A few healthy suggestions to save money

Published6/11/2008 12:07 AM

As grocery prices rise, journalists are asking me more often how to save money on groceries. People that know what I do, like friends and neighbors, never ask for my advice on saving money on groceries. They prefer to tell me why it isn't possible to save money on groceries. I learned years ago that it makes no sense to try to convince a doubting shopper how to save on groceries, so I simply listen and nod in agreement.

But I'm not always able to keep quiet on this topic. For instance, a neighbor told me she spent $1,800 on groceries last month and her husband is asking her to cut back her spending (she has three children). I asked her if she bought a patio set at the store! And yesterday a friend told me that shoppers have two choices: to eat cheap or to eat healthy, but it isn't possible to do both. Because this statement is exactly opposite of what I believe, I did say, "Well, it is possible to feed your family a healthy diet inexpensively if you put some time into planning." At that point she smiled and nodded, which meant she didn't really agree with me. We both wisely decided not to debate the topic.


I've been feeding my family a healthy diet for years at a lower cost than other shoppers. In the early years, I tracked my spending and savings carefully, and spent an average of $200 to $250 per month for a family of four. After 15 years of frugal shopping, I no longer track my grocery spending because the habits are ingrained. However, to disprove the doubting shoppers and to accurately answer journalists' questions, I am carefully tracking our spending, savings and healthy meals for the next month to arm myself with updated data.

I began by letting my husband know he was off the hook and I'd be doing all the grocery shopping for the next month. By being in control of the grocery spending, I can be sure that there is no impulse spending to tip the budget into the red. I gave myself a budget of $100 per week for our family of four. My first week's worth of groceries came in at $69, with a $61 savings in sales and coupons. The basic first steps in slashing our grocery bill included:

Inventory your cabinets, freezer and refrigerator. Before making a list of meals for the week, see what you can create from your own supplies. I took a new look at the baking mixes, the pudding mixes and the multiple cans of tomatoes on my shelf. The freezer had plenty of half-price chicken breasts to plan a few meals, and the pantry had all the ingredients needed for a big pot of homemade soup. My first week's spending benefited from the bargain stocking-up I did in past weeks. The key is to use those bargains!

I reviewed the store ads for the two supermarkets closest to my home and decided to shop at the one that had the best price on milk, yogurts and oranges. I planned a full week's worth of meals around the store's sale items and the groceries I had on hand. The detailed meal plan not only saves us money, it makes it easier and less time consuming to get dinners on the table during the week.

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Of course, I cut out the coupons needed to match the sale items on my list. I used coupons from the newspaper, coupons from my store's loyalty card home mailing, coupons received from the register tape on past visits, a monthly grocery coupon from my Entertainment book and coupons printed from the Web. I buy multiple copies of the newspaper so I could stock up on coupon bargains for future weeks, like large cans of baked beans for 33 cents and whole grain pasta absolutely free with the coupons.

Once at the store, I checked the markdown sections in the meat, produce and bread departments. I purchased organic romaine lettuce at half price, whole chicken fryers at 65 percent off, ground beef at 50 percent off and sandwich bread at 50 percent off. I bought three extra chickens and two packages of ground beef for the freezer.

My bill went from $130 down to $69 and my grocery cart overflowed with bags that included healthy produce, dairy products, cereal and a wide array of foods we always enjoy. And I even have $31 to spend later this week, although I plan to save it for later in the month.

Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a contributor on ABC News' "Good Morning America." and at www.couponmom.com.

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