1. Make a list, check it twice
No, seriously. Before even looking at the grocery ads for the week, I make a list of items that my family immediately NEEDS for the next week or so. (bread, milk, eggs etc) I also have a separate list of items that I have in mind for our 3, 6 or 12 month supply. Keeping my priorities in mind from the beginning always helps when I start looking at the ads and making my grocery list. Even then, after I have made my grocery list for items that are on sale and/or I have a coupon for, I will go over it again doing a "mental total" to determine if everything is really A)necessary and B)a good deal. Just because you have a coupon, and just because it is on sale, that doesn't mean it will even compare to a certain store brand's "red tag" price.
2. Shop alone — and after eating
One thing I have learned to do in order to avoid impulse buying: Do your shopping after a light snack or meal and leave the kids at home. (But I'm so good at impulse buying, right?) If you aren't hungry, those Twinkies will be much easier to pass up. And, if you have ever shopped with children, you know that all they want to do is grab any goody within reach of their eye level. If you're not hungry and you can concentrate on getting in and out of the store without having to play goalie between your cart and kids then you will have more time and patience to comparison shop. So when possible, leave the kids at home while you are well fed, list in hand, ready to scan the aisles for what you need as well as special deals.
3. Understand how stores work
A basic understanding of merchandising can help you avoid overspending.
• Walk quickly toward the items ON YOUR LIST that you came to buy and avoid distractions along the way. I have found myself wandering down isles aimlessly several times. It's a trap! I think everyone has noticed that stores place the necessary items such as diapers and milk at the back of the store. They basically force you to walk past a million displays of beautifully stacked items just to tempt you over and over again. Why? Because they know that unless you are focused, you will give in. (It's so true and you know it!)
• Products are displayed at the ends of the aisles in order to catch your eye. Think carefully about whether what you see there is really necessary — or a bargain — before you toss it in the cart. Many "featured" items on the end caps are not bargains at all.
• As you persue the aisles, bend over to check the prices on the bottom shelves and compare them to the cost of the items at eye level.
• Avoid buying the items displayed by the register. The magazines at the checkout stand cost much more per issue than they would if you had a subscription, and cookies in little packages cost more than a from a box. Almost everything near the register is there to inspire you to buy on impulse, not to save you money.
Tip: Make fewer trips to the store and you'll find yourself with fewer chances to pick up a few extras you don't really need.
4. Don't be a brand snob- Buy house brands or generics
The less-costly house brands are often so similar to national brands that you wouldn't be able to tell them apart without the packaging. Read labels to compare nutritional value and you'll quickly see how little difference (if any) there is. Also, keep in mind that meat and dairy products all have to meet government standards, so store brands should be just as wholesome and nutritious as national brands. You would be surprised how many name brand and house brand items are actually packaged in the same warehouses, just put in different packaging. And once again, coupon shopping is great, but a lot of times items are still more expensive when they are on sale and you have a coupon than the house brands. This doesn't always apply, there are good promos and deals that come around. But use this as a general rule.
I might just be crazy, but I have spent time at Wal-Mart with a notebook and a pen writing down the price of their Great Value brand items and other items that I frequently buy there, just so that I know when things go on sale somewhere else if it is still a good deal or not. (Items like baking supplies, pasta, sauce, diapers, trash bags, lunch meats, pudding etc) I call it my "Never pay more than list". It might take a while to come up with your list. If an item is on sale for cheaper than Wal-Mart (without coupons, I can price match it at Wal-Mart, if not- I can always stick with their store brand if I need it bad enough.) (I have found their store brand to be be cheaper than other store brands at regular price) Yes, you give up "customer service" when you shop at Wal-mart, but that's not what I was going there for in the first place!
5. Check the unit price
As you cruise down the aisles comparing products, take note of the unit price that appears on the store shelf just below or above the product. The unit price tells you what the product costs per ounce or some other consistent unit of measurement. Whether the package is tall, short, or squat, you'll know in an instant whether it costs more or less than other sizes of the same food. Don't be fooled by packaging — compare per-unit prices, and buy the item that offers more for less instead of the one that looks like more for less.
6. Use savings cards and coupons
Check your supermarket's weekly flyer or ads for coupons on items you buy regularly — but also take advantage of your store's savings card. Albertsons is the only grocery store that I know of at this time that doesn't require a savings card. Fry's has their VIP card etc. It is silly NOT to have one of these savings cards for every grocery store. When you register for them, you give them your phone # as well. Instead of keeping my cards on me, I either use the little cards they give you to put on your key ring OR just type in my phone # (with area code) at the beginning of my purchase. Keep your clipped coupons organized, perhaps separated according to grocery aisle or section. I prefer the binder method, separated by category, but whether you choose to hold them in envelopes, in a zip-top bag, with paper clips, or in a specially designed accordion file, store them in your purse or car so they're with you whenever you shop. It's annoying to come home from food shopping and find the coupon you wanted on the counter — on your store's triple coupon day. For more information on beginning coupon shopping, visit http://pennyearnedpennysaved.blogspot.com/ or http://www.couponing101.com/
Tip: If a sale item doesn't appear on the shelves, ask for a rain check so you can get it for the reduced price when it's back in stock.
7. Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk is a no-brainer if you're feeding a big family or the whole preschool. But you can still benefit from these discounts if yours is a smaller family or you have limited storage space. Here are some ideas for making the most of oversize buys:
• As always, arrive at your bulk-shopping store with a list. I always find things at Costco that I just don't need, but can't pass up because I wandered from my list!
• Buy mostly nonperishable items that you know for sure you'll use eventually — for example, paper products, cleaning supplies, baby wipes, juice boxes, and canned goods.
• If you do purchase perishables, separate large packages into smaller ones as soon as you get home. Divide chicken and steaks, for example, into daily portions and freeze for later use.
• Split the purchases and the bill with another family. Again, a list is a must — agree ahead of time on what you'll buy. If you trade off trips to the store, both families also save time.
8. Buy from the source, or join a co-op
Get produce from a local farmer's market and you can avoid the store markup on fresh vegetables and fruit. You can even buy organic items at bargain prices. Some farmer's markets carry locally produced meat and dairy products, locally caught fish, and a variety of prepared sauces, preserves, and condiments made by local food artisans. I use BountifulBaskets produce co-op every other week for my produce and my husband and I also recently planted a garden. Produce co-ops use the exact same items used in grocery stores and local health food stores, they are just the extras not the rejects. Also, gardening is a very fun way to get the family involved in healthy eating habits and saving $$$ on your food bill.
Any other great tips?
revised information from a parent center bulletin