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Saving Money On Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping seems simple enough, so why are Americans wasting more money, food, and time than ever before. The government says that the average family spends approximately 10% of their income on groceries and this is one area of most people’s budgets that isn’t a fixed cost.

We spend more on food each year (an average of $5,340) than on anything else besides our house and car. We don’t just walk into the nearest car dealership and pay full sticker price for a car, so why should we do that when buying groceries? We exhaustively research a house or car purchase, when spending just a little time planning our grocery shopping would actually save us more money.

“Americans have forgotten how to food-shop,” says Phil Lempert of, which tracks the industry. This generation has become more concerned with saving time than saving money.

Today households on average throw out 14% of the food they buy. Twenty years ago that number was only 7%. Compare this with our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, when time was spent each week planning menus so that nothing was ever wasted.

Today’s meal planning goes like this: It’s 4:00 p.m. and you haven’t thought about what’s for dinner. You try to think of something easy to make –- then stop by the grocery store on your way home for the ingredients. The next day it’s the same routine again.

However, with a little planning and understanding of how the grocery industry works you could easily save 15% or more on your grocery budget.

Grocery Industry
Most supermarkets are divided into 15 sections (from frozen foods to toiletries), and each week two of those sections are put on sale. So if you just buy what you need every week then you are overspending on 13 out of 15 categories. The smart shopper stocks up only on those items that are on sale each week (obviously there will always be some items that have to be bought on a weekly basis).

Grocery-store items typically follow a 12-week cycle — everything dips to its lowest price at some point during that time. The trick is to catch it at that low point, hopefully you can use a coupon to drop the price even lower, and then stock up! By following the trends, you can save hundreds of dollars each year.

Of course just because an item is in the store’s weekly sales flyer doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. In fact, about half the items in a typical weekly flier are actually on “phantom” sale. Many times the store doesn’t even drop the price of the advertised item, but people think that because it’s in the sales flyer it must be a good deal.

Manufacturers know that most people use the coupons they find in their Sunday paper right away. For that reason, you will rarely see a product on sale the same week that a coupon for that particular product is issued. By waiting a few weeks after the coupon has been issued, the product will likely go on sale giving you a sale discount in addition to a coupon discount. Getting a price reduction of some type in addition to the regular coupon is commonly referred to as “stacking” coupons.
To make the most of your coupons you need to:

• Hold onto coupons until the product you want also goes on sale.
• Check your local grocery store’s weekly flier to match your coupons with sale items.

Here are a couple of websites that can help you do this:
This subscription site provides you with a weekly list of products on sale at your local supermarket, cross-referenced with the coupons in your Sunday circulars. It then identifies which items are real deals and which are only phantom sales.

Cost: Four-week trial for $1; then $10 every eight weeks. (You can view the weekly Walgreen’s list for free)
This free site provides a list of the advertised items on sale at your local grocery store. It then pairs them with any matching grocery coupons from your city’s Sunday newspaper that haven’t expired yet.

Cost: Free

Additional Tips
Here are some additional tips to help you save on your grocery bill:

Skip the Shortcuts – The premium on shortcut foods (marinated chicken breasts, cut vegetables, washed lettuce) is enormous, so compare prices of the prepared version and the normal version, and then decide whether the premium is worth the time you’ll save.

Make lists – Take the time to do a quick inventory of your kitchen to determine what you need. Half of us don’t make shopping lists. That’s why we buy bags of food, but have nothing for dinner. Before you shop, plan your next three dinners. That way you won’t buy something you’ll use half of and then shove to the back of the fridge to compost.

Choosing the Right Store – No single store has everything at the lowest prices. So in order to save the most money you may have to visit 2-3 different stores.

Eat First – Grocery stores know the power of the sweet smell of freshly baked bread; that’s why they put the bakery close to the entrance. Everything looks good when you’re hungry.

Coupons! – You could save hundreds of dollars a year by taking advantage of product incentives. Even the less enthusiastic coupon clipper can shave an average of ten percent off their bottom-line by cashing in a small handful of coupons each trip.

Store Brands – Companies have worked hard to improve their private-label brands and buying them can save you an average of 40 percent off your annual grocery bill.

Avoid Impulse Buying – Restricting spontaneous shopping trips is one of the best deterrents to impulse buying. A well thought-out shopping list that you stick to will help cut-down on grabbing for things that you do not need. In addition, giving yourself enough time to shop will help prevent dashing in and reaching for the first item that you come to.

Comparison Shopping – To determine the true value of a product, read the unit price, not just the package price. The package price only tells you the cost of the entire item. The unit price shows the cost per pound, ounce, etc.

Beware of Marketing Strategies – Avoid marketing ploys designed to draw your attention to a particular product. Knowing some of the tricks of the trade will ultimately save you money. For example, higher priced and impulse products are generally placed on the middle shelves, because that’s what people see most.

Watch the Scanner – Keeping your eyes peeled to the scanner has dual advantages. First, it will keep the cashier more alert. Secondly, it will allow you to catch any incorrectly priced items.

Filed in: Budgeting, Family Finance

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