The first step in reducing your grocery bill is in sound meal planning. Make your menu with grocery shopping in mind. Try to select recipes that use items that are already in your pantry. Remember what foods are in season. They'll be cheaper. Always be on the lookout for recipes that 'dress-up' inexpensive cuts of meat (or don't even require meat).Have a definite list when you go shopping. Don't impulse buy. If you find an item on sale that you know you'll use later feel free to add it to your cart. But beware of pretty displays that can cause you to overspend your plan. Check the ads before you go to the store. Modify your meal plan and list to take advantage of sale items.
Leave the kids at home with your spouse or a neighbor. Most of us don't have the heart to tell our little angel that she can't have those special frosted cookies in the bakery section. Stores have been known to put tempting treats within a child's reach. If the little hand is not there, it can't reach!
Generally speaking a larger supermarket will be cheaper than a smaller one. That's due to volume discounts. But check the ads. You might find that it's worthwhile doing part of your shopping at one store and finishing up at another. Nothing says that you have to use the same store week after week. It's a good idea to scout out other stores periodically.
While you're shopping don't forget to look up and down. No, I'm not suggesting neck exercises. But stores will often put the most popular and expensive items from waist to shoulder level. The less expensive brands will often be on the lower or upper shelves. It's worth the stretch.
Don't forget to take along a calculator. You'll want to be able to compare unit prices. A less expensive price on a larger size is only a savings if you're going to use those extra ounces. If you'll end up throwing them away, it's not a bargain.
Avoid prepackaged and convenience foods. It's handy to slip a small bag of chips into Junior's lunch box. But it's much less expensive to put a handful into a sandwich bag and have Junior bring it home so you can refill it again tomorrow. There are exceptions, but convenience foods are also often less nutritious, too.
A healthy diet is less expensive than an unhealthy one. Rice, potatoes, fruit and vegetables are all less expensive than meat. Nothing says that you have to be a vegetarian. But it's not healthy or frugal to fill up on meat. You might also save a bit on doctor bills later.
Comparison shop at the meat counter. Look for the less expensive cuts. Oftentimes your cooking skills can make a cheaper cut seem better than it is. Use chicken, turkey and fish. They're less expensive and a great change from beef.
Use coupons only for items that you would buy anyway. If you're used to buying the store brand for 79 cents, don't buy the nationally advertised brand for $1.19 because you have a 20 cent off coupon. Rebates and coupons can be a big help. But think through the math before you 'save' all that money.
Don't buy non-food items at the grocery store. Housewares, pharmacy items, greeting cards and holiday items can all be purchased for less elsewhere. Cleaning supplies can be a big part of the total at the checkout line. Wherever possible buy generic cleaners. Better still, learn how to make your own cleaners. You'll be surprised at the savings.
Bring your lunch to work or school. You can make a great sandwich for the cost of a 'Big Burger' and fries. If you have a microwave available consider bringing some leftovers. You'll find your lunchmates glancing longingly at last night's meatloaf when they get a whiff of your lunch.
Most families enjoy an occasional meal out. Certainly the cook does! But restaurants can be a real budget buster. Dinner is the most expensive meal to eat out. Why not go for breakfast or lunch? If you must go for dinner, be careful about appetizers, alcoholic beverages and desserts. They can bloat a bill in a heartbeat.
Can all of this help Debbie cut her family's grocery bill in half? Only Debbie can know for sure. But it will give her a hand in controlling the food portion of the family budget and stretching those dollars!
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
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