Grocery stores, including nationwide chains like Safeway, A&P, Ralphs, and Kroger operate large retail facilities that offer a variety of meats, fruits and vegetables, as well as canned, boxed, and frozen foods. They also sell nonfood items, such as soap, cleaning and bathroom supplies, facial tissues, and so forth. Most national stores offer a member card, which does not cost anything, but requires you to sign up to receive the in store specials.

Discount chains, such as Costco, Cub Foods, Food for Less and Sam’s Club are known as wholesale warehouse stores offering food and other items in large volume at lower prices. These stores often charge an annual membership fee and do not offer the same services as the large grocery chains. Customers usually bag and carry out their own groceries in these stores.

Neighborhood convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven, QuickTrip and MiniMart sell food, often 24 hours a day, at higher prices
with limited selection. Neighborhood grocery stores are larger and offer more variety—especially in terms of fresh meats, fruits and vegetables.

Some large grocery stores offer a section of “international foods.” Sometimes, if you live in an area with a lot of people from certain parts of the world, like Asia, the Middle East, etc. you can find specialty stores that sell only foods from those countries. Often these stores are attached to restaurants that also serve the food you miss from home. You can ask at authentic restaurants for stores that serve food from your country or ask other international students if they have found stores that sell ingredients for “home cooking.”

Stores continually run sales on various items, changing the deals from week to week. One simply way to take advantage of lower prices is to fill out a form for a free “member” card. Present the card at checkout every time you shop in that store and you will automatically get the discounted price for any marked item.

Sales circulars appear on television, radio, and in newspapers, as well as on the Internet, or posted signs at the store itself. Just because an item is “on sale,” however, does not always mean that it gives you the best value. Another store may have the same item at a lower price, or the sale item may be of inferior quality. Compare prices and quality at several stores to determine the best value.

Coupons offer another way to save money. These small pieces of paper can be found in newspapers or newspaper inserts, in the mail, in magazines, on food labels, on the Internet, and even at the grocery store itself. Distributed by the manufacturers of specific brands and items, and save you either a percentage or a certain amount of the total price for that item. Present your coupons to the cashier before making your purchase and they will then deduct that amount from your total bill. Always make sure you select the exact item referenced in the coupon, and that the expiration date has not already passed.

In grocery stores, buying “generic” (brand-less) products gives you another way to save. Most stores offer several different brands of the same item, with the generic products having a more basic appearance without fancy packaging or labels. The store may also have its own brand of the product. In most cases, the generic or store brand offers basically the same product with the same ingredients as the more famous national brand, but at a lower cost due to the lack of fancy labels and expensive advertising.

Paper or Plastic?
You will often hear the question, “Paper or plastic?” when checking out at the grocery store. They simply want to know if you want your groceries in a paper (more environmentally friendly, but less convenient) or a plastic (less environmentally friendly, but more convenient) bag. The best solution is to provider your own reusable bags that you provide as you check out.

Movie Rental

Video and DVD rental stores have gradually gone out of business in many places. You may still see a few on or around your campus, but services like Netflix and Redbox have begun to take over the movie rental market. Netflix charges a monthly fee for you to access their large supply of streaming movies online, or you can order others to be sent to you at an additional fee, along with a return mailer which you will use to return the movie once you have watched it. Redbox allows you to choose and reserve your movie online, find the nearest Redbox location, pick it up and pay by credit card. When you have watched the movie, you can return it to any Redbox location.

If you already have media items, you might consider using an online site like, where you can trade out a book, DVD, CD or other media you already have for something “new” to you. Also, a Google search for “Movies Online” or the specific movie you are looking for will yield multiple results, some which require a fee. One site that has grown in popularity is, which offers thousands of movies free of charge.

Drugstore or Pharmacy
At a drug store or pharmacy you can get prescriptions (medicine a doctor has prescribed) and over-the-counter items like aspirin, vitamins, and medicine for colds and other common sicknesses.

Drug stores sell generic prescriptions at a lower cost than the regular brand-name prescriptions. To get these generic medicines you must specifically request “generic substitution” when ordering your prescription.

Most drug stores sell much more than drugs, offering items like cosmetics, hardware, stationery, household items, candy, toys, and select food and clothing. Some of the common pharmacies in the U.S. include Walgreens, CVS and Rite-aid.

Discount and Department Stores

Discount stores like Target, Walmart and K-Mart offer a decent selection of items at lower prices. Their merchandise is not usually the highest quality, but can be purchased for less than you would pay at a department store like Macys, JCPenneys or Kohls. Department stores usually have higher quality merchandise, better selection and sometimes their sale prices compete with discount stores.

Cash or Charge
When the checkout clerk asks “Cash or charge?” they want to know if you plan to pay with cash (actual money or a personal check) or charge your purchases on a credit or debit card.

Sales Tax
Sales tax is an extra charge added to the price of an item at the time of the purchase. In a few instances (such as with gasoline), the tax is already added to the purchase price. The sales tax percentage, and what purchases are subject to sales tax, varies from state to state, but usually falls between six and ten percent of the item’s price. In many areas, food items do not get taxed unless they are considered luxury items, but restaurant food is usually taxed. Sales tax money goes to the state, not to the store that collects it.


Most stores will give refunds (return your money) for items you have not used or worn. (In some cases, the store will not give a refund, but will allow you to exchange the item for another of equal value or get store credit.) To do so, most stores require you to bring the item back with the original sales receipt within a certain period of time (usually 30 to 60 days) of purchase, and in unused condition. Each store usually lists its return policy on the receipt.

If the store displays a sign saying “all sales final,” that means you cannot return any items after you buy them. Sometimes you cannot return items bought during a special sale. Before making a purchase, make sure you understand the store’s return policy.

Used Items

Many people buy used items (in good condition) because they cost far less than buying them new. Used items can be found on online sites such as and Sometimes you can find newspaper listings for specific used items—such as appliances, furniture, bicycles, or cars—in the classified section. Second-hand or thrift stores, such as Goodwill, ARC or Salvation Army, can offer good deals on used furniture and clothing. American families often sell excess or unneeded items at weekend “garage sales” or “yard sales,” especially during seasons of good weather. Before you buy a used item, check carefully for any damage. You can seldom get a refund on the purchase of used items.


Most retail prices in the U.S. are fixed and do not allow for bargaining. Generally, bargaining only takes place when purchasing an item that costs a lot of money, such as a car or house, or when purchasing used items from a private individual. If you do not know whether or not to bargain, simply ask if the price is “fixed” or “negotiable.” You may also be able to find bargain items, including textbooks, at and

Online shopping has become big business in the U.S. Whether shopping for new merchandise with online retailers, or looking for used deals, you will find many online resources. Sites like and offer both new and used items available all around the country. Whereas sites like cater to your individual area/community with the added bonus of being able to physically evaluate the item for sale before making a final decision, and eliminating shipping costs. Beware when making arrangements to buy or sell items through resources like craigslist since you will be dealing with individual sellers who are strangers and may or may not have your best interests in mind.

Photos below from
an ISI shopping trip!
If you are interested in joining
in on the fun activities,
contact us and we will connect
you with ISI in your area!





Medical care 


Postal service

Other services




Exercise and Fitness 

Tips for international students