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Stretching Your Food Dollars

Groceries are expensive. Have you ever gone into a store for a few items, only to leave with several bags of groceries and an empty wallet? Saving money doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor. Use these tips to stretch your groceries and food dollars.

Plan ahead – create a weekly menu.

While it’s tempting to run into the store on your way home to pick up food for that night’s dinner, you’ll save more money if you plan ahead. Think about what meals you want to prepare for the week before going to the grocery store. Meals such as soups, stews, casseroles, and stir-fries are considered more economical.

Plan your menus around the store’s weekly circular, which will help you take full advantage of the store’s sale prices. Base your meals on this.

Shop the kitchen.

Take inventory of the food you already have on hand in the fridge, freezer, and pantry. Make a list of items needed. This is a great way to prevent food waste.

Look for sales.

Utilize coupons. You can clip paper coupons, print paper versions from a store’s website, or click digital versions in your favorite store’s app. Don’t buy items just because you have a coupon. Take advantage of weekly store ads. Check for food deals online or look for sales in your local newspaper.

Don’t shop hungry.

If you shop hungry, your stomach will steer your spending. Try to get the shopping done when you can shop on a full stomach.

Stick to the list!

Organize your list by category and layout of the store; that way, you’ll prevent backtracking. It is essential to stick to the list and to make sure that you buy everything on it, and not extra items. This will prevent you from making impulse purchases, and help you to avoid return trips to the store because you forgot an item.

If you prefer, make your grocery list online and take advantage of in-store grocery shopping services for delivery or pick-up to save time and avoid any impulse shopping pitfalls.

Comparison shop.

Check the unit prices (the cost per ounce or pound) when comparing products to see if you’re getting the best value. If the unit price is not listed, simply divide the total cost by the number of units.

Go off-brand.

If you aren’t brand loyal to a product, then try generic or store label items. Look beyond the label and compare the ingredients. You’ll find that most of the time, the ingredients are the same, but the price is different.

Cook beans and rice.

Cooking with dried beans and rice requires a little extra time to save a lot of money. Canned beans and instant or frozen rice are fine for convenience, but if you eat a lot of beans and or rice, dried will take your dollar further.

No pre-washed bagged greens.

Buy, wash, and chop your lettuce or greens. Buying pre-washed bagged greens is always more expensive, even if it is convenient. This also applies to other produce – wash, separate, and cut it yourself.

Shred the cheese.

A block of cheese will always be cheaper per pound than a bag of shredded cheese. Fresh-grated cheese doesn’t contain added preservatives, chemicals, and anti-caking agents.

Use a variety of protein sources.

Look for specials at the meat counter. Buy cuts of meat that are on sale and freeze the extras. Try cooking cheaper cuts of meat in a slow cooker. Buy a whole chicken and chop it yourself to save a few more dollars at the store. Don’t forget about vegetarian protein sources, like beans, nuts, eggs, and soy products. They’re typically inexpensive and provide many of the same nutrients.

Purchase in-season produce.

Fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be lower in cost. In the produce section, stick to in-season fruits and vegetables. Remember, only to purchase what you know will be used in order to avoid throwing away spoiled produce. You’ll get better prices on the frozen versions of the out-of-season produce on your list.

Cook from scratch not prepared foods.

Frozen dinners, prepackaged produce, and prepared deli items are considered convenience foods and tend to be more expensive than those prepared from scratch. Don’t buy the pre-made foods, no matter how good they look. Buy the ingredients and make it for a fraction of the price at home.

Cook extra for future meal.

Consider doubling or tripling your favorite recipes and freezing individual or family portions in separate containers for convenience and savings.

Request rain checks.

When an item that most people use goes on sale at the store, it sells out quickly. Inquire about getting a rain check. If you had intended to buy multiple of the item, make sure that is noted on the rain check.

Use up leftovers.

Avoid throwing leftover food out by using it in new ways. For example, yesterday’s chicken can be included in future meals like salads, soups, and casseroles. Throwing away leftovers is like throwing away money, so use them wisely!

Food is a necessary expense that, unlike rent or bills, isn’t fixed. It can vary widely from month to month, and it’s often the easiest place to cut back. By planning menus, creating a shopping list, and cooking at home, you can save money on food.

For more information on healthy eating on a budget, check out USDA’s ChooseMyPlate website at Click on the tab, MyPlate Kitchen, for recipes.

Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator


  •, Michigan State University Extension,
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Extension Educator:
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Issued in furtherance of extension work, acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kelly Crane, Director, University of Wyoming Extension, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Wyoming Extension, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071.

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