If it feels to you that your grocery bill gets higher every year, it’s not your imagination. On the average it costs $146-$289 a week to feed a family of four. Retail food prices rose 0.04% in March the same as in February and the largest amount since September 2011. The most dramatic price increases were for pork, poultry, beef, eggs and milk. This was due to a drought, a virus outbreak and rising exports that reduced US supplies.
How often do you go to the supermarket?
This might shock you but the average grocery shopper makes 88 trips a year and spends $6000. As you can see from this, it’s more important now than ever to stretch your grocery-shopping budget as far as possible.
Where will your food budget go the furthest? According to one recent survey from ConsumerReports.org, the best places to save money are Market Basket, Costco, Trader Joe’s, Fairway Stores, and Stater Brothers. Sam’s Club charges an annual fee of $45 but its stores offer the lowest prices of all.
Buy by unit price
Before you choose an item, be sure to look at the shelf tag underneath it. This is how you can know for sure which package size offers the best deal per sheet, quart or ounce. As you might guess, bigger is usually cheaper. But this is not always the case so do your due diligence, compare unit prices and you will definitely save money.
Choose store brands
According to a different data from Consumer Reports, roughly 24% of products available at today’s supermarkets are store brands. As a rule, they sell for about 20% less on the average than national brands. Of people who were recently surveyed 78% said they had purchased store brands and found them to be the equivalent of national brands. Plus, almost all supermarket chains now back their brands with a money back satisfaction guarantee – so you really have nothing to lose by trying them.
Think about joining a discount club warehouse
When you shop a discount club warehouse you don’t have to wait for a special sale because they offer low prices every day. However, you will need to calculate whether or not you will save money by the time you pay the club’s membership fee and then buy in bulk – like 600 feet of aluminum foil or 20 pounds of flour. There are other negatives to those discount club stores including minimal service, bad checkout lines, and not as much selection.
Don’t pay for convenience
You pay extra when you buy precut or prepped or sliced, diced, or chunk commodities. As an example of this, we recently saw sliced Portobello mushrooms at our store for about four times what they cost when you buy them whole. Of course, you need to be careful because there are times when it works the other way and package prices are cheaper.
Last year alone, American consumers saved $3.5 billion using coupons for package goods. This is according to the data released by NCHMarketing.com The manufacturers of these products generated more than 300 billion coupons but cashed only 2.8 billion. That means some people – maybe including you – are missing out on saving money. You can save an average of a $1.62 per item by using them. There are paperless coupons available that you could download to your smart phone. However, statistics show that 91% of the coupons that were redeemed got to shoppers via newspaper inserts. However, there are sites such as SmartSource.com and CoolSavings.com you should check and do some comparison-shopping before you use those paper coupons. But do be aware that many of these coupons promote foods that are unhealthy. The national Centers for Disease Control did a study recently that found 25% of online coupons were for processed food snacks, candies, and desserts. Sadly enough, less than 3% of them were for produce and only 1% for unprocessed meats.
Shop early in the cycle
When your favorite supermarket is having a sale it pays to shop early in the cycle. If you wait until later in the week, it could be out of its advertised specials. The sales cycle usually starts Friday or Saturday so you should get the bargains on those days.
Most of the supermarket chains offer their best special deals to those of their customers that a part of their loyalty-card programs. Some of these loyalty programs, including ours, also offer discounts at certain gas stations. This is generally 10 cents per gallon. If you’re a loyalty card customer you might also get rewards based on your purchases, coupon-doubling offers and even those good old BOGOs or buy one get one free.
Some of these stores even have coupons that reward those who are 60 years old and older with special savings on specified days.
Learn your store’s layout
If your goal is to be a smarter shopper, you need to know your favorite store’s layout. You’ll probably find that it’s organized to slow you down to get you to buy more. Today’s average supermarket has more than 70 product displays designed to stop you and convince you to make an impulse purchase. The first thing you will probably see are fruits and vegetables. You may also be required to walk through the bakery section where you’ll be enticed by the smell of freshly baked rolls. Many of today’s supermarkets even have coffee bars designed to get you to linger and spend more. You’ll most likely find milk, meat, and other staples at the very back of the store, meaning that you’re forced to walk by literally hundreds of tempting items before getting there.
Watch those tricky signs
You might see signs advertising 10 containers of yogurt for $10. Understand that you don’t really have to buy all 10 to get the discount. If you buy just one it will be $1 and two will be $2.
Do you really need to pay the extra price of organics?
In 2012, the sale of organics reached $31.5 billion. If you buy organics, you know they almost always cost more than their conventional counterparts. It can be worth paying the extra for organic fruits and vegetables but they can have pesticide residuals even after washing. The magazine Consumer Reports recommends that you buy organic apples, bell peppers, cherries, celery, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, strawberries and an imported grapes but think about taking a pass on other organics as this would help you stretch your food budget.
Read the nutrition labels
Many stores today have shelf tags based on the Food and Drug Administration guidelines and advice from dietitians. As an example of this, the California-based chain Vons has a Simple Nutrition program. And the local chain where we shop recently introduced what it calls its NuVall rating system where many of its products are scored from 1 to 100 with 100 being the most nutritional. It says it bases these ratings on an Overall Nutritional Quality Index. This is an algorithm that was created by a panel of 12 people in the field of nutritional science. According to one spokesperson for this chain, “Basically, the way scores are calculated, we look at thirty different nutrients — both that are considered good and not so good – to get a score.”