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Shop smart using saver savvy tips

by Angel Dominguez, Airman and Family Readiness Center

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- According to the Institute of Consumer Financial Education, nearly 37 cents of every income dollar is spent by American families for groceries and household items; a few years back it was about 30 cents. Food prices have spiked dramatically these past few months for a variety of reasons. There isn't much consumers can do about the rapidly rising costs except to begin shopping smarter for household and grocery items. 

The average American consumer makes two trips a week to the grocery store and one or more stops at a drug or discount store. Stores are cleverly set-up and well merchandised; manufacturers and food producers fight for eye level space on retailer's shelves to be able to set up elaborate, eye catching displays. All of this is designed to one end: motivate shoppers to spend. There are also companies that place merchandise at checkout counters specifically to induce impulse spending. 

Here are 12 tips for improving grocery and household shopping: 

1. Create a list to take shopping
Using a list will help plan for needs in advance, so take advantage of sale prices and avoid impulse purchases. Shop alone after a meal. People who shop with others while hungry will sometimes spend more than they normally would. 

2. Watch for coupons and flyers in the mail and newspaper
Check for sale prices on items regularly purchased items. People should compare prices with other stores, especially those they don't normally visit. Pay special attention to the days of the week sale prices in effect. For example, some stores have no sale prices in effect Mondays, traditionally a busy shopping day. Carefully plan purchases, noting on the list which items are sale-priced and items where a coupons can be used. 

3. Spend cash
Take time to get cash before going to the store. Nothing impacts people's minds like taking out cash from their own wallets or purses. Many people who use credit cards rarely know how much was actually spent - until the statement comes. People who write checks simply do not take the time to calculate the balance and have no idea what is left over. Paying cash causes people to think ahead. 

4. Take advantage of coupons and rebates -- they do add up
Shop at stores that double coupons and take time to watch the papers for grocery coupons. Look for items on the shelf which also have coupons included inside the package, called a 'double play' by couponers. 

5. Avoid buying plastic bags for food storage or garbage disposal
Stores give plastic bags away free and there are plastic bags available in the produce and meat sections. Separately bag each item and save them for reuse. When asked if you want either paper or plastic bags, ask for paper inside of a plastic bag and you will then have an ample supply of ready-made garbage bags. 

6. Cleaning aids, cleansers etc., are costly and prices vary greatly with different brands
Some companies market a cleanser (and now specialty wipes - what a waste!) for virtually every type of household project. The best cleanser in the kitchen, aside from powder is ammonia. No need to buy a brand name, ammonia is ammonia. If you want it soapy, then add some detergent. Another valueless item is dish soap promoted to be gentle on hands or cuts grease better. If your hands are that sensitive, use rubber gloves and save money on detergent by using generic brands. Hot water and any detergent will cut grease. 

7. Plan meals in advance
Keep in mind wise use of leftovers or freezing for later use. Consider buying meat items in larger quantities and freeze the remainder for later use. This can save up to 20 percent. 

8. Avoid prepackaged items 
Cereals, breads, desserts, juices, beverages etc., mixed and prepared at home are always a better value than prepackaged items. The same is true for pet foods and many experts agree dry pet food mixed with water is better than canned food. 

9. Be cautious about adding non-food items to the grocery list
These include health and beauty items, paper and plastics, utensils, brooms, brushes, film, etc. These items have the highest profit margin for most grocers, which is exactly why they are prominently displayed in stores. A better value can usually be obtained at discount stores. 

10. When shopping, stick to the list and plan all purchases in advance; take full advantage of sale items and two-for-one deals (if the price isn't inflated to compensate).
When possible, shop the outside walls and stay out of the aisles. Most food stores situate the four basics (produce, meats, dairy and breads) on walls. They most often place all the cookies, cereals, beverages, canned goods and the nice-to-haves on the aisles. 

11. Buy meat without bones
That's right, buying a roast with a bone is a bad idea. Remember: when buying by the pound, a bone adds extra weight. Stick to rib-eye and New York strips, avoid the T-bone steaks. 

12. Finally, check the checker
Note the prices while selecting items, and then make sure the same price is posted at the check-out. Check the register tape again after leaving the store. Often, unintentional mistakes are uncovered, especially with large purchases. Many times a sale price is listed in the store, but not reflected at the check-out. Also, the shorter the time spent in the store, the less money spent.

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