Some tips for trimming rising grocery bills

Posted July 26, 2012, at 3:28 p.m.

Remember the old phrase of getting “sticker shock” when shopping for a new car? Well, now the same phenomenon is happening at the grocery store. Food prices are at an all-time high, with healthful choices leading the pack.

It’s no wonder someone with a limited income may choose a box of snack cakes for a $1.59 instead of a pound of peppers at about $3.50. But don’t get discouraged. The National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging has an informative article that can help you navigate the supermarket. “What’s On Your Plate? Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging” offers some smart advice on saving money at the checkout counter.

Here are ideas to try from www.nia.nih.gov/health:

• Inquire about senior discounts or loyalty cards, such as the kind that can be attached to a key ring. Sometimes these cards come with continuous coupons and special deals for card holders. A particular pharmacy frequently offers a “buy one, get one free” for card holders.

• And speaking of coupons, keep your scissors handy and clip away. They are a great way to save cash, especially if the store will double them. My mother is a master at working the coupon system and saves a bundle on groceries. However, coupons will only save you money if you use them on things you were to buy anyway. The temptation can be strong to buy unintended items because of the money-off offer. And watch prices. The store brand may be cheaper than the name brand even after the coupon is deducted.

• And let’s think about store brands. Typically, they are cheaper yet have similar quality to the name brand.

• Single-serving packs are very convenient; however that convenience does not come free. If you’re willing to do the prep, you can save. Think about shredding a block of cheese, which actually melts better than the pre-shredded, and buying a head of lettuce and cutting it up yourself instead of purchasing bagged produce. The same goes for baby carrots. It doesn’t take much to cut them up to store in a plastic dish in the fridge and the cost is much lower.

• A good blender will make delicious smoothies. Just combine yogurt, Greek style for more protein, and various frozen fruit, which is just as nutritious as fresh without the fear of spoilage. Experiment and find the flavors you love. These smoothies have calcium and vitamins from the yogurt and loads of antioxidants from the fruit, particularly if you choose brightly colored berries. They are also easy to eat for seniors who struggle with solid food.

• Take note of the “unit prices.” Along with price, the stickers on the shelves tell you what an item costs per ounce, or pound. By comparing the unit prices you will see if you’re getting the best value on your chosen brand. Might be time to shop around.

• Bulk shopping can be great if you have storage space and if you can freeze or consume an item before it goes bad. You may have the best of intentions but you won’t save money if you’re not realistic about how much you can actually eat in that “freshness window.” I speak from experience on this one.

• No doubt about it: produce is pricey. Watch for in-season fruits and veggies or another alternative is to buy frozen. Canned is an option too, but be careful of the sodium.

• I am a marketer’s dream. I cannot resist temptations at the checkout. Candy, gum, trinkets. I love it all. Impulse buying is big business so give a stiff upper lip and soldier on without the extras. You’ll save money in the end. And it’s only hard till you get to the car.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging.

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