SAVE ON GROCERIES

(without Clipping Coupons)

 

Feel like you’re shelling out more to stock the pantry lately?  It’s not your imagination: In 2016, Americans spent about $668 billion on groceries: over $100 billion than as recently as 2010.  Here’s how to cut spending and still love what you eat.

 

Shop at more than one store.  Ticking every box at single location is tempting, but it’ll cost you.  Never pay full price at the grocery store for things like laundry detergent, paper products, cleaning supplies and personal-care items.  That merchandise is typically cheaper on line, at bulk membership clubs, or at discount retailers like Target and Walmart.  Jot down essentials, consult circulars and websites for sales.  Always make a list: nearly one-third of shoppers surveyed don’t.  Then separate the items on your list by store so you can get in and out quickly and avoid overbuying.

Don’t dawdle.  Time really is money.  The average shopper spends about $3 per minute in the store.  Try setting a timer on your phone for say, 25 minutes.  Avoid shopping on Saturday, the busiest day of the week, but if you must shop then, go near opening or closing time. 

Think seasonally.  Buy in-season fresh produce to avoid overpaying for import costs.  Case in point: the price of strawberries can more than double following the peak harvest months in spring and summer, usually topping out in December, January and February.  To know what’s growing near you, hit the farmer’s market, especially at closing time, when vendors are more amenable to negotiating.  Or simply plug in the month and your state at seasonalfoodguide.org.  If there is something you simply can’t live without, look to frozen produce, which is lower-priced all year round, and just as healthy.

Meal-plan like crazy.  As much as 40% of food in the U.S. ends up in the trash!  To reduce waste, plan meals with a common denominator: chicken, or an array of vegetables, that can go with any of the meals you might serve. 

Stop throwing shade at store brands.  Many consumers avoid store brands because there is a misconception that they’re lower quality.  But over the last decade, many retailers have introduced mid-tier and premium store brands that are comparable to name brands (often even made by the same manufacturer). 

Avoid prepared foods.  You’ll always save by buying the most basic form of an item and doing your own slicing, shredding, and peeling.  If there is no chance you’ll get around to making that salad unless your vegetables come pre-washed in the bag, then be honest with yourself about portions and purchase accordingly.

Turn a blind eye to displays.  Ever notice how endcaps seem to magically anticipate your desires?  Retailers assume you’ll spot an item there, grab it and mark it off your list without doing any price comparisons.  Ditto for cross-promotional displays, such as steak sauce at a butcher counter.  The items are rarely a decent value.  If you really need the extras, check the correct aisle.

Be mindful at checkout.  With all the overpriced candy and lifestyle items, it’s not hard to see why it’s reportedly the most profitable part of the store.  It’s perfectly fine to budget in some splurge items.  Just don’t load up your cart with extras on the fly.  Switching to self-checkout could help. 

 

***Three things worth the added expense:

 

*Extra virgin olive oil: Since it’s exposed to less heat during production than cheaper olive oils, it’s healthier for you and tastes better.   To make sure you’re getting pure extra virgin olive oil that hasn’t been diluted with lesser oils like rapeseed, check for a term like ‘stone-pressed’, or ‘cold-pressed’ or ‘unfiltered’ on the bottle.

*Certified organic and certified humane chicken: The term ‘certified organic’ guarantees that the birds are given organic feed, allowed exercise and access to outdoors, and raised without antibiotics.  We should all be worried about the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.  Bonus points for phrases like ‘no anti-biotics ever’ on the package, since even organic chicken can be given antibiotics while still in the shell.

*Select fruits and vegetables: Buy organic whenever the skin or peel of the vegetable or fruit is edible.  Don’t worry about produce with hard, edible skins like bananas and avocados.  But if organic is too pricey, keep in mind that it’s still healthier to eat nonorganic produce than to skip it altogether.

Ingela Ratledge