WASHINGTON — Shopping for groceries can be a time- and money-sucker.
Food is one of the biggest expenses for households, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says. In 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture found that the monthly cost of food at home for a family of four averaged between $568 and $1,292.
But with planning and shopping techniques, you can save hundreds of dollars on groceries.
TIME highlighted some ways consumers can save money and shop smarter at the grocery.
- Do inventory. Once a month, make a list of items that are needed and items that can be skipped. Making a detailed list can prevent you from buying an item at full price only to get home and find you already have it.An app such as Out of Milk can help with shopping lists and organization.
- Use ads to plan. Look at ads and make a plan for weekly meals and purchases. That way, you can make meals when the ingredients are on sale.”A lot of people make a weekly meal plan and then go look for a deal,” says Steve Economides, co-author of “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family.” But people should look at ads first: “This way, you can get meals for half price.”In addition to circulars, coupon websites can provide great deals for even more savings. Some options are Coupons.com, SmartSource.com or redplum.com.
- Get cash back. Shoppers can earn money back on groceries through some apps that require photographs of the receipt. The apps — such as Ibotta, SavingsStar and Checkout51 — offer weekly cash-back deals on some items.All you need to do is take a picture of your receipt to prove the purchase.
- Shop solo. You may want to leave the kids at home when you shop. A study from the Marketing Science Institute found that the bigger the shopping group, the more likely are unplanned purchases.About 65 percent of the items purchased are unplanned when shopping with a group — an 8 percent increase over shopping alone, the study found.
- Consider cart size. The cart a shopper chooses can influence purchases. Doubling the cart size can lead to the purchase of 40 percent more items, says Martin Lindstrom, author of “Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.””Carry things in your arms. You’ll be surprised to realize in fact you don’t need to buy more than you can carry,” Lindstrom told CNBC.Baskets are also a problem. An AMA study found it made consumers more likely to pick up “vice products,” including candy and soda. The reasoning is that shoppers are unconsciously rewarding themselves for putting up with the hassle of the basket.
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