Coupon column: Walmart versus grocery stores for price comparison

There is something exhilarating about scoring a great deal, as well as something depressing when a deal is missed. I can relate to the story of an airline passenger who was curious about whether her "weekend blowout special" ticket price was really as good as it sounded. She began polling the passengers around her, and found out their ticket prices ranged from much lower than hers to prices that were triple the price she had paid. What happens when we apply that same type of curiosity to grocery pricing?

"Low prices. Everyday. On Everything" is a slogan that attracts many shoppers. Walmart is very proud of this claim and completes the promise by not offering advertised weekly sales. I believe it is this promise of overall low prices that draws people to Walmart. But how good are Walmart's low prices when compared to the local grocery stores?

Last week I reported my findings from four weeks of researching the prices on 11 common grocery items at Albertsons, Fry's and Safeway. The items were: butter (one pound, generic), Coke and Pepsi (12 pack cans), bottled water (24 pack), Top Ramen (individual pack and six pack), shredded cheese (8 ounces), eggs (one dozen), corn flakes (18 ounces generic), boneless skinless chicken breast (one pound), and milk (one gallon). The results were eye- opening, and made me wonder how those prices would compare to Walmart prices. So, I visited Walmart for four weeks and recorded prices on the same 11 items. The cumulative totals at the grocery stores were: Fry's: $99.98, Albertsons: $101.44, and Safeway: $107.53. At Walmart, the four-week total was $104.08.

The goal of this experiment was to see how everyday prices compare between Walmart and the local grocery stores. But what if I had taken into account Walmart's offer to price match? The Walmart corporate website spells out their ad match policy (www.corporate.walmart.com/ad-match-guarantee). Here are the basics of what they will do:

• Customers do not need to have the competitor's ad with them.

• They price match buy one, get one free ads with a specified price ("Buy one for $2.49, get one free").

• They price match fresh produce and meat items when the price is offered in the same unit type (pound for pound, item for item).

• Items purchased must be identical to the ad (size, quantity, brand, flavor, color, and so on).

• They do not match the price on items that require a separate purchase to get the ad price ("Buy (item A) to get (item B) for $C").

• They do not match items that require a purchase to get a competitor's gift card ("Buy [item A] to get a $B gift card").

• They do not match percentage- off discounts ("All mascara 40 percent off").

• They do not match competitors' private label price promotions. (This rule is confusing to me because Walmart will regularly price match another store's brand of milk with their milk. Check with customer service at your store to see how they enforce this rule.)

Using the Walmart ad match approach to grocery shopping will only produce average savings due to the limitations on ad matching at Walmart. Plus, there are several other things to consider: First, Walmart does not carry all of the products and brands that are advertised at the grocery stores. Secondly, Walmart takes coupons at face value, whereas most grocery stores will double, or even triple, coupons up to a dollar discount. Lastly, bonuses like accumulating fuel rewards from stores like Fry's and Safeway, and 10 percent senior discount days, are benefits that grocery stores have over Walmart.

Generally, when I shop at Walmart for non-grocery items, I will glance over my PracticalSaver.com sale printout to see if there are grocery store sales that I can price match. I look for items that don't permit me to profit from doubling a coupon. Milk, eggs, and soda are good items to price match.

Walmart's "Everyday Low Price" is good when the items you need are not on sale somewhere else that week. I remain confident that combining coupons with shopping the sales at the grocery stores will result in the biggest savings.

Kara Rozendaal, a financial planner, wife and homeschool mother of three has lived in Prescott Valley for 15 years. Learn more about her classes and ways to save money at www.PracticalSaver.com.