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Grocery Shopping

There are legends of college students who survive for months eating nothing but beer, pizza, and ramen. However, unless you're the stuff legends are made of (and most of us aren't), you'll want to buy groceries.

Regardless of where you live, you will probably be cooking at least some of your own meals and buying products for your home (laundry detergent, paper towels, etc.). American grocery stores offer a wide variety of products and, in most cases, a large selection of brands for each product. Learning how to be a smart shopper will not only save you both time and money, it may help keep you healthy.

Comparison shopping

  • Unit pricing

    Most grocery stores in America provide something called unit pricing to assist shoppers in determining what products are the best values. As you walk down an aisle at the store, read the tags below the products that you may buy. These tags contain the product name, price, size or weight, and a unit price. The unit price for a product reflects the price per unit of measure, so if you were shopping for juice, one brand may cost 4.9 cents an ounce for 32 ounces while a competing product may cost only 4.3 cents an ounce for 64 ounces. You can then decide which brand you want to buy based on price, volume, or, if you are familiar the brands, quality and personal preference.

  • Product placement

    Grocery stores are arranged in a way that gets people to buy the more expensive brands and buy more of any one product than perhaps they need. Once you learn how grocery stores are arranged, you can walk into almost any of them and find ways to save money.

    Though you can walk into a store and check the value of a specific product using unit pricing, most people don't check every brand because they don't see them all. Store managers put products on which make them less money above or below most shoppers' eye levels so that people will buy other, more profitable brands. The first few times you go shopping it's a good idea to look over every shelf containing what you want to buy before deciding on a brand.

Products needed to maintain a home
  • Cooking needs

    If you cook your own meals, you may have trouble finding some of the ingredients you need for certain recipes. When you have trouble finding a product, ask a store employee or manager. In most cases they can show you where the product is or tell you where to find it. Keep in mind that some products such as certain spices may have different names in America or may only be available in specialty stores.

  • Cleaning needs

    Many students coming to college, even American students, have never lived on their own before, so it's a good idea to find out what you will need to keep your apartment clean and then buy the appropriate products. If you are unsure what to buy ask a neighbor or an American friend to recommend something.

Units of measure

Coming from a foreign country, you are probably accustomed to the metric system, so if you cook your own food or you have your own cookbooks, buying food by the ounce (oz.) and the pound (lb.) may be confusing. Check the measurement conversions on the side bar for a quick reference.

There are a few peculiar types of stores in America, but if you are willing participate in the kinds of discount programs they offer, and you are a smart shopper, you can save quite a bit of money.

First of all, there are regular grocery stores that have free membership programs. By signing up to receive a card, you receive special savings. This is often used in place of sale pricing, and the benefit to the store is that they know what you buy and how often you buy it. If you don't mind giving out this kind of information, the savings can be significant.

The second type of store is the "warehouse" style. Nationwide chains such as Costco and Sam's Club offer memberships for an annual fee. Members can then enter these huge stores--they are literally in warehouses--and shop for everything from rice to refrigerators while they drop off their film for processing and get new tires on their car. While the savings on many items are tremendous, you may pay higher prices for others. The trick is knowing what is a good deal. Also, you will usually have to buy large quantities of whatever you want--soda comes in cases of 24 cans (or more), ground beef in 10-pound (4.55 kg) packages, and rice in 50-pound (22.73 kg) bags. As with grocery store membership programs, these kinds of stores offer significant savings, but you may have to buy far more than you may want.

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