Food & Finance -- Money-Saving Tips

By: Roni
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Hi readers! Welcome to my inaugural Food & Finance post. While the mere arrival of the New Year is cause for happiness, the current economic situation is not. Since my role at Food Network is to save the company money, I wanted to share some handy tips on reducing your food bill.

Whether single, a couple or family of 12 – we all eat; and my guess is that most of us can do it for less. Every month, I'll share suggestions for eating in, eating out, and even entertaining on a budget. I’ll answer your questions and provide a forum for you to share thrifty ideas with fellow readers. So let's all eat amazingly well ( perhaps even better than before) and save stunning amounts of cash – all without extraordinary effort.

Happy New Year and let’s make a plump, juicy bank account the most popular dish of 2009!

Yours in food frugality,
Roni
Money Saving Tips -- Week of January 19, 2009

Write a Food Budget – the key to saving is knowing how much you have to spend in the first place. Once you’ve developed a monthly food budget based on your old 2008 reality, take a stab at chopping 10% - 20% off (yes, I said 10% - 20%). That new number is your goal budget. Follow my Food & Finance tips, track your spending and let me know how your new food frugality works out.

Use a shopping list -- Once you have an '09 monthly goal budget, you have a guide for creating weekly shopping lists (or for however frequently you shop). Unlike a credit card – which you should leave at home, frozen in a block of ice – you should never, ever leave home to shop without your list. Here’s what to do:

1. Compile. Write down everything you intend to buy. Put “ want” next to things you want and “ need” next to things you need.

2. Research. Write down the estimated price of each item, which should be easy after a couple of weeks of reading grocery circulars, checking stickers on the meat in your freezer and, here’s a big one… paying with cash at the supermarket. It only takes ONE event – like having the cashier scream, “ Someone from seafood needs to come to checkout to pick up shrimp; customer doesn't have enough money to pay” on the intercom – to get you to calculate prices. Remember to give yourself credit for any coupons. Then add it all up and write down the total you’ll spend if you buy everything on your list.

3. Compare the shopping list total with your weekly goal budget.

4. Balance. If your list is more than your weekly goal budget, start crossing off your “ wants”. When the shopping list is equal to or less than your weekly goal budget, you're ready to shop. One important tip: Never deviate from the list! If it’s not on there, it should not be in your basket.

Believe me, this pays off. Once you get to the cashier, present your coupons and unload your basket. You won't sweat if you have enough cash to pay for it all. You also won’t be searching your bag for the credit card you de-iced last night. In fact, you may find that you have a few dollars and cents left over to supplement next week’s budget. At the end of the month, you’ve saved 10% - 20% over your oh-so-long-ago '08 food finance drain! Your bank account is getting plumper by the minute.

Clip Coupons – sounds easy and obvious, I know.
Let's separate myth from reality...

Myth: “They're all for packaged foods and I only eat fresh”

Reality: Au contraire! While there are more coupons for packaged goods than fresh foods, there are coupons out there for everything from salad greens to fresh chickens. Markets often have in-store coupons on fresh items as well, including produce and meat – though you may need to become a member of their affinity shopper program to get the discount. Also Fresh Foodie, clip coupons for non-food items to support your fresh food cravings by spending less on everything from razors to paper towels.

Myth: “I look for coupons in my newspaper, but there aren’t that many.”

Reality: Why limit yourself to 19th century technology? No excuses! The internet is nearing its twentieth birthday and you need to embrace it -- coupon sites abound online and on manufacturer websites. Just search for what you want. There are coupons for anything ( perhaps not foie gras), but who’s thinking about that in this year of austerity? Get online, print those coupons and use them at the store. Also check your market circulars for instant in-store coupons (again, joining an affinity program may be required), and scan grocery store shelves and your mail for special offers. Leave no page ( paper or web) unturned.

Photo credit: dollar sign lollipops can be found here.

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