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Save money on your grocery bill: Psychological and other tricks to get the best buys

Supermarkets stock thousands of products — yet, according to Michael McBurney at the Kellogg Company, customers typically make at least half of their purchases from a list of only about 150 products. “Their other purchases often are impulse buys that can add to the grocery bill unnecessarily,” said Mary Meck Higgins, Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition specialist. “Impulse purchases also can increase when shoppers are hungry or shop without a list.”

Save money on groceries

Be smarter than the grocery store — and save money

People usually can trim grocery bills and still eat well, said Higgins, who offers these shopping and cost-saving tips:


Study the layout of the supermarket. The basics — fresh produce, dairy products, meats, and bakery items usually are arranged on the perimeter (outer wall) of the store. More costly processed foods, such as snack foods, cereals and mixes, usually are on interior aisles. Frozen food cases are grouped, often in center aisles. “Organize the shopping list to match the layout of the store to minimize time needed to retrace steps and to decrease impulse purchases,” she says.

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Observe product placement. More expensive products usually are placed on middle shelves, within easy reach. Less expensive foods (store brands, for example) are placed high and low, where they are not so easily reached. “The old saying, ‘Look high or low to save dough’ still fits,” Higgins says.

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Check prices on product displays. Store displays, including those at the end of the aisles, do not always feature sale products. Use a grocery receipt to make a note of prices paid for frequently-used items on a master shopping or price list. Take the list of prices and the grocery list when you shop, or note price and brand on a computer- generated list that can be printed and used as the basis for weekly shopping lists. Use it to verify bargain prices.

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Keep a running grocery list at home to avoid return trips for forgotten items. Reducing the number of trips saves time and money because shoppers rarely limit their purchases to one item. It’s time-consuming and not always profitable to ‘store hop’ for only the specials. A warehouse or discount store is unlikely to have the lowest price on all products, however. Higgins advises shoppers to consider time, money and convenience.

>> Printable grocery shopping list


Check prices and products in supermarket advertisements, inserts or fliers. Shop the specials and use coupons only if you will save money by doing so. Limit purchases to products that can realistically be stored or used. Prices on multiple sales, such as 10 cans for $10, may be pro-rated per can.

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Other marketing strategies may or may not produce a cost savings, Higgins says. “Buy one, get one free” sounds good, but often the “one” is being marketed at an increased price. A loss leader is a product — a name brand cereal, for example — that a store is willing to sell at cost or less to attract customers who will buy other products while in the store. Brand name items usually cost more than store brands, but are not always better quality.

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Use cost-savings to your advantage. Buy a larger quantity — 10 pounds of ground beef, for example — and immediately re-package the meat in family-sized packages before storing or freezing.

>> The healthy eater’s guide to grocery shopping


Eat seasonal foods that cost less because there are large supplies available — fresh lettuce, spinach or strawberries in late spring and early summer or apples, squash or sweet potatoes in the fall.

>> Why seasonal organic is better


Can’t make up your mind about which product to buy? Higgins advises reading labels and checking unit prices or cost per serving or use: A one-pound boneless roast will yield four servings; a bone-in roast with the same weight and cost will only yield three servings.

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To save the most money, shop alone, at a time when a store will be stocked but not crowded — perhaps early in the morning or during the week. “While it’s true that each additional person can add expense, there is value in encouraging a child to choose a fruit or vegetable to try or to learn more about where food comes from,” said Higgins, who prefers to shop with a partner, either one of her children or her husband. “Inviting a family member to accompany you provides one-on-one time that can be educational. Family members can sometimes spot bargains that I might miss,” Higgins said.

>> How to prepare for the grocery store


Look ahead to the week for which you are buying groceries as you make a list. “If the family is attending a school or community event at 6:30pm, but not everyone will arrive home before 5:45pm, plan a meal around leftovers that can be reheated quickly or buy food to make sandwiches. Reserve recipes that require more preparation for the days when time is available,” says Higgins, who encourages cooking once and eating twice. “Doubling a recipe or cooking a larger quantity can save time and money. Wrap, label, date and freeze leftovers — I prefer to call them ‘planned overs’ — for a future meal,” she says.


More great money-saving tips & tricks:

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