Frugal Shopping: Tips for Cutting Your Grocery Bill, Part II

By Kim Tilley

16. Maintain a healthy weight -- once you begin eating better and

dropping some pounds, you will notice you tend to eat less. This

saves money and your health. Not only that, if you maintain a

comfortable weight, your clothes will fit and you won't have to buy

bigger ones, not to mention all the great deals to be found at yard

sales where people sell their "skinny" clothes.

17. Substitute (or eliminate) expensive ingredients for less

expnesive ones -- Does the recipe have to be made with the expensive

item? Can a cheaper version be found and taste just as good? Can you

eliminate the ingredient all together? I have found no taste

difference between real vanilla extract and imitation. When we have a

fancy Christmas get together and want to serve a seafood platter, we

serve imitation crab instead of shrimp. It is cheaper, still tastes

wonderful, and keeps for much longer than shrimp. If I buy the crab

meat when Cub Foods deli is having a sale, I can get it for around

1.49 a pound (reg $2.50), that beats $8-$18 a pound for shrimp any

day. The same can be said for many expensive ingredients: look for

alternatives and substitutes.

18. Can't substitute? Then cut down on expensive ingredients -- If

you just can't live without that certain something in your recipe,

try cutting the amount in half and see how it tastes. Keep cutting

down the amount until the recipe starts to suffer, then add a little

back in, until it tastes the way you like. You may be surprised at

how little you actually need.

19. Grow herbs yourself -- Still want to use bundles of fresh herbs

in your famous pasta sauce but hate the price? Plant some! Herbs are

so easy to grow and so useful. Many are perennial: sage, oregano,

lavender (yes you can use it in cooking), mint, lemon balm, chives,

the list is extensive. Biannuals will reseed themselves if you let

them go to seed, these include: basil, parsley, dill, nasturtium,

pansies (great in salads as decoration). Even saffron ($16 a pound!)

can be grown at home. Saffron comes from the saffron crocus, a bulb

plant, which blooms in fall. Plant some in the spring and you will

have one of the world's most expensive seasonings at your fingertips

for very little money.

20. Gardening -- Growing a few herbs may give you the courage to grow

a full-fledged vegetable garden. Or you may want to try edible

landscaping - putting plants in your landscape that give you food

too, like fruit trees, berry bushes, etc. The best books I have read

on gardening come from Elliot Coleman. He is a market gardener who

grows food organically. He hosts a TV show on The Learning Channel

called "Gardening Naturally". Check out books from the library, read

a few gardening magazines and pick some gardening friends' brains.

The most important advice: have fun and grow food that you actually

eat. I have grown a few "cool" foods that went to waste because the

family wouldn't eat them and I didn't know what to do with them.

There are many cookbooks on using garden harvests, so check those out

too. Many are arranged seasonally so you can take advantage of what

is fresh and abundant (even if you don't garden, these are handy).

For more gardening information, check out our favorite gardening


21. Canning and Drying -- As you become more accomplished both in

cooking and gardening, you may want to can those special sauces,

pickles, and jellies for even more savings. There are many excellent

food preserving books in the library and bookstores s well as online.

Don't have time to can or is it too hot? You can freeze some things,

like berries, to make into jellies and sauces later on, when the

weather is cooler and you have more time.

22. Shop Alternative sources for food - Get creative and keep your

eyes open. Check out the farmer's markets, food co-ops, farm co-ops,

undamaged freight stores, restaurant and baking supply companies,

wholesalers, roadside stands, health food stores, etc. Don't forget

to ask about grocery store "seconds" those foods that may be slightly

damaged and not quite perfect enough to sell at full price. Check out

grower's seconds, as well as drops from fruit orchards. There are

always cheaper alternatives, just keep looking and asking.

23. Buy and use in season veggies and fruit --They are usually

fresher and cheaper. When tomatoes are in season, make lots of tomato

sauce and can it, and plan to eat lots of BLTs. Make strawberry

shortcake when strawberries are at their best and cheapest, usually

in June and July. Cook with more root vegetables in winter, when they

are at their best and summer veggies are out of season. Check out

seasonal cookbooks at the library for more ideas.

24. Learn the sales pattern -- This is best done using your price

book. Not only are there better seasons to buy some veggies than

others, but meats and other food staples tend to go on sale according

to season, holiday, and what store you are shopping at. Hams are

usually on sale around Easter and Thanksgiving, turkeys are always on

sale in November and December. Learn the sales patterns of your

favorite stores and stock up.

25. Try store brand and generics -- As with substituting cheaper

things for the expensive, try lower cost items. Keep going down in

price until you notice a change in the quality, then move back to the

next brand/item up. You may discover that most brands are created

equal and some generics are pretty good too. Some basics, like sugar

and flour, really don't change from brand to brand, so go with the

lowest price and/or what is on sale.

26. Use coupons and rebates occasionally -- I only use coupons and

rebates if I like and buy the item regularly, and I can't get the

item at a lower price by using store/generic brands. Sam's club

sometimes has some very good refunds on items I use, such as

disposable diapers (theirs are cheaper than most stores and good

quality). Another refund I look forward to are the underwear refunds

around back to school time. Usually there are coupons and refunds for

the undies at the same time. So use discretion, don't go nuts on

coupons and rebates. Your price book will be a great help in

determining whether a coupon is really a good deal or not.

27. Free Food Sources -- Yes, there is such a thing as free food!

Here in Illinois, we go mushrooming in the spring at my mother in

laws' farm. We pick bags and bags of morelles (store price: $16 a

pound)! We also go berry picking. The trick to any kind of wild food

foraging is that you absolutely MUST know what you are picking, no

guessing. Free food is not worth it if it makes you sick or poisons


Some other alternatives: extra produce from relatives', friends'

neighbors' gardens, fruit trees in your yard, or picked from with

permission if they are in someone else's yard. You may be surprised

at what you get if you just ask. Check out the WIC program if you are

pregnant, nursing or have kids under 5, this is an excellent source

of free foods (milk, juice, eggs, cereal, peanut butter) for those

who need it most. Also check out local charity programs, such

as "ShareFood", where you do a little bit of work and get a bag of

groceries for $13. There are no income restrictions and the food

varies, but some of my friends have tried it and liked it very much,

especially the volunteer work.

Also consider bartering. Perhaps you could mow your elderly

neighbor's lawn in exchange for a bushel of apples. Get creative.

28. Menu Planning -- Build your meal plans around: A) what you

already have and B) what is on sale. You could also plan around what

is in your garden and in season locally. Use all of the methods here

to plan a loosely constructed menu plan. I try to think of many

different ways to use what I have so I won't spend too much, but I

can't seem to keep to a strict menu. We eat everything I cook and

improvise with leftovers. So try it out, but be flexible.

29. Once a month cooking -- Ok, it doesn't have to be once a month,

it could be once a week or twice a month, or just bulk cooking. The

secret is to make every cooking session count, this way you are not

only saving money, but time as well. For more information, check out

the invaluable book Frozen Assets: Cook for Day, Eat for a Month!

(click for full review and ordering info.)

30. Keep it simple -- You don't have to give up gourmet foods, but

keep your daily meals simple. Don't feel like you have to make "five-

star" restaurant meals every night -- make them special. Here in the

Midwest, the cuisine is very simple, much to my dismay (I LOVE

gourmet foods). I find my husband and kids are happiest when I make

the simple, humble meals, instead of fancy spreads, and I find that I

am more relaxed. I compromise by making up some wonderful, gourmet

foods for myself, freezing the dishes in one person portions and

eating them at lunch. I can have all my favorites and no one turns

their nose up. The best of both worlds