The cost of milk, bread, eggs, cheese, and just about everything else has gone up this year. Yet you, your family, Fido, and Kitty must eat. Here are 22 ways to buy what you need while spending less.
Before Leaving Home
1. MAKE A LIST. This is so obvious, yet many shoppers run out the door without a list in hand. Writing down what you really need helps you reduce expensive impulse purchases. Then check your list against your inventory. You may have forgotten that your pantry holds enough canned vegetables to get you through the entire winter.
2. MAKE A SEPARATE LIST FOR TOILETRIES AND PAPER PRODUCTS. They’re less pricey at Walgreens, RiteAid, Costco, Sam’s Club, BJ’s, and the like.
3. CLIP COUPONS. But do so selectively. Use coupons only for items that are on your list or for items that you know will be on next week’s list.
4. HAVE A MEAL OR AT LEAST A SNACK. It’s a no-brainer, but one we’re likely to forget. If you’re hungry, you’ll automatically buy more than you need, and you’ll wind up adding items to your cart that you can eat immediately, before getting home. So never shop on an empty stomach.
5. ARRANGE YOUR FAMILY’S TIME SO THAT YOU CAN SHOP ALONE. Or at least, shop without the children in tow. Kids are great at talking their parents into buying something that’s unnecessarily expensive. You may also find that you purchase more if you shop with a friend. Your spouse or partner, on the other hand, may have a leveling effect on spending.
6. PLAN TO SHOP ON DOUBLE COUPON DAYS. This applies, of course, only if you use coupons.
7. PUT A CALCULATOR IN YOUR PURSE OR YOUR POCKET. Use it to keep a running tally of the items in your cart. It will also come in handy for comparing unit prices. Generally speaking, bigger is cheaper, but not always.
On the Way to the Store
8. GET CASH. Using debit and credit cards automatically makes it easier to spend more. Put the amount you’ve budgeted for groceries in an envelope or a special section of your wallet.
At the Store
9. PICK THE RIGHT STORE. Convenience store prices are usually outrageous. Check out food warehouses as well as supermarkets.
10. STUDY THE STORE’S LAYOUT. Typically milk (the number one item purchased in America), ice cream, and other dairy products and also meat are at the rear of the store. This is intentional because it means that you must walk by a lot of other items before you get to your destination.
11. RETURN YOUR CANS AND BOTTLES. It’s a pain, but you will get your deposit back.
12. RESIST BOTTLED WATER. It doesn’t matter if it’s from Italy, France, or Maine. Most cities and towns have decent tap water. If for some reason you don’t care for your local water, buy a filter.
13. THINK STORE LABEL. Brand-name items typically cost more. According to a taste test done by Consumer Reports, store brands are often just as good as or better than name brands.
14. STUDY END-OF-THE-AISLE DEALS CAREFULLY. These items may simply be features and not lower-priced items. Many stores promote seasonal items in these prime spaces, such as candy for Halloween and bread stuffing and canned pumpkin for Thanksgiving. And manufacturers oft en pay extra for these great locations.
15. GO FOR SOFT DRINKS IN LARGE BOTTLES. It’s much cheaper. Then buy a funnel so that you can refill smaller, easier-to-handle bottles at home.
16. AVOID SINGLE SERVINGS. You’ll pay dearly for the convenience.
17. SKIP THE Ps. That means prepared, precut, and peeled. Those cubes of watermelon, cantaloupe, pineapple, and strawberries mixed into a plastic container are priced to include the cost of labor. Do your own slicing and dicing. Prepared sandwiches, wraps, and school lunch-box items also add up quickly.
18. SKIP THE Gs. Grated items, that is. Grate your own carrots, cheese, and potatoes.
19. BEND YOUR KNEES. Higher-priced items tend to be at eye level. Lower-priced groceries are oft en on the bottom shelf.
20. WATCH THE BILL. If you’ve been keeping a running tally on your calculator, hit “total” before you reach checkout. Then make sure your amounts match those on the scanner.
21. LOOK THE OTHER WAY AT CHECKOUT. Do you really need those magazines, recipe booklets, candy bars, and gadgets?
22. GROCERY GAME. If you buy a lot of groceries every week, it may be worth the $10 fee (good for eight weeks) to register with the Grocery Game (www.GroceryGame.com).
The site provides a list of products that will be on sale at your favorite supermarket. The list is available before the standard circulars are sent in the mail or are actually available in the stores. The store’s individual coupons are also posted.
Another helpful source is Cool Savings (www.coolsavings.com).