The weekly trip to the supermarket might be a chore for most people, but it's also the single biggest opportunity for cost savings with minimal sacrifice.
Families can save hundreds of dollars a year on grocery spending, personal finance experts and professional cheapskates say. And some strategies don't involve clipping a single coupon. Better yet, you don't have to leave your favorite supermarket.
The key is to take a different view of grocery shopping. You shop for what's on sale and stockpile it in your pantry and freezer. Then when you run out of peanut butter, for example, you reach for it in your discount pantry instead of paying full price for it at the store.
Track prices in a notebook so you know when items are truly on sale. Using a price book to track prices of the 40 or so items you buy regularly can save 20 percent on grocery shopping, said Gary Foreman, who doles out savings tips on his Web site (www.stretcher.com).
"Let's face it, none of us likes to sacrifice too much, and by using a price book you're not sacrificing," Foreman said. "You're eating the exact same things you ate before. The only difference is the things you're eating were purchased at a lower price."
Americans spend about $5,800 a year on food eaten at home, housekeeping supplies and personal-care products, government statistics show. Saving 20 percent, by buying the same items when they're on sale, amounts to annual savings of $1,160.
Teri Gault uses a more sophisticated strategy of combining well-timed purchases with using coupons. As the operator of the Los Angeles-based The GroceryGame.com Web site (www.thegrocerygame.com), she tells subscribers when to buy and when to use a coupon to get the most savings. The $1.25-a-week service includes stores in 28 states.
Savings can easily run into hundreds of dollars a month, Gault said. She said she started the Web site after people wondered how she fed a family of four on $35 a week.
People get excited about her system because it feels like they're trading stocks or commodities, acting on her advice. "They literally get an endorphin rush at the register," she said.
Gregory Karp is a personal-finance writer for The Morning Call, a Tribune Publishing newspaper in Allentown, Pa. E-mail him at yourmoney@ tribune.com.