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The Coupon Lady: Knowing the price of staples

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Sometimes when I cook or clean, I like to turn on the television for background noise while I work.

A few nights ago, while I was prepping the ingredients to make dinner, I heard something that caught my attention. I was watching a reality show that features three generations of the same family; an adult son, a father and a grandfather.

What caught my attention was a conversation that they were having during some downtime. The grandfather had asked for a list of items for lunch and was surprised that his meal had cost so much.

The men began discussing the prices of everyday items. The youngest man asked his grandfather how much he thought a container of laundry detergent was. The grandfather answered four dollars. The younger two men laughed and said, “Try 12 dollars.” The father and son found it very funny that the older man had no idea about the cost of everyday items but still knew the exact value of items in the business.

My story illustrates a point: We all pay attention to the items that are important to us. If you aren’t the one in your household doing the shopping, then you probably are in the same boat as the grandfather. The grandfather ran a business and he never had time to shop. His wife does the grocery shopping for his family, so he has no idea what current prices are.

How can you find out the average prices for common goods? Did you know that the U.S. Department of Labor keeps statistics on retail food and energy costs?

The following are the July 2013 prices for the national city average, so prices will vary depending on cost of living in the area. Quantities are by the pound unless otherwise noted.

IN THE DAIRY AISLE

1 dozen grade A eggs $1.83

Gallon of milk $3.44

Soft margarine $2.10

Cheddar cheese $5.43

Gallon of ice cream $4.84

IN THE PRODUCE SECTION

Red Delicious apples $1.41

Bananas $0.60

Grapes $2.19

Iceberg lettuce $0.93

White potatoes $0.70

Broccoli $1.73

Tomatoes $1.43

IN THE DRY GOODS AREA

Flour $0.53

Rice $0.72

Dry beans $1.41

Sugar $0.64

Peanut butter $2.73

Coffee $5.39

Chocolate chip cookies $3.63

IN THE MEAT DEPARTMENT

Ground chuck $3.42

Ground beef $3.45

Chuck roast $4.25

Sirloin steak $5.75

Bacon $5.07

Pork chops $3.50

Boneless chicken breasts $3.55

Whole chicken $1.48

Whole frozen turkey $1.39

Most of these items are considered staples and rarely have coupons.

The key to saving with these items is by stocking up when they become a loss leader. An item becomes a loss leader when the grocery chain temporarily lowers the price to nearly cost in order to entice people to shop at their location. A loss leader will be highly visible in the grocery store’s sales circular.

Now that you know the price of common foodstuffs, here’s some current data on what the average family spends in a month on groceries. The USDA Food Plan for July 2013 says that a family of four with one child age 2-3 and one child age 4-5 should be spending $553.40 a month on the Thrifty plan and $702.60 for the Low-Cost plan. A couple with two children ages 6-8 and 9-11 should be spending $634.30 a month on the Thrifty plan and $828.60 on the Low-Cost plan.

Knowing the average prices of items allows you to see what items have been marked up and what items are a deal. That way, you won’t be shocked when you see the total!


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