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How to save money on groceries: Advice from UF/IFAS expert Dr. Maria Portelos-Rometo

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With food prices on the rise, it’s more important than ever to be a savvy grocery shopper. We reached out to Dr. Maria Portelos-Rometo, who teaches a variety of food-related classes at the UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, including Grocery Shopping for Your Health. She has also written a series of blog posts titled Saving Money at the Grocery Store.

Here, Portelos-Rometo, offers advice for some common supermarket pitfalls.

Make a monthly grocery budget. “Planning is key,” Portelos-Rometo says.

Shop weekly. “You should shop weekly, because there are so many date-sensitive food items that we need to consider,” Portelos-Rometo says. But avoid stopping by the store multiple times per week, which leads to more impulse buying.

Make a list and stick to it. “You can’t just go into the store and think you can wing it, because you will impulse-buy and overspend,” she says. Avoid purchasing items just because they’re on sale or you have a coupon—unless they’re on your list.

Have a gameplan. “Don’t go to the store hungry, don’t go angry, and try to shop alone, because you will save money,” Portelos-Rometo advises. Shop the perimeter for fresh foods, and be on guard when you enter the aisles for pantry staples. “Stay away from the snack aisles,” she says.

Don’t drive all over town for the best deal. “With today’s gas prices, you do really need to shop wisely,” Portelos-Rometo says. Plan your route and hit two stores max. Ask a manager if the store will honor a competitor’s coupon or sale price. This allows you to get the deal without driving to multiple stores.

Play it cool. If you do plan on stopping by more than one store, bring a cooler with ice packs. Make sure your grocer packs all the cold items together in one bag, which you can stash in the cooler until you get home so the food doesn’t spoil.

Buy in bulk… but only when it makes sense. Costco, Sam’s Club and restaurant supply stores can be tempting, but many bulk items are best left for large households. “Buying larger containers is usually cheaper, but just make sure that your family can consume those food items before they expire,” Portelos-Rometo warns. Paper goods and non-perishables at those big box stores can make more sense and can be much cheaper than at our local grocery stores, but you have to [factor] in that there are fees to belong to some of these big box stores.”

Buy what’s in season. In-season produce is cheaper, more flavorful, more nutritious and better looking. If your desired fruit or veggie is out of season, then consider buying it frozen or canned, packed in water or 100 percent fruit juice.

Extend the life of your fruits and veggies. When you bring home fresh produce, don’t wash it. The moisture residue will create pathogens that rot food faster. Place the items in your fridge’s cooler drawers, and wash only what you’re prepared to eat.

Go bananas. Place browning bananas in the fridge to save and use in smoothies.

Know how to play the game. “When stores produce their BOGO sales—their buy one, get one [free]—try to have a coupon that goes along with it. You’ll maximize your savings,” Portelos-Rometo says. Also pay attention to your store’s circular ads so you can figure out the pattern of when items go on sale. Portelos-Rometo buys enough oatmeal and coffee to last until the next month’s sale.

Use the FIFO method. First in, first out. In your pantry, fridge and freezer, move older items to the front so you can plan meals around foods that will soon expire. Some foods are okay to eat within a few days of their “best by” date, but always throw away expired baby formula.

Make bulk meals. Choose liquid-based meals that stretch ingredients, such as stews, soups and chili. Eat the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner. Rather than throwing away leftover rice, save it for a casserole. “Once you throw food away, you have thrown your money away, as well,” says Portelos-Rometo, whose family enjoys homemade pizza.

Consider investing in food-saving appliances. Deep freezers and food vacuum sealers prolong the life of food. Crunch the numbers to figure out if the initial investment—plus the cost for electricity and sealer bag refills—makes sense for your household.

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Dalia Colón is excited to return to WUSF as producer of the Zest podcast. From 2010 to 2014, Dalia covered health and features for WUSF. Before that, she was a staff reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and Cleveland Magazine.
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