Food Budget

By Catherine McNulty

December 14, 2011 5 min read

You have to eat; there's no denying it. But your weekly grocery bill shouldn't be on par with your mortgage. Here are 10 quick and easy tips to keep the fridge stocked and your bank account full:

1) Plan ahead. Organization pays off -- big-time. Creating a shopping list will help you organize your meals and keep you from spending your money on prepackaged meals at the store. If you have a list, you're less likely to make costly last-minute purchases or be swayed by checkout stand items. You are also more likely to get everything you need, saving you gas on return trips for that one item you forgot.

2) Don't shop hungry. When you're hungry, it's easy to load up the cart with fatty, sugary snack foods, which tend to be pricey. And you likely won't have buyer's remorse until you get home and eat. To prevent this, the Mayo Clinic recommends never shopping on an empty stomach. If you can't eat a meal, at least have a quick snack. Healthy snacks, such as nuts, can easily be purchased and eaten on the go or while you shop.

3) Buy from the bulk bins. Rice, beans, grains and granola are often sold in bulk bins. Shopping from these bins not only reduces waste but also allows you to take as much or as little as you want. Plus, pound for pound, the bulk bins are cheaper than buying the same things prepackaged.

4) Stock up at sales. It may not be prudent if you don't have the space, but when stores have big sales on certain items, stocking up can save you in the long run. You may need to run a cost-benefit analysis, but if the benefit is greater, stock up!

5) Buy store brand. What exactly is the difference between national brands and store brands? Generally, it is not much. Save yourself a few dollars and cents, and buy the store brand.

6) Get loyalty cards and use coupons. Most grocers have loyalty programs -- meaning the in-store deals you see advertised don't apply unless you have their particular card. It's worth signing up for the in-store savings, and some stores will even send you specific coupons for what you buy most frequently. Speaking of coupons, cut them out, keep them organized and remember to use them.

7) Eat less meat. Keep all of your grocery receipts for a month. Then look to see where you spend most of your money. If you're like most Americans, it's probably on meat. By eliminating meat from a few meals a week, you can drastically improve your savings at the checkout. Experiment with beans and pastas. Try using new and different vegetables in your meals. Keep an open mind and an open palate. If you just can't give up animal protein at every meal, consider this: The more that has to be done to the meat the more expensive it is. So buy whole chickens instead of chicken pieces, and then cut it up yourself.

8) Don't buy prepackaged foods. Convenience costs more. Sometimes it can't be avoided, though. If the kids are sick and you are having dinner guests, you just need to get a meal on the table. Prepackaged foods can be a lifesaver, but to save money make sure it's just an "in-case-of-emergency" plan and not dinner every night.

9) Shop seasonally. We live in a society where the global marketplace has made growing seasons a thing of the past. But if your food is flying across the equator, then it's going to cost more than if it came from a farm the next county over. Often for something to still be sellable by the time it reaches you, it usually has to be picked before it is ripe and it won't be nearly as satisfying. Yes, fresh berries are tempting in the dark days of January, but unless you have a friend with a greenhouse, let delicious memories sustain you until spring.

10) Beware of bargains that aren't bargains. Odds are you've ventured into a warehouse, club-style store before. You know, the ones that sell mayonnaise by the gallon. There are a lot of deals to be had in places like that, but there are an equal number of pseudo deals that don't amount to much in savings. It's easy to get caught up in the experience, but make sure you have a place to keep everything, that you'll actually use it and the price breakdown is a deal before you purchase. Happy shopping!

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