Eight Ways to Save on Grocery Bills

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A Desperate Housewife on ABC (DIS) hit show may not need to clip coupons, but you might. Here are tips.

One result of higher oil prices is that producing food and shipping it to retailer becomes more expensive. That cost often gets passed on to consumers. The U.S. is now seeing the worst food-price inflation in more than a decade. Food prices rose 4% in 2007, according to the Department of Agriculture, compared with a 2.5% annual increase over the previous 15 years.

The trend for 2008 is even worse. Just for the month of March, food prices soared 1.2%. This followed a 0.5% rise in February.

Food prices are bound to keep going up. Other household costs also are rising, and food is one area with some wiggle room in the family budget. The choice is continue to shop like you currently do and get less, or learn to exploit some areas within the system to get more for your dollars.

Here are eight ways you can get more shopping while spending less:

1. Price Book
The first step is to begin a price book for all the items that you regularly purchase.

A price book allows you to track what you have paid for specific items in the past so that you can build a database of good prices. Knowing when a sale price is a great deal will allow you to stock up on the item and save a lot of money over simply purchasing items when you happen to run out of them.

2. Buy in Bulk
Learning to purchase items in bulk that you know you will use over time can be a great way to save money and it's easy to do at warehouse clubs like Costco (COST) and Sam's Club(WMT).

There are two keys to make this food saving strategy work. First, you need to make sure that you use all of the the item and not let a significant portion of it go to waste. Buying a large supply, even when it is cheaper in bulk, doesn't make sense if you have to throw half of it out due to spoilage.

Another issue that many people never consider is that you also need to make sure that you don't use up the item more quickly because you have more of it. Some snacks tend to disappear at a quicker rate when there are a lot of them around. If you lack self control with certain foods, it's often less expensive to buy them in small amounts as treats rather than having a lot around where they get consumed at a quicker rate.

3. Buy From the Source
For fresh fruits and vegetables, skip your local grocery store and head out to the source. A larger number of local now sell their produce directly to consumers through farmers' markets , food coops and directly from their farm. Going directly to the source can get you better quality food for less than what you pay at the supermarket. In addition, you'll know exactly where the food has come from and you can ask the growers directly how their product has been grown.

4. Buy in Season
Learning to purchase food that is in season can greatly reduce the amount you spend at the grocery store. In-season foods will be plentiful and therefore cost much less than those foods that are not in season. Taking the time to vary your menu to include seasonal foods should reduce the amount you spend on food and let you eat produce that is at its peak.

5. Buy Only What You Need
Sometimes the easiest ways to save money when shopping is doing what you know is best for your health. There are likely a large number of products on your weekly shopping list that you like, but you don't really need. Some examples would be desserts, soda and a wide variety of snacks. While giving them up may not necessarily be easy, especially at first, doing so will save you quite a bit of money and you'll feel healthier in the long run.

6. Don't Throw Away Food
This tip may seem obvious, but you probably throw away a lot more food than you realize. In a study for the University of Arizona, Timothy Jones found that an average family of four throws out approximately $600 worth of good food every year. Of that food, 14% hasn't expired or even been taken out of the package.

By simply making better food purchases in quantities that you know that you will consume, and by making meals where you don't have any leftovers that will be thrown away, you will spend less on your overall food budget.

7. Shop Sales
Loss leaders are those sales that the grocery store actually loses money on, but they are so great that they get you into the store. Stores are willing to do this because once they have you there, they have plenty of ways to entice you to spend money.
If you don't fall for these tactics to buy more than you need, learning to plan your meals around what is on sale rather than planning a meal and going to the store can save a lot. When you plan your meals before knowing what are the best deals, you will end up paying significantly more for your meals than if you do it the other way around.

8. Coupons
While there are a lot of people that seem to dislike coupons, taking the time to learn how to play the coupons game can save you hundreds of dollars in food costs.

If you can get out of the mind-frame that the only coupons available or those your Sunday paper, and actively seek out coupons for the products that you buy on a regular basis, you can cut your shopping bill by double digit percentage points fairly easily.

Rising food prices don't mean you have to each cheaper quality, but it does mean that you need to get better at playing the game to get the most out of the money you do spend.

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