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Tips for saving big on groceries

Posted: February 28, 2009 1:24 a.m.
Updated: February 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Where to shop
If you are a single or a couple, shopping at a discount warehouse may not make sense. While buying in bulk may be the cheapest on a per ounce or unit level, it won't matter if you don't use up the product or worse, let it spoil. Instead, consider shopping at:
Discount grocery stores, including those where all items are $1 or less.

Farmer's markets, where you can get fresh produce inexpensively and in small portions.

Regular grocery stores, after scanning for weekly specials and cutting coupons.

However, if there are items you know you'll use every day or can split larger items with another family or person, buying in bulk may be a cost-effective option for the smaller household. (For example, a 24-oz box of Grape Nuts can cost up to $4 at regular grocery stores while a 4-lb box at Smart & Final was priced at $6.79. If you like to eat the same breakfast every day, it's worth buying the big box).

For larger families, bulk shopping can be very cost-effective, especially if you immediately vacuum pack or freeze unused items. By buying five pounds of meat or more and consolidating into individual servings, you can often save up to 50 percent off smaller packages. (Membership fees are often associated with warehouse stores, so make sure to account for the annual dues when calculating savings).

Scan for specials
Go shopping only once a week, as most grocery stores have weekly specials, including savings on meat, seafood, produce, and non-perishable items.

Scan the specials closely and make a list of any items usually found on your grocery list. Then plan on buying extra and stocking up for later. If chicken happens to be on sale, add a few extra packages to your cart and freeze them. Same goes for fruits and vegetables, which are often at their most inexpensive while in season. Get an extra pound or two, wash and cut, then freeze in plastic bags.

Sign up for any free card membership programs that offer extra savings and keep an out for those offers throughout the store and in the weekly flyer.

Make a list, check it twice
One way to thwart impulse buys is to make a detailed list/budget and vow not to go over it. Be thorough and account for stocking up on sales items, but don't get sidetracked by the shiny, happy things stores put on end caps or by cash registers. Stick to the plan.

Cut coupons
Check the Sunday Signal for manufacturer's coupons, which can significantly reduce your grocery total. Online, you can download free coupons at www.smartsource.com or www.couponmom.com.

Only use coupons for items on your list. It's not a savings to add extra expense to your weekly budget, even if it is a great "deal."

Bring a calculator
Add up your grocery items as you shop by bringing a calculator to the store. This will help you from sticker shock at the register, especially if you find yourself throwing unnecessary extras into your cart.

Buy store brand, generic or bulk items
Some stores offer offer bulk bins of items such as rice, beans and nuts, which are much cheaper than their individually packaged, brand name counterparts. You control the weight and ultimately, what you pay.

When it comes to frozen, canned, or boxed foods, you can save a lot by purchasing a store or generic brand version of name-brand items, as generic and store brands can cost 20 to 40 percent less, with little to no reduction in quality.

Avoid convenience foods
Convenience items come with a high price. Instead of buying a pre-cut bag of veggies, do the work yourself and you'll save up to 40 percent.

Prepared foods, such as dinners-in-a-bag or box, may also be a little faster to get to the table, but you'll spend a lot more than you would if making the dish from scratch. Going homemade is also a lot healthier, as you can cut down on the sodium and fat often found in prepared foods.

Keep a well-stocked pantry/freezer
Avoid the impulse purchase by keeping a pantry full of essential ingredients and a freezer full of already prepared, homemade meals.

A well-stocked pantry includes pasta, canned and dried beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, tuna, chicken broth or bouillon, roasted red peppers, bread crumbs, vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, soy and Worcestershire sauce. (Check out the 99 Cent Store for great bargains on some of these).

Don't forget the spices - salt, pepper, lemon pepper, garlic salt, oregano, chili powder, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes make for a good base. (Spices at Vallarta Market start at 79 cents each).

For the ultimate in fast healthy food, make double portions of whatever you cook and freeze one. You can then pull out an item, defrost in the fridge or on the counter, put in the oven or microwave, and viola - dinnertime! (Two helpful cookbooks on this topic are "You've Got It Made," by Diane Phillips and "Can I Freeze It?" by Susie Theodorou).

Go meatless a few times a week
Since beef, poultry, pork, and fish are often the most expensive items at the grocery store, consider switching to a meatless protein two or more times per week. Tofu, for example, costs approximately $1.50 to $2 for a 16 oz. carton and can be used in place of meat in your favorite stew, curry, soup, or stir fry. (For free vegetarian recipes, check out www.bestveg.com)

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