NEW YORK - Most of us take it for granted that we know how to shop for groceries. After all, we spent a lot of time doing it.
Experts say, however, that it isn't as easy as it looks and that there are many ways consumers can save money as they navigate the grocery aisles.
Americans, in fact, spend a lot of their money on food. Department of Labor statistics indicate that food at home and in restaurants takes 13 percent of the consumer dollar, behind the 32 percent for housing and 18 percent for transportation.
The average family spent $280 a month, or nearly $3,350 a year, at the grocery store in 2004, the most recent year for which Labor Department data is available.
Gary Foreman, a former financial planner who publishers "The Dollar Stretcher" newsletter, said a recent survey of his readers found a slightly higher grocery spending rate: $149 a month for a single person, $257 for a couple and $396 for a family of four.
Phil Lempert, who has been writing about food trends since the 1970s and operates the Supermarket Guru Web site, noted that our grandparents' generation probably went to a supermarket once a week - and likely went back time and again to the same supermarket.
The current generation, he said, shops on average more than twice a week and, in the course of a month, shops at seven different food distributors, from warehouse clubs to drugstore chains.
"So even though we say we're busier than ever before and working hard and don't have time, the truth is that we will make time to go to a secondary or tertiary shopping location for value," Lempert said.
For example, he said, someone may do their regular shopping at a ShopRite store, then go to the wholesale club Costco for meat.
Although moving around like that makes it harder to save consistently, Lempert says it is possible. His suggestions:
Always shop with a list
Draw three horizontal lines at the bottom of the list
"We all buy on impulse," Lempert says. "This means, OK, I'll allow myself three impulse items - but no more."
Never shop when hungry
Shop the produce department last.
"Produce is at the front of the store for a reason - it sets the stage for a better shopping experience because it's evocative of nature with beautiful colors, good aromas," he said. "You'll spend more money at a store if you start in the produce department."
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