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  • Tips for saving on your biggest weekly expense

    Tips for saving on your biggest weekly expense
    Published September 25, 2012
    Tips for saving on your biggest weekly expense
    How to navigate the grocery store and save – even without coupons

    Some expenses, like the cost of food, are necessary. But just because you have to eat doesn't mean you should pay top dollar every time you're at the local supermarket. According to Statistics Canada, the average family household spends between $6,000 and $7,000 on food expenses every year. That's roughly $500 a month and a hefty portion of your paycheque.

    While you can't cut food out of your monthly budget, there are certainly ways that you can avoid draining your bank account every time you need to grab a carton of milk. Maintain a slimmer waistline and a fatter pocketbook with these tips for managing your weekly food budget...

    1) Get organized
    Preparation is key to keeping your food costs low, so don't even think about entering the supermarket without a plan. A grocery list is a great place to start, but don't stop there. If you're serious about saving, consider keeping a cheat sheet of prices as you peruse the aisles. Jot down prices for essential items like eggs, milk, bread, and items that you're constantly stocking up on (i.e., diapers for a new mom or a preferred brand of juice). Keep this cheat sheet handy in your purse and pull it out each week when you're at the store. In this way, you'll know when something is discounted and can potentially buy in bulk in order to save a few dollars and have a stash for later.

    2) Comparison shop
    You wouldn't buy a car without comparing prices, so why do you consistently buy the same brand of toothpaste without checking around for a better deal? Blindly paying top dollar for a product week after week could end up costing you thousands of dollars over your lifetime. Instead, take the time to compare prices. The best way to do this is to check the "unit pricing" sticker that's posted on each price marker. Buying a product in its bigger format usually represents better value, but never assume this is always the case.

    Savvy shoppers can save even more checking out generic brands. Grocery store brands are often identical to their brand name counterparts (they’re often made in the same plant); they just feature different labels...and cheaper prices! This is particularly true for pharmaceutical products.  Just make sure to check the ingredient list to ensure you're getting the nutrients and vitamins you need.

    3) Buy in bulk
    More can be good...just don't overdo it. Buying five tubs of margarine just because it’s on sale isn't a smart investment. Your best bulk-buying bets: tinned products and other non-perishable items. Staples like rice, spices, flour, sugar, nuts and pastas can also be purchased from the bulk bin area of your grocery store at a discounted price.

    If you're hoping to stock up on a discounted item, always remember to look at the expiration date (if applicable). You may find fresher items at the back of the shelf, which will enable you to stretch your savings even longer. 

    And don’t be fooled the ‘5 for $10’ promotions.  At many stores (though not all), you can buy just one of these items for $2, rather than being lured into buying the bulk quantity.  And c’mon, even if you have to pay 20 cents more to just buy one item, do you really need five bags of marshmallows?

    4) Do your own food prep
    When you buy items like pre-cut fruit, packaged meals, and grated cheese, watch out – you're paying a premium for these simple conveniences. Shelling your own shrimp, washing your own spinach, and grating your own cheese will help you shave even more off your weekly grocery bill.

    5) Avoid budget busters
    Still having trouble keeping your food costs down? Avoid these common supermarket offenders:

    The middle shelves: Since we tend to look at items that are at eye level, grocery stores tend to place the most expensive items front and centre on these shelves. When shopping, try and look higher and lower for better-priced options.
    Shopping with children: It's not always easy to say no to a screaming toddler. If you can make it happen, try and leave your kids at home. It will make the trip faster, more affordable (and more enjoyable!).
    Shopping when hungry: If you hit up the supermarket right before dinner, don't be surprised if you blow your budget. Studies have shown that people buy more when they're hungry, so grab a snack before you grab a cart.

    Feast on the leftover cash
    Fight the rising cost of groceries without cutting nutritious options from your diet. Take the time to plan your trip to the supermarket each week, plan your meals around featured sale items, and don't be afraid to clip a few coupons (we couldn’t not mention them!). Frugal shopping doesn't have to leave you famished; you can plan a feast on a budget and have cash to spare.

    About the Author/Partner: GoldenGirlFinance.ca is a free personal finance and education site for women.

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