Grocery shopping takes a big bite out of most budgets. The average family of four spends nearly $6,000 a year at the supermarket. But you don’t have to. It’s easier to trim your grocery bill than to cut back on most other household expenses. Here’s how:
* Have a plan. Make a list before you leave home. Use the supermarket flyer from your mailbox or the store’s website to take advantage of weekly sales. But read it carefully. Don’t assume that every featured product is on sale. Manufacturers might have paid for placement.
* Get with the program. You usually have to sign up for a club card to get advertised sale prices. The programs are free, and some entitle you to extra members-only specials. A&P cardholders, for example, recently got 10 to 15 percent off their total bill of $100 or more, up to $30 savings on a $200 tab. At Price Chopper and Giant Food Stores, you can earn points toward discounted gas at the stores’ pumps and Shell gas stations.
* Pace your purchases. You rarely have to pay full price for the staples you buy again and again. Products go on sale at predictable intervals that are easy to figure out if you read your store’s flyer every week. For example, if you prefer Tropicana orange juice, you’ll notice it’s on sale every few weeks. So buy it during those times and save.
* Buy store brands. Most supermarkets offer their own private-label brands, which cost around 25 percent less than comparable big-name brands. We found that savings can be more than 50 percent. And private brands are no longer limited to canned fruit, frozen veggies, and paper towels. Stores are now putting their own names on cold cuts, baked goods, and fancy sauces. In our latest tests, most store-brand products scored as well as or better than their national counterparts.
* Clip and click coupons. Clip coupons for products you buy often. Savings will add up quickly if you redeem manufacturer and store coupons at the same time, a practice known as “stacking.” You can find coupons in weekly newspaper inserts, at the store, and increasingly on retailer websites. Go to sites like Coupons.com and CoolSavings.com to search for discounts. You’ll have to register to download and print coupons, which will generate loads of spam. So you might want to set up a separate e-mail account just for coupons. For more tips from coupon pros, check our report in the March issue of CR Money Adviser.
* Shop smarter. Stores use a variety of tactics to coax you into spending more. For example, shelves are often stocked with the priciest items at eye level. So check high and low for better deals. Be aware that products on aisle ends aren’t always on sale. Sometimes these “end caps” display new items at full price or stuff that’s about to expire. Check unit prices–the price per ounce, per quart, or per 100 sheets–to make sure you buy the most economical size. Larger packages aren’t always cheaper.
And don’t be lured into buying more than you want by “three for a dollar”sales. In most cases, you don’t have to buy the suggested quantity to get the discount.