There is something unspeakably satisfying about saving money at the supermarket. Whether it's cashing in coupons or taking advantage of super sales, when you get home and put your groceries away, you can't help but feel smug about deliciously feeding your family and being frugal. Consumer Reports (CR) wants you to keep on saving and shares these top ten shopping secrets to spend less and get more.
Top 10 tips to save money on groceries
1. Make a list and stick to it
Navigating the grocery store with a grocery list not only saves you time, it will keep you from overbuying. Commit to follow your list and bypass items you simply want – but don't need. Manufacturers are skilled at making their products attractive and irresistible with fancy packaging and healthy claims, but that doesn't mean you can't live without their products…if they aren't on your list.
If you really think you need the extra items, write them on your list for next time. Their allure may wane once you leave the supermarket. CR also advises against shopping when hungry – if your stomach is demanding food, you may be tempted to overbuy. Buying right then will not fill your belly (unless you dive right in while shopping) – and it has the possibility to empty your wallet.
2. Consider store brands
Store brands tend to be significantly cheaper and they are often at least as good as their brand-name counterparts. According to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, one in five products purchased in grocery outlets is a store brand product.
And according to Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert, store brands are cheaper because supermarkets spend less money on store brand advertising and packaging, passing the savings on to you. In some cases, the savings are almost 50 percent. Lempert recommends checking the ingredient list to make sure the store brand is like the name brand product and, best yet, if you don't like it, take it back. Supermarkets usually offer a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. Don't be afraid to try something new, you might even like store brands better…especially if they save you money.
3. Compare prices in different areas of the store
Cheese at the deli counter, for example, is often – but not always – pricier than sliced or chunked cheese in the dairy case. The deli usually has weekly specials on featured meats and cheeses – sometimes your favorites and sometimes cold cuts you haven't tried. If you are used to buying honey ham but the turkey pastrami is half the price, opt for the turkey pastrami and give your palate a new taste.
4. Weigh the cost of convenience
Consumers who opt for single-serving portions or prepped and precut foods may find themselves paying more for these products. Buying a bag of whole carrots and using your food processor to shred them instead of buying shredded carrots is more economical. Same goes for other vegetables, fruits, and cheeses.
Instead of paying for convenience, take 10 to 15 minutes to cut and prep your food and package it up in resealable plastic bags or food containers. If you are pressed for time, go ahead and prep your food and then follow these top 10 cooking secrets for simple family meals.
5. Evaluate endcaps
Isn't it hard to resist checking out the products facing you before you enter the aisle? You may think that because these products are specially located, they must be on sale. However, they aren't always a bargain. CR warns that products displayed at the ends of aisles may not be on sale or they may be expiring soon. Before you put an endcap product in your shopping cart, check the price and the expiration date.
6. Compare unit prices
Big packages are often more economical, but not always. Comparing unit prices (per ounce, etc.) is especially important when one size is on sale. Keep a small handheld calculator in your purse to make sure the "great deal" on the shelf is actually a money-saver.
It is tempting to grab the 12-roll package of paper towels when they are on sale – how could they not be cheaper in the long run – but make sure, first, the single rolls are more expensive, and, second, you have room in your pantry or kitchen to store them. Another thing to keep in mind is that big-box stores are not always the cheapest places to buy groceries. Stores, like Costco, will have some items for sale at cheaper prices but not all their products will be better buys.
7. Clip coupons
Check out the Sunday newspaper inserts or visit Web sites such as CoolSavings, Valpack, and SmartSource to print out coupons. However, CR warns not to buy products you normally wouldn't buy just because you have a coupon for it. Though, if you are looking to replace products you typically buy, coupons are a good incentive. Clip coupons and keep them in a coupon envelope arranged in order of expiration – use the coupons expiring sooner before the coupons expiring later.
8. Get a store card
With a preferred-shopper card, you can receive automatic discounts on products in the store circular without clipping coupons – but you can also use your clipped coupons to save even more.
9. Not all items advertised in circulars are on sale
Do you eagerly grab the store circular from the Wednesday or Sunday paper (or as soon as you walk into the store), looking for great buys? CR warns that manufacturers may have paid for the placement of their products, giving them extra exposure but not necessarily giving you extra savings. Compare prices and make sure there aren't cheaper alternatives, like store brands or other name brands that are not in the circular.
10. Beware of last-minute temptations
Single-serving snacks at the checkout counter cost more than the multipacks of like items along the aisles. Besides that, the snacks at the checkout counter are typically junk food, high in calories, carbohydrates and fat – you will be better off skipping the single serving grabs and making your own 100-calorie snacks.
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