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10 Ways to Save at the Supermarket

Nearly $2 for a loaf of bread? Almost $4 for a gallon of milk? More than $5 for a box of cereal? If it seems like you're spending a small fortune at the supermarket, you probably are. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices rose a whopping 5.4 percent in 2008 alone.

Nowadays, the average American family of four spends more than $8,000 on groceries each year. But luckily, there are steps you can take to reduce your sticker shock, stretch your grocery dollar, and start saving at the supermarket. Follow these 10 tips to get started.

  1. Plan ahead. When shoppers know exactly what they need to buy, they tend to be more focused and less susceptible to temptation. So make sure to draw up a detailed grocery list before you hit the supermarket, and scan the circulars ahead of time to find sales and compare prices. Remember to plan your shopping lists around the meals you intend to cook during the week. For more information on planning your meals to save, check out our comprehensive guide.
  2. Stay close to home. Shopping locally not only yields the best produce; it can also save you money and help preserve the environment. These days, most fruits and veggies travel an average of 1,500 miles before they arrive at your local supermarket. But locally grown, seasonal produce greatly reduces travel time, decreasing your carbon footprint and minimizing the costs that get passed on to you at the checkout counter.
  3. Go generic.Opting for no-frills products instead of name brands can save you hundreds of dollars each year. And chances are, you'll find that the store-brand versions are just as good-the only difference is that you're not paying for the company's hefty advertising and packaging costs. In fact, when it comes to cereal, dairy products, and frozen foods, you might even find that generic products trump their name-brand counterparts on taste.
  4. Eat before you buy. Shopping on an empty stomach can put you at risk for buying groceries you don't really need. So be sure to eat a well-balanced meal before you hit the supermarket or bring a healthy snack with you. In addition, avoid shopping while you're sleepy, as well as taking too many trips to the grocery store with your kids. Research shows that adults who shop solo tend to spend less money at the supermarket than those who have their children in tow.
  5. Clip coupons. According to a recent survey, Americans clip approximately 5 billion coupons each year for a total savings of more than $3 billion annually. What's more, the trend is on the rise: Roughly 43 percent of respondents in a recent poll had increased their coupon-clipping activities in the past six months. In addition to what's advertised in your local paper, you can surf the Internet for deals at coupon and manufacturers' websites. To avoid the lure of frivolous items, make sure to use coupons only for groceries you truly need.
  6. Compare prices. One of the best ways to save at the supermarket is to comparison shop, which means looking closely at the unit price and calculating how much money you'll pay per pound or ounce. In general, larger quantities, generic brands, and sale items can yield significant savings. However, this isn't always the case, so remember to compare every item carefully before making your purchase. While you're at it, also pay close attention to expiration dates, bearing in mind that the freshest items are usually located at the back of the shelves.
  7. Stock up. If you have storage space and find a good deal, be sure to stock up on basics that won't go stale, like rice, pasta, and canned goods. If you're feeding a family, you may want to consider joining a warehouse club, such as Sam's or Costco that offers a variety of foods in economical quantities. If you're only cooking for one, check out your local supermarket's savings club for access to special discounts, coupons, and other rewards, or consider splitting buy-in-bulk offers with a friend.
  8. Pay in cash. According to a recent study, shoppers who use credit and debit cards at the supermarket rarely know how much they've spent on groceries until their statement arrives. Paying with hard-earned cash, on the other hand, encourages consumers to limit their spending, forego impulse items, and stay within their budgets. For more savvy budgeting ideas, read 10 Painless Ways to Balance Your Budget.
  9. Consider canned and frozen foods. Depending on the type of fruit or vegetable you buy, canned and frozen versions may cost up to 40 percent less than their fresh counterparts. Plus, they won't go bad if you don't eat them right away. According to experts, the process of canning and freezing does not diminish these foods' nutritional value. To enhance their flavor, simply add your favorite spices, and bon appétit!
  10. Check your receipt. Many shoppers assume that what they've been charged at the supermarket is correct, but research indicates the process isn't always as accurate as you might think. In fact, a recent study found that approximately 20 percent of consumers are overcharged at the checkout line, usually because some items are rung up more than once. To avoid being a victim of checkout scanning errors, be sure to check your receipt carefully. In addition, look at the back of your receipt, which may include valuable coupons.

Remember, while the cost of groceries remains high, there are many ways to stretch your food dollar. For more information on how to save at the supermarket, check out our Cut Your Food Bill guide, read The Super Market, on a Super Budget, and search our Tip Jar for more practical advice and strategies.

In addition, keep in mind that our Member Benefit Services (MBS) discount program offers exclusive access to valuable coupons and rebates. For more information on how to enroll, call us now at 1-888-888-CARE.

If you're already a user of the MBS program, you can log in by entering your password at our Member Benefits page. If you don't know your password, contact a CareOne service representative at 1-800-CARE123.

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