20 ways to save on groceries
When it comes to the grocery store, the rules are
the same as those for the stock market: Do your homework, don't
fall for the hype and buy low.
This is especially pertinent in a year of soaring
food prices. Many wonder how to save on groceries without eating
less or stripping their shopping carts to the basics.
Here are 20 ways you can rein in your food bill without
sacrificing time, your family's health or your own sanity:
1. Eat your fruits and vegetables
2. Give those shelves the once-over
3. Stick to the edges
4. Shop early and alone
5. Set your shopping mood
6. Operate by the book
7. If you want to win the savings game,
learn the rules
8. Know when to use a list
9. Know when not to use a list
10. Grocery stores are for groceries
11. Take a
12. Know the
that more isn't always cheaper
15. Look for
16. Weigh before
of "discount store syndrome
that sometimes the best bargain isn't the lowest price
19. Check your
20. Put your
savings to work
1. Eat your fruits and vegetables.
"When you think about it, fruits and things like that are really
fairly inexpensive compared to the packaged things," says Gary
Foreman, publisher of The
Dollar Stretcher, a Web site devoted to living better for less.
And almost any time of year, stores have "a good selection
no matter what you like," he says. "You're bound to find
something year-round that's in season and, therefore, affordable."
Want to find the freshest and the cheapest? Investigate
a local farmers market. With less middlemen involved, the produce
tends to be "fresher, treated with less chemicals and cheaper,"
2. Give those shelves the once-over. "The
marketers aren't foolish," says Foreman. "They know that
we're generally lazy." So they position the items they most
want to sell on the shelves between knee- and shoulder-height. "The
highest markup items are the ones at about chest level -- to make
it really easy for you to grab it and toss it in the cart,"
And that's where the most expensive name brands will
be, says Jyl Steinback, author of Supermarket
Gourmet. "You can save up to 40 percent by selecting
house or generic brands."
3. Stick to the edges. For the most part, the
healthy, less processed foods are at the edges of the grocery store:
dairy, fruits and vegetables, meats, etc. Those are the most nutritious
options, and they also go further in the kitchen. In addition, "the
main areas where you're walking, the paths to milk and bread, are
usually strewn with high-priced land mines," says Ellie Kay,
author of Shop,
Save, and Share. "Avoiding those pricey areas will
4. Shop early and alone. "Try to shop
when you're alone," says Steinback. "Those little helpers
can quickly boost your bill." And if you shop early in the
day, you get through the store faster with your list and spend less,
5. Set your shopping mood. Nearly everyone
knows that if you shop for food when you're hungry, you'll buy more.
But did you know that you're also more likely to reach for those
expensive snack food goodies if you're tired or angry?
"When you're tired, you try to get more energy
through food," says Steinback, who has many of her personal
training clients keep food diaries. "And people will grab the
wrong choices: more sweets, more high-carbohydrates. When you're
angry you go for crunch food, the junk food. So if you just had
a fight, that's not the time to go shopping."
6. Operate by the book. You really want to
beat the stores at the pricing game? Start keeping a book, says
Foreman, who has a background in purchasing. His theory: most families
prepare the same 10 to 20 recipes, using the same ingredients, again
His advice: Start a notebook, with one page for each
item your family buys regularly. Note what you usually pay. If you
see an especially good price, make a note of where and what it is.
Without a book, "I can't remember what I paid [for something]
six weeks ago," says Foreman.
But if you have a crib sheet, you know if a store
sale or special is hype or a good buy. When you find a real bargain,
The trick is "to buy on the markdowns,"
he says. "It's not at all uncommon for people to save 15 to
20 percent on groceries. You don't have to change your habits. Just
buy when [items] are at low cost."
7. If you want to win the savings game, learn the
rules. Read that weekly food section and check the Sunday paper
to see what's on sale.
And don't forget the fine print in those offers. For
example, at some stores "buy one, get one free" items
ring up at half price, which means you can use a coupon on each
one and double your savings, says Kay.
But other stores mark one item full-price and give
you the other for free, allowing you to use only one coupon.
In addition, some retailers guarantee that if the
item doesn't ring up at the correct price, you get it for free or
at a discount. "Be sure you pay attention to the details,"
8. Know when to use a list. For staples, stick
to what you'd already planned to buy before you walked into the
store. "The only time to go off list is if you can combine
savings factors [store sales, double coupons, etc.] and get a good
buy," says Kay.
9. Know when not to use a list. When it comes
to produce, take the farmer's market approach: Buy what's fresh,
inexpensive and in season. Then adapt your menus accordingly. That
way, you get good buys and your family gets the freshest food.
10. Grocery stores are for groceries. "Avoid
purchasing nongrocery items at a grocery store," says Steinback,
who advises consumers to weigh convenience vs. cost when they pick
up supplies like painkillers, contact lens solution, mouthwash or
toothpaste at the grocery store. "I know it's convenient,"
she says. "But, you double your cost."