Smart SpendingSmart Spending

30 tips to save on food

We set out to create the definitive list of tips for cutting food costs.

By Stacy Johnson Apr 30, 2012 1:34PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyAccording to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. household spent more than $6,000 on food in 2010 (the most recent year for which data were available). Since the average household spent just over $48,000 in total that year, that means more than 12% percent of the average family's budget was for food.

So, taking a bite out of your food budget is a worthy goal. And it's achievable: Food offers tons of ways to save. Slice just 10% from the average food bill and you'll free up $600 for things like paying off debt or beefing up savings.In the video below, Stacy Johnson shares his five favorite ways to save money on food. Check it out, then read on for many more.

1. Stop paying for names. Years ago, Johnson stood in a Walgreens with a camera and microphone and asked people why they were buying name-brand over-the-counter drugs when identical generic versions were available for half the price. Answer? Either "This is what I've always bought," or "If it costs more, it must be better."

Are there situations where name brands actually deliver quality or taste that makes them worth the extra money? Of course, and that's when you should buy them. But if you're paying 30%more for  sugar, salt, flour, bleach or other simple staples, wake up and smell the (generic) coffee.

2. Bulk up. If you know you'll use all of it, buy it in bulk. For example, I can buy a pound of rice at my grocery store for $3.15. Instead, I buy 25 pounds at Sam's Club for $9.99. By buying in bulk, I save $2.75 per pound. Can't begin to use it all? That's what friends and freezers are for.

Just because something's available in bulk, however, doesn't automatically make it a smart buy. Generics are often cheaper than bulk-packaged name brands. 

3. Shop salvage grocery stores. In "Saving money with salvaged groceries," Johnson showed how to save 30% to 50% shopping in salvage grocery stores, which specialize in things like dented cans and odd lots. Find salvage grocery stores by state here.

4. Use coupons everywhere. The routine used to be: Clip coupons from the newspaper, head to the store. Now it's checking the Web before hitting the store.

Always use an online coupon search engine to find deals before you shop. Another good source is manufacturers' websites. But the simplest thing to do is to plug the names of the items on your list into your favorite search engine along with the word "coupon" and see what comes up.

5. Price match. Some retailers will price match any store's weekly ad. For instance, I collect weekly ads for every grocery store in my area and ask Wal-Mart to price match if the sale price at another store is lower. I save money two ways -- lower grocery prices and less driving.

6. Substitute cheaper ingredients for expensive ones. Just because a recipe calls for fancy cheese doesn't mean you have to use it. You can substitute cheaper ingredients in most dishes -- or use substitutions for an ingredient you don't have on hand. Check out The Cook's Thesaurus for a list of substitutions.

Image: Groceries (© Jeffrey Hamilton/Getty Images/Getty Images)7. Make your own. Homemade is not only cheaper than premade and prepackaged, it tastes better and is probably healthier. So buy fresh ingredients and do it yourself, not just for the obvious things like pasta sauce, but even condiments like salsa and jam.
8. Extend meat. My mother used to add a little oatmeal to chopped fish or cottage cheese to hamburger. Oatmeal and cottage cheese are cheaper than fresh meat, and you won't notice a difference in most recipes.

9. Stop buying bottled water.ABC's 20/20 asked scientists to analyze five different brands of bottled water. The result: There was no difference between the bottled stuff and the tap water in New York. If you think you can taste a difference, buy a filter and fill up your own bottles for a fraction of the cost.

10. Buy whole fruits and vegetables. You can buy a whole pineapple on sale at my grocery store for $2.50, or a smaller container of cut pineapple for $3.50. Don't pay people to do your chopping or grating for you. 

11. Buy in season. Fruits and vegetables are cheaper when they're in season. The Produce for Better Health Foundation has a list of fruits and vegetables available by season.

12. Plan your menu around ads. The simplest way I've slashed my food bills is by planning my weekly menu around the grocery ads, not what I'm in the mood for at the moment. It takes a little creative thinking, but I've cut food spending by up to 50% this way.

13. Go vegetarian. Vegetables, beans and soy products cost less than meat. If you can make even one meal a week a meatless one, you'll save money. I've cut down to two meat dishes a week. Instead of buying four packages of chicken monthly at $8.50 apiece, I now buy one, for a savings of $24.50.

14. Replace sodas. Sodas are expensive, empty calories, but I get it -- sometimes you just want something sweet. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I buy Kool-Aid, tea, or drink powders. They're all cheaper than soda.

15. Shop the bottom shelf. Grocery stores put the most expensive products right at eye level. You'll typically find cheaper options on the bottom shelves. 

16. Look for manager's specials. Grocery stores may offer deep discounts on food near its expiration date. I recently purchased a pound of organic chicken tenders for $2.18 on manager's special -- $6.32 off the usual price. This works as long as you eat or freeze the foods before they expire. (See "When does food really expire?")

17. Start a coupon swap. I don't need diapers, but I do need dog food. To maximize savings, a couple of friends and I swap coupons.

18. Pay attention at checkout. Specials change weekly, and prices don't always ring up correctly. When you're checking out, watch the register and double-check your receipt. If you notice an error, ask the cashier to correct it.

19. Compare unit price. Larger sizes aren't always cheaper, and sales aren't always the best deal. Most grocery stores list the per-unit price on the price tag. Compare the unit prices for everything you buy.

20. Send off rebates. Send away for every rebate you're offered -- even if it's for only $2. Those small amounts will add up over time. I've made $47 so far this year from rebates at Sam's Club alone.

21. Freeze leftovers. One reason people give for buying expensive, preprepared food is that they don't have the time to make things from scratch. Really? I invested in a few dozen plastic containers. When I cook, I make enough for two or three more meals and freeze individual portions. When I don't feel like cooking, I have plenty of frozen dinners on hand that cost less than the boxed kind.

22. Use a list. Want to slice your food bill by 10%? As Johnson mentioned in the video, using a list will help you avoid impulse buys. Also, whenever possible, shop without kids or spouses who act like kids.

23. Get membership cards. Many retailers offer a membership card, and you'll get access to discounts if you sign up.

24. Check expiration dates in the store. Do this before you put something in your cart. But if you get home and discover the yogurt expired a week ago, take it back and ask for a refund.

25. Get a rain check. If your grocery store runs out of a sale item, ask for a rain check. Then you can come back and buy the item later at the sale price.

26. Use everything in the fridge. Wasted food is wasted money. In "4 free tasty food apps for foodies," I mentioned the BigOven app. Enter three ingredients you have on hand, and the app will give you a recipe idea.

27. Save free condiments. Save those little condiment packages you get with your takeout. In a pinch, they’ll save you from having to run out and buy condiments at full price.

28. Start scrap containers. I keep scrap containers for leftover vegetables and fruit in my freezer. When the containers are full, I use the scraps to make vegetable broth or add them to a soup or, in the case of fruit, make a smoothie.

29. Don't buy snack foods. One of the most expensive things in the grocery store,  especially when you consider cost vs. nutrition, is snack foods. They're not doing anything for your wallet or your waistline. Fruit is far cheaper than candy, and much better for you. Not sweet enough? Make your own Popsicles with Kool-Aid. Still not enough? Bake your own cookies or cakes. The Web is full of homemade snack recipes.


30. Shop online. You might find better prices than those at the local grocery store. Which website has the best prices? Check out "The cheapest groceries online: Wal-Mart vs. Amazon."

Is there anything you can add? Let us know by leaving a comment. 

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money

May 7, 2012 9:34AM
That's nice, buy dented cans and risk getting botulism to save 5 cents.

All good suggestions. My two cents to add:


1) short-dated meat. If it expires that day or tomorrow, most stores discount it by 50%. As long as the colour is good, i buy and use that night or wash, pat dry and freeze for use later.

2) The article mentions scraps. I inlude in that scraps from my juicer. Fruit scraps freeze and can be added to muffins and cakes, veg scraps add to sauces, soups and chilis.

3) You can extend lots of things other than meats. Frozen pasta meals on sale or Raman noodles can be extended with an extra handful of boiled pasta or rice, any canned soup can be doubled with leftovers from the fridge or freezer.

4) Anything can be made into a soup, stew or chili- anything!

5) Save even the smallest leftovers from dinner even if it doesnt look like enough to save. One night a week that small bit of whatever and a bagel/toast or side salad will be enough for a meal.

Aug 10, 2012 6:33PM
ya' know moriah c.........IF you can't identify that a dented can has been punctured and/or now is most likely expanding inside (which clearly can be seen!), in other words, if your eyes and nose can't tell you something is bad, PERHAPS you should have someone else shop for you!
May 1, 2012 7:34PM
all good ideas, people should take advantage of them.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.