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David McNew

Every time I take my kids grocery shopping, I end up paying more at the checkout than I intended. This past weekend, for example, my $35 bill included about $3 in items my son talked me into buying: an apple, a lemon and a tub of strawberry yogurt. (Well, at least it wasn't chips and pop.)

While I might be able to cut my grocery bill by 10 per cent if I left my kids at home, that's not the only reason my wallet is lighter than usual. Thanks to higher costs for commodities such as wheat, sugar and oil, the price of food has been creeping up. Baked goods giant George Weston announced last week it will raise prices by an average of 5 per cent starting April 1, and the Metro, Sobeys and Loblaws grocery store chains have all hinted that price hikes are on the way.

Christina Spence, the Calgary author of Living Large on Less , says she has noticed prices on essentials are starting to rise. She has adopted a few habits to help keep her spending in check, including carrying a notebook with her when she shops, in which she keeps track of the stores that offer the best prices for the products she buys the most often.

She also pays attention to the Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code, which states that if the scanned price of an item is higher than the displayed price, the customer is entitled to receive the item free, up to a $10 maximum.

Here are a few more tips from Ms. Spence for saving money on food:

Look for loss leaders. As an enticement to get more customers through the door, retailers will often take a loss on certain products. Scanning the grocery flyers frequently will help you spot these deals.

Double your discounts. While she's no extreme couponer, Ms. Spence clips coupons for her favourite products and then waits for them to go on sale to maximize the savings.

Sign up for loyalty programs. Most supermarkets have a loyalty program, where you earn points toward free groceries, products or travel. Just make sure you're not paying more for the products in order to get these bonuses.

Calculate the savings. Bring a calculator to the supermarket so you can compare the prices of various package sizes.

Stock up on necessities. A well-stocked pantry means that you can whip up a meal on the fly without grabbing at that handy takeout menu.

Limit extras. The supplies you need to make meals are essentials; the snacks and goodies are extras. Make sure you treat them that way.

Eat real. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. Make it a goal to buy and consume more whole foods, such as fish, cheese, fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Your health will thank you, as will your wallet.

Buy reduced meats and produce. Food marked for clearance is perfectly safe to eat - but you'll need to use it up or freeze it quickly. Check with the store's meat and produce department supervisors to see when items are marked down to snag the best stuff.

Go generic. They don't have the stylish, glossy packaging, but generic products are often just as good as their pricier brand name counterparts. Don't be a food snob!

Another tip from Ms. Spence is to avoid impulse purchases by sticking to your list. That means not caving in to your children's demands, no matter how many times they say please. It seems I'll need a bit of practise with that one.

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