A routine shopping trip may seem fairly, well, normal, to you, but it's important to know that many stores have other plans for you.
The marketing strategies of some grocery stores — while they may advertise all sorts of ways for you to save money — is to get you to buy items you don't need.
For example, if you're just running into the store to buy the basic milk, eggs or butter, plan on going all the way to the back of the store. Making you walk through the store increases the chance that you'll grab an item you were not planning on buying.
Be aware that big sale signs doesn't necessarily mean big savings. I've seen some grocery store sales where there is only a two cents difference in the price of the item. But your eyes will be attracted to those bright colors, bold lettering and fancy packages. Don't let that fool you, because it may not be the best deal. Chances are the real deals are going to be placed on the bottom shelves. Those manufacturers pay less to be located there so maybe they will pass the savings along to you.
Let's not fall into the store's trap. Implement some strategies of our own. Track grocery costs. It may take a little effort, but you will be rewarded by knowing what store has the best price on the items you purchase often.
Start with building your own price book. This can be a spreadsheet which you have a column for all the items' names, size of item, price of item and what store the information was gathered from. University of Kentucky Extension Service has a generic price book design that you can print out at http://bit.ly/1i1HPVw.
Enter 10 to 20 items you purchase most frequently, and after you get the hang of it you can add more. Focus on prices for three full months. Over the course of that time, you'll notice sales trends and will have identified your "buy price" (the lowest one in the cycle) for each item. Stock up on that item when the buy price is at its lowest.
With this record of a store's sales cycle, you can check each month to make sure your book is up-to-date.
Of course, inflation and seasonal changes can cause prices to fluctuate. But buying certain items at certain times can save you money throughout the year. For example, it's best to shop for clothes on Monday because department stores typically mark down items on Sunday night or Monday morning.
Right now through the end of February is when retailers offer the deepest discounts on things like linens, furniture and other items for your home. If a television purchase is in your future, check out discounts before the Super Bowl in February.
Also, know the secret price codes at popular retailers for the deepest discounts. If the clearance price ends in the number 4 at Target this means it isn't going to be marked down any more. If it ends in 6 or 8 it will be discounted again. For Sam's Club, you want to look for prices ending in "1." That means the price is below cost. A "C" on the price label means it's on clearance. At Costco, look for an asterisk (*), which means "sell through" (the item won't be reordered). Don't buy these items just yet. You'll want to wait until they go on clearance, which is when the prices end in "97."
And last, but not least, do not go shopping when you are hungry. You will end up with lots of extra stuff you definitely were not planning to buy.
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■ Enter your email address at Edible Arrangements website to receive a voucher for one free dipped pineapple pop. Expires Jan. 21. Ediblearrangements.com
■ Radio Shack is offering customers who have a postpaid wireless contract with AT&T, Verizon or Sprint a coupon good for $5 off a qualifying purchase of $5 or more when you check your upgrade eligibility. Offer is good through March 31 at participating Radio Shack stores and at RadioShack.com
■ Enter the UPC code from your milk to see if you win one of 2,000 buy-one-get-one-free milk coupon given away daily from American Milk Council until Feb. 17. http://bit.ly/19x5nPa
■ On the Dunkin Donuts website sign up for their email club to win a free medium beverage of your choice. Dunkindonuts.com
■ Celebrate Winter Family Days at Newport Aquarium. Up to two kids get in free with each adult paying full price now until Feb. 28. http://bit.ly/1dyWntR
■ From 4-8 p.m. on Jan. 23 and 24 The Salon at ULTA is celebrating Living Proof Free Friday and offering free hair wash, conditioning and 30 minute blowout styling. Spots are limited. Contact your local ULTA to make an appointment.