SAN ANTONIO — It's not your imagination: You're likely spending more at the grocery store. The price of food is expected to jump about 3% this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Saving money starts before you even get to the store.
“Even before you plan your meals, do a refrigerator and pantry check,” said Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert. “Open up your refrigerator, look in that produce drawer. How often do we just shove it full of different vegetables and fruits and we never check to see what we have? So you may end up doubling up on your ingredients or you may forget that you have something that’s about to go bad. You should cook it and then you can look for a recipe based on those ingredients and then go to the grocery store to find complimentary ingredients for your meal that day.”
Decide on a right-sized cart when you do get to the store.
“Shopping carts are getting bigger and bigger,” said Woroch. “These super-sized shopping carts were designed for a reason. The stores want you to fill them up and buy more than you actually need or you plan to. When you have a large cart, you may add just a few items in it and then it kind of looks empty. You think, ‘I can buy a few more things.’ You don’t realize how much you’re actually buying and spending, but if you’re running in for a quick shopping trip, if you use the hand basket, you have a limited amount of space.
"It’s such a basic concept, but a lot of people don’t think about how that can help reduce those impulse purchases.”
Some of the biggest price hikes are for meat. Try a meatless meal to cut down on costs.
“You can find really good-quality protein in other types of foods like sweet potatoes and beans,” Woroch said. "Just go online and find some recipes."
When you do buy meat, purchase plain cuts.
“You’re actually looking at spending almost 60% more for anything that has been prepared for you, even it it’s not cooked,” Woroch said. “So anything that’s in a marinade or cubed or on a kebab. Those food are so much more expensive. Stick with the chicken that has the fat on it. It does not take you much time to clean it up and you’re going to save some.”
Only buy what you need, even if you can get a deal on several of the same item such as 10 for $10.
“If you look at the fine print, you can still get the deal if you buy just one,” said Woroch. “If you weren’t going to buy it if it wasn’t on sale, then you don’t need it.”
Look for manager’s markdowns, as well; those indicate food which will expire soon. These deals are often found on meats, fish, dairy and baked goods. Just have a plan for purchases.
“Manager markdowns offer anywhere from 50 to 70% off regular retail,” said Woroch. “You’ll notice that the date on the package is highlighted or there’s a circle next to it just to show you that it is nearing its expiration date or 'Best By' date. It could be the next day, could be that day. Just make sure you’re going to either cook it and eat it right away or freeze it so you can use it at a later date.”
Same rule applies to buying in bulk. Meats are usually an excellent value per pound at a warehouse club.
“Make sure that you’re planning out your meals for the week so you know how much you need and what you should freeze to use later so it doesn’t go bad,” Woroch said.
Buy in bulk selectively.
“Although you might find that really good deal on that big package of chicken, which you can then freeze some, eat some now,” said Woroch. “Things like your vegetables and your fruits; those my not make sense to buy in bulk, especially if you buy a lot in bulk, because you might not eat it before it goes bad.”
It's also a good idea to meal-plan around sales.
“A lot of people find a recipe that calls for a certain type of ingredient,” Woroch said. “Then they go to a store to shop, but do it the opposite way and then this way you can really plan a meal based on your store sales. You could even do that by looking at some circulars before you go to the store and see who has the cheapest price.”
End-cap displays, or promotional items at the end of every aisle, may not be the best buy.
“That’s just a promotional offer that doesn’t actually mean it’s the cheapest price per unit for that product,” Woroch said. “What I would recommend doing is if you like the deal, go to the product aisle where that brand is featured to see what similar brands are offering and look at the generic options. Sometimes you could still find it for cheaper.”
Also, look at the price per unit of any product to find the best buy. It tells you the cost of the smallest measure of weight such as the cost per pound or per ounce. Find the product with the smallest cost per unit.
“If you’re looking at a large container of ketchup, let’s say, compared to the smaller container, if you’re trying to figure out which one’s the better deal, look at that price per unit,” said Woroch. “Sometimes the bigger container isn’t that much better of a deal. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a couple of the smaller containers, especially if they’re on sale. So just run the math. That’s why that price per unit, it’s in itty bitty bitty print because the stores are hoping you overlook it, but it’s going to be your ticket to finding the best deal at the grocery store.”
You can find the price per unit located by the price under the product. Look for it in fine print.
Coupons can be a great way to save but avoid the hassle of clipping them with an app like Dosh.
“You pair your credit card with the app and then when you pay with that same credit card, any available savings will be automatically credited to you,” said Trae Bodge, a smart-shopping expert. “So it takes all the work out of saving at the grocery store.”
Make sure you are using a credit card that will give you the best deal on points for food.
“I had my spending analyzed last year with GigaPoints and I found out that the majority of my spending is in the food category,” said Bodge. “It was recommended to switch to a card that gave really great benefits for food.”
You can also save if you buy groceries online.
“I recommend using a free browser extension,” said Bodge. “There’s one called Sidekick by CouponCabin.com. Simply by installing this free tool, as you browse around online, you’ll be automatically alerted to available savings.”
Sure, food is essential, but not everything you buy at a grocery store is a necessity.
“That bag of chips, the box of Oreos, all those extra goodies that you’re buying, those extra snacks for your pantry, first of all, they’re often times not healthy,” Woroch said. “They’re adding extra calories and extra cost to your monthly budget.”
Finally, the most expensive food is any you throw away, no matter how cheap you get it.
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