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Economy Project: Using Grocery Ads to Reduce Food Bills

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By Shomial Ahmad, KERA Reporter

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/kera/local-kera-891748.mp3

Dallas, TX – Sharp increases for dairy and fruit led to a peak in food prices that hasn't been seen in more than a year. For KERA's Economy Project, Shomial Ahmad learned about one way to save - using grocery sale ads to reduce your food bill.

Shomial Ahmad: Maria Jalomo is married and a mother of two young girls. She's interested in serving nutritious food for her children, but she needs to cut costs whenever possible.

Maria Jalomo: "'Cause the economy's not too good right now, so we have to be careful where you spend it and how you spend it."

Shomial Ahmad: Jalomo has been attending a class on nutrition and fitness. It's taught by the Dallas chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women. One of the things that she's learned is to cut costs by taking advantage of weekly grocery specials.

Syl Benenson: "How many people pick up the sale paper when you first go in?"

Shomial Ahmad: Many north Texas grocers advertise their special food prices on Wednesday. You can find them in newspapers or in printed handouts near the store entrance. Stores also post their best deals on their website and increasingly email the weekly specials to customers. Marian Ross teaches financial management at the Tarrant County office of the Texas AgriLife Extension. Ross says the ads can be an important part of a strategy for cutting grocery costs. She says the first step is to plan meals around what you already have.

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Marian Ross: "I always encourage people to do an inventory of their refrigerator and their pantry."

Shomial Ahmad: Then, Ross says, take a look at the weekly sales. What affordable food can you buy that will allow you to cook with what you have on hand or create additional nutritious meals? With that information, create a shopping list and stick to it.

Marian Ross: "Plan menus for at least a week around that. And at least have planned over meals so that they can cook once and eat twice."

Shomial Ahmad: Jalomo is ready to try the strategy to see if she can cut her grocery bill. She takes a look at the ads that arrive by mail.

Maria Jalomo: "At the start of the week, I (begin) making my list (of) what I need. So during the week, when I go, I have my list with me."

Shomial Ahmad: She checks the ads, looks at what she already has in the cupboard, then plans several meals that include fajitas. Jalomo then heads to a Dallas market with a grocery list written in her small spiral notebook.

Maria Jalomo: "I've got tomatoes, peppers, lemons, bell red peppers, cilantro pineapple, eggs, chicken, soda drinks, some tostadas ."

Shomial Ahmad: Jalomo first goes to the produce section. She doesn't go for the really cheap bananas. She's already got some at home. She does pick up 10 pounds of whole chicken, some squash, and a package of corn tostadas. In addition to fajitas, she'll cook baked chicken with squash, chicken noodle soup and bean tostadas with a hint of lime. Jalomo doesn't stray from her list. By the time she's reaches the checkout counter she has eight items and a good idea of how much the food will cost, and how long it will last.

Maria Jalomo: "So I will spend, right now, like, $20. But with this $20, I can make two out of four meals, maybe."

Shomial Ahmad: On this shopping trip, Jalomo spends about $10 less than what she would have if she hadn't planned. That's more than 30 percent less. Consumer expert Marian Ross says an average family will save around $125 a month by following the same simple steps: checking the food you already have, looking at the grocery ads, and then writing your shopping list. And, of course, like Jalomo, stick to your list.

You can find more tips for saving money when grocery shopping, along with links to inexpensive, nutritious recipes at KERA.org/economy