Saving on Groceries

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And don’t forget that some national chains will honor another chain’s coupons. It doesn’t hurt to bring along a competitor’s coupon and ask.

How about generic versus name brands. Is there any difference between the two?
Yes and no. On price, brand name items cost an average of 30% more than their generic equivalents. Sometimes the decision to buy generic is easy, on something like bleach, but the savings may not be worth it if you’re buying, say, soda. We haven’t settled the ongoing Coke/Pepsi debate, but everyone can agree that a product called “Fresh Soda” isn’t going to win any taste tests. . In general, the less ingredients, the better it is to buy generic. Think pantry staples like flour and sugar.

The reason brand names cost more is they have much higher marketing and packaging costs. Interestingly, many of the private label brands on the shelf are actually made by the brand name manufacturers—in the very same factories—so they’re the exact same products marketed under different names. One example of that is spices. A good way to tell whether the generic item is from the same company as your favorite name brand is to check the label to see where it was manufactured. If they’re both from the same town, it’s a good bet.

At the same time, be smart about price-comparing. When a name brand item goes on sale, it may be cheaper than the store brand. And when you add in coupons and your store loyalty card, you might save 40 to 60 percent with the name brand.

Finally, don’t forget that sometimes cheap can be expensive. If you need three times as many paper towels to do the job, then you’re not saving money.

What about saving on meat?
Bad news.  According to Labor Department data, the price of ground beef hit a record high in the U.S. last July. And wholesale ground beef is up more than ten percent in the past year.

The best way to save on meat is to go directly to the butcher, who will know which cheaper cuts don’t sacrifice flavor for cost. Keep in mind these cuts typically take longer to cook.

You’ll also save as much as 75 percent f you buy meat that’s closer to its expiration date. Just buy in bulk and load up your freezer.

Another option: skip the red meat and go with chicken. For the year-to-date period ended October 2012, the average U.S. retail price of chicken was $1.88 per pound versus $6.23 per pound for beef steaks. One funny thing I learned: Those savings don’t necessarily stay true if you’re eating out—The price of Buffalo wings has spiked 52 percent in the past year, and analysts expect that to continue. You know that saying, “’Ain’t no thang but a chicken wing?” Who’d have thunk they’d break your budget!

Mellody is President of Ariel Investments, a Chicago-based money management firm that serves individual investors and retirement plans through its no-load mutual funds and separate accounts.  In addition to being the featured consumer finance expert for Money Mondays, she is also a regular columnist for Black Enterprise magazine.

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