Saving money: Grocery shopping

It’s no secret that prices are going up just about everywhere. If you’ve been living in the Netherlands for a while, you’ve no doubt seen the prices in the grocery stores rising as well. And not just for international products – even products originating in the country are going up. With the increase in prices just about everywhere people are doing what they can do to save money. With grocery shopping being a necessity, it can sometimes feel like you can’t escape the rising prices. But with a bit of planning and attention you can keep your grocery bills relatively low. Here are some tips for saving money while shopping for food.

Shop the “acties”
Every grocery store chain in the Netherlands has a weekly special with really good deals. Each chain has its own day to start their deals and its own day when to announce the following week’s specials. On the store’s website or in its app, look for the words “actie”, “bonus” or “aanbieding” for their weekly deals. Some of these deals are really incredible: buy one get one free (1+1 gratis); 50% off; buy 5 pay 2; the second item half off, and many more. Take advantage of the items that have a long shelf life and that you have space for – even some refrigerated items have a shelf life of a month or longer. And don’t forget foods you can freeze!

You may have a closet full of toilet paper or you may be eating only one fruit or vegetable that week, but you’ll save a lot of money on your bill. When my favorite “ontbijtcrackers” (Dutch breakfast crackers) were 1+1 gratis, I bought 8 boxes!

Special saver programs
Almost every grocery store chain in the Netherlands has its own customer saver program. At first these were a little confusing to me: for every €1 you spend, you buy a digital “zegel” (stamp) for €0.10, which is stored in the store’s app and accrues a nominal interest rate. I highly recommend these programs, even if the interest accrued is not that big. One, any extra money is extra money; and two, your contribution is also stored which makes your grocery store app like a savings account. It’s all a bit confusing, especially for expats, so I recommend checking out your grocery store’s app or visiting their customer service counter to get the low-down. The apps aren’t in English, so you’ll need to use an online translator, but employees at grocery stores usually speak near-perfect English (like most Dutch people) and can explain their program to you.

Additional “spaaracties” and temporary specials
Most grocery stores also have saver programs for other items like pots and pans, silverware or utensil sets, bathroom towel sets and much more. These specials usually run for several months and most grocery stores allow you to accrue “zegels” or stamps automatically through their app. You collect these stamps, then trade them in for massive discounts on these really useful items that are also usually excellent quality. I’ve purchased a beautiful chef’s knife that would normally cost around €80 for a mere €12.99. I also purchased an entire four-piece bathroom towel set for about 15% of the retail price.

In addition to household items, most stores also have deals with movie theaters, amusement parks, museums and even furniture and exercise equipment companies. It’s worth looking into these special deals at your favorite store. Again, visit the customer service counter or call the store’s customer service number to explain how it all works.

Competition is good for the customer!
The competition between grocery stores is fierce, each one taking its marketing and specials to the next level. This is great for the consumer, even if prices are going up across the board. Each chain is trying to out-sell and out-market the next one – and it’s the consumer who wins. Just plan your shopping so that you can check out all that the grocery stores offer. Most of the items I buy are from the weekly special, making my weekly shopping at least 25% off – sometimes as high as 50% off. The downside is that most of the sites and apps are in Dutch, but you can easily translate them or visit the store for help – or even better, start learning Dutch by grocery shopping! Happy shopping!

Written by Marla Thomson