Shop smarter in the grocery store

food.0728You might be able to overlook your potato chips, cookies or bagged carrots showing up in smaller packaging at the grocery store, but you can’t ignore your receipts.

In May, a “thrifty” family of four spent an average of $612.70 on food prepared at home, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s an increase of 4.6 percent over last year.

But the thrifty family’s monthly grocery bill pales compared to the $1,209.20 spent last month by families on a “liberal” budget, the USDA says. That’s an increase of 4.4 percent from 2010.

And you’ll continue to pay more for groceries this year — mostly, the USDA says, because of rising energy and agricultural prices and increased demand for food around the world.

Even couponers are feeling the pinch. Michelle Atwood, who runs the shopping website IheartPublix.com, says big coupons, like 50 cents off one product (which could double to $1) are becoming more scarce.

“Now we’re looking at 45 cents off three,” Atwood says. “I used to be able to get a box of fruit snacks after coupon for definitely under $1. That doesn’t happen anymore.”

Larry Peterson, who created MyGrocerySpy.com, says he’s noticed shoppers changing their habits to cope with rising prices.

“We’re seeing that people are tending to buy less than they have in the past,” Peterson says. “But they tend to shop a little more often.”

Instead of stocking up in heavy quantities on meat and produce, shoppers are buying them at more regular intervals, he says. He suspects the more frequent shopping is to hit sales at one or more stores.

Whether you’re using coupons or not, buying in bulk or shopping multiple times a week, Atwood and Peterson have tips on how to save even more at the grocery store:

Atwood: Make a menu based on what’s on sale. “You can easily save 50 percent by just shopping the sales.” She says people run up their grocery bills quickly by deciding to cook whatever they have a hankering for — say, a rib-eye steak for dinner — when it’s not on special.

Peterson: Shop on Thursdays — the day by which most metro Atlanta grocers have released sales in their circulars. That way you can compare sales across stores. “It’s the first day that most stores have their meat department sales. It’s also the best time for freshest produce because it’s usually stocked on Wednesday night. So you get the optimum pricing as well as the freshest produce.”

Atwood: Use what you’ve already purchased. “Plan your meals on what you have in your pantry and your refrigerator and supplement with what’s on sale that week.” She says many people ignore the rice, pasta or other staples stocked up in their cabinets. “You bought it for a reason — make good use of it.”

Peterson: Get your nose out of your list and keep your eyes peeled while shopping. Or you can use a site like MyGrocerySpy.com to get the scoop on sales that weren’t made public. “We find that a lot of the advertised deals aren’t as big as the unadvertised deals.”

Atwood: Eat first. “It sounds like common sense, but a lot of people just don’t realize [how much they’d save] if they would stop going to the store when they’re hungry. Impulse makes those cakes look really good in the bakery at the time.”

Food forecast: Prices up for the year

While food prices can fluctuate for many reasons, at the beginning of this year it was largely because of gas. High transportation costs had consumers paying dearly at the pump and at the grocery store. Recent figures from the Commerce Department indicate that wholesale food prices have dropped, and we could be seeing some relief at the register soon. Overall, we’re on track to see prices increase in four key categories for the whole of 2011, although the gains nationwide won’t be quite as high as what we’ve already seen since just last May, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Meat, fish, poultry

  • USDA’s projected price increases for 2011: 5-6%
  • Prices are up 8.3% from May 2010 to May 2011

Fruits, vegetables

  • USDA’s projected price increases for 2011: 3.5-4.5%
  • Prices are up 2.3% from  May 2010 to May 2011

Dairy products

  • USDA’s projected price increases for 2011: 5-6%
  • Prices are up 6.9% from  May 2010 to May 2011

Fats, oils

  • USDA’s projected price increases for 2011: 6.5-7.5%
  • Prices are up 8.5% from May 2010 to May 2011

Also: Would you use Scan It?

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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12 comments Add your comment

Leigh

June 28th, 2011
8:01 am

This article makes sense. I can easily feed my family of four for $100/week at Publix. I use coupons occasionally. I use e-mealz and I pay close attention to the Publix BOGO and sale items. I also avoid junk as much as I can.

Astrid G.

June 28th, 2011
8:32 am

If you’re over 60, shop Publix on Wednesdays and get 5% off.

Out in my home: chips of any kind. Bags are less than half full.
No more soft drinks. Replacement: Brita-cleansed tap water with splash of lime.

scooby-doo

June 28th, 2011
10:05 am

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed that it’s hard to find good coupons any more. Like the article states: “Now we’re looking at 45 cents off three,”. I don’t want to buy 3 or 4 or 5 or 10 of something just to get a few cents off. Most of the coupons I see right now are for products I don’t need or use like cosmetics or junk food. It seems a lot of the major brand companies are holding back with their usual “.50 cents off” coupons because of high energy costs. I hope that changes soon because I’m holding back on buying those brands in large quantities for now and trying my luck with generic and store brand groceries. I want to support the economy, but I’m also ust trying to be a smart shopper.

Mac

June 28th, 2011
10:13 am

Does any have 3 or 4 good coupon sites I can go to? I haven’t been into coupons much before but over the past 2 years, I’ve seen my grocery bill for 2 go from a $250/mo to right under $400. With gas costs being as high as they are I need all the help I can get.
Also, does the Sunday still supply pretty good grocery coupons?

Lauren Davidson

June 28th, 2011
10:23 am

@Mac: I love southernsavers.com and couponmom.com. You have to register for CM, but it’s free and the organization is wonderful.

Kar

June 28th, 2011
10:49 am

On the other hand, rice and beans are still cheap. Not dirt cheap but less than dog or cat food cheap.

Ole Guy

June 28th, 2011
12:07 pm

The proliferation of Big Lots stores throughout the area gives rise to one big question: If these outfits can develop a business model which allows them to offer the EXACT SAME ITEMS as those offered in Kroger and Publix…for far far less, than what’s up with the old retail models these once-dominant stores cannot/will not abandon? Popular items, generally selling for two/three dollars, can be found, in Big Lots, for either side of half that price…THE EXACT SAME BRAND NAME ITEMS, not some generic low end look-alike, but THE EXACT SAME BRAND NAME ITEMS.

Could it be the general perception that “only poo folks shop there”? As long as people insist on spending more than they really should on groceries, these big name operations will gladely take the mony of the ignorant, the stupid, and the gullible.

Ole Guy

June 28th, 2011
12:18 pm

Astrid, yours is a fine idea. However, if you visit your friendly neighborhood Publix on, say, a Monday or a Tuesday, you just may find (as I did) the very same items I normally purchase on “Ole Man Discount Day” just a mite less. Anticipating the Wednesday onslaught of “Ole Geezers”, like yours truly, they tend to mark up a few items, thus providing the “illusion” of 5% savings. This is not necessarily the case with all items; just a marketing phenomena I happened to notice. Do not overlook that visit to your local Big Lots where your savings just may overshadow that (questionable) 5%.

gritsiam

June 28th, 2011
1:18 pm

you need to be careful with Big Lots and stores like it…….it may look like the exact same item but that is not always true. I looked at a vacuum cleaner, noticed the tiny print that said refurbished product. As for food items these stores are not always the cleanest (not just in front but in the back where food items are stored).

Kat

June 28th, 2011
1:54 pm

So, Publix wants the senior folks to spend their money on food on Wednesdays, and THEN the new sales go into effect on Thursdays after everything is restocked on Wednesday night (probably AFTER the senior folks’ bedtimes)?

Ole Guy

June 28th, 2011
6:41 pm

Good point, Grit…let the buyer beware!

Couponsadness

June 29th, 2011
4:18 pm

I agree the coupons in Sunday’s paper have been lacking. They are mostly for buy 3 boxes of cereal get small change off! There has been lots of beauty product coupons and you can ALWAYS find toothpaste and toothbrushes!

I use hip2save.com – very organized and they have freebies!