Stretch Your Dollar Further at the Supermarket!

Let’s face it- for us college students, grocery shopping can be overwhelming. As much as we try to eat healthy, sometimes it just doesn’t seem feasible. Consequently, the fifty cent Ramen noodles is calling our name. By following these grocery store tips you will become a professional at navigating the aisles on a budget.

Frozen or Fresh

While fresh produce is enticing, it often comes at a cost; both nutritionally and physically. Most frozen produce offers the same, if not better, nutritional benefits as their fresh equivalent. This is because frozen produce is often picked during its maximal ripeness period. Therefore, it tends to be more nutrient-dense because the freezing process helps retain those nutrients. On the other hand, fresh produce is typically picked before it’s fully ripened and then shipped across the country to local grocery stores. By being picked prematurely, many of the fruits and vegetables have not had time to reach their peak nutritional value. In addition, they begin to lose moisture and are more susceptible to spoilage during the long transportation process.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are almost always the way to go, except when produce is in season. In season crops produce a greater yield which drives the cost of the product down. In addition, in-season produce has a much higher flavor profile than produce that is either out-of-season or frozen. Below is a list of commonly purchased foods and the season they grow best in.

  • Winter: clementines, oranges, tangerines, pomegranates, collard greens, kale, grapefruit.
  • Spring: apricots, avocadoes, blueberries, kiwi, lemons, pineapple, broccoli, carrots, asparagus
  • Summer: blackberries, blueberries, cherries, plums, raspberries, strawberries, corn, cucumber, melons, tomatoes, peppers
  • Fall: pears, pumpkin, grapes, broccoli, apples, sweet potatoes.

Generic vs. Brand Name Foods

We’ve all been to Kroger and seen the “P$$T” label, or shopped at Food Lion and bought the “My Essentials” brand. But how do these generic store-brand products compare to their brand name counterpart? Most of the time, they are the EXACT same product. In fact, many of the same manufacturers produce the same product, thus making the marketing the only difference. While grocery shopping on a college budget, it is important to know that purchasing generic foods will save you over 25% on your bill. Below is a list of popular products that you should consider buying generic.

  • Staple food products: flour, sugar, spices, condiments, canned goods, milk, cereal, pasta, etc.
  • Paper/Plastic products: napkins, plates, cups, utensils, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.
  • Over the counter medications: these are all regulated by the FDA so are the exact same as their brand name counterpart with a much lower price tag

Of course we all have our favorite specialty foods that we would never consider buying generic and that’s ok! Nabisco Oreos and Thomas English Muffins are just two of many examples. However, next time you are in the grocery store try to substitute generic products whenever possible.

Prepackaged Foods

As busy college students, prepackaged foods seem like an easy way to save time. However, would you rather save a couple minutes or a couple dollars? Prepared foods come at a high price tag! In fact, pre-sliced apples average over $4.75/lb. whereas whole apples only average approximately $1.29/lb. Not only is prepacked foods more expensive, but they tend to go bad faster than purchasing the product whole. For example, once bagged lettuce has been opened, oxygen exposure causes the lettuce to wilt much faster. Often we find ourselves throwing away bagged lettuce just days after it has been opened. A head of lettuce will stay fresher for longer and will also save your wallet an average of 35%. Finally, preparing foods from scratch has numerous nutritional benefits than purchasing processed or prepackaged foods. High levels of sodium are frequently added to act as a preservative in prepackaged and canned foods. In addition, many prepackaged foods contain trans fats and hydrogenated oils as a way to preserve shelf-life. If you are extremely trapped for time be sure to check the nutrition facts label before purchasing a prepacked food stray away from foods high in trans fats, sodium and added sugars.

Buy in Bulk and Save for Later

One of the easiest ways to save money is to buy foods in bulk, especially when they are on sale. Not only will this cut back on your number of grocery trips, but it will also save your wallet a small fortune. However, don’t get tricked by the 4 lb. carton of strawberries unless all you’re planning on eating is strawberries for the next couple days. In addition, think about the space you have in your college apartment. Don’t buy foods that you don’t have the space for. This is a sure fire way to anger your roommates who will not be happy you’re taking over their ¼ of the refrigerator. Below is a list of great items to buy in bulk and save for later.

  • Meats: buying meats at the Manager’s Special price and freezing them for later use is an awesome way to cut your grocery bill in half! These meats are close to their ‘sell by’ date but are still perfectly safe to eat or freeze for later use before that date.
  • Dried Rice/Pasta: these can be stored in the cupboard for years and can be added to nearly any dish to provide a carbohydrate source.
  • Toilet Paper/Paper Towels: if it’s your turn to buy either of these products, you will save up to 50% by buying a whole package rather than just a couple rolls.
  • Condiments: most condiments are loaded with salt which allows them to be stored unopened on the shelves for a long time. Don’t be afraid to purchase the jumbo sized ketchup or mustard next time!

Become a Rewards Card Member

Nearly every grocery stores allows you to become a rewards member for free. During your first trip to the store, tell the cashier that you would like to become a rewards card member. Make a conscious effort to buy the products that utilize your shopper’s card. You will be shocked at the checkout line when your grocery bill total is cut drastically. In addition, many grocery stores offer rewards for every dollar you spend. As rewards points accumulate, they can be traded in for things like gas, Thanksgiving turkeys, etc. These points can really add up and can save your bank account in all sorts of ways!

Have a Plan

Following these tips is one way to be successful at the grocery store, however, the best way to not burn a hole through your wallet is by going into the store with a plan. Before you go shopping, take inventory of what you have in your apartment and think about what meals you will be cooking. Write down any ingredients or foods you need on a list and STICK TO IT! By forming a list you will be less likely to put a bag of chips or a carton of ice cream into your cart on impulse. In addition, never go to the store hungry. Research has proven that those who grocery shop when they are hungry purchase more higher-calorie foods and blow through their grocery store budget much faster than those who shop on a full stomach. Finally, many college students prefer to grocery shop with cash and leave their credit card in their room. This is one of the only sure-fire ways to stick to your budget because you cannot purchase more than you wallet allows. Grocery shopping shouldn’t have to be a challenge. Following these guidelines will be sure to make it as painless and economical as possible.

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References:

http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/

http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/

http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/generic-vs-brand-name-is-there-really-a-difference/

http://money.usnews.com/money/


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