Why I shop at 9 different stores for groceries

As grocery prices keep climbing, I've had to change the way I shop for food for my family. Now instead of buying all my groceries at our two neighborhood supermarkets, I'm shopping at nine different stores for the best grocery deals of the week. By taking advantage of the low prices, coupons, and advertised specials that each of these stores have to offer, it has been possible to lower our family's grocery budget by 40% or more without having to give up the foods we like.

Stocking up on the loss leaders at my favorite supermarkets is one way to save money. Buying groceries at off-beat stores is another. Here's just a few of the other places I shop at to save our family money.

Third-tier discount stores. Did you ever wonder what happens to food that's nearing the expiration date? Overstock and close-to-expiring foods are often sold to third-tier discount stores where they are priced to sell. Including stores like these on my shopping route lets me buy my favorite organic foods, dairy products, and more at half the price found elsewhere. Most discount stores will also honor manufacturer coupons to leverage the savings even more.

Farmer markets and the corner vegetable stand. Buying direct from the grower is another easy way to save 10-20% on fresh fruits and veggies for the family. Farmer's markets and fruit stands are the best place to find these deals, though for larger quantities, it may be worth the drive to the country to pick up bushels of orchard fruits priced at 50 cents a pound and less.

Stores that sell staples 'by the bin.' Long before there was Costco, our community had discount stores such as Winco and Smith's, warehouse supermarkets with "bulk bin" aisles. It's here where shoppers can save money by packaging up their own staples such as rice, beans, pasta, spices, and more. Bulk bin prices range from 25%-90% less than packaged goods and is an easy way to save money without having to sacrifice quality.

Restaurant supply outlets. For the times I'm entertaining a crowd or need a sack of onions or potatoes, these wholesale stores sell restaurant quality foods priced 20-50% under regular retail. Most restaurant wholesalers will sell direct to the public on a cash basis with no membership required.

Gas station. Gas station convenience stores tend to be much more expensive than grocery stores except in one area -- milk. With limited shelf space, gas stations price milk about 75 cents less per gallon than the cheapest grocery store in town. While it's not worth making a special trip to a gas station to stock up on cheap milk, it's good to remember the next time the car needs gasoline.

When it comes to keeping grocery costs under control, comparison shopping is how a family can stick to their budget without sacrificing variety and nutrition. To get the most savings out of a morning of comparison shopping, these four tips are also worth remembering:

--Always shop with a list and a calculator

--Always grab the circulars on the way into the store for unadvertised bargains and in-store coupons

--Double check the receipts to avoid an accidental overcharge

--Plan your shopping route in a circle to minimize time on the road and wasted fuel

More by this contributor:

Ten Ways to Cut Food Expenses and Increase Your Savings.

How to save money easily without changing your lifestyle.

Consumer tips for avoiding credit card fees.