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Wilburn: Trim that grocery bill with these tips

POSTED: October 15, 2008 5:01 a.m.

It's not just shock at the price of gas making headlines; food costs at the grocery store are getting our attention as well.

The Department of Agriculture is predicting a 4 percent to 5 percent rise in food prices this year. Now consumers are searching out bargains at the grocery store - certainly an about-face from the previous norm of relying on convenience.

You can feed your family healthy foods and save on your food bill. One of the first steps is to plan meals and prepare more foods from scratch. The next big money saver is to eat out less.

Check this list of tips for ideas to benefit your health and your pocketbook in your trips down the grocery store aisles:

Make a list and stick to it

With a list, you are less likely to buy on impulse. You'll also save by avoiding extra gas-guzzling trips back to the store when you've forgotten something you need.

Buy on sale and stock up

Canned goods have a long shelf life. If you have room in your freezer to store extra food, over-wrap items to keep air out and extend the life and protect the quality of things you get at a deal.

Buy food in bulk when it's cost effective

Compare unit prices on the shelf tag along with the overall item price. Most of the time it's cheaper to buy larger quantities of some foods. If you want smaller packages of food for convenience, repackage them at home in smaller bags. But check your prices carefully; sometimes the bigger size isn't a bargain and the cost of several smaller bags or boxes may actually be less.

Buy seasonal vegetables and fruits

Buy only what you'll use - fresh produce has a short shelf life. Be creative with your produce if it's nearing the end of its shelf life. If the bananas get too ripe, for example, make banana bread. We lose money when we have to toss food because it was left too long and ends up in the garbage.

Avoid shopping when you're hungry

You'll likely wind up putting "extras" in your grocery cart and eventually on your waist line if you get a snack attack. If you aren't sure you spend much on snacks, try keeping a tally of all the snack foods you buy in one week. It may surprise you how much you are spending.

Shop alone

Leave the kids and other family members at home. Too many "gotta haves" can drive up the total grocery bill in a hurry.

Use coupons for items you typically buy

You can find coupons in newspaper ads and online, too. If the grocery store you frequent has double or triple coupon days, take advantage of it. But coupons may not always save you money - compare prices with other brands. Also, don't just buy an item because you have a coupon.

Plan meals ahead

Also, try planning your meals around sale items. Not only does this help with making the grocery list, but it also helps you plan leftovers for lunches, which saves money over going out to lunch. Leftovers also can be used for a quick dinner when your time is limited and you may want to grab fast food instead. Knowing in advance you can count on leftovers also keeps you from overbuying foods that have a limited shelf life. Remember to check expiration dates.

Keep it simple

Choose less processed food and cook from scratch more often. Cooking from scratch is better from both your health and budget. Processed food is often high in sodium, fat and calories and costs more. A recent study showed that more than half of consumers are buying fewer prepared meals and cooking more often from scratch.

Adapted from the Colorado State University Extension

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.



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