Coupon Mom: Four tips to stretch your food budget

Back-to-school time is a great time to concentrate on new ways to save more money on groceries.
I am an advocate of “strategic shopping,” which includes, but is not limited to, using coupons. Planning and shopping sales are also key steps of strategic shopping. In addition to saving with coupons, you will save hundreds of dollars a year by making simple changes in your grocery habits that do not take a lot of time. If you adopt these four simple strategies now, you’ll save enough to take the family on a nice vacation at the end of the school year.

Stock up on “high impact” items when they are on sale: “High impact” items are groceries that you use often that have the highest impact on your grocery spending, such as main dish items. Become familiar with the regular prices, so you’ll be able to recognize when a sale is truly a great sale. For example, one of our family’s high impact items is boneless chicken breasts. If you buy boneless chicken breasts only when they are on sale, you will pay about $2 per pound. If you bought chicken breasts each week, you’d pay a different price each week, ranging from $2 to $5 per pound. By stocking up on two or three weeks’ worth of chicken for the freezer during $2 weeks, you will save serious money over the course of the year. For my family, this strategy saves us $450 per year on that single item.

Skip the high cost of convenience with the “five-minute” rule: If your family buys a lot of produce, you’ll save big if you avoid buying pre-washed, pre-packaged and pre-cut produce and do the work yourself. If it takes less than five minutes to wash a bunch of lettuce or cut a bag of carrots (which it does, I’ve timed it), then it is well worth your time to buy the bunch of lettuce rather than the bagged salad. When you do the math (which I have), it is as if you are paying someone between $35 and $55 an hour to wash your lettuce or cut your carrots when you buy the packaged varieties. Plus, you’ll avoid added preservatives. Over the course of the year you’ll have healthier produce and more savings for that vacation.

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Plan your week’s meals around the store sales: Before deciding what to eat during the week, sit down with your stores’ weekly ads and plan meals around those half-price featured sale items.
You’ll still be able to eat the meals you prefer since all types of foods go on sale at some point. When you buy extra sale ingredients for the freezer or pantry, you’ll be able to have whatever you’d like each week.
In future weeks you’ll be able to shop from your own inventory rather than paying full price for the same items at your store that week.

Shop with coupons: The key to saving with coupons is to wait until the item goes on sale before using the coupon. Use store match-up lists found at CouponMom.com for lists of the best sales and coupon deals for your grocery stores, drugstores and big box stores to make it easy to stock up on bargains.

Stephanie Nelson, The Coupon Mom, has been teaching Georgia shoppers how to save since 2000.

The full Coupon Mom column appears Thursdays in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Deal Spotter section. It’s full of great local deals and exclusive offers. Visit the Coupon Mom website  for more great tips and printable grocery coupons.

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