It’s no secret that we’re living in tough economic times so I wanted to share with you my top five tips to save money on groceries. I hope you find them helpful.

1. Know what you want to spend.
Take a stroll back through your bank statement and tally all your grocery expenses from the past month, whether they were purchased at a grocery store, pharmacy, farmers market or convenient store. Now that you know how much you might spend in a given month, it’s time to decide how much you want to spend. It’s so much easier to save money on your grocery bill if you have a goal budget to work from. I set a goal of $500 a month for my family of four so that translates to $125 per week on groceries. By knowing my goal, I was able to keep focused on what I was buying and for how much and I came in at about $40 under budget this month.

2. Know where to shop.
Not every grocery store has the best price on everything so it’s worth your time to figure out which stores have the best prices on what your family uses most. I’m not suggesting you drive all over the county to save fifty cents on bread. That would be crazy with the gas prices as high as they are. However if you can find a few stores all relatively close, you can save big bucks by knowing what they all do best. Here’s what works for me. Aldi is an amazing deal on staple items: bread, milk, cheese, frozen juice, some fruits and veggies, etc. Note: Keep in mind it’s predominantly store brands, only takes cash and debit, not credit and bring your reusable bags and a quarter for the cart. Then I usually hit ShopRite for their weekly loss leaders (these are sale items used to lure you in so you can buy more expensive items) if it’s something I can use, especially if I have coupons which turn a sale into a steal. Some items that I can usually get for a song are laundry detergent – I never pay more than $1.50 a bottle, toothpaste – always free with coupons and sales, feminine hygiene products – free or $1 each, cereal – with sales and coupons I can stock up for $1.50 a box or less, etc. Also don’t forget that ShopRite has some great pharmacy freebies like free prescription prenatal and children’s vitamins, certain antibiotics and some diabetes medicine. Then up here in Sullivan County we have these tiny little hardware stores called the Trading Post. The one in my town is also a small grocery store. I know it’s weird right. But while everything else tends to be expensive they have the best meat prices around. I can usually get 10 meat products for roughly $30-$40. So it pays to know which stores provide the best prices on which types of items. Then if you can coordinate them all into one trip it’ll save on gas. I start with the store furthest away and work my way back home.

3. Avoid impulse purchases.
Here are a few tips to avoid impulse purchases which eat a huge chunk out of your grocery budget. If at all possible shop alone. It’s helps to be able to focus your full attention on the task at hand. You’re more likely to throw extra impulse items like sweets and treats in your cart with the kiddos there begging for things at each aisle. My husband is also seriously prone to stocking a cart full of junk food or specialty items that will hibernate in my pantry till I get sick of looking at them and throw them out. So I like to go it alone. If you have to take the kids I suggest rewarding them with a small treat like a candy bar at check out if they agree to help you stick to your shopping list. I also like to skip the junk food aisles entirely unless there is one particular thing I’m looking for. Out of sight, out of cart. Ok it’s been said to death but it’s true, make a list and stick to it. But before you make your list do an inventory of what you have. I often get extra items because I think I’m out but as it turns out I’m overstocked on that item so it’s good to know what you don’t need as well.

4. Plan for leftovers. While watching an episode of Chopped on the food network that was dedicated entirely to making new entrees out of leftovers my husband said, “You’d be great at this. You’re the queen of leftovers.” If you don’t plan to use leftovers they get thrown out and that’s a waste of money. If you buy meat in bulk, know what meals you want to get out of that package. For example if I buy the family pack of ground beef I plan for three beef dishes like tacos, spaghetti, and chili. I also get whole chickens and plan on using the leftovers in casseroles, stir fry, in spaghetti sauce or soups. I always count the number of “meals” I can get from each package not the “meats” when shopping. So whole chickens are counted as two meals, family packages of ground beef are three meals etc. allowing me to buy less meat which is really expensive. Planning to use your leftovers when you buy your groceries means that there will be less food in the garbage which also means more money in your pocket.

5. Cook more and serve less. It’s always cheaper and healthier to buy ingredients than prepackaged foods. Prepackaged foods are good for one meal but the same basic ingredients can be used in many meals. There was a time when I never used recipes or cooked from scratch because I thought it was too complicated. But now if there’s something I want to make I get out my cookbook or do an internet search for a recipe. By searching online you can usually read how other people rated that particular recipe before you decide to try it.

When I was in grade school I went away on a two-day trip during which we ate in a meal hall with plates of food served family style at each table. The rule was you could eat all you wanted as long as you finished what you took. Every class had their uneaten food weighed at the end of the meal and it was definitely frowned upon to be the group with the heaviest amount of wasted food. What did I learn from this? Especially with kids, be reserved with your portion sizes. It’s more cost effective to serve seconds then to scrape a bunch of uneaten food into the garbage. I also try to get a feel for how much my family will eat. If we have too much rice or pasta leftover after a meal I cut back the next time I make it. If there are no leftovers at all, kudos to the cook.

I’m always in search of money saving tips so if you have any please share or if there is a grocery store you just love, let me know what their best prices are. I think we could all use a few more dollars in our wallets these days.