PREPARE A SHOPPING LIST
This is the best way to save money, according to Ms. English. Follow these steps:
- Set your budget. Most families spend about 10 percent of their disposable personal income on food, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service. If you shop once a week, divide your monthly budget by four to find out how much to spend on each trip.
- Plan your meals. "If you cook three times a day to save money, that's 21 meals to plan," Ms. English said. Check what food you have already and plan to use it. Check ads and store fliers for weekly specials. Plan to use leftovers, and include meatless meals to stretch your dollars.
- Make the list. Jot all the items down, listing in order of the aisles at the store where you most frequently shop. Look for coupons to match your list before stepping foot in the grocery store.
CLIP SUNDAY NEWSPAPER COUPONS
Coupons can save you $15 to $20 per trip, Ms. English said. Just because an item is in a sale bin or advertised in a circular doesn't mean it's a good buy, however. "A mere mention of a product in a circular can boost sales by as much as 500 percent, even without a price reduction," Consumer Reports magazine found.
To stay on budget, leave the kids at home, or take age-appropriate toys and books to the store.
NEVER SHOP HUNGRY
"We've all heard this one before," Ms. English said, "but a lot of people don't follow it."
A small snack can help control impulse buys.
Follow low prices, even if it means shopping at one store for staples and another for fresh foods, according to the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Just don't make too many special trips. Pick economical grocery stores close to home and limit shopping trips to just twice a month to save the most money.
COUNT THE COSTS
Carry a pocket calculator in the store to tally your grocery bill as you shop, and compare it to the register total.
KNOW HOW TO READ UNIT PRICES
The unit prices marked on shelves divide the total cost of an item into the number of ounces in the package. "It's the only way to determine the true value of what you're buying," Ms. English said.
When you find a great deal on rice, beans, oatmeal, cornmeal, flour or peanut butter, buy enough to stock up. When money is tight, you'll still have staples to prepare nutritious meals.
BUY STORE BRANDS
Less money was spent on advertising and fancy packaging, so the cost is lower. Read the ingredient lists, too. "Sometimes they'll substitute ingredients, and you're not getting the same product you wanted," Ms. English said.
LOOK TO THE BOTTOM SHELVES
"Shoppers will find low-profit items, such as sugar and shortening, as well as store brands and less sweet cereals, on the top and bottom shelves -- not in the middle or eye level, which is prime selling space," Consumer Reports says.
SHOP IN SEASON
Shop in a "U" shape around the edges of the grocery store. "What you find in the middle is the convenience foods, the expensive stuff," Ms. English said. Out-of-season foods are best bought canned or frozen.
"Americans think they need a lot more meat than they really do," Ms. English said. Try beans and rice, eggs or other legumes. When you do buy meat, buy less-expensive cuts and cook with moist heat.
DISCOUNT SHOPPING CLUBS
Join only when you're certain you'll quickly recoup the $40 or $50 membership fees. Resist the urge to buy more than you need. "It's a waste if you bring home more than you can use before it goes bad," Ms. English said.
GROW YOUR OWN
Even if a garden isn't practical, planting herbs is inexpensive and can be used to add flavor to food.
Brown-bag lunches, experiment with leftovers and learn to cook from scratch. "It's always cheaper," Ms. English said, "to use what you have than buy something new."
Here are some recipes to save you some money.