Savings in a bag, 15 tips for reducing your grocery bill

01/21/2009 6:21 AM

01/21/2009 9:44 AM

There's not a millionaire or a minimum-wage worker who doesn't like a bargain. It's fun to share the story of how you got a great deal — better than anyone else's — at the supermarket, drugstore or department store. We all relish the idea of getting more and paying less.

And since groceries are what gobble up the weekly paycheck, we offer these tips for saving money:

 1  Shop the ads and compare prices. Be disciplined.

Here's how we do it. First, we set maximum prices for items. We vow not to pay more than $2 for a loaf of multigrain bread; not more than $2.50 for a box of cereal and not more than $3.99 for a case of drinking water. We watch price fluctuations (most recently, milk and eggs) and, guess what — it works. When the newspaper ads come out each week, we scan them cover to cover for the best deals.

 2  Clip coupons from The Bee, online sites and the Sunday coupon inserts. Here's a news flash: The stores and the coupon companies are in cahoots. But that's OK, because we benefit by pairing the coupons from the manufacturers with the sale items at the stores.

 3  Make a list, preferably on an envelope so you can stuff your coupons inside.

You must make a list, and try not to stray from what you really need.

 4  Learn the layout of the store and make a list with that in mind.

You are on a mission, not wandering the aisles hoping to bump into a neighbor so you can have a nice little chat. Do a mental map of the store, then make your list. Produce first, then meat, canned goods, dairy, deli and bakery. Done.

 5  Put an asterisk by each item that has a coupon so you don't forget.

I got this tip from a colleague and it really does work. As we begin 2009, coupons are going to become a bigger part of saving money at the grocery store.

 6  Let the weekly sales form the basis for what the family will eat that week. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale this week? That's what we're eating. Ground beef on sale? Time for hamburgers, pasta or soup. Most stores provide recipes in their ads or online to specifically match what's in their ad. They really are trying to make it easy.

 7  Bring reusable bags.

At $1 each, they're a deal because you get 5 cents off per bag each time you shop. Plus, you're doing something good for the environment.

 8  You will save even more money if you shop at stores where you bag your own groceries, like WinCo.

 9  If you shop at Safeway, don't leave home without your Club Card.

This is a no-brainer, especially since you can get up to 10 cents off a gallon of gas at the Safeway gas stations.

 10  Buy the store brands. They're cheaper than name brands.

 11  Don't BOGO (buy one, get one free) unless it's really a good deal.

If you don't need two containers of ice cream, don't buy them just because you get one free. A single item of a different brand could be cheaper.

 12  Go to more than one store.

Don't buy items like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo or vitamins at the grocery store. That's what Target, Longs, Walgreens and Wal-Mart (which has everything) are for.

This is one area where you should stock up. No one likes to run out of toothpaste or — horrors — bathroom tissue.

 13  Believe it or not, the floral department is the place to go for prom flowers, centerpieces or a bouquet. What's even more reasonable is buying a bouquet and some greens, then making centerpieces yourself. You can buy cute bowls at the dollar store, then arrange the flowers yourself. A bouquet makes at least three small centerpieces.

 14  Do the math.

Saving money is about the math, so never leave home without your calculator. When there's something you need and there is more than one choice, the calculator can help you compare the price per unit. Also be sure to look at the per-unit price in the fine print of the shelf label.

 15  Stay off the cell phone.

If it's not on your list, you don't need it. And the whole store doesn't need to hear you tell someone you are in the cereal aisle, where you went last night and your plans for the weekend.

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