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Family Budget Makeover: Cutting the Grocery Bill

moneyTrying to save a few bucks? Cutting grocery bills can be a relatively painless way to make monthly savings. We went prowling for the best ways to spend less without making kitchen duty endless or meals tasteless. Here are some easy ways to change how you shop and how your family eats.

Before You Shop

  • Get a "price book." Pack a little notebook in your purse and keep track of what you spend for items you buy regularly.

    In time, you'll really get a sense of what "a bargain" is, what time of year things go on sale, or whether one supermarket chain has better prices than another. Make it as simple or as complicated as you like, entering the date, item description, store, and price.

  • Leave kids at home (if possible!) See if you can trade-off sitting with a neighbor, or shop when children are at school. Without kids, there are fewer distractions and impulse buys, and more time to do comparison-shopping.

  • Take cash; leave ATM and credit cards at home. Once you know what your grocery budget should be, bring a fixed amount of money and not the ATM card, which offers an "easy out." You know you don't want the embarrassment of being $3.57 short at the register; that will motivate you to watch prices while you shop.

  • Shop every two weeks or monthly. Limiting your grocery shopping runs means you have fewer chances to make impulse buys.

    In the Store

  • Look high and low for savings. Savvy supermarket managers place the highest-priced items at eye level. Look above and below for deals.

  • Check unit pricing. Compare prices on an ounce-by-ounce basis. Bigger isn't necessarily better; sometimes two smaller packages will give you a greater savings than one jumbo package.

  • Weigh bags of produce. Think every five-pound bag of apples or oranges is created equal? We found the actual weights vary by as much as a pound or two, which means you might get more than you paid for! Put the bags on the scale before you put them in your cart.

  • Buy snack items (chips, yogurt) in large containers, not individual sizes. Pack chips and other snacks for kids' lunches in reusable plastic containers. You can do the same with juice or water, avoiding the expense of juice boxes (and it's more eco-friendly).

    On the Home Front

  • Just say no to finicky eaters. You can't control all their food preferences, but children who demand (and get) special orders often drive up the family food budget, especially if they'll only eat frozen pizza or a certain brand of chicken fingers. The old rule, "eat what's on the table," has financial, as well as disciplinary, merit. And don't worry: They won't starve, even if they miss a meal.

  • Just say yes to tofu. Even choosy children can turn on to tofu, a cheaper, healthier alternative to meat. Cut extra firm tofu into cubes, drown it in a bottle of sweet-and-sour sauce, serve atop white rice, and presto, you have a low-cost, low-fat meal that most kids will love (try to sneak something green onto the plate). In the "what they don't know won't hurt them" department, add mashed tofu to tomato sauce for an excellent source of protein or try one of these tasty tofu treats.

  • Water down the apple juice. Save money and give kids less sugar by diluting apple juice with raspberry (or any flavor) decaffeinated herb tea. Kids won't taste the difference, even if you do a 50-50 mix of juice and tea.

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