Stop Price Shopping for Groceries Now!

Groceries | Source: mjb84 on FlickrAs people find increasing opportunities to be frugal, I hear more and more stories about people who advocate price shopping when it comes time to buy anything. What do I mean by price shopping? I mean shopping at the place that offers the product you want at the lowest price. In some cases, where you are making a one-time purchase such as an electronic device, this can make sense. But, in the case of buying groceries, going to multiple grocery stores to take advantage of sales on different items is a complete waste of time and resources.

You might think you’re getting a deal by saving $0.20 on that can of beans, or even saving $1.00 on that jar of peanut butter. But was that really worth driving an extra 10 km? In most day-to-day scenarios, the price savings you will encounter on small ticket items at the grocery store are insignificant compared to the increased costs of traveling to and from the store, especially in today’s economy where gas prices are approaching $1.40-1.50 a litre in Canada.

What is the solution? Find the nearest grocery store to you, and buy everything you need there, regardless of what sales they have on at the grocery store 10 km down the road. Drive home and enjoy the rest of your day. I’m serious – you will not save anything by going to the other grocery store to buy what they have on sale.

The Proof is in the Numbers

Since you might not believe me, I’m going to prove it. I happen to have 4 grocery stores in reasonably close proximity to where I live (the benefits of living in a very urban area). Three of the stores are major Canadian chains (Loblaws, Metro and Sobey’s), and the last one is a locally and independently owned store. So I put together a list of 36 items that I or anyone else might commonly buy at the grocery store. And I went to all four stores to see how much it would cost me to buy those items.  Wherever possible, I made to sure to look for the exact same brand and for the exact same package size. When that wasn’t possible, I chose a brand that I would consider to be of an equivalent level. If something happened to be on sale when I was there, I put down the sale price. Here are the results:

Item

Metro

Loblaws

Independant

Sobey’s

Milk – 4L Premium Brand

6.89

6.49

6.99

6.99

Cheese – 500g Bar

9.19

9.29

8.99

9.69

Western Brand Cream Cheese

4.79

4.59

4.39

4.49

Egg Whites

3.69

2.99

3.49

2.99

Dozen Eggs

3.69

3.19

3.33

3.59

Frozen Fruit – 600 g

4.99

5.29

4.99

4.99

Ice Cream – Haagen Dazs Little Container

7.69

7.69

7.49

8.29

Butter – 4 Sticks Unsalted

6.69

6.39

6.29

6.29

Tropicana Orange Juice

6.99

6.99

6.99

6.99

Frozen Pizza – Delissio or McCain

7.99

7.99

7.99

7.99

Sliced or Slivered Almonds – 250 g

4.99

6.65

8.73

5.99

Amy’s Brand Can of Soup

3.49

3.79

3.99

3.79

Parmesan Cheese

7.19

6.89

7.99

6.99

Heinz Ketchup

5.89

5.99

6.59

7.98

Renee’s Salad Dressing

4.49

4.49

4.29

4.49

Bag of Organic Corn Nacho Chips

3.29

2.69

2.99

2.99

Rice Noodles

1.89

1.99

2.29

3.29

Tomato Paste

0.79

0.79

0.69

0.79

Can of Diced Tomatoes

3.49

2.79

3.49

3.29

Whole Wheat Pasta

1.79

2.39

1.99

1.79

Lettuce – 1 Head

1.29

1.99

1.69

1.99

Apples – 1 Pound

1.69

1.69

1.49

1.69

Carrots – 2 Pounds

2.99

2.79

1.99

2.29

Celery – 1 Bushel

2.49

1.99

1.49

2.49

Pears – 1 Pound

1.79

1.29

0.99

1.49

Oranges – 1 Pound

1.49

1.49

1.99

1.49

Green Onion – 1 Bushel

0.69

0.79

0.99

0.79

Red Onion – 1 Pound

0.99

1.29

1.99

1.29

Squash – 1 Pound

1.49

1.49

1.29

1.29

Bananas (Organic) – 1 Pound

0.99

0.99

0.99

1.29

Long Grain Brown Rice – 900 g

2.19

2.99

2.39

3.99

Can of Corn

1.49

1.29

1.39

0.99

Whole Wheat Flour – 2.5 kg

6.49

6.49

5.99

6.49

Sugar – 2 kg

7.09

2.99

2.99

2.99

Organic Microwave Popcorn

3.79

3.99

3.29

3.49

Peanut Butter, Kraft – 1 kg

4.99

5.19

5.99

5.79

Total Cost

$141.84

$138.10

$140.91

$143.53

I know what you might be thinking… Surely, if I bought the cheapest item at each store, I could maximize my savings and save a ton of money! OK, let’s put that to the test. If I were to buy every item where it was cheapest, my grand total would be $128.35, representing a savings of $9.76-$15.18 depending on where you were to do all of your shopping. I’ll admit, ten to fifteen bucks, that’s nothing to sneeze at. At the end of the day, the difference between the four stores was a paltry $5.43. Huh…doesn’t seem like there is that big of a difference between the stores after all. The conclusion to be drawn – shop wherever you happen to be at the time. At the end of the day, you might be down a few bucks depending on where you go, but you won’t have had to waste the time to travel to four grocery stores, walk through four times as many aisles and stand in four times as many checkout lines.

What is the cost of incurring those savings?

Let’s assume that to visit each additional grocery store, you have to drive an extra 5 km, for a total of 15 km of extra driving. To be conservative and to let this scenario equally apply to all Canadians, let’s say that gas costs $1.25 a litre. And let’s say that the average car consumes about 9L/100 km for city driving. That breaks down to a gas cost of $0.11 per km driven. That’s an extra $1.65 in gas just to get between all the grocery stores, so you can save $10-15 – which represents 10-15% of your savings. Don’t forget about the extra wear and tear on your car and the increased risk of getting into an accident (the more you drive, the more you stand to have an accident). On top of that, the emissions resulting from the burning of an extra litre of gasoline are now in the air, contributing to our growing environmental issues. Lest we not forget the cost of time. Now, I try not to think about my time in monetary terms, but there is an opportunity cost associated with price shopping for groceries. Going to all three extra stores might represent an extra half an hour in travel time (10 minutes extra per store), an extra 15 minutes in parking time (5 minutes per store), an extra half an hour in shopping time (10 minutes extra per store) and an extra 15 minutes in checkout time (5 minutes per store). That’s over an hour of my time so that I can save $10-15. Minimum wage in Ontario is currently $10.50 an hour. Is my time worth minimum wage? Or would I rather spend that hour and change with my partner/family/TV, maybe cooking a nice dinner instead of reheating the microwave dinner I bought since I spent all my free time driving from grocery store to grocery store?

This scenario won’t apply to everyone. Some people will be lucky enough to have multiple grocery stores within walking distance. In that case, the only cost is time. Some people have hybrid or fuel efficient cars, lightening their load on their wallet and on the environment. But some people drive even further for the same savings – the more you drive, the less you save. At $1.25 a litre, every 9 km driven could represent $1 lost. Keep that in mind the next time you think about driving to that other grocery store to save a few bucks. I’m all for going to sometimes extreme lengths to be frugal, but this is one case where I’d chalk up the money lost to the opportunity cost of using my time in more life enhancing ways.

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13 thoughts on “Stop Price Shopping for Groceries Now!

  1. I disagree this time.

    First, the stores near you are really expensive! Independent = Loblaws, so you won’t see much price difference between them. Sobeys is even more expensive – they must put that extra money toward their fancy fliers.

    We shop at lower end stores, that, go figure, sell the same products as the pricey ones above. So it is No Frills, Price Chopper (can’t recall the new name of it) and yes, we do go to Loblaws. In addition we use Kawartha Dairy. Lastly, we buy 90% of our meat from local farmers (eggs too) on Saturdays @ the local market.

    Each week Mrs. SPF and I go over the fliers. We live in a smaller city so none of these stores is more than 2 minutes drive from each other (except the market – but we also enjoy community experience which we get in spades @ the market). In the fliers we scope out the best deals and then one night a week one of us shops for food. If it is myself, the task – hitting 4 stores is done in less than 75 minutes door to door.

    We get the local milk from the dairy @ $4.29 for 4 L. $2+ savings. And, it is right across the road from Loblaws. We’ll also get 2L of their ice cream for about $4 too – forget Haagendaas! Fresh, local dairy! Close to $4 savings their too. Butter is $4. $8.50 savings, one stop. Plus support local farms and business.

    Cheese – we never pay full price. Every month or so one of our 3 stores will have 500g on for about $5 (save $4). Then we buy about 3 bricks of the stuff. Same w/ Renees. It WILL be on sale for $3, we buy 2. Another $2.

    Dozen eggs: $2.85 (local, market) (save $0.50)
    Pizza: we make our own! About $5 for 2.
    Ketchup – on sale. $3. Save $3.
    Can of tomatoes (buy on sale, get lots)L $2 – save $2.
    Apples: about $1 – save $.50/lb – we save $4.
    PB on sale: $3 – save $2.

    When you add it all up we save a TON compared to our fuel costs, week in and week out. There are many other items we get on sale as well. The fact is the grocer tries to lure you in with low prices on some items hoping you will stay and buy their regular priced items – we just don’t do it.

    • Hey SPF, thanks for your well thought out reply!! If there’s one thing you’ve really highlighted, its the advantages of living in a smaller, more rural community as opposed to a major urban centre, or even a suburban area. The one thing you mentioned that, I will admit, I didn’t fully consider when writing the post is the impact of buying sale-priced items in bulk. This can certainly enhance the savings potential and maximize the trips to different stores. But I’m also not convinced that this doesn’t enable overconsumption in some cases. We’re more likely to eat something if its readily available to us. I frequently find that when I buy things in bulk because they’re on sale, they don’t last as long as I would have expected.

      Some of the points you made though are simply not feasible or realistic in an urban/suburban setting. Our groceries are expensive and we don’t have access to the lower end stores. There is one No Frills on the other side of town – it would take me half an hour to drive through traffic to get to it. Those who live near them can certainly benefit. I LOVE Kawartha Dairy products, but unfortunately they aren’t readily available in Toronto, though the independant store I included in my price survey, which is actually a local, one-off independant store and not a Loblaws-byproduct, does sell their ice cream (a major treat!!). Though we do go to a farmer’s market every weekend and enjoy supporting and interacting with local farmers, we also pay a huge premium for these products to get them brought into the city. One litre of local, non factory-farm produced, milk costs us about $3.50 (compared to your price of $4.29 for 4L). A tub of Kawartha Dairy ice cream is almost $8, or probably about double what you pay. When you live in the city, you either buy with the masses or you pay big bucks.

      As I said in the article, my cry for action won’t apply to everyone. It was mainly driven at urban and suburban dwellers. If anything, I am jealous of the benefits you enjoy by living outside of the city. I have a feeling I will end up there myself one day. But for now, there are too many perks to living in the city that offset that. I like that everything I could ever need in life is within a 30 minute walk of my door. That makes up for the price premium in a way.

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  4. Oh, man, yesterday was Good Friday and I needed to pick up a few supplies on Thursday because I knew everything would be closed on GF. I didn’t want to drive all the way to the supermarket, so grabbed a few things from the dairy. Ketchup cost double what it would, but I figured this time it was worth saving me a bit of time and hassle.

    I used to keep a price book (we used to shop randomly at one of two supermarkets – one budget, one not.) I gave up because I never saw any sale patterns, which was the main reason I kept it (obviously the budget one was cheaper, though with less choice).

    I definitely think it’s worth shopping at the cheaper one, because EVERYTHING costs less (also, it’s closer). And that’s what we do 99 percent of the time. However, I will sometimes go to the pricier one if it happens to be more convenient at the time or we want something we can’t get.

    • Smart thinking going on Thursday! We forgot and went the day after instead. The grocery store was NUTS! Apparently we weren’t the only one who wanted to go shopping on Good Friday but couldn’t…

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  7. What a well researched post!

    Your prices are exactly the same as ours in Alberta.

    And I have to agree with you on the running from store to store to save a few bucks. My husband and I tried it a few times based on so many people’s advice and we found that we were running around for over 4 hours just to get a few dollars off here and there. We felt drained and by the time we got home we didn’t feel like getting other things done.

    The one thing I have found beneficial is to buy meat when it is on sale and freeze it. I like buying meat at Safeway. Having said that, we now have so much that some of it is showing signs of freezer burn.

    • Thanks ToD!
      I’m strangely glad to hear that I’m not the only one paying high food prices :)
      You’ve highlighted a great downside to buying in bulk – if it doesn’t promote overconsumption, then you may actually wind up buying more than you really need, which will erode your savings in the end.

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