Trim grocery bill and still eat well

December 29, 2004|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Supermarkets stock thousands of products, yet not everyone is eating well. According to Michael McBurney at Kellogg Co., customers typically make 50 percent or more of their purchases from a list of about 150 products. Other purchases often are impulse buys that can add to the grocery bill unnecessarily. Impulse purchases also increase when shoppers are hungry or shop without a list.

A U.S. Census Consumer Expenditure Survey found that, on average, an American family of four spent $5,357 or about 13 percent of their total annual expenditures on food. With these shopping and cost-saving tips, you can trim grocery bills and still eat well:

  • Study the layout of the supermarket. The basics - fresh produce, dairy products, meats and bakery items - usually are arranged on the outer wall of the store. More costly processed foods (such as snack foods, cereals and mixes) usually are on interior aisles. Frozen food cases are grouped, often in center aisles.

  • Organize your shopping list to match the layout of the store to minimize time needed to retrace steps and to decrease impulse purchases.

  • Observe product placement. More expensive products usually are placed on middle shelves, within easy reach. Less expensive foods are placed high and low, where they are not so easily reached.

  • Check prices on product displays. Store displays, including those at the end of the aisles, do not always feature sale products. Use a grocery receipt to make a note of prices paid for frequently used items on a master shopping or price list. Take the list of prices and the grocery list when you shop, or note price and brand on a computer-generated list that can be printed and used as the basis for weekly shopping lists. Use it to verify bargain prices.

  • Keep a running grocery list at home to avoid return trips for forgotten items. Reducing the number of trips saves time and money because shoppers rarely limit their purchases to one item. It's time-consuming and not always profitable to "store hop" for only the specials. A warehouse or discount store is unlikely to have the lowest price on all products; however, it is important to consider time, money and convenience.

  • Check prices and products in supermarket advertisements, inserts or fliers. Shop the specials and use coupons only if you will save money by doing so. Limit purchases to products that can realistically be stored or used. Prices on multiple sales, such as 10 cans for $10, might be prorated per can.

  • Other marketing strategies might or might not produce a cost savings. Buy one, get one free sounds good, but often the "one" is being marketed at an increased price. A loss leader is a product - a name brand cereal, for example - that a store is willing to sell at cost or less to attract customers who will buy other products while in the store. Brand name items usually cost more than store brands but are not always better quality.

  • Use legitimate discounts to your advantage. Buy a larger quantity - 10 pounds of ground beef, for example - and repackage the meat in family-sized packages before storing or freezing.

  • Eat seasonal foods that cost less because of large supplies, such as fresh lettuce, spinach or strawberries in late spring and early summer or apples, squash or sweet potatoes in the fall.

  • Can't make up your mind about which product to buy? To help decide, read labels and check unit prices or cost per serving or use. A one-pound boneless roast will yield four servings; a bone-in roast with the same weight and cost will only yield three servings.

  • To save the most money, shop alone, at a time when a store will be stocked but not crowded, perhaps early in the morning or during the week. While it's true that each additional person can add expense, there is value in encouraging a child to choose a fruit or vegetable to try or to learn more about where food comes from. Inviting a family member to accompany you provides one-on-one time that can be educational. Family members can sometimes spot bargains that might be missed.

  • Look ahead to the week for which you are buying groceries as you make a list. If the family is attending a school or community event at 6:30 p.m., but not everyone will arrive home before 5:45 p.m., plan a meal around leftovers that can be reheated quickly or buy food to make sandwiches. Reserve recipes that require more preparation for days when time is available. Doubling a recipe or cooking a larger quantity can save time and money. Wrap, label, date and freeze leftovers for a future meal.

    A month of menus can be downloaded at on the Web. For a printed copy, send a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope to: Maryland Cooperative Extension - Washington County Office, 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Mark the envelope, "Menus."


Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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