Trying to eat healthier and save money by preparing more meals at home? That's a smart move. Of course, you can still spend big at the supermarket. But by using coupons and other frugal food shopping tips, you can cut your grocery bill — and still eat healthy.
Skeptical? Don't be. You can find plenty of resources to help you become a frugal food shopper while still paying attention to nutrition. For instance, the Department of Agriculture has created a "thrifty plan" for feeding a family of four — two adults plus two children between the ages of 6 and 11 — that meets the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and costs only $135 a week.
You say you're not the frugal type? Try easing into it with a few of the frugal food shopping tips below. You may discover that being frugal isn't so tough — and can even be tasty.
Before you leave home
Frugal food shopping starts before you hit the supermarket. Take some time at home to review your staples and make a game plan:
- Clip coupons. If you aren't using coupons for items you regularly buy, you're missing out on savings. Check the fliers that come in the mail or with your newspaper — and check online, too.
- Sign up. Shopper cards, also called bonus cards, are the surest way to save at most grocery chains. Sign up at the supermarkets that you frequent.
- Join the club. Discount clubs can save you money on bulk items. If you can't use up the big quantities, consider splitting them — and the cost — with extended family or friends.
- Plan ahead. Make a menu plan for the week and then make a list of the groceries you'll need. Having a list helps you avoid expensive impulse purchases, as well as the frustration of getting home with groceries, but with no plan for using them.
- Change the focus. Dial back on the meat. Try one or two meatless dinners a week. Build the meal around vegetables, beans and grains — they're cheaper, lower in fat and higher in fiber than meat is. Use them to make filling soups, stews and casseroles.
- Check the pantry. Use up your supplies rather than letting them gather dust. Use canned beans and tomatoes to make chili or whip up a fruit salad from a couple of cans of fruit.
- Invest time to save money. Making time for some prep work in the kitchen can mean big savings. Consider this example: Pre-cut broccoli florets are twice as expensive per pound as whole broccoli.
When you're pushing the cart
Even in tough economic times you can find deals at the grocery store. With these tips and tricks, you'll be a super saver when you hit the supermarket:
- Consult your list and coupons. Don't let your prep work go to waste. Be sure to take your grocery list and coupons with you to the store. Then stick to your list.
- Look beyond the big brands. Store brands are 25 percent cheaper on average than are comparable brand-name products. And in many cases, you won't be able to taste any difference.
- Be smart about organics. Organic often means expensive. So opt only for organic produce that tends to harbor pesticides when grown traditionally, such as celery, peaches and strawberries.
- Can it or bag it. If fresh produce threatens to bust your budget, try canned or frozen alternatives. And when you find a sale, stock up. Also check out bagged produce, such as potatoes, which are generally cheaper per pound than are their loose counterparts.
- Steer clear of junk food. Empty calories from chips and sweets are no bargain. Use your food dollars to buy nutrient-rich food to fuel your body.
- Pop over to the bakery. Store-made goods are often cheaper — and fresher — than are commercial brands. You can also save by buying day-old bread. If you can't use the whole loaf, put half in the freezer for later.
- Look high and low. Retailers typically put items they want you to buy on the premium eye-level shelf, but you can find less expensive items on the shelves above and below. In addition, some grocers sell the same product at different prices in different parts of the stores. For example, you may find that a cheese featured at the deli counter is available pre-sliced in the refrigerated case for less.
- Check the tab. Don't leave the store until you review your receipt. Six percent of shoppers report being overcharged at the supermarket checkout.
- Think seasonal. Check farmers markets for fresh, local produce. By buying in season, you get food at its peak and sometimes save money. Consider canning or freezing items for off-season use.
Following these tips can help you save on food bills while still eating a healthy diet. But did you know that eating healthfully can also help you avoid expensive medical care later? A healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet — which is rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, and also limits red meat and emphasizes "good" fats — can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions. It's hard to find a bigger bang for your buck than that.
Last Updated: 2011-08-13