Aisle by Aisle

by Shaunna Privratsky

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How supermarket savvy are you? I suspect you already cut coupons, check weekly ads and maybe even use a master list. How about taking grocery store savings a step further? Chances are, you will welcome my aisle by aisle guide to super savvy supermarket savings.

First, let's recap the basics. Start with a list of planned purchases. It cuts down on time and also helps you remember what you need for the upcoming week.

Organize your coupons and use them. Try to combine them with sale items for even greater savings. Scan the weekly ads and go to the supermarket with the most items on sale. Try to shop alone. Leave your children with your spouse or swap free babysitting with a friend.

Okay, you are at the store, armed with your list, coupons and maybe even a calculator. Usually the fresh fruits and vegetables aisle is near the entrance. Buy fruits and veggies when they are on sale whenever possible.

Always compare the cost-per-unit and only buy what you are sure you'll use. I used to buy whole watermelons, yet half would invariably go to waste. I pay a bit more per pound for a cut quarter, but it is always finished quickly and enthusiastically.

Go light on prepared luncheon meats. I buy a large ham, cooked turkey or chicken and have it sliced at the meat or deli counter. The meat aisle is generally quite expensive. I check out the reduced for quick sale bin. Just be sure to check dates and either use the meat right away or freeze it. Look carefully to make sure there is no discoloration.

Find a local meat processor. Often you can buy a quarter of beef or pig and have it cut and packaged for 50% cheaper cost-per-pound than the supermarket. You can choose your cuts and the percentage of fat content. This takes a chunk of money, but the meat will last a long time and the long-term savings will add up amazingly fast.

Stock up on basic ingredients when they are on sale. The canned food aisle, pasta and rice aisle, the baking aisle and the condiment aisle fit into this category. Avoid pre-packaged foods. The "meals in a box" are more convenient but much costlier. I stock up on tomato sauce, pasta, soups and baking supplies so that I always have what I need to cook a healthy, low cost meal.

Avoid the cleaning supplies aisle. Almost every cleaning solution can be found cheaper at discount stores or you can even make your own. I compared prices of the recommended cleaner for our new linoleum floor. At the grocery store an 8-oz. bottle was $8.99. On the back label was a recipe for making your own with just water, ammonia and Lysol cleaner. The ammonia was less than a dollar, and since I had coupons for the more expensive Lysol, I was able to make a gallon for only $2.50.

The paper product aisle is full of inflated prices. Unless there is a loss-leader sale or a two-for-one, it is almost always cheaper to buy your paper products elsewhere.

Do not ever buy over-the-counter drugs at a grocery store unless it is an emergency. You will pay triple what you would shell out at the major discount stores.

Bread is usually at least half-price at a discount or bakery outlet store. The bread is typically no more than a day or two older than in the supermarket. I go once a month and buy 4-6 loaves, buns and even treats like rolls, donuts, cookies and snack pies that I normally wouldn't purchase. I freeze what I cannot use right away.

The dreaded snack aisle. Everyone loves chips but the high cost can really add up. I reach for the store brand or the generic, which is typically half the price of the national brand. I have even gone so far as to put the store brand chips in a regular bag. My family cannot tell the difference! (Make sure they do not catch you!)

This also works for cold cereal. Bagged cereal is cheaper than boxed, and store brands are comparable in taste and cost less. The lower priced (and healthier) cereals are on the top and bottom aisles. A regular size box is sometimes a better buy than the family size, if you have a coupon. Hot cereals are more filling. You can even add in mixed fruit.

The frozen food aisle is a moneymaker for the store. Buying store brands help, but preparing the food at home tastes better and is much cheaper. I make huge batches of pancakes, waffles and French toast about once a month and freeze them. My kids love helping me and they can have a homemade breakfast in less than a minute.

Ice cream has become a luxury! I usually won't pay $5 for a half-gallon of ice cream (okay, never). If I score a gallon of store brand ice cream for under $3, I will buy it.

Pizzas and prepared meals are time-savers but wallet drainers. I save them for special treats and only buy them when they are on sale and I have coupons.

Avoid the bakery aisle. Making your own desserts, even with a mix, saves you money and tastes better. Cakes, cupcakes, muffins and cookies are super simple with today's easy mixes.

Pets can get in on the savings, too, just not at the grocery store. Nine times out of ten pet food and supplies are cheaper elsewhere. The exception: a super sale or excellent coupons.

The baby aisle is surprisingly quite close in price to discount stores. After two children and approximately four years of buying diapers, I became an expert on buying baby items.

So there you have an aisle by aisle guide to the grocery store. Use coupons whenever possible, avoid pre-packaged, high-priced items, stock up on sales and avoid impulse buys. Soon saving money will become second nature as you become supermarket savvy.

Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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