How much did you spend on food last month? A survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average consumer unit, defined by a household of one to four individuals, spends up to $500 a month on groceries. That's a pile of dough! And slashing food costs without sacrificing quality is simple: A little bit here, a small adjustment there, and before you know it, the savings really add up.
Find a bakery outlet (Google your area, or ask around) where bakeries unload the day's overproduction. You'll find high-quality, fresh products at rock-bottom prices. Time your trip for sale day, and save 50% or more! Bakery items freeze well, so stock up.
Fruits and vegetables are high-quality and low-price when they are in season. Your best bet is a farmers market or local produce stand. Shop carefully and watch your produce costs plunge by at least 20%.
BE AN EARLY BIRD
Supermarket meat managers chop as much as 50% from the original price of meat, fish and poultry when expiration dates are near. Make friends with the store personnel so you'll be first in line to grab the bounty. Items close to the expiration date not consumed within 24 hours should be frozen.
MILK A DISCOUNT
With milk prices sky high, buying at a discount makes more sense than ever. Save at least $1 per gallon at a warehouse club. Low-fat milk freezes well, so stock up if space permits.
The prices in two supermarkets owned by the same company can vary by as much as 10% when one is located in an upscale community and the other is in a lower-income area. Patronize the lower-priced store and reap the savings.
It's a simple rule: Leave the checkbook, debit cards and credit cards at home; take only cash to the store. You'll eliminate impulsive purchases and reap huge rewards. Surveys indicate a plastic-packing customer consistently spends much more than the more disciplined cash-only patron. If you see a great buy, you can always go back with more money later.
SWITCH TO STORE BRANDS
These days, generic and store brands are often the same as the national brand; only the label and price (which reflects built-in advertising costs) are different. Save at least 10% on prepackaged and canned goods by making this simple switch.
If the mixing instructions say three cans of water, add four. Frozen juice is so highly concentrated that a little extra water won't make a difference in taste, but you'll save at least $1 a week if you use four cans.
Too much work for little payoff? Blogger The Coupon Mom says you don't have to be a world-class "couponer" to realize significant savings. Anyone can clip 15% from the grocery bill with only a minimal effort. Tip: Only use a coupon if you would have purchased the product anyway, and select the smallest allowable size to reap the greatest savings.
There you go — nine simple ways to cut your monthly grocery bill by hundreds of dollars. Eat at home more often. The same Bureau of Labor Statistics survey reveals the average family can spend up to $4,896 a year eating out, in addition to groceries. Reduce your restaurant meals by half, and use that money instead to pay a bill, buy that new sofa or take a great family vacation!
Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."
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