The average family of four spends at least $600 a month on food, but Lisa Lee Freeman, editor in chief of ShopSmart magazine, has new ways to save on your grocery bill -- from what to do before you hit the store to which aisles offer the best bargains.
Freeman shared some her top tips on "The Early Show" Friday.
Make the most out of your grocery money:
You should know that saving money on your food bill may take a little effort. And to get the most bang for your buck, you may have to give up brand loyalty or shopping at your favorite store. But, by becoming more flexible and using new tools, like the best mobile phone apps, you could save significantly. And who isn't looking to save every penny right now?!
Smart consumers knew they should always go armed with a shopping list, but not all of us have the time to read the various weekly circulars and take notes. Instead, turn to MyGroceryDeals.com. This site makes it really convenient and easy to put together grocery list. Log in for free, create a profile with your zip code and favorite stores, and then make a grocery list based off store circulars. All your neighborhood circulars are in one place. You can sort through the circulars by category -- baked goods, dairy, organic or you could view deals by stores in your area. As you find ingredients, you can drag them over to your printable grocery list. There are also online coupons for additional savings.
Buy in bulk:
You can also skip the fees -- and car loading -- that go with warehouse stores and have bulk grocery items delivered by BuytheCase.net. If you're a busy young mother or older person or just don't have a Costco or BJ's around the block, this site (and others) are particularly helpful. At BuytheCase.net, you can log on and order items the way restaurants and businesses do -- literally buy the case. As an example, we got a case of four-ounce cans of Del Monte Mandarin Oranges buy the case. These are four-packs and six-packs come per case (so that's 24 cans of oranges.) The suggested retail price is $3.39, but BuyTheCase.net price was $2.69 (making that a savings of $4.20). For large families who go through lots of the same items every week, this could add up to big savings. There are other sites (such as Netgrocer, Amazon, and Alice) for buying groceries online, but you may pay a bit extra for the convenience of home delivery.
Best bargain stores:
We at ShopSmart Magazine deployed our army of mystery shoppers to check the prices of more than a dozen popular everyday items. Our shoppers went to Targets, Walmarts and supermarkets across the country and we priced the products at various websites. The results? Drum roll, please! Taking top billing for best prices were Walmart and Target. (They were neck and neck for first place.) The online sites didn't do as well. We found that you pay a premium of as much as 42 percent for the convenience.
Choose the right aisle:
Sounds silly, I know, but the aisle can make the difference! We bought cheese from various areas of the grocery to demonstrate how prices can vary wildly. If you go to fancy cheese section, you will find a lot of expensive price tags. In this section, a block of feta can cost 45 percent more than a mainstream brand in the dairy case. Another example: cheddar or Swiss cheese is virtually the same product regardless of grocery store aisle. There's a standard of identification for cheddar, Swiss, and Monterey Jack cheeses. By law, they're processed the same way.
How to save on washed, sliced or prepackaged items:
Of course we all love the pre-packaged goodies, but it really doesn't pay. Use our five-minute rule to decide about purchases. The five-minute rule means - if you can peel it or shred it in less than five minutes, it's not worth paying a premium for precut. We looked at the prices of various items and the markup on sliced broccoli and on pre-washed carrots is up to 168 percent. That means you're paying over 100 percent more for someone else to wash and slice these items -- the same ingredients you could prep in less than 5 minutes!
Organize your brand loyalty cards:
Not using a store loyalty card is like throwing away free money. There's just no excuse not to use one. That said, it's common to misplace or forget your card. Instead, download the CardStar mobile app onto your smartphone. This app consolidates your membership and reward cards for numerous national and regional merchants. You can lighten your load and get rid of all that plastic baggage, not to mention that you can scan your cards from your phone!
Make better use of the groceries you have:
We rarely promote things backed by stores, but Whole Foods has a nice iPhone app that we couldn't help, but fall in love. Available for the iPhone, this app searches for healthful recipes by ingredients and dietary restrictions. Type in what you have on hand and discover what you can make without a grocery run, or add what you need to a shopping list and take it to the store. Best part the price? It's free!