Tips to buy groceries on a budget

SAN JOSE, CA

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The May issue of Consumer Reports is full of grocery shopping tips. So we asked one of the magazine's editors to take the /*7 On Your Side*/ Grocery Shopping Challenge.

Jeff Blyskal is a senior editor at Consumer Reports. We introduced him to Andy O'Brien of San Jose.

Andy agreed to allow 7 On Your Side to follow her on her shopping trip. Then we challenged Jeff to beat the prices Andy paid for her groceries.

"I think Andy is already a pretty good shopper, so it's going to be a little tough," said Blyskal.

Andy spent a total of $89 on a week's worth of groceries for a family of two.

She's an avid reader of Consumer Reports, so beating her in the 7 On Your Side Grocery Shopping Challenge will not be easy.

"I look at the comparison and the brands and the specials, and I try to stay within what the special is that week," said O'Brien.

Jeff was impressed that Andy found $31 in savings using her club card at Safeway.

But he did manage to find some openings. Jeff cautioned Andy she might want to stay away from pre-packaged foods.

"We always say prepared foods, you're paying for the convenience, so it's going to cost you more. Same as these mushrooms, chopped up. You can chop them up yourself," said Blyskal.

We caught up with Jeff again the very next day after his grocery expedition. He was feeling pretty good about how things went.

"I think we did pretty well," said Blyskal.

He found some of his biggest savings buying in bulk at Costco.

"The pork chops that Andy bought were about $3.99 a pound. I bought these, quite a few pork chops. But they were $2.49 a pound," said Blykskal.

Simply freeze what you can't eat right away. He saved a combined $9 total buying paper towels and toilet paper also in bulk at Costco.

Trader Joe's had a good deal on milk -- $1.49 for a half gallon versus $1.99 at Safeway.

But the prices on eight of the 21 items Andy bought at Safeway could not be beaten, including oatmeal, wheat thins and cottage cheese.

Jeff also saved 21 cents going with the Safeway Select whole wheat bread versus buying the same thing from a name brand.

"Look at the store brands. The store brands are often a good savings," said Blykskal.

Consumer Reports says those store brands often test as well as the more expensive name brands.

To get his savings, Jeff shopped at four different stores -- Safeway, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe's and Costco. He thinks the best strategy is to pick the store that has the best prices and stick with it, but not exclusively.

"In your travels throughout shopping at other stores, you should keep your eyes open for other bargains," said Blykskal.

In all, when comparing price by unit, Jeff saved $18.

You have to factor gasoline and time use when going to different stores to find bargains.

Related links:
>> 7 On Your Side grocery shopping comparison
>> BLOG: Rising to the supermarket savings challenge

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