Where you shop does matter. Making purchases of personal items or batteries at the grocery store is just begging to pay too much. When you buy these items at a grocery, you are paying for convenience, and the items are normally marked up.
However, non-food items aren't the purchases that might be overly-expensive at the grocery store. It's quite possible that you could be spending too much on food that is marked up due to its convenience when prep time comes around. Here's how to save money on your groceries.
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Pre-Cut, Packaged Produce
Whenever you purchase produce that has been pre-cut, pre-washed and packaged, you are paying a premium. It's certainly more convenient to grab a small bag of pre-cut and washed brocoli, or to pick up a bagged mix of salad greens, but it will cost you. You could save quite a bit — and get quite a bit more — by buying a whole head of brocoli, and then cleaning it and preparing it yourself. You would sacrifice, maybe, five minutes in following such a scheme.
The same holds true when you buy any other produce. Fruits are much more expensive when you buy them pre-cut. Look at the cost of a fruit tray, already prepared, and then compare it to the cost of buying each of the fruits individually. You might have to spend half an hour or forty-five minutes preparing your own fruit tray, but the savings are likely large enough to make it worth it.
Unless you are in a great hurry, there is no reason to purchase produce that is pre-prepared and packaged. You will end up with a better yield, at a better price, by purchasing your produce in an unprepared state and then washing and preparing it yourself.
Pre-Prepared Meat and Cheese
Just as pre-package produce comes with a markup, so, too, does meat and cheese that has been sliced or cubed ahead of time. (The only exception might be low-cost pre-sliced and packaged deli meats.) Buying a package of cubed ham or cubed cheese costs more than buying it by the pound and then cubing it yourself. You will pay more when you purchase shredded cheese, or when you purchase pre-sliced cheese, than you would if you had bought a pound of cheese and brought home and prepared it yourself. I like to buy larger blocks of cheese, and then shred it myself. I freeze what I can't use immediately, and defrost the cheese over time, as needed.
Consider the cost of purchasing different meats and other items. The more that has been done for the preparation at the store, the more the item will cost. In many cases, the time it takes to prepare such items at home is fairly small, and can be accomplished with relative ease. Be sure to weigh the prep time against what you are paying extra to get something already prepared.
In many cases, name brands can be quite expensive. You might pay more for name brand spices, as well as cereals and other items. Compare the prices, and compare the quality. In some cases, you might not notice a big difference.
I, personally, prefer name brand cereal to the generic brand. I can taste a difference. But the name brands are so expensive! In order to offset some of the cost, we buy in bulk when there is a sale on the name brand cereals we like. That way, we can avoid overpaying by too much.
Other name brand items, though, might not be worth paying extra, though. You might be better off with generic brands of fruit snacks, spices and a few other items. Test it out, and see what you prefer. If you do buy name brands, look for coupons and sales to offset the cost. I save on spices by growing my own. During the summer I have fresh spices, and at the end of the season, I dry the excess so that I have something to use during the winter — without paying the high prices charged for brand name spices.
In many cases, you can save money on your grocery bill by planning ahead to ensure that you have time to prepare your own food. Carefully weigh the pros and cons. In some cases, you might find that the convenience of pre-packaged and prepared foods outweighs the cost. However, for many items, it is worth it to invest a little extra time into food prep, and in making your own food items, to reap large grocery savings over the course of the year.
Miranda Marquit is the owner of Planting Money Seeds and a staff writer for Moolanomy Personal Finance. Moolanomy.com is an online personal finance blog aimed at helping its readers gain control of their finances, earn more, spend less, and live better.