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 fiddling with the calculator on your cell phone while you're navigating the supermarket aisles. That's right, with minimal-to-no pre-shopping preparation even sloths like me can save money on groceries.
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.
1. Dust off your cutting board. 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 vs. $3 for au naturel broccoli bunches), single-serving containers ($9.90 for oatmeal envelopes vs. $1.59 for the canister) and sliced cheese ($2 more per pound).
2. 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 moola are we talking? You can cut your supermarket tab by one-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. (One exception: peanut butter.)
3. 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 making a 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.
4. 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 (a.k.a. "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.)
5. 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 8 cents more per pound.
6. Stop feeding the Dumpster divers. The average household spends about $3,300 on groceries (it's 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 $699.60 annually. Here again you'll save big if you simply shop with a list (I know, I know, that seems like work) and avoid over-buying. If you have standard meals in rotation, type out all the staples needed to make the meals and keep a stack of copies of that list in your pantry. Before you set off to the store, checkmark the stuff you really need.
For more ways to save, check out:
Dayana Yochim keeps backup boxes of mac 'n' cheese in her pantry for meal emergencies, which happen two to three times a week.