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Tips save money at grocery store

When going grocery shopping, you have a number of choices to make.
These choices range from what food product(s) to buy, the brand of each food product, price and how much to buy.
The 10 tips below will help make you a more alert shopper and could result in saving as much as $200-$300 on your monthly grocery bills. Are you ready to start trimming the fat off your food bills?
• A little homework — Planning before you head off to the supermarket will help you shop more economically. Take the time to do a quick inventory of your kitchen to determine the food that you need. Prepare your shopping list and make notations of applicable coupons that you may want to use. Read the newspapers and circulars to find the best deals for the week you plan to shop.
• Choosing the right store — For basic grocery needs, many grocery stores now offer excellent product and price selection, frequent shopper programs and double coupon days. However, when buying in bulk you may want to tackle the warehouse clubs or superstores.
• Eat first — Don’t go on an empty stomach, or you’ll be more likely to buy some really unhealthy treat that costs way more than you want or plan to spend. Grocery stores know the power of the sweet smell of freshly baked bread. Just one sniff can send even the most hardened shopper down the aisle grabbing for anything that looks good. Remember, everything looks good when our stomachs are screaming, “feed me!”
• Coupons, rebates and frequent shopper programs — You can save hundreds of dollars a year by taking advantage of product incentives. Even the least enthusiastic coupon clipper can shave an average of 10 percent off the bottom line by cashing in a small handful of coupons per trip. If your store offers a frequent shopper program, sign-up for the program. You will receive advanced notice of specials, double-coupon days and other money saving information.
• Store brands — Try it, you may like it — The days of generic packaging and bland tasting food in store brand products is over. Companies have worked hard to improve their private-label brands and often the taste is equal to the national brands. Do not be afraid to experiment. If you find the product meets your standards, you can save an average of 40 percent off your annual grocery bill.
• Setting limits on impulse buying — Avoid spontaneous shopping trips. This is one of the best deterrents to impulse buying. Sticking to a well thought-out shopping list will help cut down on grabbing for things that you do not need. In addition, giving yourself enough time to shop will help prevent dashing in and reaching for the first item that you come to. Setting a dollar limit for impulse buying will help also help soothe cravings without busting the budget.
• Comparison shopping — To determine the true value of a product, read the unit price, not just the package price. The unit price information is usually on a sticker located on the shelf that holds the item. The package price only tells you the cost of the entire item. The unit pricing (unit of measure) is usually figured by ounce or by pound and reported as cost/ounce or cost/pound. Below is an example.
The easiest example of comparing products to get the best buy is if you have two different brands of the product, and they are the same size. Say, for example, both products weigh 8 ounces. Here you do not need unit pricing. Since they are the same size, you will just pick the one that costs the least, and it will be the best buy.
• Beware of marketing strategies — Avoid marketing ploys designed to draw your attention to a particular product. Knowing some of the tricks of the trade will ultimately save you money. Beware of end-of-the-aisle dump bins, island displays, recipe-related item placement and middle-shelf items. This is typically where higher priced and impulse products are placed.
Learn to be a label reader — Reading the product label is the best way to find out more than what is advertised on the box. Ingredients are listed in order by the quantity actually used when making the product. The ingredients used in the highest quantity are listed first. For example, if you are looking for avocado dip, you will want to see avocadoes listed in the first part of the ingredient list, not the last part. Also, if you are looking to cut fat from your diet, be careful of words such as “light” or “fat-free” which can have broad definitions. By reading the label, you can get a better idea of what the fat-to-calorie ratio is as well as other valuable nutritional information.
• Watch the scanner — It may mean you need to put down the magazine, because this is no place to get lax. Keeping your eyes peeled to the scanner has dual advantages. First, it will keep the cashier more alert. Secondly, it will allow you to stop the checkout process if an item is showing the incorrect price. Keeping the store circular nearby is also helpful in disputing an incorrect price.
Using the tips outlined will definitely get you started in the right direction to start trimming your grocery bill. You may also want to subscribe to a web-based coupon site such as: www.coupons.com, www.couponbug.com or www.couponmom.com. When you subscribe to such sites, each week they will send a listing of weekly coupons to your personal e-mail account.
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For more information contact Toi N. Degree, family and consumer education agent, Rowan County Cooperative Extension Service, 704-216-8970 or e-mail toi_degree@ncsu.edu.

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