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Friday, December 5, 2008

10 Grocery Gains

This post has been included in the Festival of Frugality at Greener Pastures. After you've had a look around here, stop by and see the suggestions for cheap tacky Christmas chic at this fun festival.

Photo by ralphbijker

Have you noticed that despite the dramatically lower price of gas at the pump these days, the price of groceries has not fallen? It don't get it. This summer the rationale for rising food prices was higher fuel costs. Economists call that "sticky" pricing. Once consumers prove they will pay a higher price, suppliers have no incentive to lower the price again.

The continuing high prices at the supermarket and the incredible shrinking package sizes are getting on my nerves these days. Nora Dunn at Wisebread had a good post a couple of months ago on "Supermarket Shopping for Savers."

We employ a couple of additional strategies:

1) Use a Store Discount Card


Shop at one store for most of your purchases, bring your store card, and stock up on sale items, BUT ONLY IF IT IS SOMETHING YOU ROUTINELY USE. If you forgot your card, the clerk may swipe a counter-card for you. If you're buying groceries away from home, ask the cashier if there is a guest card program.

2) Explain Unit Pricing to the Kidlets.

They get a free math lesson, and you get a reminder the unit prices as well. For example, I was surprised this week to discover that fresh precut pineapple and a fresh whole pineapple were about $3.99 per edible pound, but that canned pineapple was on sale for $1.20 a pound. I would have thought fresh would be cheaper. I guess it depends on the time of year, your climate and how far the produce has to travel without spoiling.

3) Scan It.

If your store offers them, consider scanning your own groceries with a handheld scanner. I fought this the way my parents fought answering machines and ATMs, but I think I'm finally getting on board. The best part about it is that you get a running total of your order, so you don't spend more than your budget. It also automatically gives you the store card discount on any sale items.
I find it very satisfying to know that I can generally save 10-15% off my order by buying stuff on sale. (This from somebody who thinks clipping coupons is for the birds.) Beware, though, that the pop-up ads don't tempt you into impulse buys. Some special prices are only available to scanner users, but again, it's only a good deal if it is something you were already going to buy.

Photo by Belinda Hankins Miller

4) Think Small.

Just stopping for bread, milk, and eggs? Don't get a cart. If you have two cars, take the smaller one to the store for routine trips.

5) Don't Let the List Limit You.

Use a list yes, but be flexible enough to buy stuff on sale. For example, we use the chile/taco/sloppy joe type seasoning packs for last minute meals. They keep forever. So when there's a sale, we stock up, even if it wasn't on the list. The key is only to buy sale stuff you use all the time (or stuff that is a substitute for what you normally buy).

6) Think hard about buying in bulk.
It may be cheaper to buy a gallon of ketchup, if it's going to take two years to use it all up, maybe you'd rather have a smaller bottle and more cash in your pocket now. This principle applies even if the miracle food has a long shelf life.

7) Stoop for savings.

The stores will place the most expensive merchandise at eye level (or worse, kid eye level). Reach up or lean down to buy less expensive stuff.



Photo by Jeff Keen

8) Let the Kids Help

If they're choosing the next thing on the list and checking unit prices, they aren't bugging you for Green Slimy Monster Cereal. Set a limit in advance that they can each choose one item (Cereal is a good place to let them go, if the no-sugar-bombs rule is in play.)

9) Use the Cell Phone

Mr. Poorhouse and I text lists to each other all the time when we need to pick up a few things after work. It keeps us from getting the wrong thing and forgetting the right thing. That can save the gas for another trip.

10) Buy Marked Down Meat with Caution
Sure, a couple of dollars off on those nice looking steak tips looks great. But if it spoils, it wasn't much of a bargain. Only buy meat if you have a definite plan for when you are going to cook or freeze it.


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