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In addition to her monthly Practical Pantry article, Debra Caffrey is the Editor of the Education and Infant E-newsletters for FredParent. She is the proud mom of a middle schooler. Debra is passionate about cooking, meal planning, and smart grocery shopping, and is excited to share her ‘Practical Pantry’ with you.

 

Practical Pantry

Maybe you’ve gotten through that tough first step of admitting you have a problem at the grocery store. Perhaps you’ve sought the advice of your more frugal friends and have committed to meal planning and are even avoiding impulse purchases. You might have even listened to me over the years and are shopping less frequently and making a priority of not wasting what’s already in your kitchen before heading to the store. That’s great! But there is always room for improvement when it comes to saving money on groceries and food. I’ve said it before, but it’s important to remember: being savvy with your money, especially on groceries, is not a one-answer-fits-all trick. Rather, it’s an interconnected combination of small tweaks and lifestyle habits practiced and put into place over time. Here are some hidden culprits that may still be contributing to your high grocery bills, even if they sound silly!

1) Being Dehydrated

You know that going grocery shopping when you’re hungry is not a smart idea, especially because stores rely on your growling stomach in their marketing strategies and product placement. (Hint: that’s why the bakery department’s freshly baked bread and beautiful cupcakes greet you as soon as you walk in!) In order to be smarter than the store’s ploys to entice you, make sure you’re shopping after a full meal, and bring a snack with you in case you get hungry along the way. More importantly, did you know that being even slightly dehydrated can also contribute to your impulse buys? Dehydration often disguises itself as hunger, and many of us are not drinking enough water on a daily basis. Bring along a reusable water bottle and sip while your shop. I promise, it will help you stick to your list!

2) Dissing Frozen Produce

There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh tomatoes and corn on the cob in summer. It’s exciting to see all the beautiful stalks of asparagus and bunches of radishes in the spring. But, if you become a snob toward using frozen produce, you are missing out. Not only is frozen produce significantly less expensive, it’s also fresher and therefore often contains the highest level of nutrients because it is frozen immediately after being harvested. On the other hand, after harvesting, fresh produce still has to undergo travel and transport, so by the time you’re actually eating it, it is much older and less nutrient-dense than its frozen counterpart. Of course, fresh is best for certain recipes and snacking, but there are plenty of ways to use frozen fruits and vegetables on a regular basis to help stretch your budget.

3) Following the Sales TOO Well

If your favorite cereal is on sale 2 for $4, that sounds great, and you may want to stock up on it, or even believe that you have to buy two in order to receive the sale price. This is often untrue and you can just purchase one at $2. Do your research and read the fine print. Also, it’s important to check all aspects of the sale signs for an item, including how long the item is on sale. I’ll note an item on sale, but if it will still be that price for another two weeks and it’s not an emergency, I’ll wait to see if I get a coupon for it to use next time I shop. I’ve saved so much money this way. It also allows you the time to make sure you truly need the item and/or check its supply when you get home.

4) Ignoring Your Calculator

Just because something is on sale does not mean it’s the best deal for what you need. Often times, a comparable item that seems or looks like it may be more expensive than the sale item actually has a cheaper unit price. For instance, it may appear more logical for me to get the biggest bottle of the generic ketchup. But would the Heinz that is a little bit smaller but on sale have a better unit price? When you break down an item by measurement (per ounce, cup, etc.), which is cheaper per that measurement? If you’re as bad at math as I am, there’s an obvious solution – your calculator app! It takes less than a minute to figure out. Trust me, even though savvy shopping is my thing, I would be making the wrong choices many times without checking my math first.

5) Trusting the Cashier Too Much

Cashiers and all grocery store employees work very hard, and nine times out of 10, human error will not be a factor in why your grocery bill is high. But occasionally it will happen. You don’t have to eye what’s happening on the checkout line like a hawk, but maintain a little awareness, and be sure to scan your receipt afterwards. Many times, an item will mistakenly scan twice and that adds up over time! It happens to me a lot. A quick stop at the customer service line immediately afterwards fixes the problem. You should not be afraid to speak up if a sale you know is active does not discount on your bill, or if the cashier makes a mistake with your coupon or loyalty card. As long as you’re friendly and casual about it, you should not be ashamed or embarrassed to correct something to which you’re entitled.

Even if all of these factors may not apply to you, it’s still a great opportunity to assess your own shopping habits to see what else you can do to slash your grocery costs. Remember: a little bit of savings here and there is how wealth is accumulated, but small amounts are also how your money goes out the window! If you can think of a few minor adjustments to make it can add up to big savings in the long run!

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Pouches' Community Corner

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The Table at St. George’s is a market-style food pantry serving the extended local community. Visitors are invited to select their own items from a variety of fresh food, including locally grown produce. The Table’s mission is to encourage healthy eating, build relationships with those in need, and blur the lines between those serving and those being served.

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