Friday Question of the Day – Where do you go to Buy “Cheap” Groceries?

Photo by PoPville flickr user random lady

Since some of us become a bit obsessed with groceries when it snows, I thought this was a good time to share this reader request:

“I would love to see ask people where they go for “cheap” groceries. With Yes!, Giant, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Whole Foods and soon Trader Joe’s, I’m curious to see what, if any, break down others have in what they buy where for the best deal.”

100 Comment

  • Do people buy groceries from different places? I get all of mine from Giant. Am I suppose to travel to somewhere further away and pay more for some of my food?

    • Some people flyer shop, so they go to different places to get different sale items. I am with you though. I go to the one place that is most convenient (Soviet Safeway) unless I need seafood, in which case, I go to Wholefoods or Teeter.

    • Giant doesn’t have a lot of “ethnic” produce/groceries available at the various “ethnic” supermarkets. Conversely, those supermarkets don’t have a lot of the “American” stuff. So yeah, if you’re adventurous in the kitchen, you need to go to at least two grocery stores.

      • What specific things can you not find at a mainstream grocery store? I think I do a lot of “ethnic” cooking but rarely have to go to an “ethnic” store for ingredients.

        • I’ve been on an East Asian / Korean kick lately.

          So off the top of my head: kimchi (and all the assorted banchan stuff at H-Mart), gojuchang (fermented chili paste), Korean chili powder, frozen fish/seafood cakes/balls, upscale instant noodles, Chinese/sichuan fermented bean curd, Taiwanese bok choy, etc.

          • the different Thai curry pastes, jarred/canned/bottled dipping sauces from various countries, kewpie mayonnaise, Korean/Japanese junk food, shrimp pastes from various Southeast Asian countries, loads of Chinese pickles, soy sauces from different countries, fresh kaffir lime leaves, pork neck bones, chicken feet, a bigger selection of rice noodles, frozen Korean/Japanese/Chinese buns, dumplings/pot-stickers…

            I’m sure there are loads more that I’ve missed.

          • So mostly prepared foods? I make Thai curry pastes and kimchi from scratch and can get the ingredients at Giant usually.

          • @Anonymous Feb 14 7:49

            You and I must make very different kimchi; I couldn’t find the gojuchang, gochugaru, and shrimp for mine at Giant. I’m a little surprised that you managed to get all the “proper” fresh chilies at Giant for your curry pastes.

            It’s not just prepared foods – I listed those because that’s what I buy most often. I’m pretty sure my local Giant doesn’t have shaoxing wine, chinkiang vinegar, and banana leaves.

          • You can make a perfectly good curry with non-proper chilies…. But hey, if you want to trek out the the burbs for some of your groceries I’m not stopping you!

          • Now I want to try making kimchi – recipe suggestion?

        • I just moved here from Texas, and when it comes to Mexican ingredients, the local Giant is pretty terrible.

      • All food is ethnic.

    • I think if you have regular access to a car you’re more likely to shop at different stores. Especially if there are lots of different stores along routes you normally travel for work or whatever. If you’re reliant on walking or public transit it doesn’t make sense to be traveling all over the place for groceries.

  • Shoppers Food Warehouse in Potomac Yards.

  • It depends. Sometimes Whole Foods has the cheapest things such as spices, some of their frozen foods, and their 365 brand stuff. It’s also close, so, for me, that means saving money on transportation. I get some things at Rodman’s, and some things at Giant, and some things at the closest Farmer’s market. And sometimes I start with something from a restaurant but add to it — like getting Szechuan shrimp and mixing it with cellophane noodles, so that 1-2 relatively expensive meals becomes 3-5 inexpensive ones.

  • Panamericana Grocery on 14th just south of Spring and Bestway in Mt Pleasant for produce like limes, mangos, avacados, daikon radish, hot peppers. Bestway also has a good variety of spices, sauces and staples from around the world including fufu flour.

    • +1 for Bestway (Best World?) in Mt P for their spices — incredibly inexpensive when you compare to the main grocery stores in the area

    • +1 Bestway is awesome!! I live in Brookland, so I go to the one in PG county which is only a 5 min drive from the house.

    • Bestway is great if you want to neighborhood to smell like rotting seafood

      • +100 Bestway in Mt P has horrible smell. Also my husband is in food industry and he saw temperature on thermometer in dairy case was well above federally mandated levels. It may be cheap but you get what you pay for.

  • Living near Whole Foods and Capitol Supermarket and closeish to Safeway and Giant is the perfect nexus. “Ethnic” food and some produce/herbs at Capitol Supermarket, pantry staples and salad greens/short shelf life produce at whole foods. Long shelf life produce, baking supplies, and drinks at the large grocery store. It really is the best combo. If you can also mix in a monthly trip to costco it’s even better.

    The key here is Captiol Supermarket. For incapably expensive products at every other store they’re so cheap here. Spices like cumin and saffron, Queso fresco, tortillas, dried peppers, limes, cilantro, coconut milk, adobo sauce etc. all of these items are at least 50% cheaper than any non-“ethnic” grocery store around.

  • Walmart is probably cheapest, if that’s your only concern. I find their store and location a bit sketchy. Safeway has good prices, but can also be sketchy (less than walmart though) and as the one near me got shut down by the health dept, I’m gonna have to rethink getting my produce there. Farmers markets are def not the cheapest, but deals can be had on 2nds and depending on the season, other items. Trader Joe’s had a good reputations for cheapness, but depends on the item (looking forward to getting $3 wines at the new DC location though). Whole Foods has a bad rap, but if you avoid the produce and shop sale items, it can be ok. If I had to pick one store, I’d say Giant is the best balance of cheapness, variety, and non-sketchiness.

    • I haven’t been to the Wal-Mart on Georgia, but I do know the area, and I don’t find it remotely “sketchy.” Heck, it’s hard for me to name many “sketchy” areas of the city nowadays.

      • brookland_rez

        I guess it depends on perspective. You really have to go east of the river to find areas that are as sketchy as areas west of the river 10 years ago. I’ve only been here 10 years, but I remember when Col Hts, H St, Navy Yard, and on and on were truly sketchy. My friends that are born here and been here since the 60’s/70’s remember when Dupont and downtown were sketchy.
        But no, upper GA Ave and Missouri Ave are by no means sketchy. I think everyone that thinks anywhere in DC is sketchy drive up the road to Baltimore. Explore the west side or the area around Hopkins Hospital. That will put your view of DC sketchiness into check.

        • + on parts of Baltimore. A co-worker and I had visited an old church (job site) in a very rough neighborhood and as we sat at a 4 way stop on a busy street we saw a guy lift a gun, empty the clip of 7, then nonchalantly trot off.
          The co-worker was driving and instantly did a tire-squealing reverse and spun the car around and tore out.

    • Wow, I feel the opposite about Giant. Hard to find anything and my bill always seems astronomically high compared to HT or Safeway at least!

      • It may depend on what you buy, although in the end it’s how you shop, particularly for staple items. Giant and Safeway often have similar sale items, but cut different deals on others. Peet’s coffe often is on sale at Safeway but not at Giant. Tuna fish gets marked down at Giant more often than Safeway. In the end, the winner will vary with what I (and probably most people) need. Safeway house brand items tend to be better quality than Giant. I shopped at Harris Teeter during the brief stop in Atlanta and occasionally here–they have better produce but otherwise I don’t see the point.

        Whole Foods is sometimes cheaper for odd things like baby carrots. Most things they sell that also show up at regular chains are more expensive and the bakery/deli stuff really varies–the cakes are terrible and expensive; the pies no better than cheaper stores while the cookies and muffins are worthwhile; the perpared deli stuff is overpriced although the sandwiches are good. Most of their produce is sold elsewhere but sometimes it benefits from faster turnover at WF.

        I learned how to shop in college by simply adpating my list to grocery store flyers; now I uae apps but its the same process and it’s not very time consuming unless you absolutely need something now.

        WalMart is no longer the deal it once was –the perishables are crappy and the merchandise skews toward junk food and soda. They still salt the selection with a small number of hugely cheaper items to keep people coming in. The rest of the store does the same thing to an even greater degree. Despite being a drag on the economy (we subsidize their low wages with Medicaid and they screw suppliers). Costco also offers truly better buys on relatively few items and with many of the same items as Wal-Mart–what I save on flats of V8 juice pay for the membership for me and trips for those are where I cherry pick other things. Sales at other places often match the prices for classic Costco items like paper goods.

    • Sure no $20-artisinal-grilled-cheese spot/smallbrewery/small-plates/dbags w/beards/overpriced luxe condos in sight=sketchy.

  • Costco and PanAm in Columbia Heights.

  • I mostly just do Harris Teeter; I check the weekly specials and plan my meals based on what’s on sale. Sometimes they have buy two get three deals on things that can be frozen, like shredded cheese and bags of shrimp, so I’ll stock up whenever those sales are happening.

  • I live on 16th and used to shop exclusively at the Safeway on Columbia. I was recently introduced to the Harris Teeter on Kalorama and I’ve never looked back. It’s a little more expensive, but their selection is better than Safeway and the lines are shorter than the Giant on Park Rd. It’s the best grocery store in Ward 1, IMO. And there’s parking if feeling lazy!

    • I agree. HT is more expensive, but their produce is usually really good and their lines move quickly. The Tivoli Giant always feels like it’s designed to be as inefficient as possible.

    • I actually find HT cheaper than Safeway or Giant. I only go to Safeway maybe 2-3 times a month. Haven’t stepped inside a Giant in 3 years. HT has really good sales. I love their Super Double coupon events, where they double any coupons between $1 and $2. So, $1 coupon becomes worth $2 and a $2 coupon becomes worth $4.

      • I feel the same way (except I don’t bother with the coupons; it’s so rare that there’s a coupon for something I’d ever buy in the first place).

      • I agree. As a reference– we’re halfway through February and I’ve only spent $60 on groceries for two people. This includes lots of fresh produce and seafood and ingredients for macarons which are not cheap! I think we’ve only had one meal out so far this month. Most of the groceries came from Harris Teeter; I think it would have cost me a lot more at Safeway or Giant.

        • Really? $60 hardly takes us (2 people) through a week if we are eating in every meal. Are the prices at HT really that much better than Giant? Why have i been standing in those painfully long lines??

      • Same here. Harris Teeter has better sales and better produce than my local Safeway. I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s or Harris Teeter.

  • Great Wall in Rockville, especially for produce.

  • Calvert Woodley Liquor has really cheap coffee

  • Aldi is the cheapest grocery store in the district. They are endorsed by Clark Howard. Clark Howard is the cheapest consumer goods and services expert you will ever meet.

  • The cheapest place, esp for meats, soda and alcohol, is the Defense Commissaries at Bolling or Ft Myers. Of course, you need a military id to shop there. I always offer to take my friends there to go shopping. So…make friends with your friendly neighborhood mitary personnel.

    • True! The best combination of quality and prices (like 1970’s prices for some things) is a commissary. But most of us don’t have regular access to that. You clearly are a great friend! 🙂

  • I go to Walmart & Giant since I pass by both to and from work. Giant has sales where they need to rotate their inventory(great when theyre trying to move the meats) and Walmart is just always cheap(but limited in selection). I figure if I can make more than one meal with the cost of one chipotle run then the trip was successful.
    Only been into Whole Foods twice…both times way too crowded for my liking.

    • Aldi is the cheapest grocery store They have also some European stuff. But . They don’t have a lot location I know that one is in dc and other one is in va.

      • brookland_rez

        There’s one on Queens Chapel Rd in Hyattsville, MD, and there’s also one on NH Ave in Langley Park, MD. Both of those are just outside the District. The DC location is across from the Safeway at Hechinger Mall.

        • There are Aldi stores all over PG county. Hyattsville, Langley Park, Cheverly, Oxon Hill, District Heights, Capitol Heights…

  • I usually stock up on things for the week at Giant, like eggs, milk, bread, etc, but I also walk by Whole Foods on my way home from work so i’ll pick up things like produce to actually make my dinner with.

  • Costco for meat, Trader Joe’s for cheese, produce and specialty items. Giant for your typical grocery dry goods. Harris Teeter when I’m lazy and need to get it all in one trip.

  • Florida Ave markets to load up on produce and even some Asian goods, Grand Mart in 7corners if I’ll happen to be in Arlington or Alexandria, and of course the O Street Market for my American staples. I have a large pantry so will load up on at least two weeks’ worth of groceries.

  • jim_ed

    The Brightwood Walmart for non-produce pick ups like juice and nuts. For produce, I hit the local Bodega which sells tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc for some outrageously low price between .25 and .50 per piece. Always great when in a pinch. For meat and seafood we bite the bullet and shop at Harris Teeter

  • Peapod. With delivered groceries, you sacrifice some choice (Peapod only has access to maybe 50% of Giant’s regular in-store inventory) but you don’t have to spend two hours of your Sunday standing in an atrociously long line.

    • And for someone without a car their delivery fee is less than getting a Zipcar for an hour or two. I use Peapod when I need to order a lot of heavy or bulky items (liquids, detergent, 12 pack of TP, etc.) Otherwise I just walk to the HT and get what I need for a week or two at a time.

  • Surprisingly, Trader Joe’s has some good deals but I usual just hit up what is closest and since I drive whatever has the easiest parking situation especially in cruddy weather…covered if possible.

    Rodman’s sometimes too especially for quirky stuff.

    I pretty much don’t stray from my usual products so basically store generics can cover the basics though I have a handful of brand name goodies that I won’t compromise on (:

  • brookland_rez

    It’s pretty hard to beat Aldi for the staple items. I get a lot of my stuff there. I use Costco for paper products, cleaning supplies, liquor, and meats.

  • Capitol Supermarket, 11th and M NW

  • Costco is great for meat and seafood, because it’s usually of higher quality than the regular supermarket stuff, and buying a bunch of it at once isn’t as much of a problem, if you can freeze what you aren’t going to use.

  • I don’t actually prep for major snowfall (or any bad weather) because I coupon and live off my stockpile during such times. (Yes, guys also use coupons.) Last year, I had enough food and other groceries to last me 6 weeks. I had post surgery lift restrictions which meant anything over a gallon of milk was off limits.

    Honestly, I find it amazing that people freak out when there’s snow coming and go all over looking for the typical items that is usually bought. Pre-stroms and Black Friday the only times I actively avoid going shopping.

    • brookland_rez

      It’s funny right? I could probably go 6 weeks on what I have. I have a giant freezer and a large pantry. Besides, I’m not even afraid to go out if I need to. I have a truck with 4 wheel drive. I’ve driven in up 2 feet+ so whatever little snow we get here is meaningless.

      • Some of us do more European-style shopping where we buy a few things every couple days and don’t have a dedicated closet for the spoils of our couponing conquests.

        • Saw this reply after my comment posted @ 11:02

          I live in a 485 sq ft studio apartment, so not a lot of storage space here. I make use of shelving units and lots of organization. So, it can be done.

      • Yep.

        I’m single person living in a studio apartment, which does limit space. I do have a separate freezer though because I stock up on sales and divvy up portions into single servings.

        My friends always say that an event of a zombie apocalypse that they are coming to wait it out. My response is always the same: What makes you think that you can make it to my place without becoming one and/or that I wouldn’t already be a zombie myself?

  • Definitely Aldi. I often come home with the trunk practically overflowing with bags, but can’t remember spending more than $90

  • Seems that a lot of people drive out of the city to grocery shop. Please do yourself a solid and buy what you can deom DC businesses.

    • It would be a huge boon if Aldi could get a more central location. I first became familiar with the store 10 years ago when I was living in Munich and it was right in the middle of a city block–easy to get in and out for short-term provisions. Getting in my car, I have to buy a lot to make it worth the trip

      I can only imagine that it’s the larger chain stores that keep Aldi from moving in closer

      • Does anyone find the DC Aldi to be vastly inferior to other Aldi’s? I used to like the one in my college town, but this one doesn’t have most of the great products and deals that I remember.

        • brookland_rez

          I used to shop at the ones in MD, but the DC location being newer, I find it to be the nicest one of all.
          Aldi should really consider expanding throughout DC. They would do really well in a lot of neighborhoods and put pressure on Giant and Safeway to be better.

  • Having recently shifted from the 5th and K Safeway to the 7th and O Giant, I can say that Giant is marginally cheaper on most (but not all) items. I actually go to Whole Foods for the “bulk” items like nuts and raisins – they are actually cheaper there. When I lived in Mt Pleasant, I too would go to Bestworld for spices. They have everything, and the deals are incredible.


  • I generally stick to HT, despite having a car.
    I usually go every other day to pick up fresh stuff for cooking, but I shop based on what looks good/the specials. I find if you have the flexibility to cook something you may not have been expecting, you can make out pretty well. I also “stock up” on other things when they are on sale (buy two get one, etc.). I do that with things like coffee and anything that can be frozen. It means spending more money than I need to, but definitely saves in the long run.
    On occasion I’ll run out to the Middle Eastern stores in VA for a change of pace (and cheap lamb).

  • Best World in Mt. Pleasant–it beats the unpleasantness of Giant in Columbia Heights.

  • I used to get my groceries at Shoppers Food Warehouse in Potomac Yards. Then the Target in the same shopping center opened up a groceries section, and I was able to find almost everything there that I’d been buying at SFW.
    I’ve picked up the occasional grocery item from the Target in Columbia Heights, but somehow I just don’t like shopping there. It always feels more stressful than the Potomac Yards one, there’s no validation option for free parking, and I have to remember to bring my own bags.
    I’m hoping the new Petworth Safeway will be good — if it is, I’ll do my shopping there.

  • clevelanddave

    No one mentioned Snyders out on Georgia Ave in Maryland. I don’t know about y’all who think WF is actually cheaper than other grocery stores on anything- yea, bulk items and 365 products are comparable to other grocery stores, but on average cheaper? No. HT is cheaper on produce? Never. HT is good on their own packaged deli, high quality meat and fish, and if you shop their sales you can do well. Capital Supermarket only on Hispanic produce. H Mart is better on produce and their fish counter is quite good, but for non ethnic staples, better go elsewhere… like Snyders. Also the deli counter at Calvert Woodley is great and the specials are often terrific.

    • Snyder’s is wonderful — but, for me, I would have to have a car to make it worth the trip. And I do calculate the cost of transportation in with determining the cost of a shopping trip. Whole Foods really earns their “whole paycheck” soubriquet, but it depends on what you’re shopping for. Some things like bagged salad, spices, and lots of the bulk items really are cheaper than Giant and Safeway. Their 365 brand products — including things like peanut butter, frozen fruit…. are usually cheaper as well. The fish and the produce are often more expensive — but often also better in quality, so the overall value kind of evens out. Whole Foods also has coupons and sales — so if you’re a careful shopper, and have a conveniently located store, WF really can be a good deal, and definitely a good value.
      As someone else pointed out, there are huge differences between people who have ample storage space and people who don’t, and people who have cars and people who don’t. People with cars and storage space may do better with Costco. People without those things may do better at a place in the neighborhood — saving on transportation costs, and places that have bulk items — for a combination of small quantities and low prices.

  • Bestway in Mt Pleasant: produce, spices, chicken, beans
    Trader Joes: Cheese
    Yes! Bread
    Giant: most everything else
    The new gem in town: Sweet Peach in Mt. Pleasant

Comments are closed.