I usually spend less than $100 a week buying groceries for my
family of four. And I don't use coupons -- ever.
Yes, there are some extreme couponers out there who manage to
spend next to nothing at the grocery store. But I don't have the
time it takes to be that sort of coupon pro -- nor would I benefit
from the effort because coupons usually aren't available for the
items I regularly buy.
SLIDE SHOW: 10 Ways to Save Money on Groceries
So I've found other ways to keep my grocery costs under control.
One reason I'm able to keep my weekly spending low is because I
don't live in a large metropolitan area, where prices are higher.
However, these ten tips should help you score savings wherever you
Choose the right store.
The bulk of my savings come from shopping at Walmart rather than
Kroger (the main options where I live). On average, my grocery bill
is 20% less when I shop at Walmart. I compared the prices at both
stores on 15 items I regularly buy and found that I paid $10 more
at Kroger ($53.87 versus $43.50). The bigger the shopping list, the
greater the savings.
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
magazine writers conducted a similar experiment and spent nearly
$20 less on the same basket of items at Trader Joe's than at Whole
Get the Best, Spend Less
It might seem a little time-consuming to actually run this
experiment yourself. But you only have to do it once -- and the
savings could be substantial. Think of it this way: If you were
buying a big-ticket item, such as a TV, you'd probably invest some
time to shop around and research prices. Although your weekly
grocery bill may not seem like a major expenditure, you're shelling
out $10,400 a year if you're spending $200 a week. That's a lot
more than most TVs -- which you could easily afford to buy if you
cut your weekly grocery bill in half.
Find alternatives for the most expensive items on your
The next time you go to the grocery, hang on to your receipt and
circle the most expensive items. Then, consider lower-cost
alternatives for those items to rack up real savings on future
shopping trips. For instance, red meat -- as you probably know --
isn't cheap. A package of four sirloin steaks costs three times as
much as a package of four chicken breasts. Pork is another
lower-cost alternative. (You'll be doing your waistline and heart a
favor, too, by cutting back on red meat.)
Other budget busters are organic items and pricey cheeses . But
you can lower the cost of these items if you comparison shop, opt
for generic brands, buy produce only when it's in season and become
more selective about the items you buy. For example, the Whole
Foods 365 brand tends to be cheaper than name-brand organics. Even
the Walmart where I shop offers organic items -- and they're
cheaper than at Kroger. Plus, I tend to buy organic only for
produce that is most susceptible to pesticide residue (such as
apples , lettuce and potatoes � see the Environmental
list of the dirty dozen
) or antibiotics and hormones (such as milk and eggs). Buying
frozen veggies (even organic ones) also can be a big money saver,
especially considering they won't go bad if you don't eat them
within a week. And I save by buying fruits and vegetables when
they're in season -- otherwise, they can cost twice as much. As for
the fancy cheese, consider it a treat and buy it sparingly.
Before you shop, plan your menu for the week.
This will limit the trips you make to the grocery, as well as
impulse buys. A colleague of mine says he and his wife rarely plan
more than a couple of days' worth of meals for their family of
four. As a result, they go to the store almost every other day and
spend at least twice as much on groceries as my family does each
The Web site
makes it easy to create a grocery list, which you can access on any
phone (not just a smart phone) while you're shopping. If you do
have a smart phone, you can use it to scan items you have at home
that you need to purchase, and they'll automatically be added to
your list. Plus, the site has more than 300,000 recipes, provides
recipe recommendations based on ones you've already chosen and will
add the ingredients you need to buy for recipes you select to your
shopping list. Just be sure to make your grocery list while you're
at home so you can scan your refrigerator and pantry to see what
you actually need.
Use what you have.
This goes hand-in-hand with planning. Use what you have so it
doesn't go bad and you don't waste gas money on an unnecessary trip
to the grocery store . The cooking site
can help you find ways to use food items you already have. (See
Lower Your Grocery Costs
for more information.)
Skip prepared and convenience foods.
Don't pay extra for the grocery store to do your kitchen chores for
you. For instance, I tend to buy my vegetables in their natural
form -- rather than washed, cut and packaged in sealed bags --
because they're cheaper that way. For example, butternut squash
recently was $1.28 per pound, but the diced, 12-ounce packaged
version was about $1 more at the same store. And I stay away from
the prepared food section of the store because you pay a premium
for salads and other dishes already made for you. I also don't buy
prepackaged meals, such as Lunchables ($3 to $4 each), because it's
cheaper to buy bread, cheese and deli meat, and assemble sandwiches
on my own (which don't take much time to make).
Stock up when items you
buy go on sale.
Some people advocate planning your weekly menu around what's on
sale at the grocery. But this approach can backfire for a few
reasons. Although on sale, these items still might be pricier than
things you normally would buy . And you might end up with a lot of
food you don't know how to prepare or that few people in your
family will actually eat. Instead, I recommend that when items you
regularly buy go on sale, stock up. Don't think of that sale as a
one-time opportunity to get a single helping of your favorite food
for less. If the item has a long shelf life (or if you have room to
freeze it), buy several and score big savings.
Check unit prices.
Make sure you're really getting the most bang for your buck by
checking items' unit price, which most stores display. This price
typically shows how much you're paying per ounce and can point you
to the better deal. For example, my kids like frozen waffles and I
tend to buy a package of ten each week -- overlooking the larger
package because of its higher sticker price. But when I bothered to
check the unit price on the 24-pack, I realized I was missing a
good deal: 13.4 cents per ounce versus 18.1 cents per ounce for the
10-pack. For some items, though, you'll get a better deal buying
several smaller packages rather than one large package. That's why
you should always look at unit price.
Buy certain items in bulk .
We pay a lot less buying toilet paper, paper towels, laundry
detergent, batteries, rice and pasta in bulk at the warehouse club
Warehouse Clubs: Deal or No Deal?
). We also buy chicken breasts at the warehouse club because the
package of a dozen we get there is usually several dollars less
packages at the grocery store. Notice, these are items that are
nonperishable or that can be frozen. We don't buy bulk items that
will go bad before we can eat the entire amount.
Name-brand items, which tend to be more expensive, usually are
placed at eye-level. So when you're shopping, look down (or up) for
cheaper items, including generics. Yes, I'm loyal to a few brands.
But for most items, especially canned goods, I'll scan the bottom
shelf to find them several cents to several dollars cheaper than
their strategically placed name-brand equivalents.
Don't buy personal-care products at the grocery.
Unless you do your grocery shopping at a SuperTarget or a Walmart
Supercenter, you're better off buying shampoo, toothpaste, cotton
balls and other personal-care products at a drugstore or dollar
store, where they're cheaper.
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