yes, that can certainly happen! My mom shopped at one store exclusively for most of my childhood, but when a new chain came into the area, she discovered it had better prices and switched. I’m so glad I have 2 stores within a minute of each other; I can usually grab everything we need on sale in one trip. Very convenient!

  • Diane says:

    I enjoyed your post. Actually, I shop at several stores every week.

    I’ve found Walgreens has the lowest prices on eggs, milk, and saran wrap / aluminum foil, etc. Also, they have a nice rewards program.

    Walmart has the cheapest laundry detergent, especially if you buy their Sun brand plastic bucket. I wash 6 loads a week and get 3 months from a bucket ($10).

    I don’t have an Aldi near me but we have Save A Lot. Their meat prices are significantly lower than everyone else.

    I’m fortunate to live in an area with roadside stands and a large farmers market. I save a bundle shopping at them and we enjoy locally grown produce.

    Probably my biggest savings was purchasing a small chest freezer 10 years ago. I am able to buy enough food during one sale to last until the next time it goes on sale. (And I bought the freezer when it was on final clearance for $99. It’s paid for itself many times over.)

    • Erin says:

      Really! Quite surprised to see Walgreens on there. I’ve honestly stayed away from drug stores as I’ve found they have higher prices, and I’m not really into the whole rebates programs they have. I’ve never heard of Save A Lot, but I’m sure your comment will help others looking to save. =) I wish we had space for a chest freezer at our apartment – they definitely pay for themselves. Thanks for including your tips!

  • Tre says:

    I tend to shop Walmart and Pricerite because they are the cheapest.

    • Erin says:

      Walmart and Target are about the same distance away from us, but I gravitate toward Target as it tends to be cleaner and just nicer to shop at. I’ve found the price difference on most things we buy to be negligible.

  • Emily @ says:

    I so relate to this post. My husband loves Food Lion, where I used to be a dyed in the wool Harris Teeter girl despite the higher cost. While FL is inexpensive for prepackaged and non-food items, it’s sadly lacking in the produce department. My workaround is hitting the local produce stand during warmer months for cheap fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement my FL runs and hitting Lowes Foods the rest of the year.

    • Erin says:

      I feel the same exact way. I’m not a huge fan of Food Lion – it doesn’t have a big selection in most departments (at least where I am). It’s always good to have a strategy in place like that, though! That’s why I love being able to bounce between Harris Teeter and Publix.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    We only have three choices, Walmart, Kroger, or Safeway. I generally choose Kroger because it has the best produce and I get fuel points. I will go to Walmart if I really have to, but try to avoid it like the plague. I swear it makes my blood pressure rise as soon as I pull into the parking lot.

    When we go on vacation, we treat Whole Foods like going out to a restaurant. I can’t imaging shopping there full time, but I do love their salad bar!

    • Erin says:

      I generally try to avoid Walmart as well for the same reasons. Kroger is great, and I love that you can get fuel points there. I wish we had one locally, but I always go there when I visit my parents. Yes, Whole Foods does have a really nice “to-go” selection!

  • Mr. Utopia @ Personal Finance Utopia says:

    I guess my wife and I buck the trend when it comes to the “image of their typical shopper” at Walmart. We earn quite a bit more than the typical patron yet we do 90% of our grocery shopping there. Oftentimes we do feel like we stick out on our weekly grocery trips. However, it’s the cheapest place our and it’s worth the money saved, in my opinion…even if it’s not that “nice.”

    • Erin says:

      Nothing wrong with bucking the trend at all! Where we are, sale prices at grocery stores tend to be better than regular prices at Walmart, so I don’t go there very often. I’m all for saving, even if it means possibly sticking out. =)

  • Danell says:

    Where I live, there are four major grocery store chains and clear distinctions in price between each. Whole Foods, which I’ve never even bothered to enter, Dillons, which is pricey even on sale, Walmart and Aldi.

    Oh, I forgot Target. I don’t really think of them as a grocery store I guess. Regardless, I rarely go to Target. Just can’t pay more money for something I know I can get cheaper elsewhere. I don’t care how nice the store is.

    I love Aldi and I’m fortunate they are quite clean here. You don’t get distracted by stuff you don’t need at Aldi because they don’t have so many “extras”. Ninety percent of our groceries comes from Aldi and what I can’t get there, comes from Walmart, which is the next cheapest. I don’t care about the image and those who do are usually the ones in debt.

    • Erin says:

      It really depends on where you live. Back in NY, we didn’t have Super Walmarts or Targets, so I rarely went there for food as they didn’t have a huge selection. I didn’t think of them as “grocery” stores, either. I’ve price matched between Target and Walmart and sometimes, Target is actually cheaper. I think it comes down to being aware of the prices and knowing what you want to pay for something. It’s far better than shopping blindly.

  • David says:

    You have more choices than I do. Locally there is an IGA and a weekly farmers market. The IGA has good sale prices and the store brand is fairly priced.
    45 miles away there are a few more choices. That town has a WalMart, Save-A-Lot and Hannaford. While tha prices are lower than my home town IGA it usually is not worth a special trip. I would need to buy enough to save $50 to save the cost of driving there.
    When I make that trip I start at Save-A-Lot because the produce and fresh meat is always good quality. The store brand package goods are a few cents more than WalMart but I buy them anyway because it is a locally owned franchise. The down side of Save-A-Lot is a limited selection.
    After Save-A-Lot I cross the road to WalMart to get packaged goods that are not at Save-A-Lot. I rarely buy fresh meat or produce from WalMart because the quality is not very good.
    After WalMart I hit Hannaford for meat and produce. I also get anything else I need and maybe something from the bakery.
    Luckily I don’t need to buy much of my food. Most of what I eat comes from my own gardens or the woods and waters around me. I consider myself fortunate to be able to grow or forage about 2/3 of my diet. I buy very little produce, usually something I can’t grow in my climate or to try something new.

    • Erin says:

      Wow, you have quite the plan in place, that’s awesome! Being able to grow your own food is a great alternative. I would tend to agree that driving so far for cheaper food isn’t worth the price of gas. I’m glad to have so many choices nearby, but at least you’ve figured out a system that works for you!

  • Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    Erin, there are stores that we are loyal to, but we sometimes experiment especially when the store is new or just open because “best deals” are there or we want to try if products are cheaper compared with the stores we are loyal. And, the idea of “experimenting” is really fun and exciting!

    • Erin says:

      It is! There’s no reason not to vary where you shop, unless you’ve tried all the options you have. When new stores open, I always enjoy seeing what their prices are and what they offer.

  • Anita says:

    My husband uses the car to go to work so I have to take the bus if I want to go to a shop far away. The ticket costs me at least 5,4 Euro. If I need few things it’s much cheaper to use the more expensive shop around the corner than use the shop at the other end of the city.

    • Erin M says:

      That’s a good example of when it’s worth going with the convenience option, even if it has more expensive items. That also applies if you live really far away from some of the less expensive stores – it’s not always worth the gas to get there!

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