Test Yourself: Ten Questions for the Savvy Shopper
By Deborah Salomon
The supermarket is more than a jungle. Good things grow in the jungle. A supermarket stocked with 10,000 items is a minefield where nutrition is trampled, budgets go up in smoke - a place with more temptations than a Greek myth.
Thwart the dragon with 10 questions:
No.1: Do I need this product?
Impulse buying can be the downfall of budgets and healthy eating. Stores play on this by placing new, attractively -packaged foods (with high profit margins) at eye level and on end caps. Don't be sucked in. Is the product worth trying - or are you simply curious?
No. 2: Am I buying because I have a coupon?
No matter how low the coupon price if the product is frivolous you're wasting money. Most coupons are issued for new, glitzy prepared foods. Stick to the ones for oatmeal, detergent, chicken parts, soup and items you buy anyway.
No.3: How will I use what I am buying?
Don't be tempted by foods you rarely use. A family that hates cauliflower isn't going to like it any better on sale. If you prefer small-curd cottage cheese stick to it. Loading up on well-priced lasagna noodles makes no sense if you only make lasagna occasionally.
No.4: Where does this come from?
The controversy continues on the environmental impact of farm-raised fish, also fish imported from certain Asian countries. The vendor is required to -provide country of origin. Know also the origin of produce. Occasionally, an issue will arise about fruit from South America.
Quality varies, too. This year, clementines from Israel were excellent quality.
Most important, during the local growing season, select fruit and vegetables from nearby, even if they cost slightly more. You will be supporting growers - and getting a better product.
No.5: What's added to food I'm buying?
Consumers commonly read the Nutrition Facts label for calories, sodium, fat and because the print is larger. Put on your glasses and read ingredients. Brands of raisin bran contain different amounts of sugar.
Additives that thicken, -sweeten, stabilize, enhance color and flavor may not be harmful - but do you need them? Look for products with the fewest additives: these will be ones with less processing and preparation.
Check the FDA Web site (www.fda.gov) routinely - -follow food link - for definitions, recalls and warnings.
No.6: Am I getting the best deal?
Buy two, get three free is a great deal if you have a big fridge, freezer, pantry and -family. Otherwise, be careful about overstocking perishables.
Twofer is another way of saying half price. But sometimes half the full price at one store is more than the sale price at another.
Check unit prices; the larger size isn't always the best bargain - although, one larger size usually has less packaging than two smaller sizes.
No. 7: Where should I shop?
Statistics differ. Some say make the rounds. This works better when stores are clustered or else you're wasting time, effort and fuel. Other studies promote shopping at a single supermarket. You know the -layout which saves minutes, as does a one-time check-out. Weekly specials and coupon deals should even out prices over a year.
No. 8: Should price be the deciding factor?
Use price to your advantage. Just by choosing store brands of cereal, pasta, canned goods, dairy products you may save enough to upgrade from medium to jumbo shrimp, from chuck to sirloin.
No. 9: What about outdated merchandise?
Again, the fine print. Most dates are preceded by "best if used before ..." or "sell by ..." Food processors leave a huge margin. Chances are, dairy -products, eggs, other fresh stuff will be safe beyond the sell date. When dairy products (and meat) approach the sell date, they are often drastically reduced. Grab 'em and use soon.
No. 10: How should I pay for groceries?
The days of cash and carry are over. A retail grocers' association reports that more than half -grocery purchases do not involve cash. This is to the merchants' advantage, despite processing charges, because shoppers buy more. Try going back to cash - or at least debit cards.
Some banks offer checking accounts which pay interest; one requirement is using a debit card 10 times per month. No amount is too small, even a quart of milk. Other credit cards offer double points for grocery purchases.
Select a payment method that provides a bonus but beware: it's easy to run up a credit card bill at the grocery store, then pay high interest on the balance for months.
After a while, this check list should become second nature. Good for you.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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