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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Grocery bills got you down? Here are some solutions

Elsie resident Lorraine Fett and her friends drive to Aunt Millie’s Thrift Store in Mt. Pleasant twice a month to stock up on baked goods.
Like so many others, they are looking for ways to save money on their food bills.
Rising food costs coupled with record high gas prices have some consumers changing their shopping habits. Some are buying in bulk and freezing, while others are picking up the habit of clipping coupons and shopping at wholesale bakeries.
Instead of complaining about the rising costs, use that energy to find creative ways to shop smart.
Wholesale Bakeries
Aunt Millie’s employee Randi Justice said she has seen a noticeable increase in the number of shoppers since the prices of gas and food have risen.
“It’s a lot busier in here now,” she said as she stocked some bagels. “I have seen a lot of new customers.”
Justice said the baked goods sold at Aunt Millie’s are the brand’s items that did not sell in the grocery stores. She said the items are allowed to be sold five to seven days after the expiration date.
This past Wednesday, Fett had a shopping cart loaded up with loaves of bread.
“I buy a lot then freeze it,” Fett said. “It’s worth it.”
Fett picked up a package of bread that had a price sticker of $3.19 on it. That is what the bread sold for at Wal-Mart the day before. But now it was marked at 69 cents.
“Look at that,” she said as she pointed to the original price. “It’s a lot better price.”
When she is ready to use the bread, Fett will thaw it out by keeping it at room temperature for a few hours.
“I just take it out of the freezer and put it on the counter,” Fett said. “It’s just as good.”
Fett’s shopping friend Dorothy Martinka was also loading up on loaves of bread.
“If you freeze it, it stays good,” she said as she searched for raisin bread.
“We know how to shop!” Martinka said.
Aunt Millie’s, located at 1000 E. Pickard St., sells an assortment of baked goods including breads, bagels, English muffins, cookies, cakes, chips and crackers. It’s tough to find an item in this bakery that is priced more than $1.
Some call it frugal and others call it smart, but coupons are once again “trendy” for shoppers who are looking to stay within their budget.
Frank Guglielm, director of public relations for Meijer, said he has noticed a trend in the number of coupon sales lately.
“I’ve seen more and more people using coupons,” Guglielmi said. “That and shopping good old-fashioned sales.”
In fact, Meijer is now offering a text message or e-mail alert system to notify customers of sales in the store.
Customers can be notified of the exact time when Meijer will raise its gas prices. To use this service shoppers have to log on to and register as a user.
He also said that Meijer offers coupons for free gas when buying certain products.
“It’s not unheard of for a customer to walk out with $30 in gas coupons after shopping,” Guglielmi said.
Generic or Store Brands
Buying generic or store name brands versus the name brand product can also help offset rising costs.
Meijer has two tiers of store brand products. There is the Meijer brand and then the Meijer Gold brand. The Meijer Gold brand is a premium Meijer brand, but still is less expensive than the name brand.
For most generic products (regardless of the store brand), the main ingredients are exactly the same or very similar as the national brands. Spend a few minutes comparing the ingredients of a generic product to a brand name product.
Those few minutes might save you a few dollars at the check-out line. That’s what Janet Lacey, a Mt. Pleasant resident and mother of four, does.
“I always buy generic brands,” Lacey said. “With four kids you have to find ways to cut costs.”
Lacey said she has never noticed a difference in taste or quality when buying generic. The only difference is the packaging.
“My kids like the packaging on the more expensive name brand stuff,” she said. “But they would never know the difference. I encourage people to at least try it.”
Buying in Bulk
Although you may not need 10 rolls of paper towels or five boxes of cereal right away, you will need them at some time. So why not shop in bulk and save a few dollars?
The important thing to remember when shopping bulk is to only purchase what you know you will use. It doesn’t make sense to purchase items that will spoil if they are not used in time or that will sit on your shelf unused.
You can buy in bulk at most stores by comparing the price on the larger-sized packages of toilet paper or paper towels, for example. Often, it will be cheaper than if you just bought a small package.
To truly shop in bulk, you will want to check out a store dedicated just to that, such as Sam’s Club or a similar store. But keep in mind, many of those stores charge a membership fee, so calculate how much it will cost you versus how much you will save to see if it is worth it.
Cereal can be kept for up to one year if stored in a cool, dry area.
Reported by Lisa Satayut, Sun Staff Writer


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