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Shoppers have list — of ways to save on food

There's an art to grocery shopping, according to Katie Martin of Sandy: You match the ads and the coupons before you go and you stick to your list — no matter what.

Not so, said Greg Haines, who was shopping early Tuesday in the Centerville Target. You stick to one store and you make sure you look at the top and bottom shelves, where deals are apt to be better than at eye level.

His one-store theory works, he said, because when you shop at the same place, you can spot when something is a good deal and stock up. Everyone has certain items they buy often.

Each month, the Deseret News makes a loop to five different stores to price 12 identical commonly purchased items, such as bread, hamburger, milk, laundry soap and diapers. The newspaper presents the average price, as well as the range so that shoppers can get a sense of how the stores where they shop compare. Then, because life's about more than groceries, we do the same thing with a night at the movies, including popcorn and a soda, and a take-out pepperoni pizza, comparing three retailers for each of those.

The cost of another add-in, gasoline, was striking this month, up almost 11 percent over where it was a month ago, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge for Utah on Tuesday.

The tally for the groceries alone was $63.43 Tuesday, including a big box of diapers and some laundry soap. Add in a night out and 10 gallons of gas and the grand total was $119, up 1.7 from early January.

The list is not designed to tell shoppers which store is cheapest overall. It leaves out too many other store chains and you'd need to tally hundreds more items. Not one of these stores is the highest priced or the least expensive on every item, although some trends seem to be emerging. It you take the Smith's Food and Drug (S), Target (T), Walmart (W), Harmons (H) and Macey's (M) we visited and order the prices from lowest to highest, for example, it would be SHMWT on milk and WTMHS on laundry soap.

But you might also note, if you watch for a couple of months, that the price your store charges is consistently above or below the average price. And the range of prices — $1.50 difference between identical boxes of Cheerios or $1.19 difference for the same loaf of bread — is perhaps striking enough to change how you shop for those items.