Lifestyle

Take a bite out of rising grocery bills

Does it seem like you are spending more each month at the grocery store? Well, you are. One only has to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television news to hear that grocery prices are going nowhere but up.

For instance, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the price of a dozen eggs was an average of $1.54 in 2007 and by 2008 had risen to $2.18. The prices of milk, bread and other staples have risen, as well.

With the increasing cost of raw materials, fuel and packaging, prices will likely continue to rise. But even with these high prices, you can still find ways to save. Here are a few ideas:

• Make a weekly menu. Base this on what is in the freezer and pantry, plus the weekly sales circulars. Doing this with the calendar at hand can help to choose easier or faster items for busy nights. For example: a slow-cooker meal for soccer practice night. Planning ahead also prevents that last-minute fast-food drive-through when it’s 6 p.m. and you have no idea what’s for dinner.

Reduce waste by having leftovers one night for dinner, (my family calls this “leftover buffet”) or take dinner leftovers for lunch. Remember, throwing away food is throwing away money.

• Find the most inexpensive store in your area and do most of your shopping there. At a store with low overhead, you usually bag and carry your own groceries and often can only pay with cash or check, but the savings are substantial. Try to keep trips to the store to a minimum.With current gas prices, multiple trips will cut into the savings. I go to my favorite store weekly, then usually visit one more store to take advantage of specials.

• Watch sales and stock up on foods you eat often when prices are low. For example, when whole chickens go on sale once or twice a year, I buy several and put them in our deep freeze.

Also, our favorite soup occasionally goes on sale for about two-thirds the usual price; I watch for this sale and buy up to the store’s limit. When you shop at a more expensive store for specials, stick to your list of sale items. The store expects that you will come in for the sale and do the rest of your shopping there as well.

• Buy in bulk. (No, I’m not talking about storing a year’s worth of flour in your garage!) Find a store that sells bulk flour, sugar, rice, beans, or whatever staple items you use. Buy what you need weekly and store in containers. This is especially savvy when it comes to spices. I recently bought dried basil in bulk and filled my empty basil jar for 33 cents. The original jar cost $6.

• Buy less processed food and cook from scratch as often as possible. This is especially true of snack and breakfast foods. Make the packaged snack food an occasional treat instead of a daily habit.

And for breakfast, cold cereal is expensive, even with coupons. Try hot cereals such as oatmeal or cream of wheat and buy in bulk. Another tip: Make a double batch of pancakes or waffles on the weekend and freeze the excess. They can go straight from the freezer to microwave or toaster and be ready in a snap.

• Look for specials on meat. Stores are legally bound to sell meat by a certain date listed on the package, so they often will mark it way down when the expiration date is near. Most stores have an area for these “manager specials.” Check the dates carefully; you will need to use or freeze it by the date on the package.

Not all of these techniques will work for every family. By trying just a few of these ideas, you can save money. But it takes time. Keep track and look at your average grocery bill over at least six months. When you stock up on sale items some months and are building your pantry, your bill will fluctuate.

It also takes time to scope out the deals, try new recipes and get your family used to new things.

Remember, even small changes add up, so keep trying and you will save.

Tiffany Doerr Guerzon lives in Maple Valley. She can be reached through the Reporter at pjenkins@reporternewspapers.com

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