Senior Beat

Grocery Store savings: Being a smart shopper on a budget

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

My mother, Margie, 90, loves the grocery store. She hits Hannaford and Shaw’s at least twice a week, sales flyers in hand, on a quest for the best deals. Sometimes she takes her neighbors with her, those that no longer drive.

Unlike Mom, I am rarely at the grocery store. My spouse does this chore because it is a much cheaper excursion if I am not present. With food costs so high, and me having to try everything, especially if on special, on a pretty display, or has the word “new” stamped anywhere on the package, it is easier on the household budget if I remain at home.

Given this admission, it may seem strange that I am giving advice on saving money at the supermarket. But it is in my genes. I do know how to save money, I just have limited self-control. Fortunately, the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging’s website www.nia.nih.gov/health/healthy-eating is a tremendous resource. There are very well-done articles like “10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget”, “Shopping for Food That’s Good for You”, and “Choosing Healthy Meals as You Get Older”, so check them out if you have a chance.

Here are some tips:

— Inquire about senior discounts or loyalty cards, like the kind that can be attached to a key ring. Sometimes these cards come with continuous coupons and special deals for card holders. A particular pharmacy frequently offers a “buy one, get one” for card holders. And if you don’t want to keep track of all these little cards, the cashiers can find you by your phone number. I put all mine on a separate key ring that I drop in my purse. Keeps them handy without interfering with my keys and prevents me from announcing my phone number to all nearby ears.

— Keep your scissors handy because clipping coupons is a great way to save cash, especially if the store will double them. My mother is a master at working the coupon system and saves a bundle on groceries.

However, coupons will only save you money if you use them on things you were going to buy anyway. The temptation can be strong to buy unintended items because of the money-off offer.

— Single serving packs are very convenient however that convenience does not come free. If you’re willing to do the prep, you can save a lot of money. Individual boxes of raisins and pudding cups may be the exception.

— Bulk shopping can be great if you have storage space and if you can freeze or consume an item before it goes bad. You may have the best of intentions but be realistic about how much you can actually eat in that “freshness window.” I speak from experience on this one.

My mother solves this problem by buying in bulk but then sharing with her family and friends. She claims she is still saving money. I think she is just very generous – and a little addicted to getting a good deal.

Another great alternative to fresh is to buy frozen. These are actually better in some cases because they are frozen when harvested and are not sitting around on trucks and shelves. Frozen fruit is great in smoothies. Spinach too. Buy the little boxes of frozen spinach, microwave, and keep in the fridge. It is much more manageable to plop a half-cup or so in a blender with your fruit than handfuls of fresh spinach leaves that seem to have a mind of their own. It’s so much cheaper, too.

Canned produce is an option too, but be careful of the sodium which can be really high. I have never understood this because they don’t add salt to the frozen varieties.

Coupons, loyalty cards, a bit of creativity, and a little self-control can go a long way toward saving money at the grocery store.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email Higgins Taylor at seniorbeat@gmail.com.

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