Spend Smarter for Grocery and Household
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Spending Smarter for Grocery and Household Items

Excerpted from "The Money Instruction Book"
by Paul S. Richard - ICFE Executive Director

Nearly 32 cents out of every dollar spent by American families is for groceries and household items. The average is two trips a-week to the grocery store and one or more stops at a drug or discount store. People are spending money they could otherwise be saving for the future because they fail to compare, shop smart and get the best value.

Stores are cleverly set-up and well merchandised. Manufacturers and food producers fight for eye level space on the retailers shelves. They set up elaborate, eye catching displays. All of this is designed to one specific end. Get the shoppers to spend. There also companies that place merchandise in the stores specifically to induce impulse spending.

Consumers aren't defenseless!  There are several steps consumers can take to spend smarter, reduce the number of trips to the stores and overall spend less money on household and grocery items. "Many of our shopping techniques are habitual. For instance, going to the same stores, on the same days, buying the same products, not using a list or comparison shopping, going with others etc. 

Economizing on grocery and household items takes imagination, requires some financial self-discipline, practice and a little time to develop new habits. It will require full family participation. Having one spouse a saver and the other a spender equals no progress. It is also important for children to learn and understand the importance of spending smarter, comparing quality, price and value in addition to saving-up to buy the bigger items without borrowing. Here are twelve handy tips for grocery shopping:

1. Use a list when shopping. 

Put anything you want on the list, but don't add to the list once you get to the store. Using a list will help plan for your needs in advance, so take advantage of sale prices and avoid impulse purchases. "Go alone after a meal". If you go shopping hungry or with another, you're shopping for more than one appetite and the result is always increased spending.

2. Watch for store ads in the newspapers, your mail box and flyers distributed at the stores.

Check for sale prices on the items you regularly purchase. Compare prices with other stores, especially those you don't normally visit. Pay special attention to the days of the week the sale prices are in effect. For example some stores have no sale prices in effect on Mondays, traditionally a busy shopping day. Carefully plan purchases, noting on the list which items are sale priced and items where a coupon can be used.

3. Always spend cash.

Take time to get cash before going to the store. Nothing impacts our mind like taking cash from our wallet or purse. Many people who use credit cards rarely know how much was actually spent - until the statement comes. Many people who write checks simply do not take the time to calculate the balance and have no idea what is left over. Paying cash causes us to think ahead.

4. Take advantage of coupons and rebates, they do add up.

Shop at stores that doubles coupons and take the time to watch the papers for grocery coupons. Look for items on the shelf which also have coupons included inside the packages.

5. Always shop by the unit price at the stores.

In most states it's the law that retailers post the unit cost on the shelves. It used to be the larger the pack the better the price, but not always so these days. For example a 50 cent coupon, doubled on any size of soap detergent could make the smallest size the most economical in terms of least cash spent.

6. Avoid buying plastic bags for food storage or garbage disposal.

The stores give these away free. There are plastic bags available in the produce and meat sections. Separately bag each item and save them for reuse. When asked if you want either a paper or plastic bag ask for paper inside of a plastic bag and you have an ample supply of ready-made garbage bags.

7. Cleaning aids, cleansers etc. are very costly and prices vary greatly with the brands.

Some companies market a cleanser (and now specialty wipes - what a waste) for virtually every type of household project. The best cleanser in the kitchen, aside from powder is ammonia. No need to buy a brand name, ammonia is ammonia, if you want it soapy, then add some detergent. Another valueless item is dish soap promoted to be more gentle to hands or cuts grease better. If your hands are that sensitive, use the longer lasting rubber gloves and save money on detergent by using generic brands. Hot water and any detergent will cut grease.

8. Plan meals in advance. 

Keep in mind wise use of leftovers or freezing for later use when purchasing meats, etc. and making pasta dishes for example. Consider buying meat items you use regularly in bigger quantity, freezing for later use the portions not needed the week you buy them. This can save you up to 20 percent.

9. Avoid prepackaged items.

Cereals, breads, desserts, juices, beverages etc., mixed and prepared at home are always a better value than prepackaged items. The same is true for pet foods and many experts agree dry pet food mixed with water is better than canned food.

10. Be cautious about adding non-food items to the grocery list. 

These include health and beauty items, paper and plastics, utensils, brooms, brushes, film, etc. These items have the highest profit margin for most grocers, which is exactly why they are prominently displayed in the stores. Usually a better value can be obtained at discount drug stores.

11. When shopping stick to the list and plan in advance all purchases to take full advantage of sale items and 2 for 1 deals (if the price isn't inflated to compensate.) 

When possible shop the outside walls and stay out of the aisles. Most food stores situate the four basics (produce, meats, dairy and breads) on the walls. They most often place all the cookies, cereals, beverages, canned goods and the nice-to-haves on the aisles.

12. Finally, check the checker. 

Note the prices as you select items and then make sure the same price is posted at the check-out. Check the register tape again after leaving the store, often unintentional mistakes are uncovered, especially with large purchases. Many times a sale price is listed in the store, but not reflected at the check-out. Also, the shorter the time spent in the store, the less money spent.

Other Resources: See The Institute of Consumer Financial Education Resource Center


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