2008-07-25 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER Has your grocery bill increased recently? If so, you are not alone. Increasing costs incurred by food producers, food transporters and retailers have resulted in higher prices on store shelves. As uncertainty regarding the state of the economy continues, many consumers are looking for ways to save money. Fortunately, there are many ways to save at the grocery store.

One way to trim you food bill is to consider store and generic brands. The days of old when store brands were considered inferior to name brands are past. Today's store and generic brands compete in quality with the best known name brands. Many consumers are unable to distinguish between certain store and generic food products and name brands. They often find switching saves them a significant amount of money at the checkout. The same is true for non-food items. While you may prefer a name brand, don't be afraid to give store and generic brands a try; you may be surprised and you will certainly enjoy the savings.

Another way to save money at the grocery store is to pay attention to the unit price of the items at which you are looking. Shelves are labeled with the price you would pay at checkout, as well as what is known as a product's unit price. This is the product's price per pound, 100 count, quart, etc. For most products, the unit measured (pound, quart, 100 count) is common across all brands. This provides a good way to compare how much you are really paying for an item since many brands package their product in slightly different sized containers. Buying the larger container will usually cost less than buying multiple smaller containers, but that is not always the case. By checking and comparing the unit price, you can determine if a product in a larger container is a better buy.

A third way to save money at the checkout is by using coupons. Reducing the cost of an item by twenty-five or fifty cents may not seem like much, but the savings can add up. You can obtain coupons from a variety of sources. Most Sunday newspapers come with an assortment of coupons. Some products are offered for sale with coupons attached, providing consumers with instant savings. Some stores place coupon dispensers on their shelves or near the checkout. In addition to these methods of obtaining coupons, don't be afraid to call manufacturers to request coupons. According to Promotion Marketing Association (PMA) Coupon Council, up to thirtyfive percent of manufacturers only send coupons to consumers upon request.

While coupons are a great way to save, be sure to keep the following points in mind. First, coupons provide the best value when you redeem them for goods you normally buy. Oftentimes it does not make economic sense to purchase a product that you would not otherwise buy just because you have a coupon for the product. Second, coupons can be an opportunity to try a different brand than you might normally, if that brand's price after the coupon is applied is cheaper than the brand you normally buy. Lastly, be sure to take into account the saving offered by coupons on name brand goods. In some cases, name brand goods subject to a coupon are cheaper than store or generic brands. Finally, another way to save money at the grocery store is to be organized. Plan out what you are going to need for the meals you want to cook, create a list of ingredients, and stick to it. Bring the list to the store to help you avoid impulse buys, which can add up quickly if you are not careful.

Using the methods described here can result in significant savings at the checkout and help to buffer the blow from increasing food prices. For more smart grocery shopping tips, you may want to view the Consumer Protection Board's "Recipe for Smart Shopping" tip sheet at: http://www.consumer. state.ny.us/pdf/food_basket.pdf

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