Food can eat up almost any budget if you're not careful about saving on groceries. Here are five easy tips to help you save while shopping or eating out.
Check Weekly Store Ads
Scour the weekly store ads for the best grocery deals. Then find blogs and other Web sites that have already done the hard work of matching the sales up with recent coupons to boost your savings even higher. If you don't have much time to clip coupons, use printable coupons or eCoupons.
Buy before you need it. By stockpiling items you need at the lowest price, you can just shop from your pantry. By combining a store sale with coupons, you can maximize your savings. Once you have a nice stockpile built, you will make fewer trips to the store, which will reduce your impulse purchases and help you save on gasoline. Another advantage of stockpiling is that you'll already have a stocked pantry, which gives you one less excuse not to cook at home.
Create a list of 50 or so of your most-used products, items you can have on hand to whip together a meal anytime. This will be different for every family. To get the best deals, you have to put aside brand preferences unless you are willing to wait longer for your preferred brands to go on sale. Basics to stockpile include: canned soups, canned/frozen vegetables, canned fruits, cereal, sugar, bread, pasta and pasta sauce. Outside of food, you should also stockpile cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and personal care products.
Plan Your Meals
Make your weekly meal plans based around what you already have in your pantry or on the weekly grocery sales. Browse free sites like $5 Dinners, Simply Recipes, and Carrie's Cooking for fun new recipe ideas.
Still stumped for meal ideas? Many manufacturers have recipe sites. For example, if you have a can of beef gravy or cream of mushroom soup, you can visit the company's Web site, search by item and usually find recipes to use it.
Prepare "Freezer Meals"
For those nights when you don't feel like cooking, having several meals ready to go in the freezer will stop you from ordering out. Whenever you cook your favorite meal, double the recipe and freeze the other half for a later date. For inspiration, check out the free site Once a Month Mom, which helps you cook a month's worth of meals in one day.
Look for Free Promotions When Eating Out
You don't have to eat at home every night to stay within your food budget. Many restaurants are offering free promotions to lure you in. Use these coupons and savings by signing up for their e-newsletters or by following Web sites that alert readers to money-saving offers. Just be sure to check the specifics of each deal so that you know when it can - and can't - be used.