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Grocery shopping tips that can save you money

June 16, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

It's possible to save money shopping for groceries without cooking everything from scratch and packing your purse with coupons.

Here are easy tips that can help you spend less and avoid uneaten food that equals lost grocery money.

o Keep a grocery list where it's easily accessible, such as on the fridge, and remember to take it with you to the grocery store. Stick to your list for added savings, but do stay flexible if you encounter a sale.

o Avoid shopping when hungry. Everything looks good on an empty stomach. Eating before going shopping not only helps forestall impulse buys, it may save calories. If you're shopping with your kids, feed them in advance.

o Use coupon common sense. Use coupons only for foods you normally would eat, rather than for "extras." Check your grocery receipt - sometimes there are great coupons on the back. Also, if you have access to a computer, check online for coupons. For starters, check the website of the store where you shop or for products, you use. The website address for many foods is printed on the product label.

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If possible, shop on double or triple coupon days when a store increases the value of coupons. Grocery store loyalty cards may be another source of savings, offering in-store discounts to cardholders.

o Check expiration dates. Avoid buying a food that is past its prime. If it's on sale and near its expiration date, plan to use it soon.

o Small-scale experiments. Before trying a new food, buy the smallest size of package. If your family doesn't like the food, you won't be stuck with a large quantity of food your family won't eat.

o Stock up on staple foods. Invest in staple foods when they're on sale. Stocking up on staple items such as reduced-price canned tuna or tomato sauce can be a good investment of your grocery dollars. Remember to check expiration dates.

o Buy in bulk when the price is right and you can use the product. Be sure to do the math and check to see if you actually save by buying a larger package. The cost of two smaller packages might be a better price than the larger one. Plus, will you use the food while the flavor is still tasty?

o Store-brand savings. Store brands are comparable in nutrition to national brands. Some store brands might vary more in size, color or texture than the national brands. However, this might not matter, depending on how you plan to use it. A less than perfect appearing vegetable might be just fine if used in a casserole or soup.

Store brands and lower-priced brands tend to be positioned on the top and bottom shelves. The national brands are more likely to be on the middle shelves.

o Shop the specials. Plan your menus around sale items, especially more expensive purchases, such as meat. Buying several packages of meat when it is on sale and freezing it might save quite a bit.

"It is safe to freeze meat or poultry directly in its supermarket wrapping but this type of wrap is permeable to air," advises the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS). "Unless you will be using the food in a month or two, over wrap these packages as you would any food for long-term storage using airtight heavy-duty foil, (freezer) plastic wrap or freezer paper, or place the package inside a (freezer) plastic bag."

If you plan to repackage family packs into smaller amounts, USDA/FSIS also recommends using these materials.

While raw ground meat maintains optimum quality in the freezer for three to four months, larger pieces of meat like steaks or chops will maintain optimum quality for four to 12 months, according to USDA/FSIS. At zero degrees, frozen foods remain safe indefinitely. The safest way to thaw meat is in the refrigerator on a plate on the bottom shelf so it doesn't drip on other foods.

Watch for "Checkout" temptation. As you are waiting in line, think twice before buying some last-minute temptation.

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

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