10+1 Money Saving Tips for Grocery Shopping in Southern California

Alright - I’ll lay my cards on the table: 

According to my records, Josh and I spend an average of $ 350 on groceries each month. That number includes three square meals a day, snacks, toiletries, and alcoholic beverages, but we do have separate dining out expensed. Not bad for two fully grown gourmets with a healthy appetite, rightI? If wouldn't use deals, coupons, and some little tricks, this amount would be significantly higher. 

I totally get you if you’re also looking for a little instant ease when it comes to the cost of your groceries. When I moved to San Diego I had to face some drastic changes in how I used to do my grocery shopping. I still can’t wrap my mind around how expensive cheese is in this country or on the other hand how cheap processed food is. Either way, you can still eat well and spend less, because grocery expenses are one of the things that we have the most control of. It’s true, we’re paying more these days, but there are many smart ways to save when shopping for groceries. We can’t determine what the store charges, but we can decide where to buy, what to buy, what deals to use, and how to cook. Being prepared before heading to the store is the best way to make sure you stick to your grocery shopping budget, but there are also some simple strategies to keep in mind and items to keep an eye out for when you’re at the store. 

Check out the our favorite ways to save while shopping. This list is full of 10+1 smart ideas to organize your shopping, have fantastic snacks and meals, and enjoy the sunny side of life - The Behlster Way.

Buy FRESH produce.

The cost of living in Southern California is one of the highest in the country, but living in the Golden State also has some incredible perks: tons of sunshine, warm weather, a never ending feeling of vacation, and great fresh produce prices. 99 cent for an avocado? On it!

Cook from scratch.

I grew up with my mom and grandma being fantastic cooks and so they always cooked from scratch. On one hand, because microwave dinners or ready-to-eat meals aren’t very popular in Austria… and on the other, because growing up on a farm meant we had most of the produce ourself. When we needed potatoes my grandma would send me down the cellar to fetch them and my mom and I would never have a BBQ without our self-made garlic-herb butter (made with fresh herbs from our garden). yes, I totally understand that not everybody is fortunate enough to have a garden or a green thumb, but homemade food simply tastes better than anything commercially prepared. It might seem more expensive when you buy the ingredients for your meals the very first time, but you don’t have to get flour, spices, or oil every time you go grocery shopping and in the end preparing homemade meals from scratch isn’t only cheaper, it’s a LOT cheaper.


Use coupons.

After I spent a little while in San Diego, I was stunned at how much I could save by using coupons. There are coupons for pretty much everything and you find them pretty much everywhere: in newspapers or direct mail advertisement in newsletters from the store, on social media sites, sometimes you can find them directly on the products, other times a cashier may hand you some when you pay for your purchase. No matter where you get your coupons, planning meals around what's on sale does take some time, but it also truly lowers your grocery bills. You can also stock up on staple ingredients when you have a coupon for them, or when the store offers deals like "buy one, get one free”.


Use reward cards.

These cards come in many names: reward cards, loyalty cards, club card, points card, discounts card, etc., but they all identify a card holder as a member in a loyalty program. By presenting the card, you typically get entitled to either a discount, or an allotment of points that can be used for future purchases. Sounds complicated? It is not… actually, it’s so easy and I doubt there is a grocery store in San Diego from which I don’t have one of these magical saving cards. I get the most savings from Ralph’s and the receipt always shows you how much you genuinely saved. A little Ralph’s insider tip: When you like Ralph’s on Facebook you’ll get one free item every Friday. Simply load the offer to your card and you can get it for free a anytime within the following 3 weeks. Isn’t that great? Last week I got a bar of Lind chocolate… yummy!

Use apps.

Why not turn your smartphone into a virtual wallet? There are different apps for storing your rewards cards on your phone, but I personally use Stocard. It used to be only available in Europe, but now you can get it here in the US and it’s a fantastic free app. You can store all your reward cars in one app and get rid of all those plastic cards in your wallet. The built in scanner enables you to add loyalty cards within seconds and there’s no registration necessary. (Several stores still use outdated scanner technologies and unfortunately these scanners cannot read smartphone displays. In this case, simply ask the cashier to type in your card number manually.)


Save double with gas points.

By using reward cards at some grocery stores you also earn gas points which you can redeem at the pump. VONS is my favorite store when it comes to gas points, because after you earned enough points you save 20 cent per gallon. Eeeeasy money.


Buy now - pick up later. 

Did you know that some stores will let you buy bakery items up to a month in advance so you can pay the lower price and bring your receipt later to pick up the baked goods as you need them? Simply ask at the bakery counter to find out if they allow this.

Put the butcher to work.

Your family loves meat but it makes up a big portion of your grocery expenses? Every time I need a lot of meat and different cuts, I buy a big roast and ask the butcher to remove the bone for soup trim off some of the excess fat to save weight, let them run half of it through the grinder for hamburger patties, and cut the rest of it into a pot roast. This way I easily save 30 to 40% compared to buying everything cut.

Be careful with bulk offers.

Always do the math before you buy in bulk, because buying groceries by the piece can end up being cheaper per pound than buying multi-packs. Another advantage is that you can inspect goods like fruits and vegetables for defects, so you don’t get home and find half your bag ready for the trashcan. Sometimes bulk can save you money as well - for example, every time I see a multi-pack chicken breasts for $1.59 per pound I buy as much as we’ll need for the next 3 to 4 weeks and stash them in the deep freeze. I do this for the bulk of the ingredients that I use on a regular basis and check the prices to figure out if I’m getting a good deal or not.

10 for $ 10.

That’s something Josh told me and maybe it’s totally obvious for Americans, but the little Austrian in me would have never thought about that: If the sign says 10 for $ 10, it doesn’t mean you have to buy 10 items to get the $1 per item deal. I always bought 10 packages of frozen spinach until Josh asked me why I get so much at once. Oh well, now I’m smarter… Thx, honey!


Don’t forget about the smaller stores.

The big chain grocery stores, like Albertsons, Ralph’s, and VONS, usually have two or three loss leaders each week (like tomatoes, avocados, or some fruit), but the smaller chains, like Trader Joe’s and Sprouts, have a whole barrel of bargains on a weekly basis. Read the ads. I love their deals on berries.

And now I'm hungry...

// Journalist / US Correspondent / Blogger // You want to know what makes my life so special? EVERYTHING! And I don't want to miss a single little thing - where I live, what I do, and especially with whom I spend my life. Life is absolutely fantastic, so just join us here on the sunny side!

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