Recession Eating: How You Could Save $180 a Month in Groceries

By , SparkPeople Blogger
According to the U.S. Food Cost Average Report for October 2008, a family of four with two elementary age children can cut about $180 per month from their grocery bill simply by adopting some lower cost shopping habits.

Over the last few weeks we have looked at different ways to save money on food during a recession. We have learned that we can save money by planning ahead, cooking and eating at home, and moving away from soda.

Did you know that you can save money AND still include higher nutrient items in your diet? Here are some shopping strategies to help cut your budget while maintaining a nutrient rich pantry.

Knowing how to make smart choices when shopping will allow you to get nutrient rich foods at lower prices. Here are some specific strategies that are pretty easy to adopt for immediate savings.

Breads and Grains
  • Look for bargains at your local bakery for day old whole grain breads, buns and rolls. Be sure to store in the refrigerator for longest shelf life.
  • Many grocery stores have reduced sale on whole grain breads, buns and rolls that need to be moved from the shelves. Learn where your store generally puts reduced sale baked goods and check there first for what you need. Be sure to store in the refrigerator for longest shelf life.
  • Select regular grains like rice, oatmeal, oats or grits instead of the instant or flavored varieties.

  • Select large bags of frozen vegetables for those favorites that are out of season.
  • Many stores have reduced produce sections for ripe vegetables that need to be moved quickly. If you tend to use fresh vegetables frequently, be sure to check for very ripe vegetables reduced for quick sale.
  • Always select fresh vegetables that are in season. Use this Month-by-month guide to help you know which to include in your meal planning.
  • If canned vegetables are the best option, avoid buying low sodium varieties and simply rinse canned vegetables in a colander with cold water prior to use to remove excess sodium. Microwave in a very small amount of fresh water to retain the maximum amount of nutrients versus boiling in water on the stove which will leach nutrients into the water and be discarded.
  • Consider using the salad bar at your local grocer for food items that are needed in smaller portions for recipes such as lettuce for tacos or red cabbage, onions, carrots or peas for recipes. If that you will only use a small amount but must buy in larger amounts, it will likely lead to waste from non-use so are better bought at the salad bar then in bulk.

  • Always select fresh fruits that are in season. Use this Month-by-month guide to help you know which to include in your meal planning.
  • Many stores have reduced produce sections for ripe fruits that need to be moved quickly. If you tend to use fresh fruits frequently, be sure to check for very ripe fruits reduced for quick sale.
  • Select canned fruits that are not in season. To save the most, select fruits packed in syrup versus juice. Simply rinse the fruit completely in a colander using cold water for a few minutes and pat dry before use to remove unnecessary syrup.

  • Nonfat dry milk is the least expensive way to purchase milk. Consider mixing a half gallon of liquid milk with a half gallon of reconstituted nonfat dry milk for the same nutrition at a lower cost. This can also be a great technique if you are trying to switch from whole milk to low fat milk. If members of the family notice a taste difference try adding a few drops of baking vanilla to the gallon and stir.
  • Typically, larger containers of milk (gallons) provide the best price per ounce. However, be aware of specials that may be offered on half gallons. Just last week our store had a sale on half gallons of skim milk for $1.00 each whereas the gallon was still priced at $2.39.
  • Select 1% or Fat Free/Skim milk for family members over the age of two. (Note that children under 2 years of age should be given only whole milk.) Use the mixing tip above to move in that direction if your family uses whole milk for those over the age of 2.

Meat and Poultry
  • Be sure to look for and select meats on sale at the meat counter or local butcher.
  • Select chuck or bottom round roasts instead of sirloin. These cuts require moisture, time and to be sealed during cooking so the meat can tenderize.
  • Look at the price of ground turkey compared to ground beef. Many times the price will be slightly lower and ground turkey can easily be substituted in recipes to provide a lower fat meal as well as cost savings.
  • If you have the freezer space, select the “family size” package and divide at home into appropriate portion or meal sizes for your house and freeze. If you do not have the freezer space and don’t wish to eat the same meat every day for the rest of the week, see if a friend or co-worker will split the pack with you to still be able to take advantage of the savings.
  • Purchase a whole chicken or turkey and bone, skin and cut it into appropriate meal serving sizes yourself. Split with a neighbor or co-worker to share the work and for faster use if storage space is limited.

Dry Beans and Peas
  • These staples provide a cost effective and healthy option to meat, poultry and fish. Try including entrees using these staple items at least twice each week.
  • Soak dried beans (such as kidney beans for chili) in water overnight or during the day for faster cooking time in recipes. Buying dry and softening before use is more cost effective than purchasing canned many times.
  • When using canned beans or peas, be sure to rinse with cold water for several minutes in a colander before use.

Bulk Foods and Warehouse Shopping
  • Buying bulk foods can help you get the exact amount you need and reduce waste so be sure to check out store bulk options.
  • Warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club can provide great cost saving options if you have the storage space and will be able to use larger quantities. Consider working with a neighbor or co-worker to split larger packaged items if space or pace of use are concerns.

Learn from Others
  • Do you have any cost saving strategies that help you continue to select nutrient rich foods while saving money?
  • How much have you been able to cut from your food budget over the last few months?

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I always grow a garden in the summer and can the extra produce for the winter. We also have fruit trees, so I dry the fruit in my dehydrator,or juice it and then freeze or can . We have our own chickens so we always have fresh eggs ( for those of you in a big city , farmers markets are great places to get connected with farmers who may sell their product ( eggs, beef, pork, chicken etc.) at a much lower cost then in the store. Our eggs are natural, fresher then the store and we sell for less then the stores! You just have to look outside the box ( or city or town) to find less expensive and usually healthier types of food. If you don't have a large yard for a garden most cities have spaces for others to grow gardens, or you could plant some plants in a small container Tomatoes grow great in small containers! Just a few ideas how my family saves a few dollars and still eats healthy. Report
I save money by cooking at home with basic ingredients. I cook a meal for 4, eat it for dinner day 1, lunch or dinner day 2 and freeze the other 2 servings. Rather than buy TV dinners or eat out when I get home late or when I do not want to cook, I always have a variety of healthy food in the freezer to eat instead.

I like having a home cooked meal in minutes when I have no time to cook. Report
I eat mostly organic, so I don't find many coupons to use. But when I do see them I use them.

I buy staple items in bulk at Costco. Instead of buying some of the more expensive items from the store I'll make them myself. I make my own bread, organic yogurt, ice cream, sauces, condiments, etc.

I also grow some of my own foods, and I get some from my mom and aunt's gardens as well. What I can't grow I'll buy from the farmer's market. When prices drop on fresh produce I buy them in bulk, then bring them home and can them myself.

My family buys a whole side of beef once a year, then splits up the meat. Our grocery store has a sale every 3 months or so where you can get 5 packages of meat for $20. I stock up on whole chickens and turn them into stock, soups, etc. that I then home can. Report
I also use coupons Walgreens has weekly coupons and also sells canned goods and some dairy. I also lately have been shopping at Aldis belive it or not I have found items from paper goods to fresh veggies and fruits as well as some fresh meats and frozen meats and dairy and veggies. They even sell bread . Report
Oranges taste terrible because it's have to buy in season ;-) Report
I use coupons mostly at krogers. produce right now not really just bananas. ornges I just bought terrible taste. I heard about the clemintines may try them Report
I have found to save a little money I look at the gas station. I know this sounds crazy but I get all my bread, buns, milk and some veggies at my Kwik Trip store. They bake their own bread and milk is much cheaper than the grocery store. Report
I, too, use coupons. I also look at the circulars; sometimes the stores have a buy one-get one free deal and I try to take advantage of this (especially with meat). Meal planning helps me too. Report
Very informational. I always appreciate ideas on how to save money at the grocery store. I just wish I was better at staying within my grocery budget. I am also in the process of reading the blog about the two teachers who tried to live on $1.00 a day for a month. The saddest part of the experiment was that they could not afford fruits and vegetables to be within their budget. I just thought their blog was interesting especially now that money is getting tight and how it can affect our choices at the grocery store. Report
I use a lot of the strategies already mentioned, but one of my biggest cost savers is by "creating" meals based on what is left in my cabinets, fridge, and freezer before I even make my shopping list. I do an inventory once every 2-3 weeks, and come up with items that I had forgotten about that would go well together. The first time I did this I went a whole extra week without having to buy more than some fruit and milk.
I've also stopped buying the "snack packs" of applesauce and bought some reusable small Ziploc containers to repackage from a large jar to send in lunchboxes.
In the past year we've gone from spending $600/month to about $400, and if I'm careful we can get it down to $200-$300 per month. Report
My son and his family live with me. I often use a modified version of cost-sharing methods in my meal planning. While we frequently dine together, we actually plan our meals to meet several needs. These skinny people who live with me have different dietary needs, so they buy the meats and starches: I buy the veggies and fruits. Meal-sharing allows all of us improved quality and lower costs.

So... my contribution is that if you have family or friends who can plan/exchange with you... try it! MAYBE it might work. (This is especially true for singles! Even if done only one night a week...) Report
Thanks so much for this info! I never really knew what fruits/veggies were in season @ what times so this makes it so much easier for me! Report
These are strategies we implemented when I became ill and it's the only way we have survived losing my income.
1. We buy our bread items at a discount store.
2. We eat lots of beans & onion, with only half portions of meat when we can afford it.
3. We shop at Sam's club for everything we can get there, we are space limited but have chosen to use our laundry area for extra food storage to save &&&, we purchased big plastic containers to use for storage and they have already paid for themselves.
4. We drink lots & lots of water. We buy only 1 -(2) liter bottle of generic diet soda per week and one bottle of some type of fruit juice.
5. We take our vitamins, so that our bodies do not suffer for any nutrients we might miss every so often.
6. We Reduce,ReUse & Recycle and it works. Report
As our family has downsized considerably, I'm not so worried about the grocery bill, but there were a couple things that I use to do to spread the dollar further:

Tomato soup - instead of adding only 1 can water, I'd add 1-1/2 to 2 cans

Creamed soups - instead of adding 1 can milk, I added all water

Canned Spaghetti sauce - add 15 oz can stewed tomatoes (I still use this in a pinch for time, but use the no salt added variety)

I'm not sure if this is a good practice or not, but I had a friend that would wait until the milk would go down in price (usually because it's met it's sell-by date) then she'd buy 6 gallons at a time and deep freeze them. I have found that dairy products tend to seperate after freezing, though. Report
What a great blog! Thanks! Report
for multi buys shop with a friend or family member and go halfs works a treat , and some of the other ideas i will be putting into practice thnaks to you all Report
Thank you so much for including the month-to-month guides on what is in season for fruits and vegetables. I think I will really find that helpful. Much appreciation! Report
I understand that this article is about saving MONEY but lets keep in mind that Sparkpeople is a HEALTH website. So we shouldn't jeopardize health to save a few pennies. Lower sodium varieties of canned vegetables and legumes are always healthier. And you can rinse these too for even less sodium. And canned fruits should be packed in JUICE or WATER not syrup. That's many sugary unneccessary calories. You can save your money with coupons or other ways that don't sacrifice healthiness.

Yes, SparkPeople is a health website. However, LOTS of people in this world who want to get healthy simply don't have the money to buy "healthy" all the time or as much as we might like. Therefore, articles like this one are a great help for those who have a strict budget that must be followed. I'm sure I am not alone in the hope that SparkPeople will continue to give us money saving tips, even though it IS a health site. :-)) Report
We use dried beans on a regular basis. I have a recipe that can be used for all dried beans for my crock pot. With this recipe, there is no need for soaking overnight. I also check the ads from Sunday's paper to see who has the best deals & check my coupons , then shop accordingly. My husband also hunts during the fall & winter months, so meat is usually taken care of in that aspect. Report
I buy meat in bulk in Costco and while its still thawed freeze double servings in ziplock bags. Its two of us and before I go to work in the morning I just throw a ziplock in a fridge to de-thaw that portion and its good and ready to be cooked when I get home. For a family of two and a cat we spend about 300 -350 a month without using any coupons Report
I never thought of rinsing canned veggies to get rid of the salt and fruit to get rid of the sugar. This is an awesome article. I learned a number of things I didn't already know. Report
I never thought about rinsing canned fruit and vegetable. I have being buying the more expensive brands in juice and low in sodium. I wil compare and save from now on. Report
I buy store brands and use coupons. Kroger has a lot of markdowns on meat, and bakery items. I love their store brands. We do get some things at Aldi. GFS also has good prices if you want big packages of food. Report
I shop at ALDI. They don't advertise much, have mostly store brand and don't except coupons or credit cards. I can buy $200 worth of good food and get two carts full. Have meats, produce, dairy and frozen and all other things regular stores have. I love that store!!! I also like BJs cuz they are the only warehouse that accepts coupons. I don't buy it unless it has coupons usually. They have their own, and accept manufacturers coupons for the same item. I save no less than $20 and have saved $50 in coupons there. I hardly ever go to regular grocery stores. If I do, always sales, and I check the damaged cart. Report
I appreciate this list and was surprised at how many I already follow. I plan my meals based on each week's grocery ads. Report
been a frugal shopper for years. Use most of the things others have listed. One thing that i might add is: since i live in an area that has many stores close by - i can easily plan my shopping in several stores all in one trip with only increasing my gas by mere pennies. Knowing my "best price" on an item is very helpful. I know where the best price on eggs, milk, etc is compared to each store. Go to different stores for different things. Report
I cut out every coupon for items I would use in the Sunday paper. I also use You register with the store(s) where you shop and they post a list every week of what the sales are. They also list the coupons that you can use and tell you how much you are saving. A lot of times you get free items that you can stockpile. I rarely pay for toothpaste. It costs $10.00 every 8 weeks but I save more than that every week at the store. You can do a 4 week trial for $1 . The website is easy to cancel if you are not happy after the trial. I'm not trying to solicit free referrals. I honestly save 30-50% per trip. It is alot of work once you accumulate a lot of coupons but I think that it is worth it.
I have a family of 4. 2 kids still at home. And, if I find that I have stockpiled something that we are sick of or don't use (for free or close to it) then I have contibutions for the holiday food drives. Report
I have an upright freezer that I bought 31 yrs. ago.We shop at 2 stores and only buy when on sale in bulk.Like I'll buy chicken thighs at .69lb,and buy 10lbs.When I get home I clean them and repack them and freeze them.I also use coupons,but only when the item is on sale.
This week Green Giant steamfresh veggies are on sale 10@$10.I have 10 $1 coupons = 0 cost to me. Report
There are a few things I've learned to do to save money. As much as I would love to buy in bulk, because I know it does save money... we just don't have enough cash at hand at any one time to afford it. We're able to do it maybe.... twice a year. So I just make sure that I get the best use out of the food we can afford. I always keep my bread in the fridge... it lasts SO much longer, and I can't even believe how much I'm saving by not throwing out moldy bread every week. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I base most of my meals on how ripe they are. If my bananas look as if they're about to go bad, I'll have a banana and cereal for that day, instead of say... scrambled eggs & veggies. That keeps me from wasting veg & fruit. I also make sure to check the local grocery stores with "club members" I usually get my meat from there on deal for buy one get one free (saves me about 30-40 bucks every 2 weeks) and other BOGO items they have, then get other items at wal-mart, because of their cheaper prices, and because we get a 10% discount on all non-food items because my SO works for their company. ;) Lists are very important too.... We go through our cabinets and freezers, see what we have in meat, vegs, pastas, etc. and I make a list of how many days worth of meat I need, how many days worth of pasta, and so on, so I know how much to buy, limits on my "oooo, this looks good" purchases! Report
I usually shop at stores that sell foods in bulks so that way I can get more for my money and i save as well b/c I donot have to keep buying individual packages Report
One thing that has saved me a lot of money is not buying anything more until the freezer and cabinets are just about empty. This way, I mostly buy things that are fresh such as lettuce, milk and eggs. At the moment my freezer is stocked so my grocery bills aren't much each week. Report
We also buy the 'Manager's Special' marked meats & get wonderful deals.
An added bonus is that some of the steaks are aged to 'perfection' and are tastier that the regular sale items.
Soups & mixed bean stews also stretch a budget in a healthy way that everyone can enjoy. Our local tore also sells discounted bags of bananas that are getting ripe (but not overly ripe). I peel & freeze the bananas & they are a great addition to baked goods (like cornbread) by adding flavor, potassion & moisture.
Savings are sweet! Report
I cut coupons and invariably either leave them at home or forget I have them, there are only a few items that I really want anyway, and where I go they want to you buy 3 or 4 of the same so I have to store it, SO this method does not always work for me. I do plan my meals out two to three weeks out at a time and buy for the month on items that will keep, fresh products bi-weekly. I make a menu out and a separate list for the meals at the same sitting for the month. Things I need but do not get at that store visit I carry with me, buy those later when I need them. I never buy household products at the grocery store, always go to a discount store for those. I buy sale items only if I the item is on my list for that month, unless it is an item I use routinely, i.e. juice, cereal etc. My monthly bill runs between $550 and $650 for the two of us and we eat like royalty. I don't skimp on food and do not want to drive around to different stores or during the week for it. I work 7 days a week and refuse to be away from home in-between.

Katrina Report
I love beans and I make my own ww bread,so I save a lot on bread,I also do coupons Report
I try to buy bread and meat reduced to clear and freeze them - the meat will last up to 3 months. Report
I go through my pamphlets, write the specials nad go from there. I also know what day the different supermarkets mark down bread and meat and stock up in the freezer. On a pension, I would never be able to survive otherwise. I also buy chicken frames and use it to make my own stock, Report
My kids love McDonalds & Burger King, I have brought burgers & fries from the freezer section & saves me $$$. I can get 9 meals for $15.00, whereas, I buy 2 meals for $10. Do the math. That saves me $25 right there. I can always sub the fries for veggies too. : ) Report
Oh yeah! Also check out ! She has GREAT ideas and links on there! Report
I have been doing a lot of shopping in bulk at BJs (comparable to Costco or Sam's Club) lately. That saves a ton of money.

Something else that has helped me is showing at Wal-Mart. Almost everything that I buy is $0.50 or more cheaper PER item at Wal-Mart than the cheapest grocery store around here. They get such deep bulk discounts and really pass it along to us, the consumer. I can justify driving around 2 or 3 places for groceries right now with the gas prices being so low. Gas prices was the only thing from stopping me from shopping like this prior to now!
For those of you who don't know about Shop n Save, they have what they call $10 Thursdays. For certain Thursdays, they give you $10 off your purchase of $50. So, I save all my coupons and buy items that are on sale. I save triple my money!!! Report
I shop ping for 2. We go to 2 or 3 maybe 4 stores at the beginning of the month. Read advetrisements for sales and make list for stores and what i need from them. Food 4 Less only for the meat and buy large packeges and wrap up what we need for one night and freeze. go to Winco for other things. Farmers market up the road from me for fruits and some veggies. The Dollar tree has some great buys, too. Yes, i shop at the Dolalr Tree. I got some great bargains on Beef Brough for Soups and stews and home made chicken soup (the chicken broth) and used that at Thanksgiving time, also. I buy Almonds and Walnuts in Bulk. Beans, Oats, Lentils, Rice all in Bulk. Report
Powdered milk is disgusting, sorry, unless you're using in recipes. I remember my mom tried to save money with powdered milk, and we kids wouldn't touch it. It's hard enough to get kids to drink enough milk. It should at least taste fresh.

Cooking your own dried beans lets you control the sodium, and they really do taste better. You can do them in the slow cooker. If you haven't tried cooking and mashing your own pinto beans for burritos, you're in for a treat.

I cook my own cornbread from scratch. It makes great stuffing when mixed with sauteed vegetables and cooked right in the skillet. I add cooked yellow split peas for moisture, fiber, and protein, and they disappear completely. Nobody notices them!

We don't have discount markets in our little town, so I watch the ads closely. You can learn the "ad rhythm" of your store, and stock up on loss leaders. Report
These are great tips for families, however, it's a bit tougher for those of us who are single, living in small apartments with tiny apartment freezers. Report
I look at all the sale adds first. Check my coupons and make lists of the coupons. I check the prices at the stores that don't double coupons ahead of time. Prices may change but that is how I get an idea who charges more for items. I go to the grocery store when it is not crowded so it is easier to get assistance. I buy in bulk when it is cheaper. Sometimes items are on sale in smaller quantities and then that is more cost efficient. I cook large quantities and freeze.
When something is on sale at a good price I buy a large amount.
Some stores price match if you have the flyer with you. I take this seriously and I am organized. I never make a 'special' trip since this is an added gas expense.
There are many web sites that offer coupons that you can download as well as the Sunday newspaper. I often find coupons for other items in the magazines as well for other items and not just grocery items.
I find that the more careful I am the less I spend. I use the crock pot, toaster oven and microwave to save on electricity. I have made a lot of changes and do not want to list it all here. I'll blog instead.
Overall we are spending a lot less money this year than last year. Report
A lot of times, I'll take my coupon into the store, only to find out that the store brand is cheaper anyways! I take advantage of generics wherever I can - cereals, oatmeal, condiments, coffee, canned goods, cheese...etc. etc. etc.

I know they're cheaper, but I cannot get myself to eat canned veggies anymore. Frozen is not that much more expensive, so I just stick to that. I do keep a couple cans in the pantry for emergencies, but I just can't handle the sogginess and lack of flavor! Report
While eating healthy all the time is great.....some people just can't afford it in their budgets and things like rinsing fruits acked in syrup helps. I have a budget of $60/week for my family of 5. Sometimes I can do great and other times we just have to "make do." :) Thanks for the tips! Report
I follow those healthy guidelines but when I have off weeks I don't plan and I do run up the grocery bill more. So it just goes to show you that planning is a key really thanks for the tips. Report
I understand that this article is about saving MONEY but lets keep in mind that Sparkpeople is a HEALTH website. So we shouldn't jeopardize health to save a few pennies. Lower sodium varieties of canned vegetables and legumes are always healthier. And you can rinse these too for even less sodium. And canned fruits should be packed in JUICE or WATER not syrup. That's many sugary unneccessary calories. You can save your money with coupons or other ways that don't sacrifice healthiness.

My biggest money saving technique is with yogurt and oatmeal. Buy Bulk oats and add fruits, spices, nuts to create your own flavors. If you need a quick breakfast. Try making it early and freezing it. Or prepackage your different flavors. I do the same with yogurt. If you buy a big tub of all natural, unflavored yogurt, you save a bundle opposed to buying those colorful little tubs. Just portion it out and add your flavors. Its delicious! Report
Thank you for the links to the month-to-month guides! Report
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