Top Money-Saving Tips of 2009

Check out Good Morning America Food Editor Sarah Moulton’s Best Cookbooks of 2009 (video!) Notice a certain orange-covered book on that list?   To celebrate, I’m giving away 5 copies of  Family Feasts for $75 a Week.  To enter, comment and share a money saving tip of your own.

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You know the drill. You walk into the grocery store with a long list and a finite budget. The last thing you want to do is spend two weeks’ worth of grocery money on one week of food. But prices these days make it ever more challenging to stay within a budget. What’s a smart shopper to do?

1. Make a list and check it twice

Lists are tremendous money savers. Begin by thinking in terms of meals. Before I head to the store, I scribble out ideas for two weeks of dinners. Half the meals are family favorites: cheesy chicken enchiladas, creamy potato soup, and pasta carbonera are regulars. I then thumb through cookbooks and fill the rest of the two weeks with new and interesting-sounding recipes.

Once I’ve decided what we’ll be eating for the next couple weeks, next I write down the ingredients that I lack for those recipes. I skim recipes, check the pantry, dig through the freezer, and check my cupboards, making sure that everything I’ll need is either in my kitchen or on my grocery list.   Once I have all the dinner ingredients written down, I add the items we typically use for breakfast and lunch, as well as goodies to make baking possible.

2. Go to the store less often

When you run out of something, write it on your grocery list.   But don’t race to the store the instant your list gets an item or two on it.  Every trip to the store is a  temptation to impulse-buy. So I challenge myself to go just a day or two longer between shopping trips. We live 20 minutes from the store.  The other day when I didn’t want to run to the store just for hamburger buns, I made my own fresh homemade rolls.

3. Expand the list of things you can make yourself

Did you know that you can easily make your own granola? Homemade white sauce takes 5 minutes to make and costs a fraction of a can of cream soup.  Homemade salad dressing is equally fast and will save you a cool $2. Not bad for a 5 minute time investment.  Even better if it saves you a trip to the store where you would potentially spend much more on impulse buys.  Learning to make just one item per week will consistently give you more money in your pocket.  Remember, it’s not only this week’s new recipe that will save you money.  Gradually learning to make a variety of things for yourself will make your savings snowball.

4. Stock up when prices hit rock bottom

And I mean REALLY stock up.  In October I bought enough ground beef on sale to last til February, which effectively extended that October sale for months, for me anyway.  This month I put lots of $1.50/lb butter in the freezer, enough to make baking more affordable all winter for us.

5. Don’t be afraid to try new recipes

To earn a repeat appearance in my kitchen, a recipe needs to be tasty, easy to cook, and have ingredients that are affordable and easy to find.  Don’t overlook ethnic food. I’ve found Chinese, Mexican and Ethiopian food to be both affordable and delicious. This West African Peanut Chicken is a good example. And here’s another bonus:  ethnic grocery stores often have great prices on things like spices, sesame oil, coconut milk, and specialty pasta.

6. Remember WHY you want to save money

I developed my money-saving strategies so that I could stay home with my kids.   You may be dreaming  of finding enough extra cash to pay off a car or take a cruise or have another baby.   Keeping your goals clearly in mind will make it easier to do the little daily things that will move you towards that goal!

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{ 169 Comments }

  1. i just saw a picture of your book on Good Morning America. The story hasn’t been on yet though.

  2. CONGRATS ON THE GMA SHOW!!! Hope the sales go through the roof for you and your family!!!

  3. Plan your meals around what’s on sale. So excited for you!

  4. Congrats on the GMA nod. Best money saving tip: plan your trips so that you do it once and not making multiple trips.

  5. I so want this cookbook! I have just started working on cutting back on our grocery bill and the best thing I have done so far is to learn to make a lot of our snacks – cookies, muffins, breads, etc. This has really saved us a lot!

  6. The most fundamental money saving tip I’ve found is to have a realistic budget.

  7. Congrats!!!My biggest money saver is your #1…make a menu based on what you have already…anything you need goes on “the list” and then only buy what you need. And don’t forget the coupons!

  8. I find that shopping at Aldi for many of the staple items really helps our budget – less options for impulse-buying!

  9. Just saw the Sarah Moulton bit on GMA – THERE was the wonderful book! How exciting to know that is Mary’s work and talent up there being recommended as good way to cook inexpensively but healthy wholesome food – congratulations again!

  10. One of my favorite tips is to make my own breakfasts and keep them in the freezer. Muffins, pancakes, etc. I also make my own oatmeal in the morning. Who needs instant?

    Congrats on GMA!

  11. Plan meals around what is on sale and buy as much of the loss leader as you can afford. I also coupon so most of our Health and Beauty items are free or almost free from CVS. I would love a copy of your book. I am also the mom of adopted children and love to read your blog.

  12. I just saw Sarah Moulton on GMA with your book! Awesome!
    I shop at a store called Sprouts that has produce for cheap, so I can feed my family well for less. I also like to stock up on meats when they are on sale–chicken breast for $1.49/lb, you can’t beat, so I buy about 10 lbs and put it away for later use.

  13. I only use coupons for things I would normally buy. It’s not a savings if I am buying something I wouldn’t usually buy only to use the coupon/save $.30.

    I totally agree with learning to make your own things. I have been making my own spaghetti sauce for awhile now, and not only do I save TONS of money doing this, it tastes so much better (and is probably healthier too).

  14. Oh, how I would love to have a copy of your book! I wish I had a money-saving idea to share. Truth is, this is an area where I struggle, so I’ll be back to read the other comments. So, here’s my tip: get Mary’s book, read her blog and stay off the candy aisle! 🙂

  15. Whenever I need to squeeze more out of the food budget, we end up w/more rice & beans (from scratch of course) on the menu…filling, cheap, yummy, & you can vary them enough to keep them from getting too boring. And in winter especially, hearty soups help stretch the budget.
    Been scanning our Costco for your book because I really want it, but it wasn’t there yet…I’m going again next Monday, so if I don’t win & they have it, its going in my cart. It is however online at Costco.com in case you didn’t know!

  16. Forgot to add, congratulations! So happy for you for all the attention the book is getting…is there another in the works yet?

  17. CONGRATULATIONS!
    My best tip? CHECK YOUR FRIDGE AND CUPBOARD BEFORE MAKING YOUR LIST. I don’t know how many times I’ve cheerfully bought broccoli… only to put it in the fridge next to last week’s still-good broccoli.

  18. How exciting!! Congrats!

    My money saving tip is to eat beans and rice at least one night a week.

  19. Huge congrats! That is such an honor.

    My big tip is to pay attention to those coupons that print off with your receipt. Some of them are really, really good, as in FREE ITEMS. I’ve received free bread, hot dogs, lunch meat, candy bars, 4 packs of batteries.

  20. Just found your blog TODAY after seeing your cookbook on GMA. Congrats!!!

    My best tip is to buy things in bulk–beans, rice, lentils, flour, etc. I’ve saved so much money this year by buying dried beans and cooking/freezing them.

    And another money-saving tip–go meatless a few nights per week.

  21. my tip is to take turns making meals with friends, sort of like a dinner co-op! saw the clip on gma, congrats!

  22. I get the best deals and most for my money when I buy what is on sale plus I have coupons for that can be doubled. Congrats on the book and I am looking forward for the next one!

  23. Hi Mary! Congratulations on making the top two cookbooks!

    My tip is if you are trying a recipe for the first time or just need an ingredient that you “never” use, buy just what you need in bulk so the rest of a whole package of that ingredient doesn’t just go to waste. Definately… shop less often and have a list based on your menu written out. Look through your pantry while making your list and I like to always have one back up of items on hand.

  24. Jeanna Lilleberg says:

    Congratulations on making GMA’s list! I’m not surprised. Can’t wait to have my very own copy. I’ve been really good this year and so I am hoping Santa brings one for me. If not, I’ll have to keep trying to win it! Have a great day Mary!

  25. I try to look at the grocery store ads (meat section) before I make my menu for the week to see what I can make for the deals of the week!

  26. I would LOVE to win a copy of your Feasts for $75 a week. One thing that we do to save money is to share expenses with others. My parents live nearby and we find that it’s cheaper to buy a lot of things in bulk from Costco (like flour and sugar). However, we really don’t need a 25 lb bag of flour or have room to store it. So we share the expense. Each family takes half and we all save money.

    We also will buy take out Chinese or Thai and decline the Rice. We can make our own rice at home to eat with the main dishes that we order. It’s not a big expense, but every penny counts!

  27. Congrats on being features on GMA!!

    My tip is using coupons. I only started this year and can’t believe the money I have saved!!!

    Spend sometime finding online resources for coupons.

    Learn what your favourite stores coupons policies are (like do they coupon stack or have a dollar limit on home printed coupons.)

    Hope I win a copy of your book!

  28. Hi, Mary! I can’t tell you much I’d love to win your cookbook! Congratulations to you. How excited you must be!

    My best tip is to stay away from shopping as much as possible. I, like you, try to put off a trip to the store another day or two – the longer the better. I avoid temptation, impulse-shopping, and the occasional blues that come with not having more money to spend on non-necessities. An added bonus is digging into the back of the fridge, freezer, and pantry to use as much as possible. It feels so wonderful to sit down at the table with the family and discuss with my husband how little it cost to make our meal.

  29. I am working on keeping my fridge more organized so I don’t “lose” leftovers and produce let them go bad.

  30. I just discovered your cookbook thanks to Good Morning America. My best tip — plan your meals each week according to what is on sale!

  31. Tried and true advice…go to the store with a list and make sure you are not hungry when you go 🙂 I would love to win a copy of your book…

  32. My tip is don’t take the kids with you when shopping – so much extra ends up in my cart that way.

  33. My biggest tip is find substitutes when you run out of something. Don’t have cream on hand, try evaporated milk. I also try to go meatless at least once a week.

  34. Hi! I saw the segment on GMA! Actually, I was watching because of another cookbook featured and your book intrigued me, too!

    My best tip – I seem to need multiple strategies depending on the time of year/season/how busy we are.

    My tried and true methods are shopping sales/loss leaders and using the overall lowest price grocery store.

    I need to get better with menu planning and organizing coupons.

    Best of luck with the book! I appreciate the inspiration!

  35. Leave the kids and the spouse at home. More people= more impulse buying….

  36. Mary, I think you know just how INCREDIBLY proud of you I am!

    My money saving tip is to shop with my husband. Seriously.

    We keep each other honest about what we are buying, and make sure that everything we buy is needed.

    Frustrating at time? Yes. Do I want to have smackdown in Aisle 14 sometimes? Oh yes.

    But, in the end it works well for us.

  37. I buy what’s in season, and living in Morocco (don’t worry–I have a US mailing address and I want to be entered to win!) means that I have a wide variety of fresh stuff in all seasons! Yum. Love the local produce! Right now we’re enjoying oranges and strawberries! 🙂 Ok, the strawberries are still early, but soon they’ll be cheap and plentiful.

  38. I would love a copy of your book! My tip is to make a list of meals for the week and always make extras so you either have leftovers or some to freeze for later. Not having to cook an entire new meal every day saves a lot of time and money (keeps me from ordering Chinese or something)

  39. i would love to win your book!!

    my tip is this:
    Cook extra so you have frozen casseroles, taco meat, etc., so you can cook and NOT EAT OUT!

    Eating out is a huge huge money waster, yes, it’s nice, but for what it costs you can buy lots and lots of groceries! And if you need to eat out, do it at lunch when prices are much cheaper!

  40. Nicole Slack says:

    I buy in bulk whenever possible and I buy whatever is cheap at whatever store is cheapest. Our local Asian Food store for instance has GREAT deals on fresh produce, rice, and spices. We make sure that nothing is wasted or forgotten in the fridge. Alot of people think oh well, it’s only 1/2 a bell pepper, 1/2 an onion that went bad but with 4 kids that is a good breakfast of scrambled eggs or part of a dinner recipe.

  41. Like you, meal planning (and making a detailed list from that plan) has saved me money and time. I refuse to go to the store more than once a week, so I’d better have everything I need! Also, your final item: we will be adopting again soon, and that’s all the motivation I need to be as frugal as possible in the coming weeks!
    Congratulations, to you Mary, and to all those who are newly discovering in you the wonderful resource of inspiration that so many of us have known about for years! 🙂

  42. I have found that using beans as a substitute for meat in some dishes has saved a lot on meat. I also do the meal planning for the week so that I don’t over shop for food.

  43. I have six kids and it always seems someone needs money for something. We plan a careful yearly/monthly budget and try to anticipate things like sports registrations and holiday expenses. We also have a little flexibilty built in to cover small, unexpected items. Writing down in the budget the amounts I spend seems to help a lot. Sometimes I will forget I how much I have spent, but after reviewing the budget I can adjust my shopping for the rest of the month. Also, I like to plan my grocery budget by the week, so that I don’t spend it all on a great deal the first week, but run out of money by the end of the month. Some people think staying on a budget is too restrictive, but I think it provides more freedom since I know the funds will be there for things I need.

  44. congrats on the exposure for your book! how exciting!

    one of my money-saving strategies is to procrastinate. some things written on the shopping list…i just don’t bother to pick up. some things we feel we want…i just don’t make time to go get them. sometimes the need just evaporates with a bit o procrastination.

  45. We shop at Aldi and make as much as possible from scratch which not only saves money but is much healthier!

  46. Great to see you acknowledged on GMA! My best tip is to repurpose leftovers (and I’ve learned this from creative blogging moms!).

  47. Kat Gillespie says:

    I would be thrilled to win a copy of your book! My best money saving tip is to shop the warehouse stores with a buddy – in my case, it’s my mom. You get great deals on products that you don’t always need in large quanities, but when you have a friend, you both get what you need and you BOTH get the discount! We even share the membership cost! (I also save $$ by leaving the husband – who thinks he needs to get a “treat” every time we go to the grocery store – at home!)

  48. mom23gr8kids says:

    Your cookbook is wonderful! I checked it out at the library (another cost saving idea!!) and found so many great ideas and suggestions that I would love to have it!

    My cost saving idea is to have a well stocked pantry. When you have the majority of the ingrediants needed for a recipe on hand, it eliminates the need to go the the store(again) and you can get started on your meal sooner.

    Much success on your book! Peace and blessings!!!

  49. We stock up on meat around this time of year (buying a pig to process or deer, there are big meat sales for the holidays, too) and put an inventory list on the fridge so I can creatively plan meals (Don’t want to use things up disproportionately and eat liver for 3 weeks straight at the end!)

  50. My favorite money-saving grocery tip is to cook from scratch. I never buy cream soup or helper anything.