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The Lazy Way to Save on Groceries

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If you're not moved much by the effort-to-payoff ratio of comparison-shopping and coupon-clipping (guilty!), this article is for you. Put down your scissors and recycle those Sunday circulars. Don't even bother trying to figure out how to get the calculator on your cell phone to work while you're navigating the supermarket aisles. Even sloths like me can save money on groceries with minimal-to-no pre-shopping preparation.

Incorporate a few of the following low-effort money-saving tricks into your routine, and you can smugly skip over every other "Ways to Save on Groceries" article you see.

Let your grocer do the math
You've got a cheat sheet at your disposal in every aisle: Use it. It's that per-unit pricing sticker on the edge of the shelf. Pay attention to that little label, and you've got a simple and instant savings strategy -- one that's a lot easier than coming up with a coupon-filing system. There you'll discover that you'll pay $20 less for the same amount of soda if you buy six two-liter bottles at $5, instead of a bunch of $1.09 single servings. Don't assume that bigger is always better, though: The jumbo box of cereal is no bargain when it costs $0.08 more per pound.

Dust off your cutting board
A while back, Consumer Reports sent two shoppers to the supermarket for the weekly basics. The one schooled on the cost of convenience rang up a tab that was $79 less. Cut your grocery tab in half by avoiding pre-chopped, pre-sorted, single-serving conveniently packaged foods. The biggest bargain busters: bagged veggies ($11 v. $3 for au natural broccoli bunches), single-serving containers ($9.90 for oatmeal envelopes v. $1.59 for the canister) and pre-sliced cheese ($2 more per pound).

Stop stocking your pantry with status brands
You already know that you can save money by buying the generic (or "private label") version of a product. But exactly how much moolah are we talking? You can cut your supermarket tab by a third or more by choosing no-name brands. Be sure to look high and low in the aisles -- companies pay for prime, eye-level placement. (Generics will be up high or down low.) 

As for taste? Get over it: ShopSmart found that all of the 65 store-label products it tested were at least as good as the brand-name grub. In most instances, shoppers couldn't tell a difference, or actually preferred the no-name vittles to the swankier fare. (The one exception: peanut butter.)

Buy only what's on your grocery list
Duh. But, honestly, when's the last time you resisted tossing an impulse purchase or two in your shopping cart? You're not the only one: An estimated 60% to 70% of supermarket purchases are unplanned. Of course, sticking to a list requires actually making a shopping list. Would you do that for $112? That's how much the average household would save in a month if they simply purchased only the items they intended to buy before they parked the car.

Be a more discerning health-food snob
But for more serious cash conservation, scrutinize the high-end health- and enviro-conscious goods in your cart. To cut corners, stick with the conventional, non-organic (aka "cheaper") varieties of bananas, avocados, asparagus, and cauliflower, which have fewer pesticides than other fresh products. (And because testing on seafood isn't standardized, you can skip the organic fish, too.) For apples, nectarines, peaches, pears, tomatoes, spinach, strawberries, baby food, meat, and chicken, the organic versions are usually worth the higher price tags. (Go to foodnews.org for a wallet guide to pesticides in produce.)

Stop feeding the trash scavengers
In 2007, the average household spent about $3,300 on groceries -- closer to $5,000 annually for families -- and tosses 14% of it. That's $38.50 down the disposal each month -- $462 a year. (Families waste an average of $58.30 a month, or almost $700 annually.) Here again, you'll save big if you simply shop with a list (I know, I know, that seems like work) and avoid overbuying. If you have standard meals in rotation, type out all the staples needed to make the meals, and keep a stack of copies in your pantry. Before you set off to the store, simply checkmark the stuff you actually need.

More from The Motley Fool:

Dayana Yochim always shops with a full stomach, a shopping list, and a stopwatch. (Hey, might as well make sport of it, right?) The Fool's disclosure policy never slacks on the job.


Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (9)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 11:32 AM, catoismymotor wrote:

    + 1 eager Rec.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 12:35 PM, SteveTheInvestor wrote:

    I think it's more than just peanut butter when it comes to name brand versus generic. We use certain generic products and like them a lot. We also avoid quite a few because they are simply inferior. For example.... Cheerios. Yes, they are pricey, but I tried the store brand and they were just plain nasty. I prefer to cut expenses elsewhere. I save more than $58 a month by whacking my cable bill which is a much larger waste of money than a few brand name groceries..

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 1:05 PM, nottheSEC wrote:

    First and foremenst great article. Also Steve makes some very valid points.

    - on generics. Yeah try the cereal in the bag. Their schredded wheat is imho better than the original and cherrios are oats not hard to make. Also try generic vegetables in a can over del monte and green giant cans.It saves you 10-20%.

    - On cable. Log what you view and cut the channels you do not if possible. I did this and found I rarely view 2 premium channels because they do not have first run movies anymore. Saved about $20-$30

    - On Cable triple play or phone service. I noticed I always use my cell phone so I kept the cable and hi-speed internet and got Magicjack. Works ok for about $40 a year first year and about $20 a year after.

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 1:06 PM, nottheSEC wrote:

    yeah so no cable phone saves me about $40 a month

  • Report this Comment On July 16, 2009, at 7:33 PM, DDHv wrote:

    Given a back yard and the new gardening methods, raising part of your food there can really pay off. My wife & I have spent about $1,000 on groceries and the same on dining out this year as of 7/16/9. Of course, you need to figure the work under "needed exercise," but there are methods of decreasing the labor for the same production! Search on "Intensive horticulture."

    PS It often tastes better too.

  • Report this Comment On July 17, 2009, at 9:07 AM, OrganicTrade wrote:

    You've got a number of great money-saving suggestions here. With respect to buying organic, instead of limiting your organic purchases to a list of produce items, consider buying organic versions of whichever products you buy most.Whether that is milk, produce, or personal care products, buying organic will not only help reduce your exposure to harmful synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, but also support a system of agricultural management that is great for the planet.

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