Stop paying too much for food!

Friday, April 29, 2011
By Sara Moore
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If you now dread shopping at the supermarket because of escalating food prices, you’re not alone. The United Nations reported that global food prices hit a record high in February due to upward-spiraling gas prices and stockpiling by importers. Wheat, corn, sugar and edible oil prices have increased significantly in the last six months, and produce is expected to rise even more by roughly one-fourth to one-third in the next year.

Consumer savings expert, Andrea Woroch, shares her top tips for making your dollar go further the next time you shop for foods.

So what can you do to get the best bang for your buck? Here are some ways to combat rising food prices.

Shop warehouse stores
Not all prices are better at membership stores, particularly if you tend to go overboard, but there are some really good deals to be had. Look for great buys on perishable items and shop towards the end of the day, when department managers want to unload extra inventory.

Use coupons
Now’s the time to get in on the extreme-couponing trend, particularly since there are so many ways to access them these days. You’ll find coupons online in both Internet-code or downloadable (IP) form. Mobile coupons are as close as your cell phone. CellFire is a great source for grocery savings. Don’t overlook the coupons that print out with your receipt at the register. Known as Catalinas, these coupons are targeted towards the purchases you’ve made that day.

Some stores, like King Soopers, also allow you to stack manufacturer and store coupons for additional savings. Not all supermarkets allow you to stack, however, so check first. Doubling up or stacking refers to when consumers use more than one coupon on the same product to multiply the savings potential. Usually this works by using a store coupon along with a manufacturers coupon. Most store’s only accept manufacturer coupons that have valid expiration dates. You can search the manufacturer’s website for coupons or print coupons online at sites like CouponSherpa.com.

In fact, anytime you are about to go shopping, you should read the store’s coupon policy which is available online. Walmart recently updated their coupon policy and now accepts manufacturer coupons which they didn’t offer before. This is a smart way to save extra cash when shopping at these discount department stores. Don’t forget that you can find discount gift cards for stores such as Target, Walmart, Kmart, etc. at sites like GiftCardGranny.com to stretch your dollars even further. Since these stores also offer produce, other foods and even organic products, it’s a smart option when looking to save money.

Here are further details about which big discount stores accept coupons so you can navigate your cart to greater savings:
1. Walmart accepts: Manufacturers’ coupons, valid Internet printable coupons (IPs) that include “Manufacturers’ Coupon,” an expiration date and scannable bar code on the face of the coupon, competitor’s coupons that specify a specific product for a certain price, soft drink container caps, and Catalina coupons (the coupons printed at the register) from competitor’s stores.
2. Target accepts: One manufacturer coupon combined with one Target coupon for the same item, Super Target coupons, if the store carries the item, and IP coupons.
3. Dollar General accepts: Manufacturer coupons, Dollar General store coupons, and IP coupons.
4. BJ’s accepts: Manufacturer coupons, and BJ’s members-only coupons.
5. Kmart accepts: Manufacturer coupons, Kmart Savings coupons, Kmart store coupons, and printable coupons.

Hit dollar stores
Whether you cruise the narrow aisles of Dollar General or hit one of the smaller chains, dollar stores offer “ka-ching” savings on boxed, bagged and canned goods. Make sure you check the expiration dates, however.

Take advantage of cash back programs
Sign up for loyalty reward programs through grocery stores to enjoy instant discounts and coupons at check out, cash back or gift card rewards based on a points system, and even gas rewards.

In an effort to get consumers to start using their credit cards in more places like grocery stores, credit cards are now offering great reward programs with rebates on those purchases. For example, Blue Cash from American Express offers 5% cash back on eligible purchases at supermarkets and Discover More Card offers 5 % Cashback Bonus for groceries too. Some credit cards offer a higher reward for an introductory rate only while some may be linked to a specific store so make sure to read the card’s benefits first before applying. Here is a good reference – CardBenefit.com.

Many grocery stores have also partnered with gas stations to offer reward programs. For example, every time a Ralph’s customer makes a purchase with their Ralph’s rewards card, they not only save money on their grocery bill but also earn Fuel Points that can be used at the pump. Ralph’s customers have the opportunity to redeem 100 points per visit to save 10 cents per gallon instantly at participating Shell stations. This offer is valid up to 35 gallons of fuel per purchase.

Buy generic
By and large, store-brand generics can be much cheaper than manufacturer products with the exact same quality. In fact, generics come off the same assembly line before being slapped with separate labels so skip the brand name items.

Use discount gift cards
Shop websites like GiftCardGranny for discount gift cards from Kmart, Walmart, and other major chains that sell food goods and produce. Paying just a portion of the card’s face value gives you an instant savings on your grocery needs.

Make a list
Avoid impulse purchases by making a list before you leave home and sticking to it when you hit the store. Knowing specifically what you need also helps avoid duplications of products you already have at home.

Buy food online
Not only is shopping online for food convenient and less time consuming but this allows you to cut gas spending by limiting the commute. Sites like Amazon.com offer groceries online but you can find internet services for many local grocers too like Shoprite, Safeway, Vons, Ralph’s, and many others.

Plan your meals
It’s a lot easier to make a list when you have a plan. Creating a weekly menu also helps you avoid quick trips to the supermarket that ends up costing you more in many ways. For last minute meals, create a gourmet dish at a deep discount by buying meats, produce and other food items that are on sale at your local grocery store.

One-stop shop
Save gas, time and money by shopping stores like Target that allow you to buy everything on your list within one visit.

Avoid out-of-season produce
To every vegetable and fruit there is a season and a better price. Squash is cheaper in the fall while asparagus can be a bargain in the spring. Wait until prices are at their best and plan your menu around seasonal produce to save big.

Buy organic foods
If eating healthy is a priority but organic food seems to be out of your budget, there are several ways to keep costs down”
1. Grow your own produce if you have the resources (yard and good soil). You can seek assistance at your local gardening shops.
2. Buy lots of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season to enjoy lower prices. If you aren’t sure which produce is in season near you, click on your state on the Sustainable Table website. If possible, freeze or preserve produce for later.
3. Read the labels. Only shop for labels with “USDA Organic,” “Certified Organic,” and “100% Organic” stickers as these claims are made by the Department of Agriculture. Other products with labels that claim “natural,” “cage-free,” or “free-roaming” aren’t usually approved and could be misleading marketing attempt to get get consumers to spend money on pricier items that aren’t really organic.
4. Consider store brands for organic discounts. Many grocers now offer their own store brand organics i.e. Safeway, Costco Kirkland Signature Organics and more. What’s more, many organic products are sold in bulk so you can buy more and stock up but only if you plan to use/consume the items before expiration dates. Otherwise, you are just wasting it and losing money.
5. Shop online for organic goods. The GreenPeople directory from the Organic Consumer Association is a good place to begin your online search for affordable organic foods.

Buy at the Farmer’s Market
Buying at farmer’s market is a great way to support your local economy but it can be more expensive than buying from the supermarket. You should stock up on fresh herbs at farmer’s markets because they are cheaper and better than what you can get in the supermarket. Also consider working or volunteering at the farmer’s market so that you can score food for free or at a much cheaper price!


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