9 smart moves to cut your grocery bills

Hand holding grocery list

Are you taking a lackadaisical approach to grocery shopping?

If so, you're spending more than you need to for food.

Since trips to the supermarket are one of your biggest household expenses, developing and implementing a frugal shopping plan can reduce your grocery bills by $100 or more each month.

Here are nine smart moves to do just that.

Smart move 1. Consider a fresher diet.

Not only is a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies good for your health, it can be good for your wallet, too.

Of course, you have to shop smart. Grocery store produce can be expensive, especially if you buy organic. But produce from a local farmers market is fresher and often more affordable.

Alternatively, look for a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) or U-pick farm.

If you're willing to do the harvesting yourself, the savings can be significant. Plus, it can be fun and an excellent opportunity to show children that fruit and vegetables actually come from the ground, not the grocery store shelves.

You'll also enjoy the added benefit of supporting the local economy.

Smart move 2. Shop at more than one store.

Review store circulars to see what's on sale at a variety of retailers, and plan your trips to each location accordingly.

Many stores offer a few loss leaders to get customers in the door, expecting them to buy lots of regular-priced items. You can make these marketing efforts work for you and not against you, as long as you're willing to do a little legwork.

Of course, you’ll have to factor travel costs into this decision. If you have to drive 20 miles to save $1.50, it’s not worth the trip.

Smart move 3. Go generic.

The stigma and uncertainty attached to "generic" products keep most of us purchasing the heavily advertised brands we're more familiar with.

But store brands often offer the same quality as their brand-name counterparts -- Kirkland Signature products from Costco are a great example.

So the next time you’re in a store, give the brands that will save you some money a try.

Many generic breakfast cereals, for example, cost half the price of the Kellogg or Post version. If you’ll just give them a try, you'll probably be happy you did.

Smart move 4. Use coupons.

Simply put, couponing is the granddaddy of ways to save at the grocery store.

Look through the coupons in your Sunday paper every week for the items you buy the most, and sign up for customer loyalty programs at your local grocers and online to receive coupons in your inbox and through the mail.

To get the most out of the available discounts, time the use of coupons with double coupon days and purchase items on sale.

Smart move 5. Use cash-back credit cards.

Some of the best cash-back credit cards offer extra rewards for shopping at grocery stores.

For example, the Chase Freedom card and the Discover More card have spending categories for 5% cash back (which includes grocery stores) that rotate quarterly.

The American Express Blue Cash Everyday credit card offers 3% cash back year-round at grocery stores andr 6% cash back for the Preferred version (which has a $75 annual fee).

Smart move 6. Stock up.

Take advantage of a good deal on something you buy consistently to fill your available storage space.

Whether it's frozen veggies, pasta or any other nonperishable item, spending more up front will yield savings in the long run.

Just don't be tempted to stock up on items you don't consume regularly. It's not a good deal if you don't end up eating or using it.

Smart move 7. Utilize your smartphone.

If you own a smartphone, streamline your savings by using apps such as Coupon Cloud and Grocery Smarts.

The coupons you find on these sites can be easily scanned at checkout directly from your phone. This is one of the easiest and most time-effective ways to save money on groceries.

Smart move 8. Get organized.

Make a shopping list before you go to the store, and create your list based on what you truly need and what you plan to cook that week.

Haphazard grocery shopping based on guesses about what you need leads to unnecessary waste and multiple trips to the store. Stick to your list and avoid impulse purchases that can quickly run up your bill.

Smart move 9. Pay closer attention to what things really cost.

Pay attention to make sure you're getting the best price.

Don't just compare prices between stores. Look for the best in-store price as well.

Often, buying the larger package may lead to a lower per-ounce cost, but not always. For example, three 8-ounce packages of shredded cheese are often less expensive than one 24-ounce bag.

Also, be ready to mix up your regular buying habits to take advantage of sales and coupons.

If you normally purchase generic items, you could find a national retailer offering a better price with a coupon, in-store sale or both.

Many basic foodstuffs, including potatoes, apples, coffee and dairy products, are projected to have double-digit price increases this year.

That makes it more important than ever to save on groceries. Invest a little time and energy into your grocery shopping, and develop good habits now to offset these price hikes when they occur.

This story is by David Bakke, who writes about saving and managing money on "Money Crashers Personal Finance," a resource to help readers improve their financial fitness.

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