YOUR MONEY: Grocery store savings go beyond coupons and salesHow we feed ourselves has a huge effect on how much cash we keep in our wallets. That's why supermarket-savings advice is ubiquitous in the era of new frugality.
By: Gregory Karp, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
How we feed ourselves has a huge effect on how much cash we keep in our wallets. That's why supermarket-savings advice is ubiquitous in the era of new frugality.
The average American family of four spends about $5,000 a year on food prepared at home, according to the federal government's Consumer Expenditure Survey. So a 20 percent savings could yield a cool $1,000.
The usual advice is to shop with a list, stock up on sale items and use coupons. Here are some other tricks:
Don't pay for plump: Plumping is the injection of store-bought chicken and turkey with salty water, broth and other flavoring liquids. Meat producers say it enhances taste and tenderness. But frugal consumers claim you're paying chicken prices for saltwater. Plumping can make up one-tenth to nearly one-third of the packaged weight, according to Consumer Reports.
Read labels. Plumped poultry is often described as "enhanced." Even "all natural" might be. For example, the label might say "enhanced with up to 15 percent chicken broth."
Don't pay for water or plastic: With similar reasoning, don't pay for the water in iced tea, orange juice or even household cleaners you can make yourself, said Gary Foreman, editor of TheDollarStretcher.com. A corollary is "don't pay for plastic."
"So much of the prepackaged stuff is wrapped in plastics of one kind or another to get to the individual serving sizes," Foreman said. "So I tell people to look in their grocery carts. The more plastic and wrapping they see, the higher their grocery bill will be."
Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com uses a five-minute rule for convenience foods: Don't pay extra for a food that would take you five minutes or less to prepare yourself.
Check the salad bar: Prepared lettuce, fresh fruits and cheeses can be cheaper at the supermarket salad bar. Check the price per pound, said Marcia Layton Turner of OrganizeYourCouponsNow.com. Singles and small households could save by buying a smaller amount at the salad bar.
Make it last: Spoiled food is a waste of money and can eliminate any savings from stockpiling and using coupons. Teri Gault, founder of TheGroceryGame.com offers these tips to keep food fresh longer: Remove lettuce and other leafy greens from their plastic packages and wrap them in a clean dish towel to place in the refrigerator. Keep eggs in the original carton and place in the coldest part of the fridge. Transfer milk to a glass bottle to make it last twice as long. Unless you'll use it quickly, repackage frozen meat in a freezer bag and squeeze the air out. For a helpful fact sheet on freezing, search USDA.gov for "freezing and food safety."
Compare prices in-house: The same product could have different prices depending on where it's located in the store. For example, Nelson compared prices on 16-ounce bags of nuts — almonds, pecans and walnuts. Two were cheaper in the baking aisle than the produce department. The other was cheaper in the produce section.
Use the butcher: Pick up a pork loin, which sells for about half the cost of boneless pork loin chops. Ask the supermarket butcher to cut it into chops. "For the same price as a package of one dinner's worth of pork chops, you'll have enough to put in the freezer for another week," Nelson said.
Weigh your spuds: Similarly weigh several same-sized bags of potatoes on the produce department scale to determine the heaviest one. You'll get more spud for your cash because weights can vary considerably.
It pays to ask: No coupons for items you want? Go to the manufacturer Web sites and send them an e-mail requesting a coupon for their product. Include your mailing address. CouponMom.com researchers did that with 81 companies and received free coupons from 60 percent of them, Nelson said.
(Gregory Karp is a personal finance writer for The Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)