How Can I Save Money at the Grocery Store?

Unlike gas and flat-screen TVs, groceries aren’t getting any cheaper. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 12.5 percent of the average American household budget is spent on food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that’s somewhere between $385 and $1,280 per month depending on how many hungry mouths you have to feed.

You can’t do much about a monthly mortgage or car payment, but there are numerous ways to shave your grocery bill. Here are 10 helpful tips.

1. Organize Your Kitchen

Keeping the fridge and pantry clean not only saves money and storage space. It prevents waste.

Throw out all the old food and take an inventory of what you have on hand. You’ll be surprised by all the canned goods and frozen foods you never got around to serving. Plus, be sure to check expiration dates.

People grow tired of even their favorite snacks. If nobody polished off the jalapeno potato chips or honey-roasted peanuts, stop buying them.

Storing food in the same pantry shelf or fridge compartment every time will keep you from buying duplicates. Invest in a quality food-storage system that prolongs shelf life and keeps things tidy.

2. Shop Only Once a Week

Make it easy on yourself by planning for several meals at a time. Spending an hour with your recipe books will save you time in the store and money in the fuel tank.

3. Make a Grocery List

This would seem obvious, but most people don’t take it as seriously as they should.

Start the list as you’re throwing things away and taking an inventory. As you thumb through recipes, keep an eye out for meals that share staple ingredients like garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, or your favorite cheese. You can use them in a variety of cuisines so that they don’t go to waste.

When you hit the store, have tunnel vision and stick to your list. This is especially important at the checkout area. If the kids tag along, set strict limits on how many extras they can choose.

4. Use Coupons

This will save you a lot of money if you do it right.

Start with your local store. There are usually flyers near the door with coupons or advertisements of weekly specials. Some stores print coupons along with their receipts.

The Internet is also a valuable resource. You’ll find dozens of sites, such as SmartSource and Grocery Smarts, for printable coupons. Just type in your zip code to get started.

Don’t let coupon-clipping backfire. You could end up spending more if you’re adding items to your list just because you have coupons for them. It’s also worth noting that there are no coupons for fresh broccoli, grapefruit, or spinach. In other words, don’t alter a healthy diet to save money with coupons. Be selective when you clip.

5. Avoid the Inner Aisles

Be good to your wallet and your health by shopping mostly in perimeter sections where fresh, non-processed foods are stored. Frozen fruits and vegetables are always healthy and economical choices. Just steer clear of the frozen pizza section.

6. Buy Generic Brands

Many store brands cost less and are surprisingly good, so always try those first. Leading brands pay to have their products placed at eye level. Usually, you have to stoop or reach for the best bargains.

7. Scrutinize Price Labels

On the other hand, never assume.

Grocery stores have done the math for you, so look closely at the price breakdown by ounce or another unit on the shelf label. If the name brand is on sale, it may be cheaper.

Buying in bulk is not always best. Now and then, a sale makes buying two of the smaller size more cost-effective than buying one large size.

8. Take Advantage of Managers’ Discounts

Managers in the meat department often deeply discount products that are close to expiring. If a product looks dry, smells fine and has retained its color, you probably have a couple of days to use it. If not, you can always freeze it.

However, the rules change for bagged salads or cut fruit because of their water content and potential for bacterial growth. Always play it safe with produce.

9. Resist the Urge to One-Stop Shop

It’s tempting to reduce the number of errands you have to run, but you’ll typically save money on nonfood items like toothpaste, household cleaners, and toilet paper if you buy them in bulk at one of the big-box retailers.

10. Use Everything You Buy

Experts estimate that nearly half of the food grown in the U.S. goes to waste. Don’t give up on raw items that are slightly past peak freshness for salads. Onions, celery, cabbage, and carrots are still delicious in soup or pot roast.

Incorporate leftover veggies into pasta, pizza, quesadillas, and stir-fry dishes. Make breakfast hash with leftover meat, potatoes, and an egg.

If your bread is getting stale, chop it into squares. Toss the pieces in olive oil, season them and toast them in the oven for croutons.

Fresh herbs that are fading can be steeped in hot water for a soothing, delicious cup of tea. Squeeze the juice from that leftover lemon wedge, and you’re in business.

There are countless online resources with more tips for planning meals and saving on groceries. The USDA, for example, posts valuable information on how to make a food budget. You’ll also find meal plans for different genders and ages by the week or month. Grocery shopping, cooking, and food safety tips are also provided.

Doing a little research will pay off at checkout time.

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