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Smart Ways to Reduce Food Shopping Expenses

September 2008

Katheen Morgan, D.M.H, D.T.R., Chair, Family and Community Health Sciences Department
Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Extension Specialist in Financial Resource Management
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

During these times of high food and fuel prices, you might be asking yourself “What can I do to save money?” A smart spending plan at the grocery store is one way to make ends meet. It just takes a little time and know-how to put into practice. Below are some specific money-saving ideas to consider:

Know How Much You’re Spending - When you spend $60 at the supermarket one week and $100 the next, you may not realize that your monthly grocery bill is one of your biggest expenses. Save your receipts and analyze them. You will be amazed at how much you spend on groceries and how much you can save by shopping more carefully. Take the time to create a food budget and follow it.

Plan Every Shopping Outing - Experts say that planning meals in advance and making detailed shopping lists can cut your grocery spending by 20 percent or more. Check your pantry before you go shopping to be sure of what you need. Review store flyers and build your list around what’s on sale and the best coupon deals. Buying in bulk, when possible, can often help save money in the long run.

Stick to Your List - Grocery stores are designed to entice you to buy more with irresistible marketing. By sticking to a list, you will only purchase what you need and “get in and get out” of the store quickly.

Do Not Shop on an Empty Stomach - If you go to a supermarket hungry, you will most likely purchase more food than you need, including expensive items. As your mother said years ago and food shopping experts all agree, “Never go food shopping when you’re hungry.”

Leave Young Kids at Home, if Possible - Young children want all of the products that are marketed to them and conveniently placed at their “eye” level. Avoid potential in-store battles and try to shop alone.

Break Yourself of “Brand Habits” - Generic or store brands are generally better buys. Basic commodities such as sugar, flour, tomato sauce, and paper towels are often indistinguishable when the label is removed.

Go Easy on Highly Processed Foods in Expensive Packaging- Buy the basics and add your own sugar, spices, condiments, and sauces. You’ll save 50 percent or more, and feel much more creative. The closer a food is to its natural state, the less it tends to cost.

Beware of End Caps - Food items on aisle “end caps” are often attractively displayed to entice shoppers to make additional purchases; these displays are not always a shopper’s bargain.

Look Up, Look Down - Items on the upper and lower shelves are often cheaper. Big brands often pay big bucks for eye-level shelf space.

Don’t Do All Your Shopping at the Supermarket - Toiletries, for instance, are usually cheaper at discount stores. A little comparison shopping could save you a lot of money.

Buy Fruits and Vegetables in Season - Stock up when items are cheap. Check out local farmer's markets.

Avoid Food Shopping at Convenience Stores - They are generally more expensive than supermarkets.

Don’t Pay Interest on Food Bought With Credit Cards - This only increases the cost of food even more.