Cooking up savings with careful planning

March 18, 1998|By Carol J.G. Ward | Carol J.G. Ward,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

You might be a penny-pincher if:

* The arrival of the Sunday grocery circulars are the highlight of your week.

* Convenience foods are a dirty words in your kitchen.

* Leftovers are your best friends.

If any of the above describes you, you're not alone.

A plea from a reader for money-saving grocery tips drew responses from others who shared strategies that help them cut their food bills. Gradecia Medlin of Gaston, S.C., condensed all the advice into one rule: "Grocery savings takes careful planning and determination."

Here are some tips:

* Do your homework. The steps to saving should start before you leave the house. Make a menu and a grocery list and stick to them at the store.

* No one store will always be the best place to shop, so scan grocery ads and circulars. Use them to your advantage, but avoid the store-hopping trap. One strategy is to watch grocery ads carefully, and then shop at the store that has the most matches with your list. Some readers plan meals based on what's on sale.

* Shop smart. Comparison shop and use coupons and sales wisely. It's important to learn typical prices so you'll know if a price is a bargain. One reader keeps a list of 10 or 12 items she buys regularly and compares the prices for those staples at different stores.

* At the checkout, watch scanners carefully. Medlin said, "If you see an error, tell the manager. One grocery store we patronize will give you the item free if it's scanned wrong."

* The consensus on coupons is to use them only for products you plan to buy anyway. To squeeze the most value from a coupon, take advantage of double coupon days, save them until the item is on sale or combine them with customer bonus card discounts. Keep in mind, however, that even when you have a coupon, the store brand still might be cheaper.

* Take advantage of buy-one-get-one-free and other specials if you have storage or freezer space, Medlin said. If a sale item is sold out, ask for a rain check.

* Buying large sizes or stocking up on items at a good price also can save money. Often, the unit price is less for larger containers, but not always. So, do the math. Warehouse clubs and bakery outlets also can be sources for savings, depending on the size of your family and where the stores are located.

* Become an herbivore. Eating less meat is one of the biggest money-savers. Not only will eating more fruits and vegetables make meals cheaper, it will make them healthier. Plan meatless meals every week, using pasta and rice-based dishes. Beans and rice might sound boring, they can be dressed up with tomatoes, home-grown herbs and other inexpensive ingredients.

* Although produce is one of the least expensive items in the grocery store, still look for ways to stretch your dollar. For better taste and less cost, buy produce in season when the price is lower, and don't forget to check bargain bins. If items in the regular produce areas are not up to par, ask for a discount. Visit produce markets and roadside stands or join a produce co-op.

* When you buy meat, get the most for your money. Look for specials or reduced prices on meats nearing the sell-by date.

* Save money by using a smaller quantity of meat than a recipe calls calls for and purchasing whole chickens, which can be cut up and deboned at home. You can also stretch small amounts of meat over several meals. A half of a chicken can be stretched to serve four in a stir fry or in chicken enchiladas. Oatmeal is a nutritious filler in dishes such as meatloaf.

* Create your own low-cost meals. Cooking from scratch is almost always less expensive than buying prepackaged food items, and often it's not that much more trouble.

* Look for recipes that use inexpensive ingredients and invest in a good basic cookbook.

* Use the absolute minimum of convenience foods, sweets and snack foods.

* For breakfast, prepare your own pancake and biscuit mixes. Avoid cold cereals and serve less expensive grits or oatmeal. Make waffles, pancakes and muffins ahead of time and freeze them.

* For healthier snacks, buy plain vanilla yogurt. For fruit-flavored, add preserves, Adams said. Buy store-brand graham crackers or vanilla wafers.

* Nothing should go to waste. Learn to stretch ingredients and to use every drop. Try combining equal amounts of milk and reconstituted dry milk, and use an extra can of water in frozen juice concentrate.

* Leftovers are your friends. Never, ever throw out leftovers even it's just a bite or two. Use your imagination and concoct recipes using them. Turn leftovers into new meals such as turnovers or cut meatloaf into cubes and serve it as meatballs with spaghetti. Freeze leftover vegetables and use them in soup.

With careful planning using a few of these tips, you might find that a trip to the grocery store doesn't have to be a weekly blow to your budget.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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