Monday, April 23, 2007

Financial Planning 101: Keep Grocery costs down

There was a time when dashing into the supermarket four or five times a week to pick up a few things was time-consuming but not financially deadly.

But with food prices rising faster than really good bread dough, even the smallest supermarket mistakes can show up in dollar signs at the checkout.

If you are careful to avoid making these six common grocery-shopping mistakes, you won't get burned by the high price of food.

Mistake: Sticking to name brands

An extensive survey by Consumer Reports magazine of 65 common grocery-store items determined that switching from name brands to store brands can cut your grocery bill in half without sacrificing quality.

In fact, they discovered that, in many cases, the store brands contained the name-brand product but with a different label and a lower price. Remember: The name brands have to work the high cost of marketing and advertising into the cost of the item.

Mistake: Ignoring unit pricing

Most grocery stores and supermarkets post labels on the shelf that show the item's price and the price per unit -- per ounce, per serving and so forth. It gets confusing if you are attempting to compare ''per ounce'' with ''per serving.'' That's when it's good to have a calculator handy. Don't assume the larger size is automatically the better deal. Often it's not, but you won't know that if you don't watch the price per unit.

Mistake: Acting on impulse

There's a reason that everyday staples such as milk and bread are at the back of the store. It makes picking up milk and bread a challenge because you will pass so many opportunities to pick up other stuff on the way to the milk: the bakery, deli, seafood counter, etc.

If you're not careful, you'll load up on all kinds of things you hadn't planned to buy. Everything about a supermarket is designed to facilitate impulse buying.

Mistake: Being unprepared

Grocery shopping without a list is risky. Your memory isn't as good as you might think. Without a plan, you'll find yourself coming back to the store for what you forgot -- and that starts the mistakes all over again.

Mistake: Daydreaming at checkout

Surveys indicate that consumers lose $1 billion to $2.5 billion each year because of scanner pricing errors. Most states and counties have enforcement personnel who go to stores to check the accuracy between stated prices and what rings up at the register.

But it's up to consumers to watch out for their own charges and to reconcile their receipts right there in the checkout line. Don't assume anything, and make sure you take care of scanner errors right when they happen.

Mistake: Shopping with kids

Effective grocery shopping is tedious work. Done right, you have a list made up of items that you knew would be on sale before you ever got to the store. Once in the store, you're looking for unadvertised specials, matching coupons with sale prices, comparing unit pricing and staying focused so you are not getting tripped up by impulse buys. If you have children with you, watching them trumps all of the things you should be doing. Whenever possible, shop solo.

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