Save Money on Groceries

The Week's Dinners


  • Baked tilapia
  • Brown rice
  • Steamed green beans


  • Egg scramble: "Fry" diced red potatoes in a spray-coated skillet, then scramble in eggs (beaten with milk) and grated cheese.
  • Whole wheat toast
  • Orange juice


  • Grilled chicken breasts
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Garlic-Parmesan penne: Saute minced garlic in trans-fat-free margarine. Toss with cooked penne, plus Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.


  • Take-out on bargain pizza night
  • Carrots and broccoli with salad-dressing dip


  • Shortcut chicken soup: Add shredded chicken, sliced carrots, and whole wheat noodles to two cans of low-sodium chicken broth.
  • Green salad


  • Bean-and-beef burritos: Roll cooked, seasoned ground beef, brown rice, and black beans into wheat tortillas with salsa.


  • Whole wheat penne with meat sauce
  • Green salad

The Shopping List

I filled my cart with these wholesome foods for only $71.23. Woo-hoo!

  • 1 pound fresh green beans
  • 1 bunch carrots
  • 1 large bunch broccoli
  • 2 heads leaf lettuce
  • 1 large bag red grapes
  • 5 medium bananas
  • 3 medium pears
  • 1 box shredded-wheat cereal
  • 1 box baby oatmeal cereal
  • 2 large breaded tilapia fillets
  • 2 packages chicken breasts
  • 1 package ground beef
  • 1/4 pound each cheese, ham
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1 box flavored instant oatmeal
  • 1 box graham crackers
  • 1 box whole wheat penne
  • 1 box instant brown rice
  • 1 box granola bars
  • 2 large containers yogurt
  • 1 container Parmesan cheese
  • 1 block sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 bottle light salad dressing
  • 3 cans chicken broth
  • 1 jar peanut butter
  • 1 box macaroni and cheese
  • 1 can black beans
  • 2 jars applesauce
  • 1 jar salsa
  • 1 single-serve package tuna
  • 1 package tortillas
  • 1 package bagels
  • 1 loaf whole wheat bread
  • 3 half-gallons skim milk
  • 1 half-gallon orange juice
  • 1 dozen large eggs

Why Food Is Taking a Bigger Bite out of Your Budget

Believe it or not, you can blame it on corn!

  • American farmers are growing more corn since the U.S. subsidizes this crop to be used for energy-producing ethanol.
  • They're also growing more corn for export: As populations around the world consume more meat, demand is up for corn as animal feed.
  • More acreage devoted to corn means less to wheat. That's why the cost of flour, bread, and cereal is up by 11.5 percent since last year.
  • Farmers worldwide are also growing more corn -- and fewer fruits and vegetables. Hence, there's less to export. Since so much U.S. produce comes from overseas, prices here have spiked about 14 percent.
  • Packaging, processing, and shipping costs all rose due to high oil prices last fall. Even as the cost of oil declines, it's unlikely those savings will be passed along to the consumer.

Extreme Bargain Hunting

Other small ways to save big on your groceries:

Track Costs
Make a list of 10 to 20 nonperishable items that you buy regularly, and keep tabs on their prices for a few weeks so you'll really know when you find a good deal. Stock up on these essentials when prices hit rock bottom.

Scour Bargain Racks
Marked-down meat is fine if you eat or freeze it the same day. Ditto for fruits and veggies. Get good deals on baked goods at wholesale outlets. Buy soaps and paper goods at discount stores.

Watch for Shrinkage
Manufacturers are dealing with rising costs by downsizing packages: 12 ounces of coffee instead of a pound; 20 cans in a case, not 24. Know exactly what you're getting before you consider it a bargain.

Hunt High and Low
Wholesalers pay extra to have brands shelved at eye level in big supermarkets, and that cost gets passed on to the customer. To find the most economical deals, look on the top and bottom shelves.

Be Brand-Flexible
Buy what's on sale, and don't pass up store brands: The same companies that make name brands often manufacture store brands, so you may be paying a premium for that well-known label.

Beware of Overcharges
Watch closely as the cashier rings up your items -- or go over the receipt once you get home. If you spot an error, call the service desk immediately to say you'll be stopping by for a refund next time you shop.

Originally published in the January 2009 issue of Parents magazine.

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