Beyond death and taxes, few things in this world are certain—except, perhaps, for rising telecom and food prices. (Use these 5 ways to cut your monthly cable bill.) With the U.S. Department of Agriculuture recently estimating a 2.5 to 3.5 percent increase in food prices and The Wall Street Journal hinting at further hikes, check out these 16 ways to save at the supermarket.
1. Shop at a store that emphasizes low prices. Some stores simply charge less. According to Consumer Reports' most recent survey, the chains that earned top marks for price are Trader Joe's, Costco, Market Basket, Fareway Stores, Stater Bros., WinCo, Aldi, ShopRite, Save-A-Lot, and Sam's Club. (Read our new report, "How to Be a Smarter Supermarket Shopper.")
2. Compare the unit price. The only way to determine which package size is the most economical is to compare the unit price. That's the price per ounce, per pound, per quart, per hundred sheets, and so forth that appears on a shelf tag beneath the product. In our experience, bigger isn't always cheaper.
3. Buy store brands. Seven of 10 Consumer Reports subscribers bought store brands, according to our latest survey, and 78 percent of them insist that the products are as good as the national names. Our own tests confirm that store brands are often as good as name brands, and they're a proven way to save. Store brands account for about a quarter of all supermarket products, and they sell for 22 percent less, on average.
4. Don't be a cut up. Prepped and precut, diced, sliced, and chunked commodities from watermelon and carrots to garlic and mushrooms can carry a hefty premium. During our visit to an upstate New York Price Chopper, sliced portobello mushrooms were $12.79 per pound ($3.99 for 5 ounces), compared with $4.99 per pound for whole mushrooms.
5. Buy bagged, not bulk. Bagged produce tends to be more economical than fruit and vegetables sold loose. Russet baking potatoes at the same store were $1.29 a pound individually and $2.99 for a 5-pound sack.
6. Shop online for packaged goods. Most walk-in stores sell a similar assortment of leading brands of packaged goods, including coffee, cereal, diapers, and detergent. They're commodities. Low price matters; service doesn't. That's where buying from an online national grocer with low everyday prices, such as Amazon.com or Walmart.com, can save you a trip to the store.
7. Capitalize on coupons. Consumers saved $3.5 billion with coupons for packaged goods last year, and the average savings was $1.62 per purchase. For all the chatter about electronic coupons that can be downloaded to smart phones or printed at home, 91 percent of all coupons reached shoppers the old-fashioned way: through inserts in newspapers. (Check our review of the best coupon apps.)
8. Be loyal. Fifty-two percent of readers surveyed belonged to bonus-card programs, and 84 percent were satisfied with the savings. Not only do many chains reserve their best deals for customers who enroll in those programs, but some also have added a fuel-rewards component. (The typical discount is 5 cents a gallon at participating gas stations for each $50 spent at the store.) Others offer rebates based on purchases (usually $5 for every $500 spent), or added benefits such as double coupons and buy-one-get-one-free specials.