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Savvy shoppers are selective, not snooty. They’re looking for nutritious foods at reasonable prices, not impressive brand names or fancy packaging. They know that the most important part of any food packaging is the Nutrition Facts panel, which lists the serving size, number of servings per container, and amount of fat, protein, carbohydrate, fiber, and sodium per serving. Savvy shoppers save money by buying only those products that provide the type and amount of nutrients they need.
Here are some other ways to get value for your dollar and avoid overspending:
Shop with a basket. Another way to limit impulse buys is to use a basket instead of a cart, especially if you need only a few items from the grocery store. Before shopping carts were invented, consumers stopped shopping when their baskets became too heavy to carry, meaning they brought fewer items to the checkout counter. Shopping carts were designed by grocers to enable consumers to buy large quantities of food — and to spend more money.
Look up and down. Foods on eye-level shelves are the most expensive. Look above and below these shelves for lower-priced items and bargains.
Focus on the outer aisles. In most grocery stores, fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy foods are found on the perimeter of the store, while highly processed, less nutritious — and often more expensive — choices clog the center aisles. However, don’t forget to seek out the good stuff in the center aisles, like old-fashioned oatmeal, whole grains, dried beans, canned tomatoes, frozen vegetables, and peanut butter.
Bigger is not always better. While a jumbo-size container may cost less per ounce, your purchase is no bargain if you can’t use all of it before its expiration date. And sometimes the bigger container doesn’t cost less: Often, the cost of two half-gallons of milk is less than a one-gallon jug.
Go generic. Private-label or generic items can save you as much as 30 cents on the dollar. They are often produced by brand-name manufacturers, so their nutrition content, taste, and quality can be quite good. Try a small package first to see if you like a product. If it’s good, stick with the generic. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it again: You don’t save any money on food that gets thrown out.
Convenience is costly. Preprepared items such as grated cheese or frozen chopped green peppers cost more per ounce than blocks of cheese or raw green peppers. To save money, plan to do some of the grating, chopping, and other preparation of ingredients on your own. For example, since regular oatmeal costs less and contains more nutrients than instant oatmeal, take a couple of extra minutes to microwave regular oatmeal, rather than heating water in the microwave and adding it to a packet of processed oats.
Location, location. The same product may cost more (or less) depending on where it’s stocked. For example, a 20-ounce diet soft drink may cost $1.49 at the checkout lane, while a few feet away in the soft drink aisle, you can snag a 2-liter (68-ounce) bottle of the same soda for $1.50.
Steer clear of “special” foods. Carefully compare the nutrition and price information on special “diabetic” foods. On a recent trip to the store, a savvy shopper noted that one piece of sugar-free peppermint hard candy cost 13 cents, while one piece of regular peppermint hard candy cost only 2 cents. The bottom line nutrition-wise? Both had the exact same amount of carbohydrate: 5 grams per piece. Which would you choose?
Aisle-by-aisle savings guide
Bargains abound for savvy shoppers in every aisle of the grocery store. You just need to know where to look.