'Everyday low price' vs. supermarket: Where can you save more?

Dear Jill,I have dabbled in couponing before and am wondering what is the best use of my time: to become a more frequent coupon user or simply shop at a discount grocery store? We have a small grocer chain in my area that sells all house-brand grocery staples and some name brand things, too. Their prices seem fair. Am I better off shopping here all the time or at a different supermarket? Also, the discount grocer does not take coupons at all. — Carly P.

This is a question I’m asked fairly often: Is it less expensive to shop an everyday-low-price store every day, or will you save more money shopping at a traditional supermarket with coupons?

The smaller, everyday-low-price grocers focus on a specific niche: Pantry, refrigerator and freezer staples. Most of the brands of products sold in these stores are private, house labels. Focusing primarily on their own brands helps keep both their costs and your prices down. You typically won’t find specialty ingredients or many name-brand products at these retailers. They also rarely have sales — their prices usually stay the same day to day. It’s true the prices aren’t too high. They also are not too low. They sit right in the middle.

In contrast, typical chain supermarkets operate on what’s known as a "high/low" pricing structure. On any given day, about half of the items in the store are priced higher than what I would consider to be "good" low prices. However, the other half of the products are priced lower than you might expect. As a coupon shopper, these are the products I focus on the most because if I have a coupon for them, I’m going to drop them even more.

For example, let’s think about a box of cornflake cereal. At the discount grocer, their house-branded cornflakes are $1.99. At the supermarket, a name-brand cornflake cereal is regularly $2.99. If you needed to buy the corn flakes today, the discount grocer would be a better buy. However, a few weeks later, the supermarket had a sale on the name-brand cornflakes, dropping them to $1.49 per box. With a 50-cent coupon, I can drop them to 99 cents — half the price of the store-brand cornflakes at the discount grocer.


Because I focus on deals such as these whenever I shop, I am confident for the majority of the products I buy, I am paying lower prices than I would at the discount grocer. We have a discount grocer similar to this in my area too, and I do enjoy buying some things there. They sell a wide variety of spices and seasonings for $1, and they also have low prices on produce, though the selection is limited and varies week to week. They do sell some name-branded items, too, but I steer clear of them — largely, the prices are higher than I would pay at a traditional supermarket.

If you’re time-crunched and do not wish to bother with taking the time to use coupons or stock up on items when their prices are on sale at the supermarket, you likely will save more money shopping at the everyday-low-price store. However, couponing is a practice that pays very well – you will save even more by pairing coupons with the lowest-priced supermarket sales.

Don’t overlook shopping at drugstores and pharmacies, too — they often have fantastic deals on cleaning products, personal care items, laundry detergent and cosmetics. These stores also follow the high/low pricing rules, so I look for the best deals and shop those each week. I haven’t paid for toothpaste in years — it’s free after coupon deals month after month at popular drugstore chains. Shaving gel, razors and shampoo also drop into the crazy-bargain price range if you play your coupons right.

Some people might find a mix of shopping both stores a good fit, picking up groceries at the everyday-low-price store and only focusing their couponing efforts on the non-grocery items that are deeply discounted at drugstores.

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