Shop Smart: A Guide to Saving Money on Food

You need two items at the supermarket, and quickly run in to get them. Thirty minutes later, you leave with half a cart of food and a wallet $75 lighter. You are not alone in spending your hard earned money food shopping. According to the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion, a family of four spends $148 – $294 per week on food; about $15,000 a year! In this day and age every penny counts! So, learn ways to save money on food.
Menus Work
Plan a menu based upon taste and health issues but keep in mind sale items, coupons and seasonal foods. If you make a menu for longer than a week, be flexible and take advantage of sales.
Clip Coupons
There is a right way to use coupons (clipping coupons only for items you already intend to buy) and a wrong way (buying foods just because you have coupons). People often spend more when using coupons because they buy unnecessary items only because a coupon is offered. Try online options (e.g. and go direct to manufacturers as well as newspaper circulars.
“Todays Special” Worth Every Penny
Some sale items are surprise offerings. How often have you seen a sticker stating, “Today’s Special”? It is often worth it to buy it and adapt the menu. You will often find these special sales at thrift stores.
“Day Olds” to the Rescue
Many stores have a section that offer foods close to the expiration date and/or have damaged packaging available for less than the usual price. If the food item is close to the expiration date, make sure you either eat or process it right away.
Buy Food in Bulk
Buying food in bulk from a big discount store (e.g. BJ’s or Costco) can save money as long as you can eat or process it before it goes bad. Avoid that issue by splitting the food with another (split the cost of the membership, too!). Bulk shopping can lead to cooking in bulk; make multiple meals and freezing them.
Seasonal Foods Make the Grade
Annually, more people discover the value of buying fresh produce and meats from local farmers. Buying in season is an excellent way to get fresh, nutrient dense foods, which tend to be less processed. Try a farmer’s markets or buy a “food share”. A food share is a contracted amount of weekly produce/meats that you and the farmer agree upon. To find farms/farmers markets near you, contact Community Supported Agriculture of Western Massachusetts (CISA) at One Sugarloaf Street/South Deerfield/MA 01373 or call (413) 665-7100 or online at
Grow Your Own
Having your own garden is an ideal way to save money. You will need basic supplies (e.g. seeds/plants, trowel, watering can/hose), and a plot of land with direct sunlight. An excellent resource is Cooperative Extension at for those new to gardening.
Make Your Own Food “Convenience” Foods
The more you have to do to prepare a meal (wash, cut, combine, cook), the more money you usually save. If you can walk out of the store with the meal ready to eat, then you have just paid a lot for convenience. Also, premade foods tend to be higher in calories, fat, sugar and sodium putting you at risk for weight gain and chronic disease.
Bring Your Lunch From Home
Eating out adds thousands to your already stretched food budget. Make sure you have an insulated lunch bag/cooler, thermos and/or kitchenette at work. Plan your meals and make them the night before in order to avoid the morning rush.
Eat a Healthy Diet
“It costs too much to eat healthy” is a common misbelief. Shop smart (as directed above) and you can eat well and save money. In general, it can it can be more costly to buy healthy foods over white bread, luncheon meats, chips and soda. Consider the full cost of poor eating – obesity and chronic disease. Tack on the cost of doctor visits, medications, tests and equipment to those cheaper foods and healthy ones suddenly seem more reasonable.
Also, if you are trying to lose weight, keep in mind that portion control of foods leads to cost savings; eat less, buy less. Also, when dieting, less money is spent on junk food such as cookies, chips and candy.
Don’t Shop Hungry
Eat a meal or at least a snack before you step into the store. When you are starved, everything looks good and saving money goes out the window.
It may take a little time to plan shopping. Your wallet will thank you when the bill is cut. Even a 5- 10 percent savings adds up. Remember that family of four? A 10 percent savings would result in over $1500 saved each year. Isn’t that worth it?
Jennifer Giffune, R.D., L.D.N. is a freelance author, professional speaker and nutrition counselor. She currently is providing nutrition counseling services for Hampden County Physician Associates at their offices in Westfield, Southwick and West Springfield. If you would like to schedule a counseling session with Jennifer, please call (413) 569- 2257.

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