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How to Save Money on Groceries When You Live in California

Trying to save money on groceries in California? It's not as hard as it seems! Read this!!

I have been following this blog for several years now and love it! What I am challenged by are the grocery savings that many of you are able to enjoy in other parts of the U.S.

I reside in California and grocery prices are very high here. I am unsure how I would only spend $70 a week on groceries for three of us let alone five! I work part-time and am currently advancing my degree so I don’t do a lot of couponing. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Hi there! Your question is one I’ve heard often and I decided it was high time I answer it. And I hope that what I share encourages you to not only know that you’re not the only one who feels this way, but also to know that there are practical things you can do to save a lot of money on groceries.

Here are my suggestions for you:

1. Focus on the Positive

It’s so easy for us to focus on the negative things and miss the positive things about our circumstances. Here’s the thing: While cost of living might be higher in CA and grocery prices on some things might be much more, that’s definitely not the case for ALL groceries.

You see, I’ve actually shopped in CA before and found great deals there! In fact, when I shopped there, I was shocked by how inexpensive some of the CA produce prices were. They were incredibly cheap compared to what I’m used to paying in other parts of the country.

Jessica from LifeAsMom says in her post on Saving Money on Foods in Southern California:

The mainstream grocery stores, like Albertsons, Ralphs, and Vons, usually have one or two loss leaders each week. But the smaller chains like Henry’s and Sprouts have a whole barrel of bargains on a weekly basis. A peek at my recent finds:

limes $0.10
kiwis $0.20
apples $0.49
lettuce $0.88
cuties $1.97
swiss chard $2
green onions $0.25
cucumbers $0.49
zucchini $0.88/lb
blackberries $0.97
tomatoes $0.88/lb
cilantro $0.25
broccoli $0.97/lb

Go read the rest of her fantastic post here for more tips.

Now maybe you can’t find all of those same prices at your local stores, but I bet if you looked around, you’d see that there are, indeed, some pretty great produce prices in California. And there are probably other great deals and sales on other items, too!

2. Stop Saying “I Can’t”

If you pre-decide that you can’t do something, there’s an almost guaranteed chance you won’t be able to do it.

This means that if you decide that that you can’t save money on groceries because groceries are too expensive in California, you’ll likely not be inspired or motivated to try to cut your grocery bill.

On the other hand, if you pre-decide to have a can-do, creative attitude, you’re going to be a lot more successful at saving money on groceries. Stop telling yourself that you can’t save money on groceries because you live in a high cost area, and start challenging yourself to find creative ways to save.

2. Pick Your Own Number

I noticed that you said you can’t figure out how on earth you could only spend $70 per week for your family of three, let alone if you had a family of five. Well, guess what? You don’t have to!

The only reason I share about our grocery budget here is to show you ideas of how we are keeping our grocery budget low. But the $70 grocery budget number is not something I’m putting out there saying you need to do, too.

That’s just what works for our family right now based upon the time I have to shop and the stores and prices I know I’m able to get and how much (and what type!) of food our family consumes.

There is no one-size-fits-all grocery budget number because everyone is in a different season with different needs, different capacity, different stores, and different options. So choose a number that works for you and your family based upon the time you have, your dietary needs and preferences, and your store options. And don’t feel guilty if the number is very different from the number another family has!

3. Find Someone to Do the Legwork For You

One of the best ways you can stay inspired to save money (and save a lot of time in the process!) is by finding a blogger who is covering the deals at your local store.

To do this, just search for your local store + “blog” or “coupons” or “deals” and search until you find something relevant. There are typically blogs or forums covering deals at just about every store in the US.

4. Make it a Game!

Think about when any pro sports team plays against another team. They have to change up their approach and their plays each time because each time is different. But the goal is the same with each game: they want to win!

It’s the same with saving money on groceries. I’ve lived in multiple cities and each one had different stores. I’ve learned that you have to change your strategy each time, but you can keep the end goal the same — to save money on groceries.

It’s all about being creative, thinking outside the box, pairing sales with coupons (you can search our Coupon Database to easily find any available printable coupons for items you are already planning to purchase), and following the deals that a blogger shares for your local stores (hopefully you can find one!)

I also recommend looking into whether there are any discount grocery stores in your area, looking for markdowns at your local stores, learn to buy ahead when there are great sales (that way you never pay full price for most things you buy), plan your meals based upon what is inexpensive and on sale, and just do the best you can do!

(Need more ideas? Read my post on 10 Simple Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill by $50 This Week.)

Do you live in California or have you lived there before? If so, I’d love for you to chime in with your best tips and tricks (and if you know any great bloggers who are covering deals there, leave their link in the comments).

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23 Comments

  • I don’t live in California, however, I do live in rural bush Alaska. A dozen eggs at the local store is $4.59 and a half gallon of orange juice is pushing $10. So, I understand the frustration of not being able to find great sales. One of the things I’ve learned to do is shop for all of my shelf stable items online with merchants who offer free shipping Amazon, and Target are my favorite go-to stores for AK because of their shipping policy. (I’m sure in California there are more places that offer free shipping.) Most of the time I can buy shelf stable things online at the same rate or maybe slightly more than what I would pay in the Lower 48. Good luck in finding creative ways to lower your grocery budget!

    • dt says:

      Hey Christina! I too live in bush Alaska and agree with you. I shop the same way. And we learn to live without the orange juice. Sometimes we’re glad if the local store even has eggs. It encourages creative thinking. haha. Also so thankful for the fish and moose to eat that are local.

    • Shana says:

      So glad to see fellow Alaskans here! But I have it better than you two, as I am in the capital and we have Costco, so we shop there for most of our needs!

  • Tracy Hartmann says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I live in California and it can be frustrating to shop healthily on a tight budget. I shop at Win-co, which is a no frills grocery store with incredible prices and shop at Safeway, depending on the prices for the week. You can get really good deals there and pair them up with digital coupons, plus they have started a rewards program that can earn you free products. There are many local fruit and vegetable stands, some seasonal, but they have amazing prices. My budget is $100 for 4, 3 of which are hungry males! Its a challenge but it can be done.

  • Maria says:

    I live in Northern California and I will say food is cheaper in Southern California, I know not why. However, you need to get pretty creative if you live here. There are no such thing as double or triple coupons in California.

    I think you really need to pay attention to prices so when you see a good deal you’ll know it. For example, I know that Trader Joe’s at $2.99 a pound has the cheapest butter in my area. My sister in Southern California goes to a farmers market on Monday where a guy sells all of the expense bread he didn’t sell at the fancy $$$$ farmers market over the weekend for a dollar a loaf. He has every kind of amazing bread you can think of.

    Depending where you are and what you have access to makes a big difference in California. If you’re near a chainstore like the Winco, it has lots of great bulk price deals and compared to the big chain stores for example fresh rhubarb was $4 cheaper there. (I wish there was one in my town!)

    Sprouts weekly ads overlap on Wednesdays so that’s the best day to shop there.

    Even at the big chain mkts like Safeway have online “just for you” deals. I know that my brand of cat litter goes on a good sale there every 3-4 months. So I stock up.

    Farmers markets can be a good deal. Especially if you go before closing and some folks reduce prices so they don’t take it back home. Also, some farmers mkts match up to $10 a day if you have EBT (food stamps).

    We have lots of produce markets and they are often less than chain stores. Ethnic stores as well are often less.

    If you are in or going through areas with roadside stands (near growing areas) it can save a lot.

    Check free cycle and Craigslist. My bff now gets her eggs for free from a lady on CL.

    The other thing here that’s going to save is: grow your own food. It’s nearly December and I still have tomatoes on the vine. My lemon tree is riping now. I made jam for holiday gifts from a plum tree my neighbor gave me fruit from. Make friends with people who have fruit trees if you don’t have the space. My artichoke plants have come back. Plant things you like to eat that are expensive to buy.

    These are some things I’m doing to be more frugal here in expensive California.

  • Bay Area gal says:

    I live in the SF Bay Area, so can definitely feel the pain! Family of 4 here, and we were previously spending an upward of $1300 a month. I have recently put in more effort to reduce the costs to below $1000– through meal planning, utilizing the freezing more, eating at home, stocking up when on sale, etc. We also have resorted to doing 1 major grocery haul at Costco at the beginning of the month, and then 1 smaller trip each week for perishable items such as milk and veggies. Costco, Trader Joe’s and Safeway are my main shopping spots so I try to focus my couponing efforts there as I also don’t have the time to go to various stores and research coupons. I utilize Ibotta as well.

    Invest in some kitchen equipment that will help make your life easier! Instant Pot, Airfryer and Vitamix are my workhorses. I started making things from scratch when needed with items I already have at hand (such as salad dressings, almond milk, hummus) rather than run to the store every time I needed something which leads to temptation of buying other stuff. Foods that are sold for the convenience factor definitely costs a lot more. This way, we also tend to eat less processed stuff.

    Avoid the store if possible! Might also want to check out Drive Up & Go type of grocery pick ups so you don’t even need to enter the store and be tempted to buy other things. Stick to your list!

    Always keep learning and absorbing from others! Watch some YouTubers on tips and recipes — I recommend Free to Family & Pennies into Pearls for food budgeting tips; and Downshiftology & HealthNut Nutrition for recipe ideas.

    Although it might be impossible for us to stick to the rule of thumb of $100 per person per month, any effort you put into reducing your food costs will add up.
    Looking forward to reading more ideas in the comment section 🙂

  • Erica says:

    Thank you for this post! I live in northern California as well and I am not able to pay the same rock bottom prices that other parts of the country pays but I can make it up in other areas. Knowing what your target prices is and stocking up when you see it is key. Maria in the post above gave some great ideas.
    I get a lot of my kids lunch things through Amazon’s subscribe & save. I review it monthly and switch out products that are a better deal if I see them.
    And if I get discouraged I just take a drive and marvel at the vineyards, ocean, rolling hills and Golden Gate all within an hour of my house! It’s a trade off that’s well worth it to me.

  • Debra Housman says:

    We moved from Nebraska where our grocery budget was $200 for food and toiletries.
    We are in Hawaii now everything is double the price or more. Gallon of milk $5, loaf of bread $5, pound of ground beef $5, can of green beans $1.49, eggs $3.79
    Took me a while to figure out the best way to shop here. Target online is my best friend. Everything is cheaper online then I just go to the store and pick up. I price match target for other things as well. They have online price for 1% milk $1.99 gallon. Guess what milk we are drinking.
    We have longs drug (owned by CVS) but no ECB deals here. They have good sales on food items. There eggs are cheapest in town at $2.29 dozen.
    Shop safeway for most of the meat items. Thing is everything goes out of stock so quick so need to go first day of sale or you may not get it. I also get rain check for out of stock meat as they are good for 90 days that way getting sale prices. Farmers markets for produce is cheaper than stores.
    Have the grocery budget for the 2 of us with toiletries at $300 a month in Hawaii I think is fantastic. That is the price of living in paradise.

    • Brittany says:

      I live in Hawaii as well, and here on Kauai I rely mostly on Costco and Walmart. Even then prices are super high compared to the mainland. I also have to use Amazon prime a lot for non grocery items. Wish there was a blogger here to find out how to get deals!

  • Kelly says:

    I live in the Los Angeles area. I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s, but LOVE winco and would check if there is one in your area. Or Aldi! Sprouts is great too for bulk items and produce.

    I have found that it’s easier to eat healthier cheaply here. I think many of the deals nationwide are for lots of packaged things and coupons. I have had way more success trying to stick with Whole Foods (not the store, just foods in their natural form) like oatmeal and brown rice from bulk bins, produce from a sprouts or the farmers market, whatever meat is on sale, etc.

  • Judith Martinez says:

    I spent 9 months from 2014-2015 staying with my sister in Long Beach and even though our being there doubled the household the grocery budget only went up about 25%. My best tip is to pay attention to the Mercados. They often have really great deals on specific items each week. The every day American foods like cereal, pasta, etc. are typically higher at those stores but the meat and produce department had great sales.

  • Krista says:

    We live in Orange County, and the sticker shock of food (& housing) was huge, having moved here from Ohio! However, I have found that produce can be lots cheaper than the Midwest. I buy almost all of my produce at local, ethnic grocery stores. It seems like the produce there are the “seconds” that the bigger stores won’t sell. However, they are just as nutritious and delicious, even if they aren’t as beautiful! I make out my grocery list keeping in mind the sales at a larger store, but stop at the ethnic store on the way to my main grocery store.

  • Becky says:

    Don’t forget about your local Family Dollar and Dollar General stores. I buy most of my laundry/cleaning products there. With their sales, ecoupons and store coupons I save $$ Cereal, canned items, clearance, etc.

  • Emily says:

    We lived in San Diego for 6 years and I always thought groceries were cheaper there than in the Midwest where we came from… but we eat mostly fresh stuff and you can find great produce deals everywhere – fruit stands on the side of the road, pick-your-own fruit orchards, farmers markets, Sprouts, even Costco has cheaper produce deals than our Costco in Texas. I shopped Trader Joe’s for a lot of staple items and stuck with the simple, basics – marinara sauce in a can, regular sandwich bread, whole wheat pasta, and prices were way better than Vons or Ralphs. The Vons and Albertsons in our area were not as frequently shopped as the more specialty stores (like Whole Foods and Trader Joes) and so they often had fresh meat mark downs that were about to expire, so we are whatever meat I could find on clearance that week.

  • Pamela says:

    I live on the Central Coast. I utilize farmer’s markets, fruit stands for veggies and fruit. Lots of friends are growers so we usually score a crate of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries each week. We grow a lot of herbs and veggies too. But even with those goodies, our grocery bill is high. I shop at Safeway, Raley’s and Target. Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’sand Costco are out of the area so I go maybe every two or three months. I check blogs for my favorite stores and try to stock up when there’s a sale. I feel like there is always more I could be doing so I look forward to reading all of the tips here !

  • Kristina says:

    I live in Northern California. I love Costco and winco. But one of my all time favorites for fruit and veggies is 99 cent store! Almost everything is 99 cents and the quality is amazing because they restock often since they sell out quick. I always go there for salads, and other veggies.

  • Yooli O'Brien says:

    I live in Northern CA and I grew up in Southern CA. I’ve also spent time in the Midwest and East Coast.

    I can tell you that food prices are not really that different and we have better/cheaper produce here in CA.

    If possible, I would recommend shopping for fresh produce and meat at a large international market. Large Asian supermarkets, like H Mart or 99 Ranch Market or just about any international market serving a large immigrant population will have on-site butchers who are breaking down whole animals in the back, so the meat is significantly cheaper. This last weekend, I found NY strip steaks for $4.99/lb and boneless skinless chicken breasts for $.99/lb. And the produce is even cheaper.

    If that isn’t available, a warehouse style grocery store, like FoodMax, Winco, Foodsco, Food 4 Less, etc. is going to have good loss leaders each week on produce and meat. And 99 Cent Only stores are a chain available widely through CA and they carry a LOT of produce (even organics) and canned/dry staples for extremely cheap.

    Sprouts and Aldi are also going to have good deals if you have one near you. Sprouts has double ad Wednesdays where the past week’s deals and the current week’s deals overlap for 1 day and you can maximize the sales on that one day.

    If its a ho-hum week in terms of sales, Costco or Sams is a reliable/consistently priced source of meat and vegetables.

    I would 100% invest in a chest freezer to be able to stock up on meat and frozen food when its on sale or clearance and even an old garage fridge is something I can’t live without to store good deals on things like eggs, potatoes, onions, etc.

    We have Grocery Outlets out here in CA too and they always have extremely random but good deals on fancier items like organics or health food or gourmet cheeses/meats, as well as steeply discounted groceries that are closer to expiration. They purchase the surplus from other stores and resell them.

    If you have access to Farmer’s Markets, especially in warmer months, a great way to get a lot of seasonal fruit and veggie for dirt cheap is to go the last 30 minutes of the market and see if the farmers are willing to unload stuff on you by the crate for cheap. I’ve had friends drag home bushels of peaches for a few bucks or a whole bucket of corn – just because its not worth it to the farmer to have to haul it back home.

    Just so you know, I fed my family of 4 a pretty healthy diet with very little processed food this past month (a 5-week month!) on the average Food Stamp benefit of $465. All meals, all snacks, everything. I did it as a challenge and shopped once a week at a nationally available chain, like Walmart, Target, a Kroger-affiliate, and Costco, and was totally doable.

  • Melissa says:

    Life-long CA resident – family of five. WinCo is your best friend. Their bulk bins are amazing. Also, stop buying name brands. Start a garden – CA weather is amazing for growing your own produce, and it doesn’t take that much time, even if you work. We have a $500/mo. budget, which includes $50 a week at Winco and $300 for a monthly Costco trip, plus occasional trips to Grocery Outlet.
    A note about coupons – I work full-time and I homeschool our three kids, so I get your time constraints. I’ve found that keeping a price book is more effective than couponing a lot of times. Keep track of the typical unit price that you pay for items you buy regularly. When you see a sale, compare it to the unit price in your book and you’ll know if it’s worth it.
    If you have a SaveMart in your area, their 5/$25 meat deals are the bomb! I can get big party packs of chicken (drumsticks and thighs), split them in half and have a full meal of meat for my family. It’s the only way we’re able to afford meat.
    Last…you can do this!!  

  • Karin says:

    I live in Northern California and the cost of living here is insane and we are a one income family because of this I am on a $75 a week grocery budget as a family of 4 with 2 picky kids. Grocery Outlet and FoodMaxx are my go tos for groceries and Safeway is amazing for $5 Friday’s.

  • Angela says:

    Im in the Sacramento area, and I usually buy all my meat on managers special. I just got some marinated carnitas, pork chops and pork tenderloin at Raleys for half off because it was marked down. Safeway and Sprouts mark meat down all the time.

  • Heidi says:

    I, too, am a Californian. While the food prices are challenging, what advice is given above is great. We do a lot of those suggestions, too. There a lots of very good ideas above. Online buying works very well for us, since we live in a rural area. The closest grocery store, unless local and high, is one hour away. Because of that, the biggest help for us to save money is that we only go ‘big’ grocery shopping once a month! That saves us money tremendously, and keeps us out of the stores. We will supplement WITH A LIST weekly or every other week. I can’t stress enough how important it is to follow a list. We only get into trouble (i.e. overbuying, buying on impulse) when we stray from it.

  • Carol says:

    I am so glad you posted this! I’m budgeting like mad as we prepare to ship our first off of to college next year. I will be reading all the comments, but one thing I do to save is buy fruits and veggies at the farmer’s market. It is so much cheaper, and it’s fresh! If I don’t think I’ll use the produce right away, I’ll freeze it. Costco for meats, Trader Joe’s for my specialty items (healthy stuff and gluten free), Winco for basics, Dollar General for kid snacks.

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