Cut Your Grocery Bill

by Melanie Riley

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If you think cutting your grocery bill means endless hours of cutting coupons, de-boning your own chickens, and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner, think again. Our family of four (including a pre-teen boy and a teenage boy) enjoys a variety of foods without sacrificing quality. Here are some ideas that will have you heading home from the grocery store with a smile on your face and a positive balance in your checkbook.


Keep a running list of needed grocery items on the front of your refrigerator. Even kids can help with this. They used the last of the pancake syrup. Have them write it on the list. This accomplishes two things. First, your grocery list is already made up (except for adding the sale items from flyers), and second, you won't be making a side trip to the store later to pick up forgotten items.

One day a week, spend 15 minutes scanning the sale ads of the stores you shop at and write down the items you need on your list. Pull coupons for the items on your list, and keep them clipped to your list.

Speaking of coupons, use them! Some people avoid coupons as they feel it encourages consumption of over-processed, over-packaged convenience foods. To avoid this, cut only those coupons for products you use on a regular basis. For example, my boys consume a lot of cold cereal. I only buy whatever brand is on sale, plus I use a coupon. That way I always pay under $2 for a box of brand-name cereal. Even if you saved just $5 a week using coupons, that's $260 per year. Think of what you can do with that extra $260!

Don't go to the grocery store hungry. Eat a meal or snack before you go or you will end up buying more than you had planned. You can even keep snacks such as trail mix or crackers in your car so you can eat a snack on the run.


Stock up on sale items. When chicken breasts are on sale for 98 cents per pound, buy several packages and freeze them. When ground beef is on sale for 99 cents per pound, buy at least five pounds. When you get home, separate the beef into one-pound packages and freeze. Prepare ahead of time by browning a pound or two of the ground beef and freezing it. That way, the next time you want to make tacos, spaghetti sauce, or chili, you're one step ahead by having pre-browned ground beef at your fingertips. Also, stock up on canned tomatoes, vegetables and fruits, rice, peanut butter, toilet paper, toothpaste, and shampoo that's on sale and store on shelves in your basement. No basement? Live in a small apartment? Think creatively. Use the linen closet, pantry, bedroom closet shelves, or even underneath the beds.

Buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts when they're on sale, as you're not paying for skin or bone weight. Cut it into strips or chunks. This meat is a great meal stretcher for casseroles and stir-fries.

Get more for your money by weighing produce that sells by the bag. Bags of oranges, apples, grapefruit and potatoes can vary by half a pound.

Don't always assume that large packages are the best buy, including those in warehouse-type stores. Read the unit pricing information or use a calculator to figure price per pound, ounce, or individual items.

Buying juice in concentrate form and mixing with water in a pitcher is always more economical than buying pre-mixed refrigerated juice.

Don't waste your money on juice boxes for kids. Invest a few dollars in refillable plastic juice bottles with built-in straws and fill them with juice yourself.

Consider generic. You won't notice a difference with dried pasta, canned tomato products, canned beans and vegetables, juice, flour, raisins, rice, spices, butter, crackers, oatmeal and peanut butter. Sometimes it's worth it to pay more for name-brand items such as foil, plastic storage bags, paper towels, and dishwashing liquid. You're not saving any money if your generic foil rips or you need twice as many paper towels or dishwashing liquid to do the job.

No matter where you shop, some items are never a good buy. Avoid microwaveable or "instant" breakfasts; gourmet salads in the deli; pre-cut vegetables for salad; refrigerated, packaged lunches for kids; and packaged baked goods such as muffins and cookies.

Buy large bags of chips and pretzels and fill individual baggies for kid's lunches.

Always check your register receipt before you leave a store. I've found many errors, especially sale items not scanning at the sale price. Some stores have a policy of getting one of the items free if the item scans at a higher price than what's listed on the shelf tag.

Creative Ideas

Breakfast can be an inexpensive meal. Homemade muffins, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal (NOT the instant flavored packets - flavor your own by mixing in brown sugar or honey, applesauce, cinnamon, nuts or seeds, wheat germ, or chopped fruit), eggs and toast are cost-effective. Or make breakfast burritos by scrambling eggs and throwing in those bits of leftovers in your refrigerator (chopped veggies, chopped cooked meat, or shredded cheese) and wrap in a tortilla.

Cook a sale-priced pot roast and eat it the first night with potatoes and vegetables. On the second night, shred the beef, season it accordingly, and use for tacos or burritos, or served over rice or noodles. Or reheat the shredded beef with barbecue sauce and serve on toasted buns for barbecue beef sandwiches.

Don't make meat the centerpiece of your dinner. Serve larger portions of side dishes (potatoes, rice, noodles, bread) and vegetables, and smaller portions of meat.

Better yet, make a vegetarian meal using canned beans. Drain and rinse and use them to make vegetarian chili, salads, and bean enchiladas.

Don't assume that it's always more economical to bake everything from scratch. Some items, such as brownies, are often cheaper to make from a mix.

Take the Next Step

  • Get cash back on the groceries you buy. Checkout 51 can show you how!
  • Continue to trim food costs by visiting our food & groceries section to get tips and tools for keeping more of your hard-earned dollars in your pocket.
  • Stop struggling to get ahead financially. Subscribe to our free weekly Surviving Tough Times newsletter aimed at helping you 'live better...for less'. Each issue features great ways to help you stretch your dollars and make the most of your resources. Subscribers get a copy of Are You Heading for Debt Trouble? A Simple Checklist And What You Can Do About It for FREE!

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