Monday, September 27, 2010

Room by Room: Kitchen (Grocery Shopping)

Key idea: Food shop (strategically!) once a week to save time and money.

I'm sure it's no surprise to you that grocery store owners and food distributors would like to help you part with your money. Here are a few notes and tips on how to get some bang for your buck next time you go food shopping.

Did you know that stores make money when:
  1. Necessities like milk and bread are placed at the far back corner of the store so that you have to walk past displays and quite a bit of other merchandise first?
  2. House brands are labeled in less attractive colors and are usually not at eye-level like name brand products? (You have to crouch down to get the insanely cheap three-pound package of frozen mixed vegetables at my store, whereas the $2.99 steam bags are in easy reach).
  3. They run promotions like 5/$10? Why don't they just say the item is on sale for $2? You'd be amazed how often I catch myself thinking I have to buy five. 
  4. Smaller quantity packages are sold at the same price as the larger packages that used to be available? Remember when your ice cream came in a half gallon carton? Mysteriously, it now holds 1.5 quarts.
Suggestions on how to combat these plans:
  1. Eat before you go and refuse free samples. Just a smell or taste of a sample gets you in the mood for a meal and will tempt you to buy more. Plus, those Oreos won't look as good if you are satisfied.
  2. Build your list throughout the week as you notice things that need replenishing. Also review the sale circular, inventory your pantry and plan your menu. Then, if needed, recopy your list in the order you travel through the store. This will keep you on track and greatly reduce impulse purchases. See the nifty checklist at left.
  3. Limit the amount of time you have at the store so that you don't find yourself browsing. Get in and get out.
  4. Did you note that I mentioned you should plan your menu? This takes discipline but I can usually plan a week's worth of menus in 20 minutes on a Sunday afternoon. Pulling the recipes and identifying needed ingredients will save you frustration later in the week and eliminates last minute trips (a.k.a. additional opportunity for impulse purchases).
  5. Ignore the items placed on endcaps, strategically positioned in the aisles and in the checkout lane. They aren't hiding the bargains there.
  6. Know the store(s) you shop at and what their regular and sale prices are for the items you use. Some products will be on sale at a better price if you can wait another week or two. For instance, our favorite chips can be advertised for 2 for $6, 2 for $4 or buy one get one free (the best deal).
  7. Take some time to calculate the unit cost of items, even if it means using the calculator on your phone. The 24-pack isn't always a better deal than the 12-pack. Also be sure to compare the volume or weight of competing brands. For instance, two cereal boxes that are the same height may not be as wide or thick, so one may hold less.
  8. Stock up on pantry items if you have room. Stores often have good deals around the holidays on flour, cream cheese, crackers, etc. for holiday entertaining. There are also a lot of coupons issued in November and December. A warning from my mom: the price of butter is always higher in time for holiday cookie baking, so buy yours in October and keep it tucked in the back of the fridge for a few weeks.
  9. Leave the kids at home if you can. They will only find more to add to the cart.
  10. Take your reusable shopping bags in with you. Most stores give you a few cents off for each bag you use.
Readers, do you have any other tips to share?

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