NDSU Extension Service
I watched the increasing tally on the computer display as the grocery store checkout clerk scanned my food items. I could feel my eyebrows rising and my eyes widening.
I had shopped for fewer items during most of my recent shopping trips. This time, I had a cartful of groceries to restock our pantry and freezer. With three growing kids, including two teenagers, keeping plenty of food on hand is a must.
While usually I can guesstimate my final bill on the way to the checkout, my calculating skills were not accurate that day. My bill was higher than I expected. Was I imagining an increase?
Actually, we are paying more for food at the grocery store this year compared with last year, according to the Consumer Price Index. If you are a coffee drinker, you may have noticed that your daily caffeine jolt is costing you quite a bit more.
While we can forgo some luxuries during challenging economic times, food isn t one of them. We all need a variety of healthful foods on a daily basis to sustain our health.
Here s some questions to ask yourself to see if you are using money-saving strategies when you shop for food. Answer these questions with the following responses: yes, always, yes, sometimes or no.
1. Do you spend about 30 minutes planning your weekly menus?
Consider using the sale ads and write a shopping list. Keep the list in a handy spot such as on your refrigerator or countertop.
2. Do you avoid shopping when you re hungry or tired?Almost everything looks tasty when you re hungry. If you re tired, you may be likely to grab convenience foods, which cost more and often are less nutritious.
3. Do you avoid using a credit card for food purchases (unless you intend to pay off the balance each month)?You may end up adding credit card interest rates on to the food cost.
4. Do you shop in one or two stores?
Consider your gas, too. If you drive to several stores for special deals, you may not be getting a deal.
5. Are you familiar with the store layout? Try to go down the aisles that include items on your list to avoid impulsive buying.
6. For quick shopping trips, do you shop the perimeter of the store?
Most staples, such as milk, fresh produce and bread, are located around the perimeter.
7. Do you compare store brands with national brands and choose the one with the lower price?Most store brands are similar in quality to name brands but lower in price.
8. Do you clip coupons and use them for the things you need?However, sometimes coupons can encourage us to buy things that we may never use once we get the item home.
9. Do you compare prices using unit prices? The unit pricing on the front edge of shelving helps you know quickly whether the regular- priced super-sized package is a better deal than the sale-priced regular-size package. Be sure to look up and down the grocery shelves. Sometimes the higher-priced items are at eye level.
10. Do you check your receipt and change?Although mistakes are not intentional, they can happen. Look carefully at your receipt to be sure you received the sale price.
If you answered yes, always or yes, sometimes, you are taking steps to save money. If you would like a little assistance with planning, we ve done some of the work for you. Visit http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart and click on For Parents/Caregivers or For Singles/Couples and you will find menus, recipes and a variety of nutrition and shopping tips to help you stretch your budget.
Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.