Did you ever try to make a shopping list from the grocery store fliers that arrive in most L.A. mailboxes each Tuesday? In theory the promotions are supposed to let us know about all the great deals taking place during the next seven days, starting on Wednesday. But some marketing guru evidently decided that making the ads as complicated as possible is a good way to get us to spend more. Depending on the store, there are in-house coupons, manufacturers' coupons, loyalty programs, club cards, contests, and deals like “buy one, get two free.” It's enough to make your head implode.

To help you navigate the grocery store aisles, turn the page for a guide to area stores' discount policies, listed alphabetically. (And please keep in mind that these policies are subject to change at any time. Of course they are.)

This week we're giving top honors to Albertsons for having the most entertaining flier. It's chock-full of so many specials, we're pretty sure it's physically impossible to take advantage of all of them. Some highlights: You can “mix, match & save” on certain cereals, granola bars and fruit snacks, but only if you buy five items in the select group and only if you use your Albertsons Preferred Savings Card. In that case, each item goes for $1.88; if you screw up and don't follow the exact rules, then the individual price is $2.48. There's also a million dollar “sizzlin' summer giveaway collect and win game” which will score one lucky winner a 30 year annuity paid out in equal installments of $33, 333.33. And in another contest you could win a trip to Vegas. Let's face it, the odds aren't great that you're going to win these big prizes, but you can console yourself by saving $5 on your next shopping trip when you buy $20 in any combination of L'Oreal and Colgate products.

We're not trying to pick on Albertsons, since Vons/Pavilions and Ralphs routinely have equally complex fliers. For example, this week at Vons/Pavilions you can get two free movie tickets each time your spending reaches $40 in participating items using your club card. And Ralphs has something new called their “get real low prices” mix and match savings specials, as well as 30% off wine and spirits, which we like the sound of — but you need to buy six bottles at a time and, it goes without saying, use your Ralphs shopper's card.


To take advantage of the best store prices, get a Preferred Savings Card at any cash register. (Once you have the card, if you forget to bring it, which we always do, you can still get savings by using your phone number.) The store accepts manufacturers' coupons at face value; they do not double coupons. From time-to-time the company will mail special coupons to customers who have signed up for the loyalty card.


The weekly sale prices are offered to all customers, no special club card required. Gelsons mails out glossy fliers to addresses in zip codes near its stores. Sometimes the flier includes a discount coupon for $5 off any purchase of $25 (excluding dairy, liquor, gift cards and postage stamps.) If you would like to receive this offer, go to the customer service desk at any Gelsons and request to be put on the mailing list. (The coupon usually is not found in the fliers inside the stores.)


You need a Ralphs rewards card to get store savings and special promotions. Sign up for one at any register. (And after you enroll, your phone number works when you don't have the card.) The store accepts manufacturers' coupons at face value but recently stopped doubling them. For a limited time customers can get fuel points, in a promotion between Ralphs and Shell. You can learn about this program online or ask a sales associate. This spring Ralphs eliminated its quarterly rewards program, which gave shoppers a store certificate based on how many points they accrued. Instead, Ralphs launched a new campaign of “get real low prices.” To get the lower prices, you need to use your rewards card, which this week's flier also calls a “shopper's card.” The company still mails coupon packets tailored to customers' shopping history. This is kind of unsettling when you realize there's a record of everything you've bought. On the other hand, they tell you the coupons are being sent because you're one of their best customers. Aw, shucks. You know we can't stay angry when you sweet-talk us like that.


There is no loyalty program or club card. Sprouts accepts manufacturers' coupons and sometimes offers deals on their Facebook page. The company has an ongoing promotion called “double ad Wednesdays.” As the name implies, on Wednesdays customers can get all of the special deals from the prior and current week, meaning that twice as many items are on sale for that one day.


Most Targets now have grocery sections. The store will accept manufacturers' coupons. They sometimes offer specials, such as buy three of, say, Starbucks coffee bags or Cheerios and you'll get a $5 Target gift card. These kinds of offers are random and appear in the Sunday newspaper ad. (You can also pick up a flier at the store.) If you choose to use a Target credit card, that will knock 5% off of the bill.

Trader Joe's:

No store coupons, no loyalty program, no points, no sales. Ever. As reported in Forbes, the company has a unique retail approach, constantly switching things around in its stores. Manufacturers' coupons are accepted, and usually brand-name foods are priced lower than at other retailers. There is no weekly flier, but TJ's does mail out its Fearless Flyer newsletter, which is also available in stores.


To get sale prices and other specials, such as “buy one get one free” offers, you need to have a store club card. You can sign up for the card at any cash register. (And, as with Albertsons and Ralphs, you can use your phone number when you don't have the card with you.) Vons and Pavilions will double coupons, but only up to one dollar. If you have a coupon for more than that amount, they will discount the face value amount. The weekly flier typically has store coupons for clipping. These include restrictions on how many of each item can be purchased at the lower coupon price. (For example, this week you can buy five packs of Ball Park Angus Beef Hot Dogs for half off, or $5 each, but only with your store card and the discount coupon from the flier.)

Whole Foods:

While there is no weekly flier promoting specials, certain items do go on sale and usually are displayed near the front of the store. There's also a store coupon book called “The Whole Deal!” which comes out six times a year. This can be picked up by the cash registers; individual coupons also can be printed out online. In addition, Whole Foods accepts manufacturers' coupons at face value.

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