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!

{ 169 Comments }

  1. I place an order for my groceries each week. For a small fee, the store collects my groceries and I pick them up. I am able to take my time, order only what I need for my menu plan and save money in the process!

  2. Congratulations! Would love your book!
    My tip is to stick to whats on your list and not add things when you are at the store…and never go shopping hungry!

  3. I just got the book as an early Christmas gift and am excited to implement some of your ideas already!
    I’d say the crock pot has saved us a lot of money, that and planning ahead. For us poor planning and needing to grab something out (even a frozen pizza at the supermarket is way more expensive than one I can make at home from scratch) is a leak in our budget. Having crock pot ingredients on hand and planning which nights I’ll need to use it has helped on those days when we have a soccer game at 4pm and need to be at church at 7pm!

  4. My tip: buy, store, and eat seasonally. When apples are in season, buy in bulk, eat lots of fresh apples out of hand, and make apple sauce, apple butter, and other apple goodies for later. You’ll save money, you’ll eat better, and you’ll know what’s in your food.

  5. going to give your cookbook as a Christmas gift!

  6. Here’s a tip: Make your own ~ taco seasoning, Italian dressing, ranch dressing, cream soup base, etc. Saves a mint and you can pronounce all of the ingredients.

  7. Congrats on the much deserved recognition. I’ve found the best money saving tip for me lately is to shop without my kids if possible. That way we don’t “accidentally” buy non-list items!

  8. Happened to have the TV on this morning, which is rare, and saw your book highlighted! Congratulations for that fabulous exposure!

  9. I don’t have any tips that people don’t know already – careful with sales, and don’t go to the store every single time we need something.

  10. My money saving tip is a very obvious…have a meal plan…I try to plan out a month at a time and do most of the shopping in one trip. When I have the plan, then there is no last minute, “What on earth is for dinner” at 5 pm…you know the panic…anyway, that makes life and our budget work much better.
    C~

  11. I found out about your book and your blog today aftering watch GMA! My money saving tips are some of what others have mentioned such as meal planning and planning meals around what’s on sale that week and shopping by myself without my Hubby or Daughter. Another thing I have done is to cut down on the amount of meat we eat at a meal and replace it with more veggies. We are a family of 3 so when I cook, I make it for 4 people then Hubby has food for lunch at work to cut down on the expense of eating out.

  12. My grocery store offers coupons for $25 off when you buy a certain amount, so i do one large shopping trip once a month so that my bill is high enough to use the coupon. Then i limit myself to only one trip to the store a week, for milk and eggs and fruit.

  13. Every time you brown a pound of ground beef, put two Tablespoons of it in a container in your freezer. You’ll never even know it’s missing. Then after a few times you have enough saved for another meal.

  14. Trying to go to the store less often and using my list – I tend to make them and forgot them! – organization is my key to 2010!

  15. My tip: If anyone in your family is on a special diet (gluten-free, etc.) and you shell out big bucks at the health food store for items they can eat, check Amazon.com or other online retailers. You can often find giant-sized packages which are much cheaper ounce-for-ounce than the little bags from the health food store, and if you buy enough, you can get free shipping. You can save even more if Amazon.com offers their subscribe-to-save service on the items you need, and it can be canceled at any time.

  16. My best tip is don’t shop when hungry or pressed for time. I don’t plan my shopping until the grocery ads come out and spend as much as I can on sale items.

  17. Jacqueline Strawder says:

    I actually work in a grocery store …I found that I need to keep my wallet at home ….that way I can’t but that ONE thing that I think I need for dinner. The same would work when you go shopping…take only the cash you have budgeted for the week…that way you CANT spend more and your hips will love ya for passing up those day old brownies …lol

  18. Pat Hoffmeister says:

    My tip is to cook, don’t order out, don’t eat out! It doesn’t take much time or effort once you get in the habit.

  19. Susan Reeder says:

    My tip is leave your children home why you grocery shop is at all possible because then you don’t buy what they want, and stick to your list. This also helps you focus your attention on the deals and coupons you need to use.

  20. laundry – I really think Name Brand detergents like Tide Total Care are best for getting out stains and keeping clothes looking new. But it is so expensive – so I just use the Tide for good clothes and use cheaper, storebrand or coupon deal detergent for sheets, undies, towels, etc.

  21. Well my incentive right now to save money is because we desperately want to save money to adopt more children. 🙂 I do lots of canning to save on grocery bills. I can things we grow and things family and friends give to us. I have also learned to can homemade soups and chili which are great for when you have one of those days where supper plans didn’t happen…..like today. lol. But, the homemade canned chili was ready in minutes.

  22. My tip:
    Try to use double plays… aka: sale items with a coupon. BUT… Don’t buy items JUST because you have a coupon.

  23. I’m all about my meal plan and only shopping once a week, preferably without kids! I’d LOVE to win a copy of your book! What great press it’s gotten!!

  24. We save all of our leftovers in the freezer for vegetable soup.
    I would love to get your book and dig into it for all the great ideas.

  25. I would love to win a copy of this book. One of my favorite money saving tips is… use the library! You can rent movies, get on the internet, borrow books, music etc and all for free (if you return on time!)

  26. I’d love a copy of your cookbook. I’ve learned to plan ahead and make my meal menues, this saves me time and money at the grocery store. Also find that making extras and freezing has been a big help for me.

  27. Mary, I’d LOVE your book!
    My tip is this – every once in a while make a game out of using only what you have in your pantry/freezer. We were forced to do this when my husband was out of work and we had 10 mouths to feed, but surprisingly we didn’t go hungry and I avoided going to the store.

  28. jeannie, who will do just about anything to make her life in the kitchen less complicated and less, in general, needs HELP big time. she tries not to impulse buy in the grocery store, but she doesn’t plan ahead like you do. jeannie needs this book…

  29. Make your menu plan based what you already have and supplement with only sale items. Bring just enough cash to pay for your listed items. Buy only what’s on the list.

  30. This may not be a tip everyone can use, but they charge for plastic grocery bags here… and 20 cents might not seem a lot at the time, but I see how many bags we have accumulated and shudder to think at how much money has been spent! So, my tip is to take your own dang grocery bags to the sore!

  31. Pay cash. That way you can’t overspend! And don’t pop to the shop for one item. Try to go just once a week and make do with what is in the cupboards and freezer if you have the sudden urge to go and get one or 2 items. We all know that means 2 carrier bags!

  32. I live in Asia, so my situation is a bit different, but to save money, I like to make things in bulk and then freeze them for when time is tight. Some things I like to freeze are vegetable soup (make a grilled cheese and you have dinner), spaghetti/pizza sauce, homemade pizzas, etc. Having a quick fix ready keeps me from ordering take-out or buying expensive import items to save time.

    Also, I never knew how to make a white sauce until I moved to where cream soups are $3 a can (if you can find them at all). A homemade sauce is so versatile and it tastes SOOO much better than a canned cream soup.

  33. I always try to live by the Pantry Principle. When food items are on sale, I stock up. Then I plan my menus around the sale items that I already have in my pantry. I rarely pay full price for anything that I need for the week’s menus. I would love to have a copy of your book. Our library didn’t have a copy, so I had to get it from Interlibrary Loan and could only keep it for two weeks!

  34. My tip is: Don’t go to Target when you feel sad/overwhelmed/needy.
    The end.

  35. Sounds like a great book to own! Ann in Indy

  36. I am trying to pay ONLY with cash. I need to learn many more money saving tips though!

  37. We have our milk delivered by a local dairy each week. This prevents me from running to the store “just for milk.” Even though I pay $1 more a gallon for the delivered milk… I am 1)Supporting a local business and 2)I end up making fewer trips to the grocery store. 🙂

  38. I borrowed your book from the library and loved it so much I think I will need to buy it when I return the library’s copy 🙂 Thanks

  39. 1. Leave the husband and kid(s) at home- shop alone and you won’t find items in your cart that you don’t recall placing there…
    2. Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead. I just recently starting planning meals on a weekly basis and can’t figure out why I didn’t do it before. This greatly reduces the need for convenience foods and take out because the fridge is empty or nothing is defrosted!
    3. Brown bag it. I take leftovers for lunch nearly every day. My husband, unfortunately, does not and I cringe to think of the amount of money he spends on eating out every day. And the calories/fat/sodium he’s consuming! It makes me sad but I can’t force him to stop so I gladly brown bag it to save money and my health.

  40. The money saving tip that works for our family is to let my husband do the grocery shopping. He is much better at sticking to a list. We also buy our meat in bulk from a farmer.

  41. Produce can be expensive, but I buy what’s in season and on sale. We eat lots of carrots and bananas year round, but in winter we eat lots of cabbage, broccoli, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, citrus, kiwis, pears, and apples. In summer we have a good bit of produce from our garden. I think eating seasonal foods and basically taking advantage of what’s available (I check marked-down produce at my stores whenever I shop) can save a lot of money and allow you to eat really well.

  42. Many of the tips I have are already listed by the smart ladies that posted earlier…One we use often though is to eat leftovers. Get creative. Or don’t and just reheat. Remembering that you don’t have to LOVE every meal helps. If it is good and fills up the family that can be enough.
    I’d love to check out your book…thanks for the opportunity to win it!
    Merry Christmas!

  43. I don’t know what to say that hasn’t been said already.

    Hmm…

    Alright. Learn to cook peasant food from every culture that interests you. The food made by the poor around the world is usually tasty, nutritious, and made of the most inexpensive ingredients available. It’s usually meatless, almost always hearty and really, really interesting to cook and eat. That’s what we do.

    Also, you can make at home what you might eat in a fancy restaurant for a quarter if the price and it will taste better, because it’s not restaurant production cooking. You can actually simmer the chicken and shrimp in the sauce rather than getting a sauce with precooked chicken and shrimp added at the last minute that is essentially flavorless. We don’t eat out anymore, because we like our own cooking better.

  44. I love this web site!! Congratulations on your book and family:-)
    I would love this book it looks awesome!!!

  45. I love this web site!! Congratulations on your book and family:-)
    I would love this book it looks awesome!!! Oh another tip grow your own herbs its easy and saves lots on your recipes:-)

  46. For me, a little time spent planning ahead pays dividends. I always peruse the Wednesday and Sunday grocery ads from the newspaper and I try to have as little store or brand loyalty as possible. I use the ads to plan my meals (if broccoli is $.60/lb Broccoli Soup or a broccoli side are sure to end up on our menu for the week) and I also use them to take advantage of price matching so I am not running to a bunch of different stores. From there, I match my list up with the coupons I collect and, voila, I have a grocery bill I can live with. I figure I can trim an easy $20 on each big grocery trip simply from planning ahead!

  47. I shop at Aldi. Then I don’t have to worry so much about coupons and sales. This month I did one big trip for all my staples and then I had to get only the fresh foods. I also make enough for a couple of days. When I can get everyone to eat the leftovers it is great–I get a day off and we don’t need to spend money for it to happen.

  48. My grocery budget has been reduced by ensuring I use up as much as my fresh produce aspossible. By this I mean that if you are buying a pumpkin to cook with a meal, don’t throw away the seeds. Instead roast them as a tasty snack for later. Did you know you can eat the stalk of the broccoli? I grate it and fry it up in a pan with some oil, salt and pepper.

    If I cook something one night and find I do not use up all the ingredients, I store the remainder in the fridge and cook something the next night which will use up the remainder of the ingredient.

  49. I’ve been wanting you book,I even checked our costco but it wasn’t there.
    My tip is to get your husband involved, mine will do the dishes the night before so I can have a clean sink when cooking. If we eat dinner at home it saves alot and my hubby can hold me accountable.

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