Cutting Grocery Costs

Food costs take up a significant portion of everyone's budget, and we incur these costs month after month. While it is possible to eat for a dollar a day if you're desperate, curious, or masochistic enough, most of us have the money and the desire to purchase foods we enjoy. To save money on groceries, you can do lots of things besides clipping coupons (which I never do). Here are a few ideas to help you save money and add some spice to your routine.

Shop at ethnic markets. I find that a lot of really wonderful, exotic, and flavorful dishes can be recreated rather simply and cheaply at home. Visiting your local ethnic grocery stores can be a great way to indulge in a little bit of restaurant-style eating without actually having to spend money on a restaurant. Also, these stores tend to offer very affordable (and sometimes stunningly cheap) prices on things that you didn't even realize your traditional grocery store was marking up, like tortillas and soy sauce. Finally, shopping at an Asian market when you've been raised on mac and cheese will also give you the opportunity to try a wide variety of new foods and discover new things to enjoy.

Shop at farmers' markets. Not only is the produce you get from the farmers' market fresher and of better quality than the stuff you buy at the supermarket, but often it's a lot cheaper as well. You're buying your fruits and vegetables from the farmers themselves, thereby cutting out the middleman (which always saves money). Best of all, you're buying from people who love what they do, meaning that you're bound to get an overall better experience at these small markets than from the big chains. You may also have access to a wider variety of produce -- ten kinds of apples instead of three, for example.

Start your own garden. This can wind up being more work and costing more money than you think if you aren't careful, but if done properly, not only can you cultivate your own food and cut your grocery bill, but you can also dine with the satisfaction of eating something that you grew yourself.

Share. Buying items in bulk or wholesale quantities and splitting them up with friends, relatives, or neighbors can reduce trips to the store and save money for everyone involved.

Instead of clipping coupons, get companies to mail you their manufacturer's coupons. Most of the time, a phone call, letter, or email to a business with a comment or especially a complaint about one of their products will land you a stack of valuable coupons. Make sure to give your address when you write.

Learn how to make gourmet items at home. Not only will it save you money on treats for yourself, but you can use these items as inexpensive gifts for others. Oftentimes, following a recipe is much simpler than you'd think. You may not have considered doing things like making your own candy or ice cream, but I find it to be both cost-effective and fun. I invested in an ice cream maker and have saved untold money on ice cream -- not to mention the unique flavors I've been able to enjoy and the satisfaction I get from creating them. I also recently made chocolate truffles, and it was a surprisingly simple and cheap process -- way better than paying $8 a pound!

So the next time you're looking for ways to trim your monthly grocery budget, keep in mind that your taste buds don't have to suffer. What tips and tricks do you use to save money on food?

Photo by taberandrew

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