Whether you're shopping for two or 22, you can't deny that the price of food goods has increased exponentially over the past decade. Many families have resorted to creative — yet time consuming — strategies such as extreme couponing and monthly meal planning. While these are great, the average working parents do not have the time, knowledge or resources to plan out these strategies effectively. However, there are several small changes that you can make today to help fight the battle of the waning wallet.
Build your core grocery list. Write out a core shopping list of items you purchase regularly, but make sure they are nutritious, inexpensive and versatile. You're looking for items that will give you the most bang for your buck. Foods like potatoes are cheap and can be prepared in many different recipes. For the most part, stick with individual ingredients that can be made into many different things, rather than pre-made food items such as potato salad.
Stick to a plan. Plan out your shopping trip even further by creating a weekly/monthly meal plan. Focus on the items on your core list and make "either/or" decisions about the secondary items on your list. Get either bacon or sausage, either avocados or bell peppers, either brie or fresh mozzarella, etc. It is best to do this planning according to what is on sale.
Shop at discount stores. Be sure to check out the local Dollar Tree and Dollar General stores for significant discounts. Many times these locations sell brand name merchandise at anywhere from 50 to 80 percent off retail.
Use generic brands. Thanks to some very clever marketers, name-brand items, which tend to be more expensive, usually are placed at eye-level. Therefore when you're shopping, look up — or down — for cheaper items, including generic brands. Scan the top and bottom shelves to find items that are several cents to several dollars cheaper than their strategically placed name-brand counterparts.
Do your own kitchen chores. Buy fruits and vegetables in their natural form instead of washed, cut and packaged. Stay away from the prepared food section of the store which force you to pay a premium for salads and other dishes already made for you.
Stock up when items you regularly buy go on sale. Don't think of that sale as a one-time opportunity to get a single helping of your favorite food for less. If the item has a long shelf life — or if you have room to freeze it — buy several and score big savings. I strongly suggest investing in a Food Saver or similar machine.
7. Don't buy personal care products at the grocery store. Unless you do your grocery shopping at a Super-Target or a Walmart Supercenter, you're better off buying shampoo, toothpaste, cotton balls and other personal care products at a drugstore or dollar store, where they're cheaper.
8. Grow Your Own. While there is an initial investment for this strategy, the potential health and financial benefits may be well worth it. Make a garden this year and plan to expand a bit each year. If you own a freezer and know how to can and preserve, you can take advantage of this method to make your own sauces, preserves, soups, etc. Not only that, but you can't buy healthier food than you can grow, and you'll never appreciate your meals more than when you produce them yourself.
9. Use coupons. If you're going to buy it anyway, having a coupon makes it cheaper. It's a no-brainer. Due to technological advancements such as mobile coupons, social media, QR codes, and coupon websites, coupons are easier than ever to obtain. However the best coupons still come in the inserts in the local Sunday paper. I strongly suggest talking to the local convenience store owner or newspaper delivery person. If you are serious about growing your coupon stash you can make arrangements with these folks to receive the coupon inserts for papers that were not sold. Typically unsold papers are discarded or recycled and you may be able to scoop up the extra coupons at no additional cost.
10. Watch the cash register. It is estimated that up to $2.5 billion per year is made in scanning errors. That's a ton of money in missed savings. People can easily make mistakes when making entries into the store's POS system. Check your receipt carefully each time you shop.
Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at email@example.com.