Is Daily Grocery Shopping Frugal? (Foodie Friday)

I noticed a post on Wise Bread the other day called “Buy Your Groceries European-Style”. I clicked into it, because the title sounded interesting.  I was hoping for some frugal shopping tips.

The central argument the post makes is that it’s more frugal to go shopping for groceries every day, as you can avail yourself of the best deals that way.

Yes, you read that right – the suggestion is that you shop for groceries every day. But is that really more frugal?

The Premise

The idea is that you’ll walk by the meat counter, and see some meat that’s been reduced for quick sale.  You can buy that, and have it for dinner that evening.

You’ll stroll through the produce section, notice some produce that’s going bad, and get a good deal on that too – maybe turning it into a soup with the abovementioned meat.

You’ll walk over to the dairy case, and see some milk that expires in a day or two.  It’ll be marked down, and you’ll snag a good deal.

These are all good things to do, if you have the opportunity – but in this case we’re finding ourself trekking to the grocery store seven times each week just to find these deals.

Does that really save us anything?

The Time Problem

If we have to count the cost of gas, we can just stop right here.  We’ve already lost. Let’s pretend for a minute though that we can walk or bike to the grocery store so we don’t have to count the cost of gas.

Even if the grocery store is only a few blocks away (even more rare), we’ll have ten to fifteen minutes just in the walking back and forth.

Add in enough time to really look around and scour the produce, meat, etc. sections for good deals, and we’ve got another fifteen minutes without trying too hard at all.

A bit more for waiting in line at the checkout, a tiny bit more for putting away groceries when we get home, and we’ve got an easy forty minutes into this trip – and that’s just one day.

And Now For The Total

Forty minutes, seven days a week is two hundred and eighty minutes.  That’s roughly four and a half hours per week that you’d be spending shopping for food!

I can do a regular trip to the store in about 1/3 that time, so that’s another three hours each week I’d have to spend shopping for food.

What’s The Savings?

If you come up with fantastic, mind-blowing deals, the best you’re likely to do (at least in my neck of the woods) is save a few bucks a day. Unless you’re stocking up, or feeding a large family, there’s just not enough food consumption in a day to realize huge savings.

Couple that with the fact that grocery stores are festering nests of sneaky ads designed to trick you into buying things you don’t need, and I’m not sure it’s worth it.

And We’ve Seen This Strategy Before

This strategy is also the very definition of scarcity frugality, which (as discussed previously) isn’t extensible or sustainable.  In other words, these deals you’re expecting on a daily basis are incredibly limited.

If you want to take advantage of them, you need to live in an area where the stores are reducing items for quick sale, and you need to hope that not too many other people in your area have the same idea.

In other words, the strategy probably won’t work over the long haul.

The Total Package

Being frugal isn’t just about money – being frugal is a total package that includes your time as well.

I’m figuring above that daily shopping would burn an extra three hours a week.  If you don’t use them for shopping, what can you do with those three extra hours?

Here’s a few ideas:

  • Write a couple of blog posts
  • Watch two movies
  • Read 150 pages (at an average reading speed)
  • Bake a few loaves of healthy, homemade bread
  • Do a light cleaning of several rooms
  • Take an extended nap
  • Play a board game with your family
  • Watch a baseball game
  • Mow the lawn (with time to spare!)
  • Learn to cook

….and that’s just the beginning of a list.  I’m sure you can come up with even more.

A Summary

The article contains some good points (the idea of being ready to vary your menu based on store sales, for example).  An extra stop at the store mid-week may even be a good idea, in order to replenish nice fresh veggies.

But the idea of shopping every day wastes entirely too much time and money for my liking.

What about you?  Have you ever tried daily grocery shopping?  How often do you shop for groceries now, and how does it work for you?

Let me know in the comments!

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13 Responses - Add Your Input!

Posted May 13, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

Hey Robert! I saw the article at Wise Bread a few weeks ago when Tracy G. linked to it in my comments section. It seems like a good idea if you really enjoy grocery shopping. Unfortunately, I pretty much loathe grocery shopping and if I had to shop for groceries everyday, I would be extremely unhappy.

I always shop at Trader Joe’s and one of the reasons is because it’s small, so I can get in and out in 30 minutes. Walking or biking there isn’t an option (it’s about 12 miles away on a VERY busy road). And even if it was, I dont know how I would get the groceries home on a bike or by foot. I can see how it would work if you’re shopping everyday and picking up a little bit of food, but a week’s worth of groceries for four people would be pretty darn tricky to get back to the house without a trunk! :)
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Posted May 13, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

Hi Robert, Jenny;

I agree with you both: shopping every day looking for savings of pennies is definitely not a sustainable (or healthy) practice. But. I (slightly) disagree with you both as well. Sarah and I have been grocery shopping 3-4 times per week for just over a month and a half now. We’ve worked really hard to structure our life to make sure we can get daily walks (of at least an hour) in as a family. We piggy back the grocery shopping on our existing daily routine.

Financially, our grocery spending has actually crept up, slightly – but our overall monthly spendings have definitely dropped since adopting this practice.I’m guessing this has a lot to do with the fact that most of the indie grocery stores don’t have very much ‘other’ stuff – just food. So we don’t overbuy. (for the dirty details, check out http://www.thenonconformistfamily.com/category/finances/).

I don’t think our arrangement would work for everyone, since I don’t have a traditional job (read ‘time freedom’), and we live in a city with a network of independent grocery stores.

Anyways – great comments – and wicked post!

- Josh (NonConformist Pa)

Posted May 14, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

Europeans shop like that because they for the most part live in teeny tiny apartments with no storage room and small refrigerators.

I shop about every 4-5 weeks at Costco and the Grocery Outlet. Every week I check the ads online for our two local grocery stores and if they have loss-leaders we can use, I pop in and buy only those items. Sometimes I don’t step foot in a grocery store for 2 or 3 weeks. It’s heaven!
Adrienne recently posted..Hyacinths part three

    Posted May 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I like your strategy. Is Grocery Outlet kind of like Aldi (or something on that order)?

    We have a store up here that usually has a bunch of coupons that you can use with a $5.00 purchase. You can use all the coupons with the one $5.00 purchase.

    So if there are a bunch of good items on coupon that week, I go buy $5.00 or so worth of items that are very reasonably priced at that particular store. That way I can use the coupons without having to buy unnecessary overpriced items in the process.

    Do I assume correctly that you don’t eat much in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables (since I don’t think they last 2-3 weeks :) )?

    Thanks for commenting Adrienne!

      Posted May 16, 2011 at 2:24 am | Permalink

      We don’t have Aldi’s where I live (Idaho) so I’m not super informed on them, but have heard they are pretty good. Grocery Outlet is pretty much just that – an outlet.
      Here’s their info page

      We pick up whatever produce is on sale from our two local stores. Nothing on sale? That’s what God made freezers for – and we thank Him. In most cases (other than the Farmer Market stuff we buy in the summer and what we grow ourselves) frozen is more nutritious than fresh.

      I also buy whole tri-tips at Costco, slice it myself, freeze, and then vacuum seal. It saves 2 or 3 dollars a pound. A whole tri-tip lasts us about 1 1/2 years. We just ate country style ribs that were frozen and vacuumed in late 2008 and they were fabulous and tasted as fresh as the day I bought them.

      Also – things purchased at Costco stay fresher longer because they don’t have a warehouse middle man operation. It’s just two of us and we can purchase two gallons of milk (hormone free) and it will last for weeks. A gallon milk from the grocery store is over the hill after just days.

      I’m not a coupon person. It just seems to be more trouble than it’s worth. Beside, most the coupons I see are for things I don’t buy anyway.

        Posted May 16, 2011 at 2:44 am | Permalink

        Aldi concentrates on their own store brands (which they source as reasonably as possible) and occasionally brings in name brand stuff when they find a deal. It sounds like Grocery outlet does almost the reverse – bringing in name brand stuff at good prices as often as possible, and sourcing their own stuff occasionally as needed.

        I know what you mean about the frozen vs. fresh thing with regard to vegetables. I definitely wasn’t knocking the frozen-foods angle!

        I just wish somebody would come up with a good way to preserve salad greens for an extended period of time. :D

        Your comments are definitely appreciated Adrienne!

Posted June 27, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

Okay I am very late to this conversation. When I lived in Germany I shopped maybe 5 times a week. We did have a small fridge as was mentioned above (a beer fridge in North America). It also did not really have a freezer. OMG I miss the food. I ate fresh fish and fresh produce that I got from the markets I went to twice a week. The cheese is amazing too. In Germany, bread is a serious thing and the bakeries have all different kinds of bread. Although most things were closed on Sundays the bakery was open on Sunday morning so people could get a fresh loaf every day. Now, I had a store that was about 3 blocks away. The Tuesday market was about 5 blocks away. The Saturday market was a bus ride or a very long walk away. Yes, there is the time factor but when I see articles about how Europeans don’t diet I can see why. You don’t have a lot of extra food on hand and you are walking to get it. In addition, they drink bottled water so you have to make room for carbonated water in the fridge (I was given carbonated water while in labour in the hospital….it is just what people drink). Now, they are getting box stores on the edges of towns like we have here in North America which is rather sad. The food was just so much better and I am afraid the quality just goes down when you buy from huge box stores. I have no clue where these people are storing the food as the homes are smaller in Europe. Anyways, in your frugality equation you have to include exercise. Not a lot of people go to gyms that I could see. They were walking or riding their bikes. I love seeing the seniors riding their bikes to the store or market. It is just a whole different lifestyle.

    Posted June 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    We’ll just say you’re “fashionably late” and leave it at that. :D

    Exercise is certainly a valid part of the equation, as long as you have a store within a reasonable distance.

    What I disagree with in the referenced post that any of this is going to save me substantial money – especially when considering the time expenditure. It also strikes me as odd that they make the “fresher food” argument, while encouraging you to look for close-dated items. “Fresher” and “close-dated” are opposites!

    The thing that sticks in my brain is that most stores in American cities are big box or supermarkets, and those stores *want you to shop there every day*. They’ve run the numbers, and they know that bodies in the aisles = sales.

    Because I know that’s what they want, and because I know there’s a ton of research and data making them want that, I’m somewhat unwilling to give it to them.

    If I’m not going to save real money, I’m not going to get better-quality food, and I’m not going to save time (all of which are usually the case with a big box or supermarket), I think I’d rather exercise by doing something I enjoy. The exercise you get by walking to and from the store is just that – walking. And I have to think that there are plenty of more interesting places to walk than to the supermarket!

    Just my thoughts, of course. Thanks for commenting Rachel!

Posted May 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

I think there are some flaws in the above analysis and some important omissions from the original article.

1. When shopping weekly the amount of wasted food goes up dramatically. 10 to 20%. Fresh food in refrigeration hides other food that gets ignored and then spoils.

2. My kids won’t eat something just because it about to go bad.

3. Go to the grocery store is not a waste of time. You walk around which means you get needed exercise.

4. Cost of gas is not material. Our grocery store is 2 miles away. That’s 4 miles round trip. About 85 cents to supermarket.

5. It’s more pleasurable to eat exactly what you want, Instead of what you have to eat according to some expiration deadline.

How am I wrong?

    Posted May 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    In no particular order:

    Costs – if you’re going by your mileage estimates, grocery shopping 5 days a week would give you a monthly cost of $20/month – twice that for somebody who lives 4 miles away from the store instead of two. If you’re going by the standard mileage deduction, that number is $40/month by your numbers and $80/month by the standard deduction. I don’t consider $20/month immaterial.

    Exercise – If you’re counting steps, sure – you’re getting exercise. But walking around a grocery store isn’t anywhere close to the aerobic exercise that’s really good for you. And if you’re counting steps, you can do that much more time-efficiently with a nice brisk walk around your block – and without being bombarded with the in-store ads. I’d consider exercise from a shopping trip to be a fringe benefit, not a reason to shop more often.

    Expiration Deadlines – You keep bringing up “expiration deadlines”. Having expired food is an issue of planning and/or organization, not an issue of shopping frequency. If you buy good food that you like to eat, in a quantity that’s realistic for the coming week, and then eat it, expiration dates really aren’t a big deal.

    Planning sounds like the issue here. If you’re looking for info on how to do that well, go find some articles on Once A Month Cooking. You don’t have to go all the way into OAMC, but seeing how they group recipes, avoid waste, and manage meal prep might be useful to you.

Posted June 26, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

I notice you like to argue your point, but you seem to have forgotten something very important. When most people commute to work, which most people do on a daily basis they tend to pass by grocery stores or supermarkets. In MY opinion if you stop by the store on your way home you would not be wasting gas, since you were going to pass by it anyhow.

    Posted June 27, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    That’s absolutely true if your route to/from work takes you by a grocery store, the store is open when you’re going by (if it’s not 24/7 second or third shift could have a problem), and you’re capable of stopping conveniently (as opposed to, say, having to get off and back on a bus) – no argument from me there at all.

    At that point, however, I’d pose another question – is the store competitively priced? I say this because I used to have a job that took me right by a grocery store on the way home – the most expensive grocery store in town. :)

    Thanks for commenting!

Posted October 12, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

I am very fortunate to live close enough to walk to my grocery store. It forces me to make wise choices because I can buy just a basket of whatever I need and carry it home. I find much less waste this way. I only buy what I need and use it up quickly before it spoils. I also eat healthier and get walking in for exercise. Much happier!!

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