9 ways to plan for a lower grocery bill

Extreme Meal Planning

by Ruth O'Neil

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This is for all you grocery shoppers out there who want to save money on your food bill without using coupons. There is no clipping or subscribing. Instead of buying a lot of prepackaged meals with coupons, I have found it less expensive and healthier to cook from scratch. The biggest way you can save money is with meal planning and putting some thought into your list.

Plan what you are going to eat each week and make an appropriate list. Buy only the items on your list. Cutting impulse spending can save you $20 to $30 a trip.

Plan around sales. Take the time to peruse the store ads to see what is on sale. If hamburger is on sale, plan meals that use hamburger, such as spaghetti and meatballs, Salisbury steaks, or tacos. One night you may want tacos. Instead of letting leftover lettuce go to waste, plan salad for another dinner. Mushrooms go bad quickly. If you want mushrooms on your salad, that's great. Use up the rest of them to make stroganoff, which also uses your sale hamburger. You can also buy extra of sale meat and freeze it in meal-size portions to use later on.

Plan inexpensive meal nights. Pasta is cheap and filling (and you can often find coupons for pasta, if you like to use them a little). Use less meat by making a casserole or soup. For a family of four, a casserole might only take two chicken breasts instead of cooking one per person. This can save you $2 to $3 per meal. Use bread as a filler. Bake a loaf of homemade bread for pennies, and you will have a happy and satisfied family.

Plan to bake from scratch. Baking can provide you with breakfast pastries, snacks, and desserts. A bag of flour and a bag of sugar cost roughly $6. Two packages of cookies can cost that much. You can bake a whole lot more cookies for the same price, and they will taste so much better than store-bought, saving you about $3 per batch of cookies.

Plan to stock your pantry. Take inventory of items you use on a regular basis, such as flour, sugar, baking soda, pasta, dry beans, pasta sauce, oils, and so on. Do not let your pantry items run out as most of these items will be the base for many of your meals. Pantry items will vary from family to family.

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Plan to at least try the store brand over the name brand. You can save up to half the cost on some items. Even with coupons, sometimes the store brand is still cheaper. Many store brands taste just as good, or if they don't, most stores have a money-back guarantee or will replace the item with the name brand.

Plan to not throw anything away. Put bread crusts in the freezer to use for stuffing or bread crumbs. This saves you approximately $2 to $3 per batch. If vegetables, such as carrots and celery, are beginning to look a little lifeless in your fridge, wash, chop, and freeze to use in soups, stews and casseroles. Pull them out as needed instead of buying more fresh vegetables, saving you $2 to $3 per meal. Instead of throwing away the little bits of food you have left after a meal, package the leftovers in convenient one-serving containers. On busy nights, everyone can choose what they want to eat and simply heat it up. This can save you $10 to $20 for one meal.

Plan seasonally. Don't expect to pay the same price for fresh strawberries in the fall as you do in the spring. Get your fill of strawberry shortcake in the spring when berries are in season. The same goes for summer squash in the summer and oranges in the winter. Although you can often find these items year round, you will notice a definite difference in the price. Save some of your grocery money to shop at farmer's markets for fresh produce. Where the store would charge $1.69 per pound of tomatoes or yellow squash, I found homegrown for $.69 per pound.

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Plan to stock up when certain items are on sale. Many baking products are on sale around the holidays. Buy extra as many of these types of items will last for months in your pantry.

A little planning can go a long way to saving you money on your grocery budget, and you didn't have to clip one coupon.

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