A shopping list, a cash register receipt, and bags of groceries in your car should add up to smart shopping, but too often it doesn't.
Instead of getting easier, food shopping is getting more complicated.
Now, shoppers in many cities have to remember to scan the appropriate supermarket card entitling the owner to a savings - a practice which most local supermarket chains have adopted in the past year. It's like being part of a club.
On occasion, the clerk has scanned the wrong one on my key chain. Sorry, try again.
If you can view the computer as each item is scanned, you hope that it reads the price right and then deducts the savings. At the end of the cash register receipt, your savings should be totaled, which is supposed to make the shopper feel better about the amount they have spent.
I rarely feel better. I always wonder why the bill is so much.
Grocery shopping ought to be easier, especially if you are organized. Everyone knows that a shopping list helps avoid impulse buying and keeps the shopper focused on what he or she really needs and wants.
I have a magnetic grocery list pad on my refrigerator for my weekly list; too often I forget to tear it off and stash it in my purse on the morning I'm going to stop at the store in the evening. Sometimes I just plain lose it.
To make the list, shoppers plan, or semi-plan, menus for the coming days or week. Sometimes they peruse advertisements and try to take advantage of specials in the coming week.
Other ways to find savings on items is to use supermarket scan cards and the coupons that are found in newspapers, magazines, on the Internet, and sent to you in the mail.
However, whether these coupons save money or whether they lead to impulse buying depends on the shopper. In my mind, a coupon is only good if you can use it for an item you would buy anyway. But too often the coupon calls for buying two or three of the same item, which in some cases can add another $10 or more to your grocery bill. This can wreak havoc on your budget.
On the other hand, coupons are a good way to try a new item for less than the regular price.
You can also try store brands or generic brands to save money. Some are more satisfactory than others.
Shoppers are advised to read the unit price on shelf labels. Today, this can be confusing if the supermarket has a scan card: now there's the unit price, the real price, and the “club shop” approach to pricing.
Sometimes stores have a variety of brands that are priced differently in the deli, the gourmet section of the store, the dairy case, and the regular aisles. For example, parmesan cheese can range from packaged store brands to fresh parmesan to Italian-made Parmigiano-Reggiano, a gourmet delicacy.
Whether you are in the mood to shop or not, it's got to be done. Experts tell you not to shop when you are hungry, or in a bad mood, but the truth is, a lot of food shopping has to be done on the way home from a long day at work.
Shopping in 20 minutes so you can get home and whip up a 20-minute dinner is still an art.
Today shoppers think more in minutes than in cents, although they know that saving money makes a lot of sense. But most folks can't spend a lot to save a lot.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.