Food is one of the biggest expenses, along with housing and cars, in most people's budget. If you're looking for ways to cut back on your budget, your food category should be one thing you look at closely — there's almost always ways to reduce your spending here. First, eat out less and cook your own food more — this will save tons of money right off the bat. But frugal grocery shopping can be an art — and with a little planning, can also be a lot of fun. Here are several tips to save you some big bucks over the long term.
1. Always go with a list. If you go without a list, you may as well just throw your money away. Prepare a list of everything you need, making sure you have everything needed for your weekly menu (next tip) and checking to make sure you don't have it in your pantry, fridge or freezer. Make sure you're not forgetting anything. Now stick to that list — don't buy anything not on the list.
2. Plan out a weekly menu. This is the best way to ensure that your list is complete, and that you have enough to serve your family dinner for the week. You can plan a weekly menu and then duplicate it for the next week — this way you can shop for two weeks at once. Be sure to plan a leftovers night.
3. Don't go when you're hungry. This is a common tip, but it's true — when you're hungry, you want to buy all kinds of junk. You'll end up spending a lot more. Eat a good meal first, and you'll be more likely to stick to your list.
4. Have a budget. When you go to the store, know exactly how much you can spend. Then try your best to stick within that limit. If you don't know how much you can spend, you'll certainly spend too much. Keep a running tally as you shop to ensure that you're within your budget.
5. Make a pantry checklist. Make a checklist of everything you normally stock in your pantry. Keep it posted on the pantry. Put a slash next to each item for the number of items you have (if you have two cans of stewed tomatoes, put two slashes). Then, when you use something, turn the slash into an X. This makes it much easier when it comes time to make your list.
6. Keep your receipts, then enter into a spreadsheet. This will be your price list. Use it so you know when bulk or sale items are a good deal. It's also a great way to comparison shop between stores — buy your baking goods in Store A but your fresh fruits in Store B. The spreadsheet can also serve as a checklist to use when you're compiling your shopping list.
7. Shop online. Lots and lots of items — more than 22,000 — are now available for quick and easy purchase online at Amazon.com's new grocery section. The majority of the prices really can't be beat. Plus, all products can ship for free, via Super Saver Shipping, Amazon Prime, or free standard shipping.
8. Buy frozen veggies. While fresh veggies are a little better, frozen veggies are almost as good, and much better than nothing. And since you can keep them in the freezer, they rarely go bad.
9. Cut back on meat. Meat is expensive. Plan vegetarian meals several times a week (think pasta or chili) and for other meals, you could just use a little meat as a kind of seasoning instead of the main ingredient — think Asian, Indian and other such cultural food.
10. Cook a lot, then freeze. Plan to cook a big amount of food — a whole mess of spaghetti, for example — and freeze it for multiple dinners. A great idea is to use one Sunday and cook a week's (or even a month's) worth of dinners. Plan 5-6 freezable dinners and cook them all at once.
11. Look for specials. Every store has specials. Be sure to look for them in the newspaper, or when you get to the store (they often have unadvertised specials — look on the higher and lower shelves for deals). Don't buy them unless they're things you always use.
12. Try the store brands. Brand names are often no better than generic, and you're paying for all the advertising they do to have a brand name. Give the store brand a try, and often you won't notice a difference. Especially if it's an ingredient in a dish where you can't taste the quality of that individual ingredient
13. Cut back on your "one-item" trips. They waste gas, and almost inevitably, you buy more than that one item. If you plan ahead, make a weekly menu, and shop with a list, this should drastically reduce the number of trips you make for a small number of items. But if you still find yourself running out for a few items, analyze the reason — are you not making a good list, are you forgetting some items from your list? Avoid trips to the corner store. Or the gas station! These are some of the most expensive stores. (Ranking right up there with airport stores.)
14. Sugar cereals are a bad buy. Lots of money for no nutrition. Look for whole grain cereals with low sugar. Add fruit for better flavor.
15. When there's a sale, stock up. Sale items can be a great deal. If it's an item you normally use, buy a bunch of them.
16. Plan one big trip a month for bulk staples. You can get fresh items at another store on other weeks, but doing a big bulk trip will cut back on the expense and amount you have to carry for the other three weeks. Avoid buying on impulse at the bulk store too — just because they sell a lot of it doesn't mean you're saving, if you weren't planning on buying it in the first place. Buy in bulk only when it makes sense. If you can save money, over the course of a month or two, by buying in bulk, plan to do so. But be sure that you're going to use all of it before it gets bad — it isn't cheaper to buy in bulk if you don't use it.
17. Think deep freeze. If you really want to save, you'll need a big freezer. Ask around — someone you know might have a relatively new model they don't need anymore. You can use freezers to stock up on meat, frozen veggies, and similar staples, and to freeze big batches of pasta, casseroles, and other dinners you prepare ahead of time.
18. Don't waste leftovers. Have a list on your fridge of what leftovers are in there, so you don't forget about them. Plan a leftover night or two, so you're sure to eat them all. Pack them immediately for lunch, so they're ready to take the next morning.
19. Don't buy junk food (or buy as little as possible). Junk food not only costs a lot of money for about zero nutrition, but it makes you and your family fat and kills you slowly. Talk about a bad deal! Opt for fruits and veggies instead.
20. Go when the kids are in school. When you bring kids, they will pester you and pester you until you buy some kind of junk food. Even if you're able to stick to your guns, it's not pleasant saying no 10 million times. In most cases, you'll save money shopping without the kids.
21. Use store savings cards. These can add up to big savings over the long run.
22. Avoid frozen dinners or prepared entrees. Again, these cost way more and are usually much less nutritious.
23. Drink water. If you regularly drink iced tea, Tang, Kool-aid, sodas or other types of drinks, cut those out completely and just drink water. It's much better for you, and much cheaper.
* Hot deals expire quickly. This deal may no longer be valid.
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