In today’s economy, consumers are being squeezed at both ends: On one, by higher prices for staples like food and gas; on the other, by dropping interest rates on savings, disappointing stock-market performance, and meager or no salary increases. If you’re having trouble keeping within your budget, this is a good time to review your spending to find ways to cut costs without denying yourself too many of life’s pleasures.
We looked at ways to trim your spending in a number of areas. Read on for our favorite belt-tightening tips. For more money-saving measures from CR Experts, see Smart Moves for Tough Times.
Food prices were up 4.6 percent overall between February 2007 and February 2008, with milk up 16.8 percent and eggs up a whopping 25.3 percent. You can save in the grocery aisle by purchasing store brands and stocking up when items you use regularly are on sale. But watch those use-by dates, and compare unit prices carefully. For some staples, such as canned tuna and ketchup, the smaller size often has a lower price per unit.
Don’t let end-of-the-aisle promotions or free samples induce you to buy products you don’t really want or need. And know what products typically cost—some items being promoted might actually be full price. Coupons and supermarket loyalty cards can help you save. A survey conducted for Consumer Reports ShopSmart magazine found that shoppers who did saved an average of $678 a year, or more than 10 cents of every grocery dollar.
Avoid buying nonfood items like batteries, medicine, and cleaning products at the supermarket, where you’ll probably pay more than at a discount store. Check prices at other types of retailers—discounters like Wal-Mart and Target, warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club, and even local convenience stores—for the items you buy regularly. Plan your shopping so you can “store hop” in one trip. For example, one of our staffers found the lowest prices on cereal at Target, while a nearby gas-station mart beat other stores on milk and eggs. Check out a “limited assortment” supermarket if there’s one near you, such as the national chain Aldi Foods and PriceRite in the Northeast.
Unless there’s a problem with your local water supply, don’t buy bottled water. It’s more expensive than tap water, and the bottles are such a threat to the environment that some communities have banned the purchase of bottled water for their municipal offices or prohibit its sale at government-sponsored events.
On a side note, I find tap-water disgusting in most places. Bottled water is not only a rip-off, but as the article notes, not exactly environmentally friendly. Buy a Brita pitcher.