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Prairie Fare: Saving Money at the Grocery Store

We are paying about 5.4 percent more for food at the grocery store this year compared with last year.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

I watched the increasing tally on the computer display as the grocery store checkout clerk scanned my food items. I could feel my eyebrows rising and my eyes widening.

I had shopped for fewer items during most of my recent shopping trips. This time, I had a cartful of groceries to restock our pantry and freezer. With three growing kids, including two teenagers, keeping plenty of food on hand is a must.

While usually I can guesstimate my final bill on the way to the checkout, my calculating skills were not accurate that day. My bill was higher than I expected. Was I imagining an increase?

Actually, we are paying about 5.4 percent more for food at the grocery store this year compared with last year, according to the Consumer Price Index. If you are a coffee drinker, you may have noticed that your daily caffeine jolt is costing you quite a bit more.

While we can forgo some luxuries during challenging economic times, food isn’t one of them. We all need a variety of healthful foods on a daily basis to sustain our health.

Here’s an exercise with several questions to ask yourself to see if you are using money-saving strategies when you shop for food.

Answer these questions with the following responses: “Yes, always,” “Yes, sometimes” or “No.”

  1. Do you spend about 30 minutes planning your weekly menus? Consider using the sale ads and write a shopping list. Keep the list in a handy spot such as on your refrigerator or countertop.
  2. Do you avoid shopping when you’re hungry or tired? Almost everything looks tasty when you’re hungry. If you’re tired, you may be likely to grab convenience foods, which cost more and often are less nutritious.
  3. Do you avoid using a credit card for food purchases (unless you intend to pay off the balance each month)? You may end up adding credit card interest rates onto the food cost.
  4. Do you shop in one or two stores? Consider your gas, too. If you drive to several stores for special deals, you may not be getting a deal.
  5. Are you familiar with the store layout? Try to go down the aisles that include items on your list to avoid impulsive buying.
  6. For quick shopping trips, do you shop the perimeter of the store? Most staples, such as milk, fresh produce and bread, are located around the perimeter.
  7. Do you compare store brands with national brands and choose the one with the lower price? Most store brands are similar in quality to name brands but lower in price.
  8. Do you clip coupons and use them for the things you need? Some stores double the value of coupons to a certain point. However, sometimes coupons can encourage us to buy things that we may never use once we get the item home.
  9. Do you compare prices using “unit prices?” The unit pricing on the front edge of shelving helps you know quickly whether the regular-priced super-sized package is a better deal than the sale-priced regular-sized package. Be sure to look up and down the grocery shelves. Sometimes the higher-priced items are at eye level.
  10. Do you check your receipt and change? Although mistakes are not intentional, they can happen. Look carefully at your receipt to be sure you received the sale price.

If you answered “yes, always” or “yes, sometimes,” you are taking steps to save money. If you would like a little assistance with planning, we’ve done some of the work for you. Visit http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart and click on “For Parents/Caregivers” or “For Singles/Couples” and you will find menus, recipes and a variety of nutrition and shopping tips to help you stretch your budget.

Here’s a simple recipe with some of the autumn’s fresh garden produce to enjoy on a cool day.

Beef Stew

1 pound beef cubes*

2 Tbsp. flour

Salt and pepper

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Water (or beef broth)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

  • To save money, cut up the meat at home. Less expensive cuts of meat (such as chuck or round) will become tenderer during the long cooking process.

Measure flour into a plastic bag. Add salt and pepper. Shake. Add beef cubes to bag and shake until beef is well-coated. Heat oil in heavy pan. Add beef cubes and brown. Add 1 cup of water. Cover with tight-fitting lid and cook over low heat for one hour. Peel and cube carrots, potatoes and onion and add them to the beef. Cover with lid again (adding additional water if necessary). Cook one more hour over low heat. Alternate directions: After browning meat, place the ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low heat for eight to 10 hours.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 280 calories, 12 grams (g) of carbohydrate, 15 g of fat, 2 g of fiber and 110 milligrams of sodium (without added salt).

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – Sept. 29, 2011

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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