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Eight Tips to Lower Your Grocery Bill
in a Time of Rising Food Costs


Food prices are soaring across the United States, threatening to squeeze many families' food budgets dry. According to retail analyst Howard Davidowitz in a National Public Radio interview, "Americans used to spend 10 cents [of every dollar] on food and energy; they're now spending 17 cents."


You can often save money on food just by not shopping at your grocery store. Farmer's markets and food coops often have better deals -- and fresher selections.

On top of that, grocery stores are in the business of making you spend money once you step inside, so in times like these, it's imperative to know what you're doing.

Fortunately, with a bit of savvy, you can save a significant amount of money -- even up to $100 a month -- on your food bill, even with today's premium prices.

  1. Make a list. Shoppers usually buy more than half of their groceries from a list of 150 products. What happens to the thousands of other products on the shelves? They become impulse buys.

    "Their [Shoppers] other purchases often are impulse buys that can add to the grocery bill unnecessarily," said Mary Meck Higgins, Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition specialist. "Impulse purchases also can increase when shoppers are hungry or shop without a list."

    So be prepared with a list of items you need in hand, and vow to only buy those particular items.

  2. Shop the perimeter of the store. That's where you'll usually find the basics like produce, meat, dairy and bread. Step into the interior aisles and you've entered the land of high-cost (and tempting) processed foods. Stay on the outer aisles and you'll eat healthier and save money all at the same time.

Waste Not, Want Not

Alive in 5: Raw Gourmet Meals in Five Minutes

The most expensive food is any item you end up throwing away. If you need help figuring out what to do with fresh produce before it goes bad, check out the delicious, and fast, raw food recipes in Alive in 5: Raw Gourmet Meals in Five Minutes.

  1. Buy generic. Often, generic products contain the same ingredients as name-brand versions at a fraction of the price. They may even have come from the same factory. All you need to do is compare the nutrition information on packages. If the ingredients are the same, the product probably is as well. Do watch out for extra additives or imitation ingredients, though -- some generic versions, for instance Parmesan cheese in a carton, may contain lower quality ingredients or more additives than the real thing.

  2. Plant a garden. Even a small one can provide enough produce to feed your family. "It's really saving me money, a substantial amount," Hubert Emsermann told The Herald of his garden. "It's amazing how much that little garden produces."

  3. Consider joining a local food coop. Often, you'll get fresh organic produce, eggs, dairy and grass-fed meets for less than you could ever find them in a store. is a great resource to find a food coop near you.

  4. Look at the unit prices. This will help you to determine if buying the gigantic can of tomatoes is really cheaper than two smaller ones, or if an item in sale is really a good deal. Sometimes stores display unit prices right on the price tag on the self. If not, you may want to bring a calculator with you.

ethnic markets

Shopping at ethnic markets is another way to save. They often have great deals on staples like rice, pasta and spices.

  1. Be aware of what you pay for convenience. Veggies and fruits that are cut, washed and ready-to-eat are almost always pricier than whole varieties. Same goes for "grill-ready" and pre-stuffed or marinated meats. You'll usually also pay more for cheese from the deli counter than in the refrigerated section because it has to be sliced.

  2. Visit farmer's markets and ask for the leftover produce. Most sellers will have produce left that they can't sell and would simply go to waste. If you don't mind sorting through produce that may be a few days old and pulling out the "good stuff," you can get high-quality veggies for nothing. Often, farmers will be glad to let you have it so they don't have to haul it away.

Recommended Reading

Should the United States' Food Origin Law be Revived?

What Health Experts Criticize Most About the Food Pyramid

Sources May 15, 2008 May 14, 2008

Kansas State University Research and Extension

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