"Avoid store fake-outs," is one of 11 money-saving tips for grocery shoppers in the Aug/Sept. issue of Shop Smart, a publication from Consumers Union/Consumers Report. Here's a summary:
1. Shop at cheap outlets: The stores with the lowest prices include: "Aldi, Costco, Market Basket, Slater Bros., Shoppers Food Warehouse, Trader Joe's and Walmart." The downside: fewer choices at stores like Trader Joe's and Aldi or shoppers must make bulk purchases at Costco.
2. Be wary of circulars: Featured products in circulars often see a spike of up to 500 percent in sales volume. So stores like to highlight lots of items in their weekly circulars. The catch, says Shop Smart: "Not all items in circulars are on sale [at a discount]."
3. Watch product placement: ("Avoid store fake-outs.") Look out for products placed in bins at the end of shopping lanes, in "island displays," or in the middle tier of a shelving unit. Those eye-catching locations typically contain higher-priced goods.
4. Ignore colors: Marketers play head games with color. The concept: certain colors are more apt to gain your attention. So play your own games with the marketing gurus and ignore their color codes.
5. Cut your own fruit/Slice your own cheese: Don't pay extra for pre-cut, pre-frozen, pre-sliced fruits and cheeses. Slices of Jarlsberg cheese, for example, were priced at $7.99 per pound at a deli counter, compared to $3.99 per pound for a block. Likewise,the shoppers at the magazine found a chilled 16-oz beverage for $1.19, but the same bottle was 50 cents cheaper when it was stored warm on a shelf.
6. Buy store brands: The quality of store-brands is often comparable to name brands and the price can be 50 percent cheaper.
7. Use price guarantees: Many chains or stores will match competitors' prices on promotions and sales.
8. Shop alone: You may spend more if you shop with your kids or your spouse.
9. Skip the impulse purchases: Make a list and stick with it.
10. Use store cards: Many stores offer frequent shopper cards, which entitle you to different perks, including unadvertised specials.
11. Check out the scanners: 70 percent of the participants in survey reported finding mistakes made in the checkout line.
*This piece orginally ran on August 30, 2007.
Here's my 2009 update: The strategies above still make lots of sense to me. But my biggest money-saving tips have become (# 1) organization and (#2) healthier eating. When I'm organized, I create a disciplined shopping plan that bypasses impulsive purchases, duplication and waste.
A commitment to healthier food choices means that I spend less on snacks, junk food, processed foods and soda. Processed foods and snacks are expensive and could contribute to long-term health problems that could be costly in the long run.