Reader's Digest - - Contents - JODY L. ROHLENA

No mat­ter how you stock your kitchen, these in­sider se­crets can help you avoid the pit­falls and load up on the best deals.

EVEN WHEN no­body feels like cook­ing, ev­ery­body feels like eat­ing. So it’s no won­der that more than 25 per­cent of the av­er­age fam­ily food bud­get now goes to easy-prep meals and grab-and-go foods, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA). But it’s not just pre­pared-food prices that are nib­bling at our wal­lets. Over the past 30 years, gro­cery prices have risen more than the

prices of other items we buy. Amer­i­cans now spend al­most $700 bil­lion a year at the su­per­mar­ket.

For­tu­nately, we’ve dug up a bumper crop of tools to trim your bill. Tap­ping tech­nol­ogy and shop­ping around can

help. So can sharp­en­ing the strate­gies you use at your usual mar­ket, from go­ing on the right day to hit­ting the right aisles. No mat­ter how you stock your kitchen, these tips can help you load up on the best deals.

Choose the right cart. 1

It’s the first thing you do at the store—and the first way to help your­self save. Un­less you’re do­ing a week’s worth of shop­ping, grab a small gro­cery cart. In an ex­per­i­ment by a cart man­u­fac­turer, shop­pers bought 40 per­cent more stuff when given a cart dou­ble the size they usu­ally used.

But don’t grab a bas­ket. 2

It may sound coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but car­ry­ing a small hand­held bas­ket also can lead shop­pers to temp­ta­tion. There’s some­thing about the ac­tion of flex­ing your arm mus­cles to hold the bas­ket that sub­con­sciously leads you to reach for treats such as candy, ac­cord­ing to a be­hav­ioral study in the Jour­nal of Mar­ket­ing Re­search.

Shop on Wed­nes­days. 3

The sin­gle best time to shop is Wed­nes­day evening, ac­cord­ing to the shop­ping news site smart­cart­ing.com. Stores aren’t crowded, and, as a bonus, weekly spe­cials start on Wed­nes­day at nearly half of U.S. su­per­mar­kets. Some stores honor the pre­vi­ous week’s sales and coupons and the new week’s.

And not on week­ends. 4

Satur­day and Sun­day morn­ings and early af­ter­noons are the busiest, ac­cord­ing to the an­nual Amer­i­can Time Use Sur­vey. Stores are also crowded af­ter work on week­days. The av­er­age shop­ping trip is 47 min­utes on week­ends, 42 min­utes on week­days.

Make fewer trips. 5

Each time you hit the store, you spend money. (For the record, $136 each week for the typ­i­cal house­hold, and $204 for fam­i­lies with kids at home.) Amer­i­cans make an av­er­age of 1.5 trips to the su­per­mar­ket per week. Cut that down to one trip, and you’ll save time and money—par­tic­u­larly on im­pulse items, which we ad­mit to grab­bing 60 per­cent of the time.

Go it alone. 6

When we shop with some­one else, as much as 65 per­cent of the things we wind up buy­ing is un­planned, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the Mar­ket­ing Sci­ence In­sti­tute.

Ex­cept at the clubs. 7

One place where you should shop with oth­ers is the big ware­house clubs—bj’s, Costco, and Sam’s Club. Su­per­mar­ket ex­pert Phil Lem­pert sug­gests bring­ing a buddy so you can split bulk pur­chases. For the big­gest sav­ings, buy store brands; they’re as much as 75 per­cent cheaper than name brands. For ex­am­ple, Costco’s Kirk­land Sig­na­ture dish­washer de­ter­gent packs cost about 9 cents a load, while Cas­cade Com­plete Ac­tion­pacs cost 29 cents a load.

But don’t get stuck 8

in a ware­house rut.

Not ev­ery­thing is a great deal at the shop­ping clubs. Some­times you can do bet­ter with a sale at the su­per­mar­ket.

Smart buys there in­clude canned veg­eta­bles (20 per­cent to 40 per­cent less than club prices), soda (40 per­cent less), toi­let pa­per (25 per­cent less), and eggs (50 cents less per dozen).

Sur­prise! Pro­tein is a 10


Last year, gro­cery prices over­all went down for the first time in nearly 50 years. Foods that dipped the most in price in­clude beef, pork, poul­try, and dairy. Egg prices have fallen by 52 per­cent in the past two years, with the av­er­age price of a dozen down to $1.41. So if you’re look­ing for rel­a­tive bar­gains to plan meals around, these are the big win­ners.

Eat what’s in sea­son. 11

Fresh pro­duce grown lo­cally is usu­ally the best value at su­per­mar­kets and farm­ers’ mar­kets. For in­stance, straw­ber­ries are usu­ally about 30 cents cheaper per pound in June than in May. In March, look for broc­coli, brus­sels sprouts, cau­li­flower, let­tuce, and pineap­ple. In

April, snap up these same foods, as well as as­para­gus, rhubarb, and peas. Year-round bar­gains in­clude ba­nanas, cel­ery, and pota­toes.

Buy wa­ter at the 13

hard­ware store.

Some­times bar­gains pop up in un­ex­pected places. Look for good prices on bot­tled wa­ter at home­im­prove­ment stores, says Mike Cata­nia of pro­mo­tion­code.com. He found a case of 16.9-ounce bot­tles of Ni­a­gara wa­ter at the Home De­pot for $2.97, while a nearby gro­cery charged $2.99 for a case of 8-ounce bot­tles. That’s half the wa­ter for the same money.

Look high and low on 14

the shelves.

Stores put the most pop­u­lar—and of­ten the most costly—items at eye level. In fact, man­u­fac­tur­ers of­ten pay a fee for op­ti­mal place­ment. To find the bar­gains, look up and down to the higher and lower shelves. Re­tail con­sult­ing com­pany Mc­cue ad­vises man­agers to put store brands and bulk items— gen­er­ally the big­gest bar­gains—on the bot­tom shelves.

Chop your own 15


No won­der peo­ple com­plain about the cost of fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles:

Over the past 30 years, the in­fla­tion­ad­justed price of pro­duce has risen 40 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the USDA. But that spike oc­curred mostly be­cause we’re buy­ing for con­ve­nience— bagged sal­ads in­stead of heads of let­tuce, for ex­am­ple—not be­cause in­di­vid­ual items cost that much more. Save by buy­ing whole pro­duce and prep­ping it your­self. For ex­am­ple, Shops­mart mag­a­zine found that pre­chopped onions av­er­aged $4.65 a pound ver­sus 99 cents a pound for whole onions. Just-prepped pro­duce is fresher too.

Get the most for your 16

or­gan­ics dol­lar.

Ac­cord­ing to Con­sumer Re­ports, cer­ti­fied or­gan­ics (which the grower guar­an­tees were grown in bet­terqual­ity soil and with­out po­ten­tially harm­ful pes­ti­cides) cost nearly 50 per­cent more than their con­ven­tional coun­ter­parts. But the po­ten­tial health ben­e­fits vary. Spend the ex­tra money on foods whose skin you eat, such as ap­ples, peaches, straw­ber­ries, grapes, pep­pers, cel­ery, and pota­toes.

Watch out for wa­ter 17


“So many stores have mis­ters for pro­duce,” says Lem­pert. Shake the mois­ture out of let­tuce, herbs, and the like be­fore bag­ging, he sug­gests. Oth­er­wise you’ll wind up pay­ing for wa­ter weight.

Com­pare ap­ples to 18


When you’re buy­ing bags of ap­ples or pota­toes, don’t just buy the first bag you grab. Make sure to pick a heavy one. In a price com­par­i­son, a Con­sumer Re­ports re­porter found that “3-pound” bags of ap­ples ranged in weight from 3.06 to 3.36 pounds— that’s 10 per­cent more ap­ples for the same price.

Cut the crap. 19

We spend nearly 25 per­cent of our gro­cery dol­lars on pro­cessed foods and sweets, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics. Soda is the most pur­chased item, rack­ing up $12 bil­lion in sales a year, per fig­ures from dat­e­check­pro.com. So if you’re buy­ing cer­tain treats just out of habit, try stick­ing to only a few fa­vorites and see whether you can save some easy money.

Hit the sales ev­ery 20


Buy­ing sta­ples when they’re on sale is Gro­cery Shop­ping 101. You’ll usu­ally find the best deals front and cen­ter in the sales cir­cu­lars, and you can browse those be­fore you leave home. There’s a handy web­site called sun­daysaver.com that posts dozens of cir­cu­lars from stores around the coun­try. Money ex­pert Clark Howard says you can save 30 per­cent or more on your weekly bill if you shop the sales con­sis­tently.

Make a shop­ping list. 21

Yes, you need one, be­cause peo­ple who shop with a list spend far less time in the store and also make fewer im­pulse buys. If you’re not good at re­mem­ber­ing a pa­per list, keep one on your phone. You can use one of many free apps (sim­ple ones in­clude Buy Me a Pie, Gro­cery IQ, and Out of Milk; all work on An­droid and IOS) or just keep your list in your phone’s built-in Notes app.

Con­sider one of the 22

gro­cery apps.

Smart-shop­ping ex­pert Trae Bodge says us­ing a full-ser­vice gro­cery app can be worth it. She likes Flipp (free for An­droid and IOS) be­cause it au­to­mates ev­ery­thing: It matches items on your list with store spe­cials, coupons, or re­bates; it has an easy list creator that you can cus­tom­ize by store; and it will even scan and up­load your hand­writ­ten list, then sort it by aisle so you can find what you need.

Max out on coupons. 23

Cherie Lowe, who calls her­self the Queen of Free, scouts the sales at sun­day­coupon­pre­view.com. If she sees some juicy of­fers, she buys ex­tra copies of the news­pa­per at the dol­lar store, which sells a week­end edi­tion for a buck. You can snap up down­load­able coupons at her web­site, queenof­free.net, and other sites, in­clud­ing smart­source.com, coupons.com, and red­plum.com.

Snag store ex­clu­sives. 24

If you have a cou­ple of stores you shop at reg­u­larly, get fa­mil­iar with their web­sites and see whether they have apps. That’s where you’ll find re­tail­ers’ best of­fers, says Cata­nia, cit­ing Kroger’s and Tar­get’s Cartwheel as two good sources of ex­clu­sive coupons, promo codes, and re­bates.

Don’t be a brand snob. 25

Store brands typ­i­cally cost 15 per­cent to 30 per­cent less than name brands—and are some­times made by the same com­pa­nies. Three quar­ters of shop­pers view them as “just as good,” the lat­est IRI Con­sumer Con­nect sur­vey shows, and Con­sumer Re­ports taste testers pre­ferred them in 33 of 57 tests. Be­sides Costco, Tar­get and Trader Joe’s are also known for high-qual­ity pri­vate-la­bel brands.

Shop like a Ger­man. 26

If you don’t have an Aldi nearby, you likely will soon. The Ger­man dis­count chain plans to have 2,500 stores in the United States by 2022 (only Wal­mart and Kroger have more), re­ports Su­per­mar­ket News. In­side, you’ll find mostly store brands and per­haps not ev­ery­thing on your list—stores are smaller than the typ­i­cal Amer­i­can gro­cery. But you can save about 35 per­cent on meat and pro­duce and 45 per­cent over­all, ac­cord­ing to a com­par­i­son with Gi­ant and Safe­way by Wash­ing­ton Con­sumers’ Check­book. Another Ger­man chain, Lidl, opened

20 stores in the United States last year, and re­tail an­a­lysts say it could ex­pand to 630 lo­ca­tions by 2023. Lidl claims its prices are up to 50 per­cent less than com­peti­tors’.

28 Be­ware of sneaky la­bels.

Shop­pers tend to as­sume that health­ier foods cost more, re­ports the Jour­nal of Con­sumer Re­search, which is why some prod­ucts mar­keted as “healthy” come with higher price tags. Don’t get suck­ered. When you see a catchy claim, look for com­pa­ra­ble lower-priced prod­ucts with­out buzz­words.

Buy the right size. 29

While the small­est pack­ages are of­ten the worst deals, the big­gest size isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the big­gest value. The key is to look for a unit price be­low the item on the shelf—the price per ounce or liter or what­ever. In some cases, the medium-sized pack­age might be your win­ner.

Hoard at the hol­i­days. 30

Su­per­mar­kets of­ten of­fer their deep­est dis­counts around hol­i­days and food-cen­tric events such as the Su­per Bowl, so stock up then.

Claim your group dis­count.

If you’re over a cer­tain age, you may be el­i­gi­ble for a se­nior dis­count—typ­i­cally 5 per­cent—if you shop on the right

days. Stores with this pol­icy in­clude Har­ris Teeter and some Publix stores, as well as Fred Meyer, where you’ll save 10 per­cent. Also, veterans who join one of the big three ware­house clubs get spe­cial dis­counts and perks.

Ugly can be beau­ti­ful. 32

Check the pro­duce sec­tion for mark­downs on oddly shaped but still tasty “mis­fits.” In fact, Mis­fits is what su­per­mar­ket chains Han­naford, Hy-vee, and Mei­jer call their lines of im­per­fect fruits and veg­gies. What­ever they’re called, not only are these odd­balls a bar­gain—prices av­er­age 30 per­cent cheaper than “per­fect” pro­duce—but buy­ing them also helps cut down on food waste.

And so can dents. 33

Raid your su­per­mar­ket’s “scratch and dent” sale rack, if it has one. You can find prod­ucts at clear­ance prices be­cause the pack­ag­ing is dam­aged or has been re­designed. Ex­am­ple: a slightly smashed box of Spe­cial K Red Berries ce­real marked down 50 per­cent, from $5.49 to $2.74. For safety rea­sons, make sure any in­ner pack­ag­ing is sealed, and don’t buy deeply dented cans, be­cause a dam­aged seal can let bac­te­ria in. (Mi­nor dents shouldn’t be a dan­ger.)

34 Bar­gain shop at Whole Foods.

If you still think of this store by the nick­name Whole Pay­check, take another look. Since Ama­zon took over last Au­gust, it has low­ered prices on hun­dreds of items, in­clud­ing avo­ca­dos (from $2.99 to $1.79 each), or­ganic ba­nanas (from 99 cents per pound to 69 cents), fresh At­lantic sal­mon (from $14.99 per pound to $9.99), and ro­tis­serie chick­ens (from $8.99 to $7.99).

Bring the store to you. 35

Or­der­ing gro­ceries and hav­ing them de­liv­ered isn’t as big a splurge as you might think. You might have to pay a fee, though some stores (such as Costco, which just started de­liv­er­ing in some ar­eas) will do it for free if you spend over a cer­tain amount. On­line de­liv­ery ser­vices not only of­fer their own sales but also dan­gle hefty dis­counts to get you try them: For ex­am­ple, when you sign up for Fresh Di­rect, you get $50 back on your first two gro­cery orders to­tal­ing $99.

Buy sta­ples on­line. 36

New web­sites promis­ing low prices can be smart sources for cer­tain sta­ples. These three of­fer great deals on every­day items:

■ HOLLAR.COM sells brand-name items start­ing at $1. Ex­am­ple: Hamp­ton Creek Just Mayo may­on­naise, 30 ounces, $3.99. At the Sho­prite in White Plains, New York, the same mayo was the same price—only it was the 12-ounce size. Ship­ping is free if you spend $25 or more; oth­er­wise, it’s $5.95 per or­der.

■ BRANDLESS.COM of­fers an eclec­tic se­lec­tion of no-name or­gan­ics: maple syrup, tor­tilla shells, sham­poo, and more. Ev­ery­thing costs $3. Ship­ping is a flat $5 per or­der or free for mem­bers of its re­wards club.

■ BOXED.COM ships bulk items at low prices. Ex­am­ple: Lysol Dis­in­fec­tant Spray is $16.99 for four 19-ounce bot­tles, while Costco’s every­day price is $17.99. Ship­ping is free for orders of $49 or more or $6.99 per or­der.

37 Try Wal­mart’s pro­duce


If you’ve avoided fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles at Wal­mart, you might want to re­con­sider. Greg Fo­ran, Wal­mart’s U.S. pres­i­dent and CEO, says the com­pany has worked hard to cut down the num­ber of days it takes pro­duce to land in stores—by two to three days for most, four for straw­ber­ries.

38 When is that cooked chicken a bar­gain?

De­spite some re­ports that buy­ing a ro­tis­serie chicken is cheaper than roast­ing your own, that’s not al­ways true. A com­par­i­son by priceo­nomics.com found that you’ll typ­i­cally pay about a dol­lar more per pound for the cooked bird. (One ex­cep­tion is Costco, which sells its $4.99 ro­tis­serie chick­ens at a loss to get you in the store.) On the other hand, if you don’t have much time, a $7 pre­cooked su­per­mar­ket chicken still costs less than Bos­ton Mar­ket’s, where you’ll pay about $10.

Fill up for less. 39

Stop & Shop cus­tomers can save 10 cents to $1.50 per gal­lon on gas, based on their gro­cery spend­ing. Other stores with gas-back pro­grams in­clude Gi­ant, Safe­way, and Vons. Get de­tails at store web­sites or ask at the cus­tomer ser­vice counter.

Don’t buy so much! 40

If you’re like most Amer­i­cans, you threw away more than $2,000 worth of food last year. That’s about one fourth of the food and drinks we buy, re­ports the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil (NRDC). A smart way to cut down on waste is to plan your meals for the week, start­ing with dishes that use up any­thing you al­ready have and need to eat quickly. Then buy only any re­main­ing in­gre­di­ents. Dana Gun­ders, a sci­en­tist at the NRDC, has com­piled more tips in the book Waste-free Kitchen Hand­book: A Guide to Eat­ing Well and Sav­ing Money by Wast­ing Less Food. Learn more and buy the book at dana­gun­ders.com. With ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Lau­ren Cahn

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