With today’s unstable economy and prices on almost all consumer goods rising at an alarming rate, many Americans are finding balancing their budgets to be an increasingly difficult task. And while there are many luxuries that can be cut back on and sacrifices that can be made there are some things that just cannot be forgone, and groceries fall into that “necessities” category.
With some sources predicting that the average family’s grocery bill will increase as much as 4% over what it was in 2010, many Americans will no doubt be looking for ways to come out ahead at the checkout line. Fortunately, there are some measures grocery shoppers can take that will help them stretch their dollars at the checkout.
Before you even leave your house you can take steps to make the most of your grocery budget. Look through your pantry and refrigerator and see what’s there and what’s missing. Check sell-by dates and throw out old items so you have a better idea of what you need. Do this on a regular basis and you will also get a feel for what your household does and doesn’t consume, thus saving you even more money.
When you are done tossing expired items only then should you make your shopping list. Some people even go so far as to make menus ahead of time so they know exactly what they will need for the week’s meals, a trick that can really help focus shopping.
Once out of the kitchen, flip through the newspaper for the weekly supermarket fliers and coupons. Mark items in the fliers that are on your list and clip appropriate coupons. Try to stick to what you need and what you know you will consume and use.
You can also find great coupon sites online. Many grocers will also honor other store’s flier specials and manufacturer’s coupons, so ask. Organize your list, fliers, and coupons so that you aren’t unprepared when you get to the store.
If you are a member of a cost saving club such as Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s, compare their prices on non-perishable items that you can use in bulk. Often you can save big on items such as paper products, cleaning supplies, over the counter pharmaceuticals, and toiletries at these clubs. Likewise, some of the larger grocery store chains offer member reward cards that provide discounts on selected items.
When shopping, if there are sections or aisles that don’t have items on your list, skip those altogether – impulse items can add up quickly and if you have made your list up correctly, you don’t need anything that’s not on it. When you can buy the house brand items as those are often significantly cheaper than brand names and, let’s face it, a can of green beans is a can of green beans.
Similarly, remember to scan the bottom shelves for bargains – stores strategically place more expensive items at eye level. Finally, look at store “specials” carefully, as some aren’t always the best deal. There are some “buy one, get one free” specials, for example, where the “one” you pay for actually costs more than two of the same item costs at the store across the street.
If you live somewhere where produce stands or farmer’s markets abound you have options beyond the local grocery store. In addition to often being able to get fresher fruits and veggies at a lower price, you have the added benefit of knowing you are helping your local agriculture thrive. Get to know your local seller and sometimes you will be rewarded with discounted goods just for being a repeat customer.
No matter where you shop, storing your goods is an equally important step in food procurement. Money is wasted when good food gets lost in a cupboard or refrigerator or goes bad prematurely due to improper storage. Once you get home be sure to store your new purchases in a manner that will prolong their shelf-life and keep them from being overlooked or lost.
If you aren’t going to cook meat within a few days, freeze it. Veggies and fruits that are kept refrigerated will keep longer and stay fresher. Storing coffee grounds, cereals, and grains in air tight canisters will keep them from going stale as fast.
With a little preparation before heading to the store, grocery shopping can be less of a hassle and can help lessen the strain on your budget. By planning ahead, only buying what’s needed, and saving and storing less perishable items, savvy shoppers can find ways to cut costs without sacrificing their needs and wants, even in the most unstable economy.