Strategic planning and shopping can cut food costs
Indianapolis Star – Indianapolis, Ind.
“We’re sensitive to food because we like to see it at least three times a day,” said Marshall Martin, director of Agricultural Research Programs at Purdue University.
So what’s a hungry shopper to do?
Strategic shopping is key, says Stephanie Nelson of Atlanta, Ga., known nationally as “The Coupon Mom.”
The No. 1 way to avoid overspending is to make a list and stick to it, she said. “Just some planning steps can save you huge amounts of money.”
Her Web site, www.couponmom.com, helps shoppers organize coupons and deals.
A local mom, Heather Sokol, runs a similar site, www.feedindy.com, where she cross-references manufacturers’ coupons and weekly store deals. “If it’s not on sale,” says the Westfield mom, “it doesn’t go in my cart.”
The only time Sokol can remember buying an undiscounted item was for her Super Bowl party this year, when she splurged on a few blue items in honor of the Colts.
She says she saves more than $4,000 a year from store sales and coupons.
“Most days I get out of there paying less than I saved,” she said.
It’s a matter of planning ahead and staying flexible, says Sokol. Canned goods are on sale more in winter, so she stocks up. She’s willing to adjust her meal plans based on what meat and produce is on sale each week.
The idea that spending less on groceries means an unhealthful diet is a misconception, she says. If you’re willing to buy whatever produce is on sale, you can afford to buy more and it’s sure to be in season.
“My kids eat fresh fruit all the time, but they don’t always have apples,” Sokol said. “In the fall, we have apples, in the winter, we have oranges, and in the summer, we have more variety. Not only is it cheaper, it’s going to taste better.”
When Sokol finds a good deal — like barbecue sauce for 18 cents after coupon — that her own family doesn’t need, she often buys it anyway and gives it to a local food bank, figuring that rising food prices have hit lower-income families the hardest.
Nelson, too, said she’s motivated by the hope that people who save on their own groceries can donate more to charity.
“That makes me feel great, especially if you get your kids involved,” she said.
Call Star reporter Lisa Waananen at (317) 444-6305.
- Ask stores to match other stores’ sale prices.
- Don’t assume buying in bulk always means a better deal.
- Avoid impulse spending: Plan meals; don’t shop if hungry.
- Compare the cost of pre-made items to those made from scratch; decide whether it’s worth extra money to save time.
- Buy meat on sale and freeze it. Ground beef will keep for three months; steaks and chicken parts, up to a year.
- Freeze items like bread, butter and milk. Slow thawing in the fridge can help preserve the original texture.
- Buy bulk cheese. Shred some; freeze the rest to use later.
- Stock up on non-perishable items when they’re on sale.
- Use overripe produce in muffins or pancakes. Apples that aren’t crisp enough can be made into applesauce; freeze soft grapes for a summer treat.
Squeezing out savings
Found an item on sale? Great. But Heather Sokol is just getting started.
On a recent shopping trip, Sokol cleaned up on several bottles of Open Pit barbecue sauce, which she donated to a food bank.
ORIGINAL PRICE: $1.99
DISCOUNT 1: on sale at Kroger for 88 cents (-$1.11)
DISCOUNT 2: manufacturer’s coupon (-35 cents)
DISCOUNT 3: store doubles coupon (-35 cents)
TOTAL: 18 cents (a 91 percent discount)
Most supermarkets in the Indianapolis area offer double coupons up to 50 cents every day, but ask to be sure.
What’s driving Up Food prices?
Rising grocery bills have been making headlines this summer.
Why? One reason is higher transportation costs leading to greater demand for ethanol’s main ingredient — corn. From corn syrup sweeteners to feed for the chickens who lay your eggs, corn prices affect every aisle in the grocery store. Poor weather conditions have contributed to higher costs for some fruit and produce.
How much are prices going up? For the past few years, food prices have risen at a rate of 2.5 percent annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This year’s increase is predicted to be 3 to 4 percent.
Is that really a big deal? Maybe not, especially since an average family spends only 10 percent of its disposable income on food. But the increase isn’t subtle for certain foods. For instance, the price of eggs is projected to increase 20 percent, and fruit and vegetable prices will likely be up 6 percent by the end of the year.
Marshall Martin, director of Agricultural Research Programs at Purdue University, expects farmers to plant more corn in the coming year, but ethanol production also is likely to increase.
Rising corn prices will mean less spending for crop subsidies. However, more will be spent on incentives to ethanol producers.
— USDA, Star research