The Checkout

The Global Food Crisis

Annys Shin

Today, my colleague Jane Black from the Food section has dropped in to share what she learned while working on a piece for the Post's Global Food Crisis series on local shoppers trying to rein in their growing food bills. She picked up some tips on how to reduce food costs and she's been kind enough to share them with us.

Take it away Jane:

Since last March, the price of a dozen eggs has jumped 36 percent; a gallon of milk is up 23 percent. Bread, meat and other staples are up, too.

New studies show that shoppers are taking various approaches to cutting costs. Some cut back on the number of trips they make to the grocery store in order to save on gas. Some go to many stores to get the best prices, and stock up when things are on sale.

Here are a few tried-and-true ways to keep your bill under control:

Shop around: The price of a gallon of milk can vary widely. I checked prices at three stores in the Woodbridge area and found a range from $3.38 to $4.49. Moreover, experts say, such staples are often, counter-intuitively, cheaper at drugstores or convenience stores where the products are loss-leaders.

Shop around - inside the supermarket: Virtually identical items can vary in price depending on where you buy them inside the store. The cheese in the Dairy section is almost uniformly cheaper than the exact same stuff at the deli or gourmet cheese case. The same goes for cold cuts.

Buy what's cheap - now: Buy what's on sale and use club cards to get lower prices. If one of your staples is on sale and you have room in the pantry, stock up to avoid paying higher prices.

You'll also save money if you buy what's in season. Asparagus and mushrooms are in the stores now, but soon there will be a bounty of squash, tomatoes, berries and stone fruit. Enjoy it now and, if possible, make some tomato sauce or canned peaches. It will save you money and the food will be tastier and healthier to boot.

By Annys Shin |  May 1, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Annys Shin
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How much will it cost in gas to "shop around"?

Posted by: Rachelle | May 1, 2008 9:38 AM

Amen to that, Rachelle. I drive a truck (low MPG) so my rule of thumb is 4.5 miles to the dollar. (17 MPG / 3.59 per gallon rounded down to be conservative). I estimate how many miles it takes to go someplace and then decide whether the cost is worth it.

Posted by: Ollabelle | May 1, 2008 10:06 AM

The Detroit News several years ago ran a weekly food section column that compared a list of prices for the same product from several supermarkets. It showed that, overall, there was little difference in prices among them because each store had sales on different items on the list. Going to several stores to buy only one item (unless you are buying multiples of that item is very wasteful at today's gas prices.

Here are some of the ways you can also save on food.
•Make a grocery list and stick to it.
•Use coupons and store discount cards.
•Buy food staples in bulk. When you buy it chances are that prices will only increase.
•Cut back on pre-packaged dinners.
•Substitute store brands for name brand items.
•Make more vegetarian meals which are usually cheaper.
•Plan meals so you have leftovers so you can get 2 meals from one item. Energy costs are probably goinfg to be much less the second time around.
•If you like yogurt, make your own. Once you have a starter, you can keep it going.
•Cook crockpot meals. This is another way to save on energy costs.

Posted by: Pam | May 1, 2008 10:54 AM

I check the flyers and go to one main store a week, depending on what seems to have the best deal for me. Milk is important, since we drink so much of it (with two kids in the house), and we don't eat much meat. But wherever the best deal is is where I go (as ollabelle said, within reason). But I pass by several chains on my weekly rounds, and if there is a really good deal on something, I can usually manage to stop in and get it without adding too much time and gas to my trip.

I also build meals around good deals on meat. As I said, we don't eat a lot of it, but I will buy a whole chicken (or recently, a pork shoulder) and make 4-5 meals out of it (with not a lot of meat in any of the meals, but enough for our tastes). I don't serve them all in the same week--some goes in the freezer for next week or later.

The other thing I do is make sure I always have something cheap and nonperishable on hand so that if money is tight at the end of the month, I have a few meals already taken care of (pasta and sauce, beans and rice, something out of the freezer) so I can mostly just buy perishables to tide us over until payday.

Posted by: saver | May 1, 2008 10:57 AM

Depending on where you live, relying upon frozen foods/meats may soon be a problem... rolling blackouts are predicted in some areas of the U.S. for the upcoming summer. Thus, canned goods and other shelf items (for those facing that potential) may be a better option than frozen and refrigerated foods.

Posted by: Betiina Giancana-Kane | May 1, 2008 1:02 PM

A couple of months ago I started using a website call The Grocery Game. It does all the work in determining what the best deals are at local grocery stores and pharmacies (including Sunday coupons and store sales). As a result of this site (which you can try out for $1 for the first month), I've cut my food costs at Giant by over 50% on every trip. I also shop much more at CVS (including for food which I never used to do) because I've cut my costs by over 90%. CVS examples this week: On 4/28, I paid $.28 for five items and saved $20.79. On 4/29, I paid $.85 for eight items and saved $28.23. On 4/30, I paid $1.50 for four items and saved $18.26. The cashiers shake their head in disbelief when they see me open my change purse to pay for my orders.

There are good ways to save on food costs with a minimal amount of effort if you know where to look on the internet. The Washington Post could do a lot more to help it's readers save money by posting real, practical money-saving tips.

Posted by: sshopper | May 1, 2008 4:49 PM

Sorry, sshopper, but all sounds too good to be true. This wouldn't be a come-on for your website would it? How about some specific prices that you're talking about?

Posted by: Ollabelle | May 2, 2008 3:47 AM

I have heard of the Grocery Game -- I tried it and didn't stick to it, but I have a friend in California who uses it and she said it saves her a bundle

Posted by: Janice | May 2, 2008 12:08 PM

You need only Google Grocery Game to learn some good things. For example the second result (
is very helpful.

Here's a list of what the author says makes "the Game" worth it:

1. You have coupons or are willing to get them.
2. You're willing to organize and use your coupons.
3. You have room to stockpile the products you buy.
4. You're willing to spend time getting ready to shop each week.
5. You don't know the rock bottom price for products or you don't want to or have the time to keep track of them.
6. You know rock bottom prices, but you don't have time.
7. You can control yourself when a good sale is in your line of vision.

Posted by: Just Google it | May 8, 2008 3:18 PM

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