Get More Out of Your Grocery Budget

Your shopping habits may be allowing precious dollars to slip through the cracks. Stop it! Avoid these five pitfalls and you'll get more for your money.

Are you spending too much cash on your weekly groceries? No matter how much of a budget-friendly shopper you may be, you could be making a major blunder at your local grocery store--costing you time and money. Avoid these common market mistakes and you'll save yourself a bundle. 

1. Getting Taken on Takeout
Food and beverages comprise 15 percent of the average household budget, and nearly half of that is spent on meals eaten away from home—an average of $2,700 a year! Plan and shop for at least three dinners a week and put leftovers in individual-serving size storage containers so they're ready to go to work in the morning. Stock up on easy-to-grab yogurt, fruit, raw veggies and granola bars for fast brown-bag meals.

2. Planning Meals Based on the Cookbook Instead of the Store Circular
Save big on grocery bills just by surfing your grocery store circular online before you shop, and basing meals on what's on sale that week. Also plan menus around what's in season: Find a farmers' market near you by searching this site from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

3. Ignoring Coupons
Try a web site like couponmom.com (free, but registration required), which publishes weekly lists by state and grocery store showing the best bargains. The site also tells you whether a coupon is available for an item by listing the circular name—such as "Redplum"—and its date. If you get the local Sunday paper, pull out the coupon circulars, write the date on them and save them in a drawer. When you're ready to shop, go to the coupon website, click and print the items you want, grab your dated circular from the drawer, clip the relevant coupon and go. (You can also search for coupons online at coupons.com or couponcabin.com.)

4. Misplacing Your Loyalty
Don't be brand loyal when you shop—buy the cheapest variety of whatever is of your list, whether it's the store brand or name brand on sale. But do be faithful to the grocery store's loyalty card—that little piece of plastic can add up to big savings over time. Some stores—such as Kroger—now allow customers to register their store loyalty cards with a manufacturer's web site (such as Proctor & Gamble) and have "digital" coupons downloaded electronically.

5. Wandering at the Warehouse Club
Staples like milk, cheese, butter, eggs, bread and produce are typically a better deal at a warehouse club than at the grocery store—just don't get distracted by the luxury goods on sale. Buy ingredients in bulk, double your recipe, and freeze the second meal to save money and time (and helping to avoid pricey takeout meals). Split the produce packages with a friend so you get the deal but avoid spoilage.

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