If your children are constantly tearing through your pantry – and taking a giant bite into your wallet – when grocery shopping you’re not alone. The average family of four spends a staggering $883 a month on grocery bills, according to the USDA.
The problem can get even worse over the summer, when the kids are home more often and binge snacking becomes a favorite pastime. How, then, do parents keep their food budget from becoming stretched by those voracious appetites? They shop smarter. But that doesn’t mean sacrificing that much. Here are nine insider tips to help you save money at the grocery store.
Keep a grocery list with you
Like any other big expenditure, it’s important to have a plan when you go to the grocery store. That means bringing a list of things you need, as opposed to simply buying those that catch your attention at the store. The more you stick to the script, the fewer unnecessary things you’ll find in your bag when you get back home.
Because shoppers rarely buy the same items at different stores, it’s sometimes hard to tell how different chains compare on price. But when Consumer Reports did an apples-to-apples comparison (pardon the pun), it found a big difference between big-name retailers. Among the lowest-cost sellers: Aldi, Costco, and Trader Joe’s.
Avoid prepared foods
Who isn’t tempted to buy that carton of pre-cut pineapple or the tuna salad sandwich at the deli counter? Pre-packaged items have a way of appealing to that part of us that just doesn’t want to put the effort in ourselves. Stores know it, too – and jack up the price accordingly. Your checkbook is better off when you buy the ingredients individually and make the item yourself at home.
Stick with generics, if possible
Some shoppers are sticklers for certain brands of pasta or cookies. But if you’re a little more flexible, going with generics can put a lot of money back in your wallet. According to Consumer Reports, store brands can save you as much as 15 to 30 percent on most items. And because they often come from the same companies that make name-brand foods, you don’t necessarily sacrifice quality.
Be wary of items at eye-level
Stores know that you’re more likely to buy products that are directly in front of you. Needless to say, that’s where they tend to place their high mark-up items. In order to save a few bucks, make a habit of looking high and low on the shelf. Chances are, you’ll find a better deal when you do.
Double-check the price of endcap items, too
Some consumers assume that the juice cartons or cereals on the endcap are being sold at a discount. But that’s not always the case. In reality, manufacturers pay extra to have their products promoted at the end of the aisle, which gives them an extra opportunity to catch the shopper’s eye. So always check to make sure those items are actually on sale.
Buy in season
When purchasing produce items, the price can fluctuate wildly from one part of the year to the next. To avoid a bloated grocery bill, keep in mind which items are in season and which aren’t. Strawberries, for example, tend to be cheaper in spring, while you might find a better deal on squash and sweet potatoes in the fall.
Be smart with your coupons
Is there something decidedly uncool about bringing a stack of coupons to the store? Sure. But is it an easy way to save some serious money? Absolutely.
Sunday newspapers are a great source, although you also find them at websites like Coupons.com and MySavings.com as well. Some stores also offer double discounts either all the time or on certain days of the week. So a 75 cent coupon suddenly saves you $1.50. Put a few of those together, and it adds up quickly.
Don’t be afraid to stock up
When grocery stores are overstocked on certain products or need to get rid of perishable items, they’re likely to slash prices in order to get them out the door. This is precisely the time when you should stock up.