Good Question: Shopping smart at grocery stores

Question: With the cost of everything going up these days, I'm really trying to cut back on expenses. Do you have any suggestions for saving money at the grocery store?

Answer: That's great that you are trying to cut back on expenses -- a smart move that everyone should be trying to do these days. Starting with grocery shopping is a good idea because groceries are one of the major expenditures in a family budget.

Outside of your mortgage, car payment and gas, the next thing you probably spend the most money on is groceries.

Before you can start to cut back, you need to know what you are spending your money on at the grocery store. I'm not just talking about food items. Get an old grocery receipt and highlight all of the convenience foods, doubles of food items you already have, food you could do without and all non-grocery items you could buy somewhere else for less. Add it up and see how much you spent.

• Have a plan before you go to the store. Decide your family's grocery budget, and spend only the amount you budgeted. Ask yourself what you can eliminate to help meet your budget.

• Try to spend only cash. We spend approximately 28 percent more when paying with a debit or credit card.

• Make a list. When you and your family use the last of something, add it to the list. Also, write down things that you need. Use an old envelope for your list so you can put your coupons right in the envelope. Stick to the list so you can cut back on impulse shopping (think about all the things you buy because they look good or are on sale but you don't need or normally use). Try to make your list according to the layout of the store. This way, you won't be wandering around the store looking for something and being tempted with impulse items.

• Use the weekly sale ads to research the best buys. On the cover are "loss leader" items. These are items the store is willing to take a loss on to lead you into the store and are typically the best buys for the week. The sale cycle for items is usually every eight weeks. Watch for when products are on sale and project when they will be on sale again. Use the sale ads to comparison shop.

• Plan menus for the week. Plan your menu according to what's on sale that week and go from there. Start a freezer inventory and plan meals from what you have in the freezer.

• When not to go grocery shopping. If you shop when you're hungry, you'll spend approximately 17 percent more at the store. You'll also spend more if you're thirsty, in a bad mood, depressed or in a hurry. You tend to spend more when you're tired because you want to buy whatever gets you out of the store the quickest.

Go alone. Especially if your children, spouse or significant other have a case of the "I wants." Shopping with the kids can result in a 30 percent increase in spending. Dads tend to spend up to 30 percent more than moms because men tend to shop for the brand name products, don't comparison shop or use coupons.

• If you don't have many items to buy, use a basket instead of a shopping cart. Using a cart tempts you to buy more. If you have a very short list, carry your items. This will help limit impulse purchases.

Don't be store loyal. Go where the sales are. To save on gas, combine your shopping into one trip. Think outside the "grocery box" and purchase food, health and beauty and cleaning items in discount or other retail stores. Remember to research all store ads. Consider a subscription to the newspaper so you can receive all store ads and coupons.

Caryn Bilotta is manager of education services for Advantage Credit Counseling Service (dba Consumer Credit Counseling Service). For more information about the agency's services, visit . If you have money or credit management questions, you may e-mail Ms. Bilotta at . Please provide your name, address and daytime telephone number with all inquiries. Ms. Bilotta tries to reply to all inquiries, but because of the volume of questions she receives, she cannot always respond.


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