Summer's almost here and we all look forward to taking it easier. Stressing about high prices at the supermarket should not be part of the plan. With just a little effort, you can reduce the amount you spend on food for your family.
Groceries are the largest category of spending that we can moderate without making major lifestyle changes. According to the U.S. Statistical Abstract for 2002, the typical family of three spends $6,093 on food each year, a figure that includes $2,407 for food eaten away from home.
Everyone doesn't include the same things in their grocery bill. The Abstract shows typical spending of $553 for "housekeeping supplies," $693 for "personal care products and services" and $399 for "tobacco products." None of these categories is included in the $6,093.
Not Groceries Are Food
All of us buy non-food items at the supermarket, and yet we may think of them as part of our grocery budget. With the rise of "super centers," more people are combining their grocery shopping with other shopping. This is convenient, but not always the cheapest solution.
Nine items (laundry detergent, peanut butter, fabric softener, toilet tissue, diapers, coffee, toothpaste, paper towels, and shampoo) account for $17 billion in annual sales. With the exception of peanut butter and coffee, none of these are "food" items. Other bill boosters are pet food and liquor. And don't forget greeting cards and video rentals that figure into many of our grocery bills!
Take these purchases into consideration when you figure what you actually spend on feeding your family.
Know Your Habits
The best way to reduce your bill is to study your family's habits and see where you can make changes to save money. Every family's situation is different, and some even grow or raise their own food.
Begin by analyzing your receipts. What items are the most expensive? Work on them first. Can they be eliminated entirely? If not, are there lower cost alternatives?
Junk food is not the only thing that can drive up grocery bills. Your diet also makes a big difference. Vegetables and starches cost less than meat and so a diet that includes a lot of meat will be more expensive than others. Likewise, some specialty foods and those labeled as low calorie, low sugar, and low salt will add heft to your bill.
For instance, according to the Organic Trade Association consumers are willing to pay up to 25 percent more for organic food than they do for non-organic equivalents. Some consumers will pay up to 100 percent more!
The grocery store is often not the best place to buy specialty items. If you buy them often, look for more direct, lower cost alternative sources.
Time or Money?
Our love of convenience boosts grocery bills, too. Most of us are short on time and not surprisingly, grocers see this as an opportunity to increase their profits.
Most are offering everything-in-one-box type of meals. Others are experimenting with a menu plan. Supermarkets are stocked to allow shoppers to buy everything they need for a specific meal on one shelf or in one area. The consumer pays for the convenience of not planning their own meals and buying pre-measured ingredients.
As a general rule, the less processed a food or product is, the less expensive it will be. Less processing often translates into more healthful food, too.
Buying ingredients closer to their raw state usually saves money, but doing so usually means cooking these ingredients. This might take some time, but the pay-off may be worth it in terms of flavor, health, and family well-being, as well as money.
While you're waiting in line, take a look at your grocery cart. How much prepared food is in the cart? You may not think you have time to clean carrots, but you will pay extra for the baby-cut prepared ones. If you know the difference in price you can make an intelligent decision whether to save your time or your money.
Finally, learn to compare prices so that you can identify and stock up when you find a true bargain. The best tool for this is a price book you keep yourself. This is simply a listing of items you commonly buy and the lowest price(s) for each item. This will help you identify the true sales. Shoppers who use a price book regularly claim to save up to 20 percent.
With even two or three adjustments, you may find you save a noticeable amount on your grocery bill. And your family may even eat more healthfully for it!
Gary Foreman is a former purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher website www.stretcher.com and ezine
copyright 2003 Dollar Stretcher, Inc. .