Here are a couple of sobering statistics about Americans and food: The USDA reports that the average American family of 4 spends between $633 and $1252 monthly on groceries. It also reports that the same family throws out an average of 25% of that food every month.
As average Americans, the staff at Sage Personal Finance asked ourselves the question: How can we shop smarter?
We talk a lot in our course about using coupons, stocking up during sales, switching to cheaper “store” brands, and buying in bulk (at stores like Costco). Those are great tips but there are other, less common strategies that an average consumer can use to pare down weekly spending on groceries even more.
Here’s our “to-do” list of things to consider before heading out to the grocery store. Using just a couple of these strategies will help reduce weekly grocery expenses.
Check your kitchen before you go anywhere. That tiresome refrain we hear from our families about there being “nothing to eat” is usually just that. Check your fridge and pantry daily – and try and plan every meal around what perishables you need to use up first. Eating what’s on hand is not only thrifty; it reduces the amount of food waste we send to our landfills.
Have a budget for groceries. Our course recommends using a budget for all expenses – and groceries are no exception.
Never shop when you’re hungry. It’s easy to fall prey to impulse buying – and impulse buys can put a big ding in a consumer’s grocery budget.
Make a list – and stick to it. Being ruthlessly disciplined while at the grocery store can be one of the biggest ways an average shopper can save money. Don’t stray from what’s on your list. As an example, one of our customer representatives gathers up the weekly grocery store flyers in her area, picks the sale items she needs, makes up her list – and then heads to her nearest Wal-Mart, which matches local competitor prices. With this “one-stop-shopping” strategy, our rep reports that she saves quite a bit!
Shop the perimeter for the best buys. No matter which grocery chain a shopper frequents, all stores are set up the same way with produce, meat and dairy items along the back and sides of the store. Avoiding the aisles as much as possible will help save money.
Shop above (and below) eye-level. Shopping strictly from the perimeter is a worthy goal…but it isn’t always practical. Do realize however that grocery stores typically place the most expensive (and often, least nutritious) items at eye level. You can save money by stooping or reaching for cheaper and healthier versions of the same stuff you see in front of you.
Skip prepared and “convenience” foods. One of our staff noticed that a 12-slice package of fully cooked bacon, priced at $3.99 actually contained only 2.5 oz. of actual bacon. In our local store, 16 ounces of store brand bacon costs the same – but yields at least 6-8 slices more. Pre-sliced greens from the produce aisle can often be as much as 10 times the price when compared to whole fruits and vegetables. Cooking your own bacon and slicing your own veggies are just two instances where you can save big.
Use the “unit price” of an item to determine if you’re getting a good deal. All grocers are required to post not only the price of an item but its unit price as well. The bacon’s unit price is a whopping $24.94/lb. compared to $3.99/lb. for the uncooked store brand bacon we compared. One could argue that the cooked bacon renders more meat – but in reality a shopper would be paying another $20 for the privilege of easy reheating in the microwave.
These are a sampling of the many tips our staff offered up to help cut grocery costs and reduce waste.