3 Ways to Save $100 on Groceries

Today's tip is part of our Fiscal Fitness '09 series. Every weekday this month, you'll get help getting fiscally fit as we work toward our goal of saving $2,000 to invest in 3 stocks!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2007 Consumer Expenditures survey, the average household spends $3,465 on food at home. That's quite the hefty annual grocery tab -- nearly $290 a month.

Saving money on your very next trip to the supermarket needn't involve poring over the Sunday paper clipping coupons or driving all around town to find the best price on frozen peas. (Though we have included tips on coupon savings strategies at the end of this article for dedicated deal shoppers.) Just remember three simple tips and to easily save as much as $100 on groceries.

1. Use your cutting board to chop your grocery tab in half
Pre-chopped, pre-sorted, pre-packaged -- man, we're lazy… and it's costing us, too. When Consumer Reports sent two shoppers to the supermarket for the weekly basics, the one schooled on the cost of convenience rang up a tab that was $79 less.

The biggest budget-busters were bagged veggies ($11 v. $3 for au naturel broccoli bunches), single-serving containers ($9.90 for oatmeal envelopes versus $1.59 for the canister) and pre-sliced cheese ($2 more per pound than having the deli guy work over a hunk of muenster). Food companies like Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT  ) , General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) , and PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) have jumped on the consumer-convenience bandwagon to reap huge profits, but that doesn't mean you should buy in.

Dust off the cutting board and colander and stay away from the worked-over (and marked-up) grub. A few extra minutes of dicing and slicing is certainly worth $79 in savings.

2. Score supermarket deals without spending your weekend cutting coupons
There are those who keep color-coded files with meticulously clipped coupons indexed by category, retailer, and expiration date. And there's the rest of us. The good news is that savings can be had even if you don't have a wallet full of coupons.

The secret to savings is simply per-unit pricing. And your grocer provides a handy cheat sheet right on the shelf. The bigger box of cereal's no bargain at 8 cents more per pound than the smaller one. And oh, the horror of the innocuous $1.39 20-ounce bottle of soda, when a few aisles away six 2-liter bottles cost just $5. That's $23.19 less than what you'd shell out for the same amount of pop in the smaller size.

3. Ignore the lure of name brands and go generic
As we mentioned yesterday, store-brand items can cut your supermarket tab by one-third or more. When Consumer Reports went shopping, it stuck to a store-brand shopping list and picked up chocolate chip cookies, orange juice, frozen lasagna, raisin bran cereal, coffee and peanut butter for about $24 -- nearly $10 less than what it would cost to buy name-brand fare.

Make your groceries go further
Over on the Fiscal Fitness '09 discussion board, pllntooz sang the praises of timing, planning ahead, and using the freezer to stock up and, literally, save. Here are a few tips to try:

  • Stock up on seasonal specials. During Thanksgiving, score turkey at cheap prices and similarly with corned beef around St. Patrick's Day and hams at Easter.
  • Cook more now and freeze for later: As much as warehouse-shopping at places like Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) can save you, don't stop thinking in bulk once you get home. "Buy things on sale, make them into meals that can be frozen for later," pllntooz wrote. "Not only is it economical, but it often helps with cutting temptation to stop for convenience foods if you only have to heat something up to have a tasty meal."
  • Make the most of meat: Modifying a meat-based recipe can help you save without sacrificing taste. For example, halve the amount of meat normally used in chicken soup or burritos or chili and add more veggies, rice and beans or whatever other ingredients you need to fill it out.
  • Dress your shopping cart in seasonally appropriate grub: In-season fresh fruit and vegetables are cheaper and taste better. In other words, as pllntooz points out, "Buying watermelon in the winter will be expensive and likely not as tasty."

Add your top savings tips to the discussion and tell us how you save money on groceries.

More ways to save ...

  • Clip and click your way to savings: The web makes fast work out of finding coupons to use before you hit the grocery store aisles. Try Coupons.com, CouponMountain.com and CouponMom.com. To make the most of the discounts, check your store's website for double-coupon days as well as restrictions on coupon use. Additionally, signing up for a store's loyalty program can amount to cash back. You'll find such programs at most store chains, including Kroger (NYSE: KR  ) and Safeway (NYSE: SWY  ) , although some stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) don't offer them. Cardholders get not only better deals on their current purchases, but also coupons worth cash off future trips.
  • Get tips from the coupon pros: We've got our own cadre of coupon connoisseurs over on the Coupons N' More discussion board. And over at CouponMom.com you can get printable coupons, grocery deals by state and online coupon codes. Check out the savings articles -- including grocery store savings "secrets" -- for free advice.
  • Don't over-buy: Leftovers are great (personally, I like day-two pizza), but waste isn't cool. One U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that Americans discard more than one pound of food a day. There are many tricks to keeping track of leftovers (with labels, a list on the front of the fridge), but you have to remember to actually consume the food before it spoils. On the front end, buying less (even if it means paying a little more per-unit) may be financially worthwhile. So keep track of the waste and adjust your meals and shopping plans accordingly.
  • Make use of the fridge: Take stock of your fridge and experiment with a new recipe. Websites such as Allrecipes.com, Supercook.com, RecipeMatcher.com, and FoodieView.com allow you to input ingredients for a new recipe to try. (Or you can simply type ingredients into your search bar, followed by "recipe" for more recipes.) Maybe that leftover chicken can be used more creatively now!

Read the latest from Fiscal Fitness '09: 1 Month, 2 Grand, 3 Stocks to get our other money-saving tips. You can also keep up with our tips through our daily Foolwatch email. Share your frugal insights and experiences through our Fiscal Fitness '09 discussion board, or leave a comment below.

Fiscal Fitness boot camp instructor Dayana Yochim owns none of the companies mentioned in this article. PepsiCo and Kraft Foods are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Costco Wholesale is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Whole Foods Market and Costco Wholesale are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (20)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2009, at 7:11 AM, SAMSCREEK wrote:

    Ahhh. An article I can chew on. I would like to add that buying "marked down meats" and stocking up on sales have helped keep my food bill very low.

    If you buy in bulk, you need a food saver machine (vaccum seal). I never pay over $3.50 for Ribeye, $1.69 for boneless chicken, Recently, boneless chicken has been as low as $1.19 lb here in middle Tennessee. I loaded up. My wife & I love turkey breast and after Thanksgiving 2008, my local grocery store had turkey breast marked down to less that 50 cents a pound. we bought 14 of them.

    Using a vaccum seal machine really extends the shelf life of foods and their taste, without the freezer burn you would usually get.

    There, thats my 2 cents worth advice........

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2009, at 7:21 AM, KWT8011 wrote:

    Good article, but as a frugal food shopper, I've noticed as of late it has been cheaper to buy pre sliced meats and cheeses than going to my deli. It is rare to find ham or turkey at a normal grocery store where I live under $6/lb.

    I also noticed preshredded cheese tends to run about as much as block.

    I've cut soda out of my budget. I think the days of 4 12-packs for $10 are gone, so I'm detoxing off the diet coke. Only order it when going out to eat (I know, sounds counterintuitive to saving, but I was doing that anyway).

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2009, at 5:47 PM, 3204mok wrote:

    When a supermarket is offering a special price on Perdue chicken breasts or really any other cut of their chicken, look at the other brands (Tyson, etc.)or the store's own brand of the same items, you'll find many that are marked down below the supposed sale price brand because they're a day or two away from the "last date of sale" on their labels and no one is even bothering to look at them.

    Learn to cook - it's one of the most satisfying ways to cut way down on your food budget and enjoy meals that taste far better and are more nutritious besides.

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