Cut Your Grocery Bill Now

MarketWatch

Seven cash traps to avoid at the grocery store

Running into the store to pick up a gallon of milk for tomorrow's breakfast? Don't be surprised if you end up leaving with a lot more than you planned.

Just as a department store is designed to make you walk through the costly perfume and cosmetics counter (and, they hope, stop for an impulse buy), grocery stores force you to walk by stuff you're likely to toss into your cart on a whim. To get to the dairy case at the back of the store, for instance, you have to walk past all sorts of enticing products like Super Bowl Sunday party goods and vegetables (and we all feel like we should be buying those, right?).

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For years, Marcie Rothman has been giving this advice to shoppers: "Stick to the outside aisles." Marcie, who goes by the moniker "The $5 Chef," points out that the real food -- the unprocessed, fresh, and less expensive stuff -- is generally found on stores' perimeter. See her site.

If you limit your spending to meat, produce, and dairy, and skip strolling up and down the aisles filled with expensive packaged products, you'll spend less.

Americans spend 30% of their monthly budget on food on average. Jennifer Openshaw, MarketWatch columnist and president of WeSeed.com, has ideas on how to carve out some savings at the grocery store. Kelsey Hubbard reports. (Feb. 2)

"Making your own food is healthier, and it doesn't take any longer to cook real food than something out of a box," she said.

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Research shows that the average American spends 30% of their monthly budget on food, so even a small savings can make a difference week after week. Karen Schuppert, who blogs about healthy eating, recently offered a list of expensive grocery store items budget-conscious shoppers should avoid. See her blog.

Cut out the following seven items and you'll see your bill go down immediately:

1. Bagged salad. These bags can be a time-saver, but they can cost three times as much as an ordinary head of lettuce. And "salad kits" -- including some greens, a small bag of dressing, and a small bag of croutons -- are even more expensive.

2. Energy or protein bars. They're often stacked at the checkout counter for impulse buyers who grab them for a quick health fix. But they are often high in sugar and fat and about as wholesome as a candy bar. They're also two to three times more expensive.

3. Spice mixes. Things like grill seasoning and rib rubs might seem like a good buy because they contain spices that you would have to buy individually. But once again, it pays to read labels. Usually the first ingredient you see is salt, followed by a few herbs and spices. Look in your own pantry; you'll be surprised to discover just how many herbs you already have on hand.

4. Bottled water. This is a bad investment for many reasons. It's expensive compared to what's coming out of the tap, its cost to the environment is high, and it's often no better for your health than what's running down your drain.

5. Boxed rice entree or side-dish mixes. These consist basically of rice, salt, and spices, yet they're priced way beyond the ingredients sold individually. Yes, there are a few flavorings included, but again, you probably have them in your pantry. Buy a bag of brown rice, measure out what you need, add your own herbs and other seasonings, and voila! You've just saved some money, and prepared something that probably tastes better than what you were going to buy.

6. Pre-formed meat patties. These are handy, but they're more expensive than buying the ground meat in bulk and making patties yourself. You can even freeze them if you must.

7. Tomato-based pasta sauces. These may run $2 to $6 a jar, while the equivalent amount of canned tomatoes is often under $1. Try making your own sauces from canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes. Put the tomatoes into a skillet, stir in some wine or wine vinegar, your favorite herbs, and whatever chopped vegetables you like in your sauce -- garlic, peppers, onions, mushrooms, even carrots -- and let simmer for an hour. Easy!

Avoiding these cash traps will make a real difference in how much you spend each week. This has an impact on you as a consumer, but what about the flip side -- what does the change in grocery store habits mean to American companies? For some ideas, check out the food section of WeSeed.com, where you'll see the hot companies in this market.

For hard numbers, the latest earnings reports for several large consumer product companies are about to come out, including Kimberly-Clark. The Dallas-based company, which manufacturers such staples as Kleenex and Huggies, lowered its profit forecast. Why? Probably because consumers are cutting costs by avoiding cash traps and purchasing store brands when they can.

While you change your own shopping habits, think about how changing consumer habits could affect your portfolio, too.

Jennifer Openshaw, author of " The Millionaire Zone," is co-founder and president of WeSeed, whose mission is to enable people to discover the stock market in their everyday lives through their passions, their fashion, their careers, their kids and the brands they know and love. You can reach her at jopenshaw@weseed.com.

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