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By: Cyrus Walls
Everyone's trying to stretch a dollar these days, and grocery costs are a logical place to look for savings. Food normally ranks among the top three or four expenses for most families, after mortgage/rent and healthcare bills, but this year, food costs are threatening to eat into your budget even more.



Grocery store food prices rose 6.6% in 2008, the Fargo box set Season 1 largest annual increase in nearly 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Cereal and baked goods saw the biggest spikes, increasing in price by 11.7% compared to a year earlier, followed by meats, chicken, fish and eggs, which rose 5.1%. Fruits and vegetables rose 3.4%; dairy prices rose 2.7%.

Obviously, the more you can cook your own meals at home, the more you'll save, compared to eating out, but you don't have to be a gourmet chef to stretch your grocery budget.

Here's how to do it:

1. Circle round the supermarket sales circulars. Most of the big supermarket chains have websites where you can download or view the weekly sales circular. But don't stop there: sign up to receive each week's circular in your email inbox so you can check in advance to see what's on sale, then plan your weekly grocery run according to which store has the best sales.

2. Coupons have gone clipless. Love 'em or hate 'em, coupons save you money. And now you don't have to spend tedious hours clipping them in the paper; many websites, offer coupons you can print from your קישור לדף המקורי וליציאה מממשק Buy America computer. If you time the use of your coupons during a supermarket sale of specific items, your savings can become really impressive.

3. Shop for in-season produce. Shop for fruits and vegetables only when they're in season and more affordably priced. In the winter, don't pay an arm and a leg for strawberries or cherries; opt for lower-priced citrus fruits and bananas instead.

4. Lose the brand loyalty. Generic and supermarket brand products are not only cheaper, they're the nutritional and taste equals of brand-name products. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that generic brands are sometimes made by the same companies that make brand-name products! Only the label is different.

5. Don't be store-loyal, either. These days, you can find groceries, household cleaning items and personal care products at big-box stores, drug stores, warehouse clubs, discount supermarkets and even online. Don't make a special trip, but if one of these is on your way, stop in and familiarize yourself with their pricing. Costco, for example, is known for its competitive pricing on staples like milk and eggs, but costs can run higher on other specialty-food items. Small mom-and-pop convenience stores will typically be more expensive.

Farmers markets and pick-your-own farms offer additional opportunities for affordable, locally grown produce.

6. Don't drive miles to save pennies. Be careful when chasing sales from one store to another. If you end up spending more on gas just to save a dollar here or there, you're defeating your purpose of saving money. Strike a balance between getting the absolute best deals at a half-dozen stores and consolidating your shopping at the one(s) with most, if not all, of the best prices.

7. Keep an eye on unit costs. Get used to looking at the unit cost on the left side of the store's pricing labels, not the total cost for the package. Unit cost tells you how much the product costs per ounce, quarter, gallon or pound. Many food makers try to deceive shoppers by putting less food in the same size package, so comparing unit costs will tell you what unit size delivers the most bang for the buck. Larger quantities don't always offer the best prices.

8. Buy in bulk. Most sales of specific items repeat every 10 or 12 weeks. Stock up only on those you know you'll use; if you're watching your weight, keep in mind that having larger quantities stashed at home could make you consume more, too. Many perishables, like milk, orange juice, butter or bread, freeze well. If you're lucky enough to have an extra freezer, you can really go to town.

9. Become a one-day-a-week vegetarian. Try substituting less expensive (and healthier) sources of protein such as beans, tofu, eggs or nuts, for red meat at least once a week. Check online recipe sites for free recipes (e.g., meatless chili, vegetarian lasagna or your own unique pizza creation).

10. Beef down. When you do buy red meat, save money by buying cheaper, less tender cuts of beef (round, chuck or shoulder), and use the pressure cooker or slow cooker to make a meal that's just as delicious.

11. Look up, down and sideways. At the supermarket, sale items are often placed at the end aisles; lesser-known brands, which may cost less, also typically occupy the very top and bottom supermarket shelves. Premium brands are most often placed at eye level.

12. Grow your own. Even a modestly-sized garden plot can yield a tremendous bounty of organic, homegrown vegetables. There are many varieties especially developed for container gardening, such as dwarf cherry tomatoes. If you're a beginner, stick with the easiest-to-grow veggies, including tomatoes, string beans, squashes, zucchini, green peppers, snap peas and lettuce. Herbs like Olympus 1-2 parsley, basil or chives are especially undemanding.

13. Get to know the back of the fridge. A lot of food often goes to waste simply because you lose track of a hunk of cheese or last week's stuffed peppers. Make it a priority to incorporate leftovers in soups, stews, stir fries or salads to minimize waste.

14. Stock up on "free after rebate" offers. Nationally-known drug centers like Walgreens and Rite Aid regularly offer monthly discounts and "free after rebate" offers on a host of cosmetics, shampoo, aspirin, toothpaste and other toiletries. Simply check the store website to see what's available, make your purchases, and then submit your receipt for reimbursement online.

15. Take advantage of Cooperative Extension Service resources. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service is active in every state. Although often thought of as a resource for farming communities, cooperative extension service offices offer a wealth of resources for suburban families, including family budgeting.

16. Stick to the basics. Remember that food in its most basic, unprocessed form is the least expensive. Shredded cheese will cost more than a brick of cheese that you can grate yourself. One serving of soup in a microwaveable container is pricier than a standard-sized can of soup.

17. Frozen, dried or ccanned? You can save money by buying frozen, dried or canned produce instead of fresh. Foods are flash-frozen or canned at the peak of ripeness, so you don't have to sacrifice nutrition to save money. It's best to rinse canned produce, though, as it's often packaged with a sugary syrup or salty liquid, neither of which benefits your health.

18. Cook up a storm on Sundays. Many Shameless Seasons 1-5 on dvd of us are too rushed during the week to spend much time in the kitchen, so why not use part of your Sunday to cook a meal big enough to supply you with leftovers for weekday lunches well into the workweek?

19. Never heat up the stove for just one thing. If you know you're going to bake a tray of brownies, prepare some other dishes that can cook simultaneously. You don't have to plan multiple meals, but it's easy to dethaw frozen chicken in the microwave and toss that in, or chop up some sweet potato wedges for fries. You'll save on your energy bill and your time, and you'll make it more likely you won't resort to fast food because you have nothing to eat at home.

20. Make a list, and stick to it. If you plan your shopping trips in advance, you're less likely to make impulse purchases. By planning ahead, you can also think through how you'll incorporate the leftovers from one meal into the next and limit waste.

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