Outsmart your supermarket

Save big bucks on groceries when you shop

If your household is like others, your second-biggest monthly expenditure-behind your rent or mortgage-goes toward food. Fortunately, there are several ways to drastically reduce your spending on this “here today, gone tomorrow” consumer category, particularly on your supermarket run. Here are some tips:

  • Stick to the basics. “The more processed and prepared a food item is, the more it will cost you,” advises Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (www.cspinet.org), Washington, D.C. “You can make just about any dish much cheaper if you make it from scratch.” Also planning more meatless meals will be better for your diet and your wallet.
  • Maintain a price book. Track the prices of your most frequently purchased products from three different stores, advises Mary Hunt, author of Debt-Proof Living (Broadman & Holman Publishers, $14.95). Also, don’t underestimate the savings you get from choosing no-frill brands.
  • Time your trips. Avoid shopping on the first of the month or before holidays. Also increase the time between your shopping trips. If you currently shop weekly, make your trips every 10 days or longer. You’ll spend less money and be more mindful of your purchases.
  • Beat supermarket display tricks. You’ll find the highest-priced items at eye level. Supermarkets also pile up end-of-aisle displays with products that are close to their expiration date, but are not necessarily on sale. Plus, items like chips, dips and soft drinks are grouped together to promote impulse buying. Also, beware of attractive displays that usually showcase higher-priced items. Staple goods-such as milk, eggs or bread-are placed in the back of the store to force you to browse.
  • Make a list. “Having a [shopping] list will keep you from being distracted by things you don’t really need,” suggests Jacobson. If you can’t resist impulse buying, limit yourself to three per shopping trip. That way, you can have fun and still stick to your budget.
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