As food costs continue to soar, it's a good time to revisit the basics of frugal food shopping. Follow these tips and, provided you don't end up buying twice as much, you really will see your food costs plummet.
GO WITH CASH ONLY. Shopping with cash and only cash is one of the best ways to make a severe grocery budget work. If you have the discipline of a superhero, good for you. Use your credit card. If you're like everyone else in the world, take cash out of the ATM, and don't let yourself spend a penny more than what you bring. If you're out of cash and there are 10 days of the month left to go, it's time to start raiding your pantry. You might have an odd menu for a few days, but so what? It won't kill you.
PLAN IT OUT. Find recipes that fit your budget. Anyone with a small background in cooking can learn to make great soups and casseroles. Deciding on recipes and planning meals in advance will become a financial lifesaver.
SKIP PACKAGED ITEMS. You pay a big premium for packaged items like salad kits, meals in a bag, fruit snacks, presliced produce, chips and vegetables that come in a steam bag. Anything that has been processed and packaged comes with an additional markup. Peeling potatoes, slicing apples and chopping lettuce might take extra time, but you will be well-rewarded for the effort. And you'll end up with a fresher, tastier result.
Those 100-calorie snack packs are convenient, but they'll blow a hole in your budget. Cut up fruit and vegetables at the beginning of each week, divide them into single portions, and store. If you just don't want to sacrifice your daily Goldfish, buy a large package and divide it into sandwich baggies to save over 30 percent of the cost of single-serving packages.
GRIND YOUR OWN COFFEE. Ground coffee can be marked up to 30 percent higher than whole-bean coffee. It really is worth your while to grind your coffee at home (not to mention the superior taste). If you do not have a grinder, consider investing no more than $20 on a good basic blade grinder.
LOSE THE MEAT. Make your dinner meatless at least three times per week. Think eggs, cheese and vegetables. Try breakfast for dinner with pancakes, waffles, potatoes and so on. You're going to learn that having a meal without chicken or steak is a great way to keep the grocery bill at rock bottom, since meat is one of the most expensive proteins you can buy.
EAT WHAT'S IN SEASON. Eating fruits and vegetables during their natural growing season saves you money because those peaches you love don't have to be transported halfway around the world. And not only that: They are more packed with vitamins and nutrients during that time, and they taste better.
SHOP ON A FULL STOMACH. Sure, we've all heard this one before. But it bears repeating. Shop when you're not a voracious bear. It will engage your brain in a way that will help you make reasonable and frugal food choices and not load up the cart with junk.
SHOP THE SALES. Even if you don't know what will be on sale before you get there, choose the sale version of whatever you need. Do this consistently and you'll cut your grocery tab by at least 40 percent.
Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com and author of 24 books, including her 2013 release, "The Smart Woman's Guide to Planning for Retirement." You can email her at mary@everydaycheapskate. com, or write to Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.