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You gotta eat: How to bag bargain buys

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Blowing into a supermarket with no shopping list, on an empty stomach and no game plan in mind is so 2005 as families grapple with recessionary concerns. Four or so years ago, when the economy was booming and the job market buoyant in Placer County, pinching pennies wasn’t as important in many households. With financial uncertainty hovering around even the smallest purchases, counting those dollars and cents now is higher on the list of necessities, especially when it comes to food purchases. At Auburn’s SaveMart Supermarket manager Pamela Dobson said that she’s noticed customers are shopping smarter by using coupons, taking advantage of rebates and utilizing the weekly store flier to find bargains. “We have great ads,” Dobson said. No limits on sale items and the ability for customers to buy sale items without a club card are other pluses for shoppers, she said. Save Mart also has a Super Saver guide that runs for a month at a time and includes suggestions for cooking. Save Mart’s most recent In Good Taste publication suggests cooking more meals at home because convenience has its price. “A restaurant meal, even fast food, costs about twice as much as the comparable meal prepared at home – plus you can eat in your bathrobe and slippers,” In Good Taste advises. Another big plus is that when you make your own meals, you have more control over nutrition, it says. Nutrition is on the mind of Deborah Lynn as she helps coordinate smart food choices from families working with the Placer Community Action Council’s KidzKount program. The federally funded program not only assists families with food vouchers but also provides them with the information they need to make healthy, cost-effective choices at the grocery store. Starting in October, KidzKount' partner WIC (Women Infants and Children) will distribute vouchers for families to increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains they buy. It will also be providing recipes and guidance on recipes to prepare nutritional meals. Many times, food value isn’t readily apparent. Lynn said one of the hard sells is convincing families to buy whole-wheat bread that costs more than fortified, bleached white bread but is better nutritionally. Menu planning is another aspect of preparing to buy food that KidzKount is promoting. “That can help make meals cheap, reasonable and, in some cases, don’t need a refrigerator or oven,” Lynn said. Another option to cut down on the grocery bill is to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Placer County Master Gardeners are helping out with a “Dollars and Sense” gardening calendar that includes among its suggestions interspersing produce-yielding plants among your landscaping. Kevin Marini, Master Gardeners coordinator, said edible landscaping integrates edibles into people’s yards without much effort. That could mean planting tomatoes or squash in an area that is in need of some plantings. Master Gardeners are also providing tips in the calendar on buying right at the nursery. Smart shopping there means going for smaller trees and perennials that will quickly catch up in growth with larger specimens, Marini said. The calendar will be sold at nurseries throughout the area starting next month. The onset of fall doesn’t mean gardening for food takes a holiday. Marini said lettuce and fennel are two vegetables that can grow into the cooler months of the year and don’t have the same insect pressures as summer crops like tomatoes and squash. Lynn said KidzKount is also encouraging small-scale family produce production that can even go indoors. “You don’t need eight-by-10-foot beds,” she said. “It’s all about value and sustainability. If you’re in an apartment, you could put a couple of pots on your staircase and grow things like parsley or other herbs after talking to the apartment manager to make sure it’s OK.” The Auburn Journal is also helping family bottom lines with its online Value Vault coupon site. Through national coupon distributor Red Plum, auburnjournal.com has grocery coupons that change on a regular basis. For instance this week, the coupons include one for $1.50 off two packages of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. ------------------------------------------- Food shopping tips • Make a list and stick to it. It helps stave off impulsive buying spurts that beef up your food expenditures. • Compare unit pricing. The biggest package or the item on sale may not be the best bargain and the instore info will give you the information you need. • Think twice before getting a cart or basket. Carts slow you down and make you buy more. Studies have shown the longer you stay in a store, the more you buy. If you’re in a store to buy one item, don’t impulsively pick up a basket. It’s an invitation to buy something outside your budget to fill up all that empty space. • Shop the store edges. Stores typically place the healthier, less-processed items on their perimeters, forcing shoppers through aisles of more expensive manufactured products. • Choose generic. Store or no-name brands are cheaper than name-brand equivalents and usually of similar quality. The only difference is marketing and fancy packaging. • Use coupons wisely. Clip coupons only for things you need – for staple foods and ingredients – and not for processed junk food. • Make one big trip. Avoid the small ones for a jug of milk or the tomato for the salad. Each visit is another potential opportunity to spend excessively. • Buy in bulk. By measuring out products from bins, you get exactly the amount you want and don’t over-buy. • Always check your receipt. Look for coupon reductions and whether items were scanned correctly. • Have a meal before you shop. Studies have shown that hungry people are apt to buy more food. Thirsty people will stock up on more to drink. Source: getrichslowly.org.