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Grocery shopping skills that can help save money

January 18, 2011|Lynn Little

Shopping with a grocery list can produce an annual savings of $500 to $1,000 — or more.

  • Making a grocery list that follows a store layout can reduce repeat trips up and down the same aisles, impulse purchases from those aisles and the time required to complete a shopping trip.
  •  Develop a master grocery list by category and aisle of a grocery store that you shop frequently. Every week or two, print and post the list in a central location — such as on the refrigerator door — so that all your family members can add items, as needed to complete the list.  
  •  Use your master grocery list as the foundation for a price book. Note the store name, date and regular prices or cost per serving or ounce, and use it in the future to determine if a sale price is really a bargain, which stores regularly sell certain foods for less money, and seasonal trends in sales.
  •  Be aware of store display strategies — the most expensive items will often be placed within easy reach; lower-priced items placed on upper or lower shelves may be harder to reach. Don't assume that seasonal or other items displayed at the end of the aisles are on sale. Be sure to compare prices.
  •  Compare unit prices (if not posted on the shelf) by dividing the price by the total number of servings or the total number of pounds and ounces in the product package. Consider the lowest cost per unit and if you or members of your family can eat the product before its "use by" date passes.
  •  Check "Use by" or "Best by" dates, which can help to reduce waste and hold down costs.  
  •  Consider using coupons. However, they don't always offer a savings. Compare the unit price (cost per serving or use) of generic or store brands against national brands minus the coupon savings to determine the best use of your food dollars. The generic or store brand typically offers a savings over a national brand even with a coupon. Generic or store brands often are produced at the same facility as a national brand, but packaged differently.
  •  Shop less often, and go early in the day or after the dinner hour when stores are less crowded.
  •   If your grocery list contains only small quantities of perishable fruits or vegetables for completing a specific recipe consider shopping from the salad bar, rather than buying a large package that will go to waste.
  •  Consider buying lower-priced protein foods, such as dried beans that, when cooked, offer bargain-priced nutrition.
  •  Brush up on your cooking skills — it's less expensive, and often healthier, to eat at home.
  •  Becoming more familiar with portions (also called servings, or serving size) will usually yield a savings. Oversized servings add cost and extra pounds so reading labels and using measuring cups to become familiar with recommended serving sizes will be helpful.
  •  Cook once, eat twice: Prepare eight servings for a family of four, and freeze four servings for a quick and easy future meal.
  •  Keep your kitchen clean, so foods will not be cross contaminated or spoil; foods that are wasted are food dollars thrown away. 
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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