July 21, 2009

5 Ways to Save at the Supermarket

Motley Fool personal finance expert Dayana Yochim offers no-fuss strategies for reducing your grocery tab.

Want to save money in every single aisle at the grocery store? No sweat. Seriously! These five low-effort supermarket-savings strategies do not require complex cost-benefit calculations, time-consuming research or pre-shopping preparation.

1. Cheat off your grocer’s math homework. Is the bigger box of cereal actually cheaper than two smaller boxes? Put down that calculator and get the answer right off the sticker posted on the shelf — the per-unit price “cheat sheet.” This savings shortcut helps you instantly compare different sizes and brands of everything you toss into your cart. It’ like cheating off the smart kid in math class, only there’s no risk of detention.

2. Stick to your shopping syllabus. There’ a reason the proverbial “they” say never shop when hungry or without a grocery list: These timeworn nuggets actually work. An estimated 40% to 70% of supermarket purchases are unplanned (a.k.a. “impulse buys”). You can save some serious cash by composing a grocery list and sticking to it (the latter is a critical part of the equation). If you have standard meals in rotation, type out all the staples you need and make a stack of copies to keep in your pantry. Before each trip to the store simply checkmark the items you actually need. And no, adding things to the list as you toss them into the cart doesn’t count.

3. Become BFFs with your grocer. Most people don't need any more plastic in their wallet. The one exception is a card that helps you save money, not spend it: your supermarket’s loyalty program (sometimes called a shopper’s club card). Enrollment is usually free, and the rewards for card-carrying customers are instant. Soon your grocer may even get to know you better than you know yourself and provide tailor-made coupons (printed on your receipt or mailed to your home) based on your shopping patterns.

4. Stop binge buying. Yes, we’re back to harping about making a shopping list. Here's yet another reason to never leave home without one: The average household tosses 14% of its groceries down the disposal every month — that’s nearly $600 annually going to waste because of bad planning and overbuying. Toss fewer greens in the trash and keep more green in your wallet by making a list of what (and how much) you need before you’re at the store.

5. Pay with paper, not plastic. Give your credit cards a rest and start stocking your wallet with cash before you shop. Research show that people spend as much as 18% more when the transaction doesn’t involve cash. Using cash forces you to be more mindful of what you buy, plus it limits your spending to the amount of money you have in your wallet. Voilà! Instant budget!

About the author: Dayana Yochim is the consumer finance expert at the Motley Fool (fool.com) and the author of, The Motley Fool’s Guide to Couples & Cash: How to Handle Money with Your Honey and co-author of The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook.

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