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Savvy Food Shopping

In just one month, the average American family of four will spend almost $500 on groceries alone.

That sounds like a small fortune, but there are ways to shave dollars off that sum. For some advice on how to spend less on food without starving, The Early Show turn to Better Homes and Gardens contributor Sissy Biggers.

Planning ahead is the first step. Biggers says a family has to prepare for a trip to the supermarket. Decide where to shop and have coupons ready. Biggers also suggests comparison shopping, buying store brands, and avoiding common consumer traps.

Pre-Shopping Prep Work

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Part of planning should be knowing what you have in your cabinet at all times, and what you use most frequently. Some savvy shoppers advise that you make a master list of the products you use on a regular basis, leaving space for additions. If you make photocopies of that list and post them in accessible spots in the kitchen, like the fridge door or inside a cabinet, you can mark off items you need to stock up on when you're running low.

Once you know what's in the cabinet, it's time to create a master list of everything you need to buy on your shopping excursion. All grocery gurus know that without a list, you're not going to shop smartly. Lists should be broken into categories, such as vegetables, dairy and canned goods, or according to the general order in which items are stocked in your supermarket aisles.

When your list is compiled, it's coupon time. Amazingly, in 2000, manufacturers produced and distributed 248 billion coupons. American shoppers redeemed only 4.5 billion of those, saving themselves a total of $3.6 billion for the year. But if more Americans used coupons, they could save billions of dollars yearly.

There is a trick to clipping coupons smartly. Do not clip coupons for things you normally wouldn't buy. If you do, you'll spend money unnecessarily. That jar of pickled rutabagas may be on sale with a coupon for $2 off, but it doesn't mean you're going to ever use them. Don't buy what you don't need or use just because you have a coupon.

When it comes to shopping with coupons, there are a few other tricks. First, look in the newspaper for circulations or announcements of big sale events. You should also pay attention to all the coupons you get in the paper, in the mail, even on the back of your weekly grocery receipt. Every little cent counts, so you might as well make coupons work for you.

Another good choice for shoppers are "Shoppers Club" cards that most supermarkets offer to customers, usually free of charge. You can get a card that is swiped at the checkout aisle that will save you money on sale items. It's an extra bonus in addition to your coupon clippings.

And go online if you want to search for particular coupons. Sites like have printable coupons, and you can print only the ones you want.

Working the Supermarket

Again, it's good to know where things are laid out in your supermarket before you go shopping. The better you know where things are, the faster you can get to the things you want, and the better you can avoid things you don't really need.

Another trap is the big displays of brand-name products along the aisles. A typical tactic in American groceries is the "slotting fee" paid by manufacturers to retailers in exchange for access to shelves. The fees range from a few hundred dollars to $25,000 per store, or as much as $3 million per chain. They give some brands prime placement in grocery stores — right at eye-level, or in end-of-aisle displays. Because the manufacturers are paying for such prime grocery real estate, typically, the price of their goods are far higher than those on lower or higher shelves.

Interestingly, a lot of grocers have added coupon machines along aisles, giving out coupons for items on the shelf next to it. Don't fall for this. Chances are that coupon will not cover half of the difference between the cost of the expensive box of pasta and the cheaper brand.

Shop above and below your eye level to see what other brands are going for. Sometimes, you'll find a real deal. It's also important to note that some store brands are just as good as the name brands, and are even produced in the same factories as name brands. It's all about trying less expensive items once in a while and seeing if they work for you.

Another grocery myth is to buy in bulk/jumbo sizes because over time, you'll save money. Unless you've got a large family that eats tons of potatoes every day, it probably doesn't pay to buy the 25 lb. sack of spuds, as most will rot before you ever get around to eating them. If you really want to buy in bulk, go in with a friend who uses the same products you do.

Look at the unit price of everything you buy. Many shoppers have cited the examples of "two-for-one" sales, in which the prices on each item have been jacked up so much, you're really not saving much. Apparently many stores will raise their prices for a week during the 2-for-1 sale, then lower the prices when the sale is over.

Also, it's important to pay attention to the "ounce count" in everything you buy. It's common for manufacturers, over the past several years, to make their products smaller without advertising this and lowering prices to go along with the smaller products.

To make sure you're getting all the bang for your buck, it can help to keep a price book with you. Just take an address book with tabs for each letter, and write in product names and prices. Each time you go to the market, you can compare the prices on the shelves with past products in your price book, and see whether you're getting your money's worth.

A Few Good Cost Cutters

Another thing to keep in mind is that the pre-packaged goodies are far more expensive than the ingredients that go into them. So why not buy all the ingredients for a brownie mix, and bag them into your own home made brownie mix once you get back home? Or make your own pizzas with a little flour, water, and other fresh ingredients.

If that's all a little too much work for you, perhaps these tricks are a little easier to swallow: buy condensed soup, which is a lot cheaper than the ready-to-serve variety. Or stretch your chocolate milk by mixing it in with your regular milk. Or, instead of getting the fancy boned, butterflied chicken breasts, buy a whole chicken! You can get four additional meals out of one chicken.
Grocery Fun Facts

  • Americans spend 10.9 percent of their income on food, the lowest percentage in the world. India spends 51.3 percent, Mexico spends 24.5 percent, South Africa spends 27.5 percent, Japan spends 17.6 percent, Italy spends 17.2 percent and the UK spends 11.2 percent.
  • Weekly, a single person spends approximately $48 on food. The average family-of-two spends $84 a week on food; a family-of-four spends $121 a week. In 2001, the average supermarket saw sales of $368,779 weekly.
  • It takes about 40 days for most Americans to earn enough money to pay for their food supply for the entire year. It takes that same American 124 days to earn enough money to pay federal, state and local taxes for the year.
  • The annual per capita consumption of Americans is: 204.5 pounds of milk, 196.8 pounds of flour and cereal products, 186.5 pounds of fresh vegetables, 131.8 pounds of fresh fruits, 115.6 pounds of red meat, 65 pounds of poultry, 65.3 pounds of fats and oils, 28 pounds of cheese, 18.9 pounds of rice and 244 eggs.
  • The average American spends over 100 hours each year in the supermarket. About 53 percent of grocery store purchases are spur of the moment.
  • Peak shopping hours are weekday evenings and weekday afternoons. To avoid the aggravation and frustration of shopping in a packed store, it's best to shop late in the evening or early Sunday morning, when the store will be well staffed without too much consumer traffic.

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