Are Grocery Deals Worth the Gas?

In the past, you may have cruised the ads and shopped the grocery sales, hopping from store to store to buy the deals at each location.

That was before gas was $4.00 per gallon.

That’s the price of gasoline at the station down the street from my house in Los Angeles, with others in the city clocking in at $4.29 per gallon. While the national average is slightly less at $3.52 (as of March 11), these escalated gas prices may have you rethinking your errand-running, as they should.

Is it really worth your gas money (not to mention your time) to save ten cents a pound on prime rib? Probably not.

There are many factors to this equation, of course, including the distance to the stores you are shopping at, the type of car you drive and the comparable rates of groceries and gas near you. But unless you are buying prime rib for a large group of people, the savings will probably not compute.

If there are different stores you like to shop at for different reasons (Big Lots for paper goods, Trader Joe’s for snacks, Whole Foods for organic produce), then try to space out your visits to each place instead of hitting them all in one grand shopping day (then doing it again the next week). If you need to drive to a larger discount store like Target or Wal-Mart that is several miles away, try to plan ahead and make a trip only once a month.

Instead of burning resources and wasting your afternoon chasing down circular ads, here are some real ideas to save money on your grocery bill.

1. PLAN AHEAD. This is the granddaddy of all grocery budget plans. Make a list of items you need and stick to it, and never shop when you are hungry. If you find yourself arriving to the grocery store with a growl in your belly, grab a granola bar, protein bar or even candy bar to eat before you start shopping. Eating one candy bar is much better for you than the damage you will do hungry and behind the wheels of a shopping cart.

2. KNOW PRICES. Pay attention to the usual prices of items that you always need like butter, eggs or bread, so that you will know when you are seeing a good deal and when you are getting ripped off.

3. GO MEAT-FREE. Even a house full of carnivores can handle going without meat for a night. Try doing “Meatless Mondays” and instead cook evening omelets, ethnic dishes or grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

4. EAT SEASONALLY. Berries in December or Brussels sprouts in spring will always cost you more. Instead, choose produce items that are in season and local, if possible. They will be less expensive and more nutritious.

5. DON’T ASSUME ORGANIC COSTS MORE. Pay attention to prices and you will see that organic foods are often the same price or even less than commercial fare. Whole Foods’ “365 Everyday Value” brand offers many organic selections at a low price that is easy to afford.

image: aithom2