Shopping in Germany is a delight if you know how to do it right on a budget. We get paid twice a month and need to make that money stretch – and have enough left over for fun trips!
We usually make a big trip to the commissary and a German grocery twice a month, then weekly trips to the market and stores for what we need to round out our meals.
How to save money shopping in Germany:
Bottle returns: you get cash back when you return recyclable bottles to stores. We typically do a big bottle return and turn in VAT forms the last week of every week. We do pay a deposit on the bottles, so it’s not like we’re making much.
Tax rebates: many German stores refund VAT with the form. Each store has its own policy. We stamp our receipts at Globus and return them all with one VAT form at the end of every month. Real doesn’t have a deadline, so we do it every couple of months after we collect enough receipts to make it worthwhile.
- VAT forms cost $50 for a 10-pack.
- Valid for 2 years from issue.
- Only may be used by authorized family members.
- You must return your used VAT forms before you will be able to purchase more. Learn more here.
What Shopping in Germany Looks Like for Our Family
We have a weekly village market with farm fresh eggs. We typically shop weekly at German grocery stores and the commissary to keep a well-stocked pantry.
We have a small German refrigerator and an American side-by-side fridge/freezer combo with an ice/water dispenser (yay!). We have learned to purchase fresh meats and vegetables frequently and we only use the freezer for homemade stock, fruit bags for smoothies, extra bacon and sausage, and a few emergency supplies.
We have to bring our own shopping bags to German stores. We have a great collection of market baskets, fabric totes, insulated sacks, and little cloth bags. Because we still forget to bring the bags back out to the car after shopping.
Saturday morning market – right outside our front door
- 30 farm fresh brown eggs and a red bell pepper every week
- Potatoes (seriously, we can’t find potatoes like this anywhere)
- Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts are typically available and lovely
- Strawberries, asparagus, tomatoes, green beans, fresh peas in season
This week, I bought 30 eggs, a red bell pepper, a grapefruit, and a small bunch of tomatoes for €16.10. They were out of potatoes, wah! The prices are a tad higher than I would pay at a grocery or the commissary, but the quality is better and we love supporting local shops.
Drink shop – right in our building
- Beer (we buy a case of this one favorite every month or so)
- Wine (usually when I realize I need some for cooking – it’s only €4/bottle)
- Soda (rarely since we have a Soda Stream and kombucha)
- Treats – the kids love to grab an ice cream or candy and play at the park each week
Bakery/Dorfladen (Convenience Shop)
- Deli – gorgeous salami
- Breads, cakes, pastries – fresh, warm, and to die for
When I stupidly run out of milk or butter, they have it – at an exorbitant convenience price.
The German stores have better quality, cleaner items with fewer additives.
This was the first German store I shopped at and I still feel most comfortable here. Many compare it to a Super Wal-Mart. It’s easy and they have a great food court.
- German Bacon
- Meats – they have a vast selection of absolutely lovely meat
- Canned breads
This week, we stocked up on dairy, breads, pizza flour, coffee, German bacon and sausages, chips, and salad. The total was €133.65. I can save €10.36 VAT.
The local exchange rate: €1 = $1.09. The exchange rate on base: €1=$1.1247. We try to use ATMs off base when we require Euros. We have US banks and we are charged exchange rates and transaction fees when we use check cards and credit cards.
Either Globus or Real:
- Dairy – milk, cream, pudding, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream
- Cereal – no additives! We usually buy Toppas (like mini-wheats), Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and several types of kashi.
- Cheese – Europeans know how to do cheese.
- Bagged salad. The fun lettuce blends are just amazing here. With parsley.
- Potato chips (plain and paprika – I am so gonna miss this!)
- Spices (they come in big bags and we refill our jars)
- Olive oil
- Soda – these don’t have the additives American sodas have, so we treat more often (and we have a Sodastream so we sometimes buy the natural syrups)
- Capri Suns for trips – they have sugar, but no dyes or chemicals
This store is more organized and decorated than Globus. They don’t have the stock on hand but I prefer some items here and the staff are super friendly. The shopping complex has several other stores that are convenient.
- Lunch items – mini frozen pizzas that put those Bagel Bites to shame
- Bread (their fresh breads are the best!)
- Deli meats – salami, bologna, sausages
- Beer (I like the big bottles of Radler they have)
- Wine (They have the best selection and prices all color coded for convenience!)
Most of the food available at the commissary is European, much from Denmark and local areas. There are strict laws about importing American food, and we are surprised by what is available and what is not. We miss some of the variety. We have been assuming that the commissary gets much of the wholesale leftovers after the German groceries since the brands are often the same, but the quality is less. The meats are prepacked and difficult to examine, so we often purchase off-base.
Items we typically purchase at the commissary once or twice each month:
- Juice – bottled lemon and cranberry
- Spinach because the local stuff smells funny
- Sweet potatoes
- Romaine lettuce
- Button mushrooms because they’re so much smaller than the local ones
- Peanut butter
- Steel-cut oatmeal
- Baking items like baking powder, baking soda, yeast (the German items are just different and American recipes don’t quite turn out)
- Peanuts and Mixed nuts
- Breakfast sausage
- American nitrate-free bacon
- Corn on the cob as a treat – the price is good at $1.89 for a 2-pack!
- Peanut oil for frying because I can get big vats cheaply
- Shredded Mexican blend cheese
- Soft tortillas
- Tortilla chips
- Annie’s mac and cheese
- Hebrew National hot dogs (because Alex doesn’t really care for German sausage!)
- Toilet paper because I’m picky
- Cat litter because the kitties are picky
- Women’s items because they’re familiar.
This week, we stocked up on bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, nuts, chips, frozen peas, sour cream, Mexican cheese, avocadoes, and an eye of round beef roast (because we have no idea what it’s called in German! They don’t really do beef roasts like we do). The total was $150.13.
I scored these babies Memorial Day weekend for $1.89/2-pack! Back in the states, we used to get 4/$1.00!
There are some items we know we are spoiled with here. They have much fewer chemicals in the food here and we feel comfortable serving it to our kids, but we will not be able to when we return to the States.
We are loving the convenience of Capri Suns, soda, canned rolls, deli meats, frozen pizzas, bottled sauces, and boxed prepared foods.