5 Ways to Stretch Your Grocery Budget
With food prices set to rise again, here are smart ways to keep your budget in check
As rising fuel costs and demand drove up food prices last year, consumers throughout the country felt the pinch at the grocery store. Although predictions for 2012 aren't as dramatic, the
Looking for ways to rein in your grocery budget?
1. Create a list -- and stick to it.
Impulse buys add up quickly, especially at warehouse clubs, so shopping with a list helps prevent last-minute splurges. "Prepare for your shopping by looking at your weekly flyer for coupons and sales, then adjust your shopping list accordingly," suggests
Planning meals and shopping trips in advance also reduces the number of shopping trips per week, saving time and money. "The average person is going to the grocery store two to three times a week, so if you limit it to once a week, you could cut your grocery bill," says
2. Stock up during sales.
Buying according to the store's sale cycle means rarely paying full price.
Often, you can combine store coupons or manufacturers' coupons with sales to boost your savings. "If you hold a coupon until the right time, you can really stack the deals," Gault explains. "It's not the coupon that's giving you the deal, it's the sale mostly, because the coupon might give you an extra
However, a little common sense should prevail when buying in bulk. Ask yourself: "Do I have the freezer or shelf space? How perishable is this item?" suggests Lal. When buying perishable items, Gault suggests looking for the date that's furthest out to maximize the item's lifespan. "If you look at the yogurt in the front and it has a week left, you reach into the back and find yogurt that's good for five weeks," she adds.
3. Buy produce by the unit instead of the pound.
The Economides aren't big on coupons, but they pay close attention to weight. "Each state has a division of weights and measures, and they require that a pound bag of carrots weigh at least one pound," says
4. Store items carefully.
Spoiled food means wasted money, so the Economides eat produce in order of its perishability. Immediately after a produce run, they'll focus on items like grapes or strawberries that have a shorter life span, then move onto to pears and broccoli the following week. Items like oranges or lettuce can last nearly a month with the right storage. "We've learned to store veggies carefully," she explains. "We put a paper towel in the Ziploc bag with washed lettuce [to absorb moisture]." Once they run out of fresh produce, they'll eat pickles or frozen veggies until the next produce trip. The family stores vacuum-packed meats in their deep freezer (another of their frugal strategies) for a year or longer.
5. Think beyond the grocery store.
Nowadays, big-box stores, drug stores, online retailers, and even gas stations offer sales on food items. According to Lal, buying nonperishable food online is a particularly attractive option when you combine online coupon codes with free shipping offers and cash back. "Most people don't tally up their total when they shop in a store, but shopping online keeps you true to your list and you can see your total as you go," he says, adding that the convenience of ordering online could save time.
If you're buying fancier food for a party, Gault suggests hitting off-price retailers like Ross or
Prices at all of these grocery-store alternatives aren't always the best deal, though, so it pays to run the numbers before hitting the checkout line (or button). Experts also caution against buying food at dollar stores, because some offer smaller sizes to compensate for the lower price, and freshness can be an issue.
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Personal Finance - 5 Ways to Stretch Your Grocery Budget
(c) 2012 U.S. News & World Report