You'd have to be living in a vacuum to have not noticed the continuous rising cost of food this year. According to the Labor Department, within the first three months of 2008, milk prices rose by 26% and eggs by 40%. Traditionally, most U.S. households spend between 15-20% of their household budgets on groceries. With the cost of food rising, consumers are going to have to use every tool in their arsenal to stretch their food budgets.
Contrary to popular belief, grocery shopping does not begin at the supermarket, there's pre-planning involved. Use this time to evaluate how effective your current way of shopping is working for you. Some people prefer to shop weekly for super-fresh staples, while others think bi-weekly shopping to replenish staples, or monthly shopping to stock up and get it done at once works best. There are many takes on how often to shop - but the one that works best for your family and provides you with the most food for your financial outlay, is the clear winner. Here are a few more tips to maximizing your savings:
1. Make a List!
I bet you've experienced it more than once. A trip to the supermarket for a few "easy to remember items," that turned into three bags of groceries and only half the items from your so-called remembered list - because you'd forgotten them until you got home and went looking for the missing items! A grocery list is both a time saver and a money saver.
Many people scoff at the idea of coupons, but with discipline they can be huge savers when it's time to checkout at the grocery store. Why discipline? Simply, clipping coupons for a ton of products you don't already use will only increase spending at checkout. While sticking to products you do use and clipping the occasional coupon for a product you'd like to try, you can truly stretch your budget, especially when stores double and triple coupons up to $1. Find an inexpensive way to store your coupons and leave them where they are readily available. For instance, clip coupons from the paper on Sunday and put your coupon organizer in the car on Monday so it's available when you go shopping.
3. Newspaper Sales Flyers
Supermarkets are not the only places to find deals on groceries. Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, and local hardware and drug stores have deals that put most grocery stores to shame each week. When checked regularly, the savings can seriously add up for items as diverse as cleaning supplies, yogurt, motor oil and frozen goods - all from Target! If you don't want to subscribe to your local Sunday paper, there are many free coupon sites online like CoolSavings.com and Smartsource.com, where coupons specific to your area are available to print to take to the store. Did you know that Target.com offers a list of weekly store specials and downloadable coupons for local stores?
4. Pick the Best Day
Who knew there was a better day to shop than others, and we're not talking about crowd control! Most people shop Thursday through Sunday, and these are often the worse days to shop. Lines are long, food has been sitting in the store for a few days and many items have been picked over and selections are slim. The day after store delivery is the best day to go shopping. Your store personnel will be more than happy to divulge this information to you.
5. The Best Value of the Day
Ever notice the "reduced" stickers on meats in the supermarket? These are some of the best deals around. Grocery stores are not allowed to sell meat beyond their expiration date, so they are reduced for quick sale the day before, or the day of expiration. If you are using them the same day, or are careful about freezing them upon bringing them home, values like $1 per pound is not unheard of for prime cuts of meat.
6. Quantity, Quantity, Quantity!
If freezer room is not an issue, or a family is rather large, big pack, club pack, or value pack shopping is the way to go. At a local supermarket, boneless chicken breasts were $4.29/lb. for three breasts which totaled $6.82, while big packs were $2.89/lb for eleven breasts which totaled $15.41. Big packs are also a much more affordable way to purchase seafood. A pound of fish can be purchased for $7-$8 while club packs (typically two pounds or more) can typically be purchased for $4 - $6 per pound - a substantial savings.
7. Beware of the Bait & Switch!
Pay attention to prices on the shelves and at the specialty counters. Many shoppers simply grab what they need from the list and ignore prices and most importantly unit pricing. Shoppers often do not notice that a gallon of lemonade is $3.89, but two half gallon lemonades are $1.49 each, or that three 8 oz., cans of tomato sauce cost $0.99, but one 16 oz. can costs $1.29. In the deli section, pay attention to per pound prices. Many delis display prices per the half-pound to avoid sticker-shock. However, the shock then occurs at checkout when consumers discover a pound of roast beef cost $7.98, instead of the $3.49 that was displayed!
8. Cash & Calculator
One of the biggest money savers is to use cash! You know the adage, "you can't spend what you don't have" - cash typically eliminates overspending at the grocery store when coupled with a calculator. Consumers can keep a huge handle on spending and stay within budget.
Tip: Did you know?
According to research, frozen vegetables can be healthier than fresh vegetables because they are frozen at the height of freshness, while fresh fruits and vegetables are being transported or sit on shelves when they are in their prime. Frozen vegetables are also more affordable than fresh and store brands are typically much cheaper than name brands and no different in quality.