Four Alternatives to the Grocery Store

grocery storeJust fifteen or twenty years ago it would have been unusual to buy your groceries from anywhere other than your typical neighborhood grocery store. Things have definitely changed since then and the average consumer has a whole range of opportunities to shop for food. Gone on are the days when the supermarket was practically the only place most people went to get their groceries.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans are only shopping for groceries at supermarkets 51 percent of the time. So where are they going for grocery purchases, and will those places save them money?

1. Big box discount stores. Wal-mart, Target and other big box discount stores offer up a lot of convenience, but can you save money on groceries at one of these places? The answer is probably yes. Pricing comparisons point to a greater grocery savings at one of these stores. You will sacrifice variety, but if you purchase the most common products anyway, you’ll come out ahead. Just be wary of impulse add-ons, such as that DVD movie, the wall art that you just had to have, or an extra toy or shirt.

2. Warehouse stores. Warehouse stores offer bulk pricing in a no-frills setting. For a membership fee that averages $45, members can take advantage of the bargains for a full year. Besides standard grocery items, shoppers have access to gourmet selections, as well as everything from books to socks. Discounts on prescription eyeglasses, tires and auto work and even insurance are offerings at some of these stores. Can you save money at a bulk warehouse? Absolutely. Expect a savings of about 30 percent, and some of these stores, but not all, take coupons. Just be careful about your bulk purchases to avoid waste.

3. Local specialty stores and farmer’s markets. If you want fresh and organic food, there are no better places to shop than local specialty stores and farmer’s markets. In the case of the later, you may be able to enjoy produce that was just picked that morning. With all of this great food, will you wind up spending more? It depends. If you have a relationship with a local farmer, you may get some great deals, especially if you are willing to buy whatever happens to be in abundance, but for the most part, be prepared to pay a premium for shopping at a local specialty store or farmer’s market.

4. CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) farm. There are more and more CSA opportunities popping up all over the country. Members pay a price up front for a share in whatever the farm produces and collect the bounty every week or every other week. The average cost to the consumer is about $35 a week for fresh fruit, vegetables and sometimes homemade craft items. If you enjoy eating fresh healthy food and cooking from scratch, a CSA can be a really good deal, but have a game plan for those weeks when you get an abundance of one or two items, such as turning bags of tomatoes into homemade sauce. Otherwise you will wind up losing your savings in the form of food waste.