Groceries on the Cheap and Chic: Frugal Eating in an Epicurean Town

Looking for a few secrets to saving money in Sonoma? There are easy ways to save with every shopping trip.


Living in a tourist destination can have its pros and cons: Yes, we can walk into any local grocery store and pick up a great bottle of wine, ready-made lunch items and freshly-picked pluots. But, what about the rest of us that call Sonoma home and can’t afford everyday grocery bills that rival our car payment?

Well, I have a confession..I love shopping! Bargain hunting, garage sales and learning how to save money for my family are some of my favorite hobbies. These are my secrets to not breaking the bank and keeping it healthy too (we eat lots of organic veggies and never have HFCS or hydrogenated oils.).

It has taken almost four years to figure out a good system, but it has been worth it.

1. Shop the weekly sales at , Lucky and , the selections rotate every 6-8 weeks. ( I know you do too, but this is a post about saving money and unfortunately, I just don’t do it at your store.) 

When an item goes on sale that your family eats on regular basis, stock up until the next sale. That can mean buying 4-6 boxes of cereal or juice or even cheese.  I bought two extra shelves and a freezer for my garage just for stockpiling.

2. Shop at and for weekly sales. Both of these stores offer money back in the form of Extra Care Bucks at CVS and Rewards at Rite Aid. If you purchase a toothbrush, for example, at CVS, you may receive 2 Extra Care Bucks back that you can then use on your next shopping trip. You can then use your “bucks” on other items you may need. You can also sometimes use a manufacturer coupon on top of the store savings, making many items free or close to it. I have received so MANY free toothbrushes and toothpaste this way, that I actually had to slow down on my weekly trips and started donating!

3.  Use Amazon.com Subscribe & Save. Living in Sonoma can mean that sometimes there are better deals in nearby towns but my car uses about $10 in gas to go to Napa or Novato and back. Doesn’t make sense to just save a couple of dollars. I have found the prices on Amazon.com Subscribe & Ship to be really good in most cases and they offer you a 15 percent discount and free shipping. You can cancel at anytime and they have everything! This service was a lifesaver when my kids were in diapers and we were using a ton of wipes.

4. Read the coupon blogs to find out the weekly match-ups and best sale items to buy. There are people out there in blogland that make it their job to post all the deals at most big box stores. They are interested in helping you save money! Aren’t they nice? My favorites I check on a weekly, if not more, basis are MyFrugalAdventures.comHip2Save.com, and freebies4mom.com. They have weekly posts on Safeway, CVS, Rite Aid and Staples highlighting all the best deals you can stock up on that week.

5. Plan a menu, make a list and stick to it! One of the biggest ways to add to my grocery bill is all the extras that I didn’t plan on. If I take the time to sit down on Sunday night and make a menu for the week, according to whatever, crazy schedule we have that week, and then make a list for the store, my grocery bill savings is significantly reduced. You would be amazed at how few ingredients you actually need to make a week’s worth of meals if you have a stockpile to pull from and use what you already have first.

6. Collect and file the Sunday coupons from the San Francisco Chronicle and The Press Democrat. I have a small filing cabinet with a slot for each week to put the Sunday coupons in. When you are reading the blogs like, myfrugaladventures.com, they will list the coupons you can use with sale items at the store to save you even more money. They are anywhere from 2-3 coupon inserts in most Sunday papers to use each week. You do not need to cut out every coupon. Just save the insert until the item your family uses goes on sale and then pull the insert and out the coupons when you need them. This only take about 30 minutes each week and I usually do it while watching TV!

7. Keep the kids at home (sorry kids!). When you venture out to the store, it's best if you shop alone. You all know what will happen. "Mooooom, I want some fruit snacks!" "Moooom, I want this cereal!" and on and on. Not only does this improve your sanity during grocery shopping, it makes the trip much faster, and you avoid spending extra money on things that you really don't need. Happy kids, happy parents, none of the whining and hassle.

8. Learn Unit Pricing: Unit pricing is an important thing to pay attention to.  Check the prices listed on the shelves for the products you are buying; near the bottom should be the unit pricing. (It should say something like $0.87 per oz.) Compare unit prices to get the best deal and keep a list of the items you purchase most. A bottle of ketchup may be cheaper overall in a larger size because the unit price is lower. Use this as a guide when buying things you use often or that will stay good for a longer period of time.

9. Load coupons onto your store card. Safeway offers a Just For You program that I check weekly, and load digital coupons onto my Safeway Club Card. No coupon cutting needed, just scan the card at the store and the savings come right off. You can load coupons from the “Coupon Center and Personalized Deals” so make sure you check both and print out a copy of the coupons you have selected.

10. Always be open to a new brand. CVS may have laundry detergent on sale and with a coupon, it is a steal, but it is not your normal brand. If you truly want to save money, you have to learn to try a new brand. My family has found many new ones that we now love that we never would have tried, if it wasn’t on sale.

Dorothy May 16, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Thanks for the tips. I always shop with a list but still find I make those expensive "impulse buys."
Irene Morgan May 17, 2012 at 01:05 AM
I agree about making out a menu first. When I do a week's worth of menus, I do much better shopping then when I just make a list and amble through the store. And yes, stocking up really helps. Interesting article Michelle.
Michelle Rulmont May 17, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Thank you Irene and Dorothy! Making a menu and a list are the two easiest ways to save the most money!


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