Make the most of every dollar you spend on food

Patrice Dunagin

In today’s economic climate, many American families are trying to reduce their household spending. One strategy is to reduce food costs. On average, Americans spend about 13 percent of their disposable income on food. Higher food prices coupled with the price of gas, means that families need strategies to get more bang for their food buck.

To save on your food bill follow these tips:

-- Know your food budget. Take a look at your family budget and decide how much you can spend on food. From this amount, determine your weekly food allowance and stick to it.

-- Make a plan. Each week, plan your family’s meals and snacks. What kinds of foods does your family like to eat? Can you find some new low-cost, easy-to-prepare recipes? What food items do you already have on hand at home? Using these items first will help you save money. Develop your weekly grocery list based on your menu and the foods you already have at home.

-- Be a smart shopper. Once you have your grocery list for the week, head to the store. If possible, plan only one shopping trip per week. The more often you shop, the more money you spend. Once at the store, remember to stick to your list. Resist the urge to make impulse buys, especially on foods that do not have much nutritional value. This is another good reason not to visit the store on an empty stomach.

Next, look at store ads to identify items your family likes to eat that are on sale. Can you substitute something on your list for a food item that is on sale? Which types of fresh produce are in season and on sale? Often, these may be cheaper than canned or frozen versions of the food. If you see a bulk item that your family eats is on sale, stock up and repackage the food into smaller quantities at home. Stock up on shelf-stable bulk items if you have space to store them and will eat them before they spoil. Also consider looking at unit prices of foods, which can often be found on the shelf tag. Larger-sized packaged items may be cheaper than smaller packages of food.

Consider trying store brands of foods that may be of the same quality as other name-brand products. Also, look up and down on store shelves. The most expensive items are usually at eye level. Less expensive products may be at a higher or lower level on the shelf. If possible, try to avoid convenience foods, which may be more expensive than preparing the item from scratch. For example, it might be better to plan for leftovers that to purchase a frozen TV dinner for your lunch meals.

To make your trip to the store as efficient as possible, also consider organizing your grocery list by section of the store. Only visit those aisles that have a food you need to purchase. When you check out, be sure to watch for errors in pricing. Make sure sale items ring up correctly and that any coupons you have are applied to the purchase.

-- Eat at home as often as possible. Once you have purchased foods for the week, eat them. Eating at home is a great way to save on food costs. Cook once, eat twice. Prepare enough food at the evening meal so that you have leftovers for your lunch the following day. Make eating out a special treat. This will help your pocketbook and waistline.

-- Reduce food waste. When you throw food away, it’s like throwing your money in the garbage. Be sure to store any leftovers you have at home promptly and eat them in one to two days. If you cook in bulk and cannot eat the entire batch of food in one to two days, freeze some of it for later use.

These tips will help you reduce your food costs, stay within your food budget and get more bang for your food dollar.

For more information, contact Patrice Dunagin, Smith County FCS agent for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, at 903-590-2980.

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