Saving money on groceries at the supermarket

19 Jan 10 / Posted by: Jessica

I visit my local supermarket so often it practically doubles as my fridge.

The only problem is that to reach the things I actually need, like milk and bread, I have to pass by the wine, deli counter and chocolate aisle – temptations that are pretty hard to resist, especially if they have shiny “Special” signs plastered all over them.

Collectively, we Kiwis rang up more than $12 billion at the tills of the supermarkets in the last year with the majority of the spoils going to just two groups: Australian-owned Progressive Enterprises which owns the Countdown, Woolworths, Foodtown, 3 Guys and Price Chopper chains; and Foodstuffs which owns the Pak ‘N Save, New World and Four Square chains.

Here are some tips to help keep more of your hard-earned money in your pocket and out of theirs:

Shop around

There can be big price differences depending on where in the country a supermarket is located, but as a general rule you can’t go past Pak ‘N Save (“Push ‘N Shove” to its fans) for price-saving. It regularly tops Consumer Magazine’s survey of cheapest supermarkets. At the other end of the aisle, Woolworths tends to be one of the priciest chains.

Consider shopping online

Friends of mine swear by it and reckon the convenience far outweighs the small additional delivery cost. Not only does it save time, your own petrol, and battles with your kids over whether those sweets really are a vital part of the healthy food pyramid, it also forces you to stick to your list. You know exactly how much you’re spending and you can’t be tempted to buy anything else.

Stock up on staples when they’re on special

I have a basic list of non-perishable pantry items like rice, flour, pasta, canned tomatoes, and toiletries and cleaning products that I look out for every time I shop. If they’re on special I’ll add them to my trolley so I hardly ever end up having to buy them at full price.

Shop with a list

Plan what you need in advance and try to keep to your list as much as possible. Supermarket layouts and displays are designed to entice you to buy more than you really need and spend more than you have to. Shelf space is like real estate and companies can pay a premium to command the best spots – like shelves at eye level – for their products. It can be worth scanning the higher and lower shelves in a category to make sure you’re not missing out on a bargain.

Carry a calculator

Looks can be deceiving – just because an item’s in the bulk bin it doesn’t mean it’s the most economical way to buy it. Make sure you’re comparing apples with apples when it comes to price by looking at the cost of each item per 100g (most supermarkets now identify this on the price tag).

Check your receipt

It’s always worth giving your receipt a quick read as you leave the store to make sure the items you’ve bought on special have been charged at the correct price, and that items haven’t been doubled up. Honest mistakes can occur but you shouldn’t have to pay for them.

Consider buying your vegetables and meat elsewhere

Supermarkets are no longer the only option when it comes to purchasing well-priced produce. I buy all my fruit and veges at a bulk produce store across the road – prices are almost always cheaper than the supermarket and the quality is generally better too (perhaps because they turn over their stock faster).

Take your own bags

For savings of the environmental sort, this one’s a no-brainer. You can save even more bags if you don’t bother packaging your fruit and vegetables in the produce section. They can just be weighed loose at the checkout.

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