Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Grocery Shopping

A lot of people really hate grocery shopping. It can be very confusing trying to figure out if the product is healthy and economical. The increase in the price of gas has really started to effect the cost of what is on the grocer's shelf. So how do you shop healthy and still feed yourself and your family without going bankrupt at the cash register? Here are a few tips that will hopefully make you a smarter, more efficient shopper.

Always keep a list of things you are running low on. This way you can keep an eye open for the item to go on sale and stock up before you run out and have to pay full price.

Take a grocery list and follow it. Spur of the moment purchases are often more expensive in the long run. If the store has a "temporary" special, check the price and quality carefully. Is the item near the expiry date or damaged? How much of the product will you actually consume before it goes bad.

Never shop on an empty stomach. You are far more apt to make impulse purchases of buy more than you actually need or will use because you are hungry. The eyes really can be bigger than the stomach!

Manufacturer and store coupons are only a good deal IF the coupon is for an item you actually use on a regular basis. The reality is, that most coupons are put out to promote the sale of a higher priced item that isn't necessarily healthy such as sugar coated cereals, cookies and prepackaged TV dinner entrees'. These items are often loaded with calories, sugar, fats and preservatives that the body just doesn't need. You almost never see coupons for fresh products and basic staples because the store profits are really in trying to get you to buy premium prepackaged convenience items. Store savings programs can also be a waster of time/effort as you usually pay a higher price up front for being a loyal customer before you spend enough to get any real "bonuses" down the road.

Buying a sale item or a lesser known brand because it is cheaper is only a better deal IF you actually like the taste/quality of the product. I've tried a few "unknown" brands and ended up throwing them out or trying to "doctor" the taste because they were a poor quality or the taste was just not that satisfying. I've tried store brands of peanut butters, cooking sprays and mayonnaise that I thought were horrible, but I've also found little difference between the taste of some products such as salad dressings and canned meats. There is nothing wrong wit "trying the sore/cheaper brand, BUT start by buying the smaller size, not the econo size - at least until you know that you like it! Make a choice as to whether the difference in price is worth the sacrifice in flavour/quality.

Did you know that the majority of healthy shopping can be done on the outer aisles of the store? Take a second and think about the layout of the store. The produce, meat, bakery and dairy are all on the outer aisle of the store.

The pre-packaged and convenience items are all in between. Even most of the frozen food aisles are in the middle aisles.

There are some healthy items in the middle aisles such as whole grain cereals, pastas, rice, spices, some baking products and canned products but most of the stuff is just products that are expensive, unhealthy and unnecessary for most people.

That's not to say that there aren't problems in the outer aisles, as there are also unhealthy choices in the bakery, dairy, meat and even in the produce department. The trick is to be aware of whether you are purchasing a convenience item or a real basic. Pre-cut carrots, shredded, cheeses, seasoned meats, bakery sweets and prepared items from the deli, may save you time but they will more likely than not add a lot to your grocery bill and to your waist line.

If you must venture into those middle aisles, then be aware that the better deals are generally on the top or bottom shelf. The product that the store "wants you to buy will be at eye level. They assume you are in a hurry and that you won't take the time to really look at all the options. The same is true in the cookie, cereal and crackers areas. The heavy sugar stuff is ll at a level that the little kids will see first. They spot it and beg the parent to get their "favourite". Many parents end up giving in rather than risking a scene, only to have the kid hate it or go on sugar high!

You can't win either way and the store planners know it! Items displayed at the end of the aisle are not always on sale - they just may be over stocked or near the expiry date. Know your prices!

If possible shop early in the morning to get the best selection of fresh products.  I like to shop Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. The stores aren't as busy as they are on weekends and most sale items will be in stock. If you can, try and shop at the same time of day in the same store each week. This allows you to get to know some of the staff - and in turn they get to know you and your shopping habits. Being friendly with the staff can lead to help finding the better deals, freshest items and sometimes a discount for a slightly damaged product or something near expiry that hasn't been marked down yet.

By shopping early, you will also be able to check out the newly discounted items in various departments. Produce may be starting to wilt or spoil, but if it is discounted enough and you can use it in a couple days or freeze it, it may be worth the discount. Fresh meat items that are close to expiry are deeply discounted. These can be portioned and frozen immediately for later use. Bakery items on discount can almost always be frozen. Dairy items are a bit trickier but if you know you can use it quickly or freeze it than the discount and short life of the product may be worth it for you.

Try and browse all the area flyer's. Use a high light pen to mark the deals in each. Then check your list to see where the best deals are for you for that week and go to one or two stores where you'll spend your grocery dollars most efficiently.

Always take the store flyer with you so you can make sure you are getting the right products and get faster assistance if you can show a clerk the item you are looking for. It never hurts to ask for a rain check if they are out of a sale item. Some stores say they don't give them out, but if I tell them that I know I won't be able to get back before the sale is over, the person from that department (rather than customer service) will usually sign the flyer authorizing a future discount when the item is in stock.

Personally, I take all the flyers with me when I grocery shop as many stores will price match competitors. Many stores actually do the price comparisons and mark down items their competitors have on sale but there are some things they miss so it is always better to have the flyer with you if at all possible.

If at all possible pay cash or use your debit card. Paying with a credit card may earn bonus points, but it is also easier to loose track of just how much you are really paying for your groceries each month. I check all receipts when I get home to make sure I haven't been overcharged and also keep a running total of what I've spent on groceries for that month. Some months I spend a lot more or a lot less but last year, I averaged about $170.00/month. That included all my kitchen products - edible and non edible. It also included all my Christmas baking supplies (over a $100.00 on its own).

So there you have it. Just a few ideas and a little common sense to beating the rising costs of eating healthy. Over the next two days, I'll gibe you some tips on how to store all those that deals once you get them home.


No comments: