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

By Kim Tilley

Here is a collection of strategies and tips for cutting your grocery

bill. Some of these ideas I use religiously, others I am working on

or struggling with. I have gleaned some of these from books, frugal

relatives and my own improvising. By far the best resources are any

relatives you have who remember the Great Depression (or check out

cookbooks and stories from/about that time period) and The Tightwad

Gazette books, my favorites!

Start with strategies that you can implement without causing major

revolt in your family, moving gradually to a goal of a lower budget

for food that is healthy, wholesome and homemade. If I have left some

out, please email Cheri with your hints and tips, she would be happy

to add them to this article.

I have tried to arrange these in order from least difficult to most

difficult. I hope they make sense. This way, you can see the changes

along the way and be willing to make more frugal choices as you and

your family get more comfortable with this way of eating and

shopping. Start with a few things and keep adding, soon you will see

a HUGE difference in your food budget!

1. Attitude of gratitude -- A long journey begins with a single step

and this is your first step. Begin with your own attitude towards

being frugal, because it will impact the rest of your family. How can

they be excited about changes if you aren't? So start by being

thankful for all that you have, even if your life seems far from

perfect (Guess what? We ALL feel that way! ).

2. Use Everything -- when you are cooking, think about how you can

get every last food mile out of what you are making. Meat bones and

vegetable trimmings can be made into wonderful stocks. Leftover

vegetables and meats can be thrown into the same stock for free soups

and stews or put into pot pies, homemade "hot pockets", crepes,

casseroles, you name it. Look at food waste in an entirely new light,

try to get every thing out of your food dollar!

3. The Price Book -- This is the most useful tool in making sure that

every food dollar you spend is spent well. The basic idea of the

price book is to have a system for tracking prices so that when you

see something on sale, you will know whether it is really a good buy

or not. I use a three ring binder and looseleaf paper. At the top of

each page, I put several column headings: Date, Store, Item, Size,

Price, Unit Price, Sale. At the top right hand corner of the paper, I

put the name of the item (such as "bread", "milk", "cereal", etc).

When I see a sale or even a regular price, I write it down in the

price book. It is easier to do this at home with store receipts or

sale ads, instead of in the store, where some employees may mistake

you for a competitor's spy -- it does happen! After a few months of

tracking prices, you will know what is a good deal and what is not.

The most important section of the price book is the unit price,

because that tells you, no matter what size the item, how much you

are actually paying per pound or ounce or other unit of measure.

4. Bulk Buying -- With the price book in hand, you will be able to

bulk buy with much more confidence. Now when flour goes down to 49

cents for a 5 pound bag, you will know that this is an excellent

price and to stock up. Then when it goes back up over a dollar,

you'll still be using the flour that you bought for the lowest price

and smiling.

Bulk buying can be a little scary at first. Buying so much can be

intimidating. How will I use this all? How will I store it? The

answer is to get creative.Things that can be kept at room temperature

can be stored under beds, in closets, anywhere. This is especially

true of canned goods. Flour can be frozen (to prevent weevils) and

then stored in airtight containers at room temperature.

5. Use your freezer -- Eventually you will want to have a deep freeze

to stock up on good deals on meats and other frozen items. A freezer

is a great investment and tightwad tool. If you can get an older one

cheap, it may be a good deal if it is still efficient -- 10-15 year

old models are ok, but a 30 year old freezer will cost a bundle in

energy. Check out newer, more efficient models and put the word out

that you are looking for a freezer.

We got our freezer (now 15 years old ) from my husband's grandmother

who found they just didn't eat enough to justify having a big one

anymore. It has served us well and saved us thousands of dollars on

groceries, in the 5 years we have had it.

6. Cut down/out on the junk food -- If you can get the tribe to

completely give up the soda, chips, cookies, candy, etc, good for

you! We have been working towards this goal for some time now, and

have managed to cut out soda (we still drink kool aid ), most cake,

and alcohol (I consider this to be junk, you have to decide for

yourself). We have cut down on baked goods, and I make any we eat

from scratch. We still buy chips for lunches only, and enjoy popcorn

and homemade pizza on our weekly movie night.

7. Make it yourself -- Ban those convenience foods! If you can't

totally cut out junk foods, make them yourself. A large homemade

pizza costs about $2-$3 to make, compared to frozen pizzas which are

typically $3-5 for a small size and delivery pizzas which run you

about $8-20 each. If you bulk buy the ingredients and make the dough

and/or sauce from scratch, it can be even cheaper to eat in (follow

this link for pizza making recipes and photo instructions). Which

leads us to the next idea:

8. Cut down or stop eating at restaurants -- Make it a special

occasion to go out to eat rather than a common event. Eat out once a

month and use coupons to cut costs even further.

9. Clone your favorite brand name and restaurant recipes -- This is

not as hard as it sounds. Most popular convenience foods and

restaurant foods were inspired by their homemade counterparts. Ther

secret to recreating these foods well is to go back to the original

homemade versions. Many basic cookbooks have wonderful recipes for

homemade sauces, breads, etc. There are some great cookbooks that

strive to duplicate some of the more favorite purchased foods. One of

the best is called Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur. He has three

books out with more in the works. Click here for more information or

to order through

10. Eat less meat -- Does spaghetti really have to have all those

meatballs? Does your pizza really have to have all of that meat on

it? Only you will know for sure what your family will miss and what

it won't. Many other cultures use meat sparingly in their dishes.

Check out Asian and Indian recipes in particular. Try to think of

meat as an accent to the dinner rather than the main course. If this

is too difficult, try cutting portion sizes of meats and adding more

side dishes to compensate. There is always a way to cut down on meat


11. Stretch Meats -- You may be able to get away with extending your

meat by mixing in extra veggies, grains or even TVP (textured

vegetable protein). TVP is made from soybeans and there are quite a

few restaurants that use it, so it may be more familiar than you

think (it's also very healthy). It comes in chunks or crumbled. It is

dry and can be rehydrated before using or in the actual recipe you

are using it in. You can hide it best in ground beef dishes,

especially, dark ones, like chili. If TVP is not an option, stretch

meats by cutting amounts in recipes and adding more beans, veggies or

grains to the dish until your family complains, then ad back in a

enough to make them happy.

12. Use your leftovers -- Get a free meal by saving those leftovers.

If you think you will forget about them, label them and freeze. On

leftover night, have a smorgasbord. You can also create "party trays"

with smidgeons of this and that arranged prettily. Restaurants offer

these, why can't you?

13. Pack your luches -- This is a great way to use up leftovers.

Lunches don't have to be boring either. Think of items you might

order at a deli and duplicate them at home. I send the hubby and kids

with homemade hoagies, pitas stuffed with tuna, BLTs, pigs in

blankets, cold pizza (they love this), bologna burritos (just a

bologna sandwich on a tortilla instead of bread), and homemade hot

pockets. I always have them participate in the lunch decisions or in

actually making the lunches. This helps stem complaints. I include

nonmessy fruits like bananas, apples and grapes, dried fruit, trail

mix, popcorn, chips and homemade goodie -- cookies, pudding, rice

krispy treats, etc. Click here for lots more creativ brown bag lunch

tips, ideas and recipes.

14. Take drinks with you -- If you are working and spend money on

coffee, buy a thermos and take your own. Take along water or tea in a

big jug on outings, especially during the summer months -- this will

help you resist the temptation of stopping at a fast food joint and

ordering an overpriced, undernourishing soda. Pack drinks for the

kids if you pack their lunches. When I did the math with my price

book, I found to my amazement that the half pints of milk from the

subsidized milk program are much more expensive than sending milk I

buy at the store! Here a half pint (1 cup) of milk at school costs 25

cents, but the milk I buy at Aldi is $1.79 a gallon, or 11 cents a

cup. I can send my kids to school with twice as much milk and still

save money.

15. Fill up on healthier foods -- As you may have noticed from the

selection of lunches above, I try to include healthy foods in the

kid's lunches. I try to offer fruits and popcorn as snacks, rather

than junk food, I offer them water between meals with the occasional

Koolaid. I buy whole grain breads only and try to make mostly whole

or half white/half whole grain baked goods. Any change is better than

none. Whole grains and healthy foods fill you up and nourish you. You

will eat less and crave less because your body is nourished more.

Think of wholesome foods as an investment in your health. You may

also find yourself visiting the doctor less often.

Some suggestions for putting more healthy foods in your diet: try

eating brown rice instead of white, wheat bread instead of white,

offer water between meals instead of koolaid and soda (and try to

actually drink 8 glasses of water daily), keep fruits on hand instead

of candy and cookies, fix veggie trays and dips for snacks instead of

offering chips. These little changes, done daily can add up to big

savings in money, loss of weight and better health. For more ideas

and recipes, check out the Fit & Fabulous channel.