For many people, cutting back on their grocery budgets can be an overwhelming experience. They know they're spending too much, but don't know where to begin to cut. Often, they fear that they will deprive themselves and their children if they become frugal. The good news is that there are ways to have your cake, eat it and save money at the same time. The whole secret is to start slowly. There are countless ways you can cut, but if you need to, target just one thing at a time - you will still be saving money if you do only one thing.
If you are a frugal beginner, try these simple suggestions for saving on your food bill:
Cooking frugally is like changing your diet. You need to learn gradually how to save money and cook frugally. Don't expect that you will get your food bill down to $300 for four people in the first month if you are spending $600 a month right now.
Try cutting just $25 or $50 a month. Even if you cut back only $50 a month, you will save $600 a year. If you save just $1 a day that is $365 a year. You can then apply that $365 a year to paying off your credit cards. At 21 percent interest, you will save more than $70 a year. This will eventually cause a snowball effect since the more you pay off, the less you pay to interest. When you pay less to interest, you have more each month to apply to paying off your overall debt. This means that as you pay off the debt, the rate that you can pay it off increases.
• Before you shop, take a tour through your pantry and your refrigerator. Be organized. Don't buy what's already in your kitchen.
• If you're a fan of coupons, remember this: It's not what you save, it's what you spend. If you save 30 cents on something you wouldn't ordinarily buy anyway, you haven't really saved anything.
• A typical fruit item is significantly larger than one serving. Most people would be just as happy eating a small apple as eating a large one — so buy smaller fruits! You will save money by the pound.
• This month, try two meatless meals a week (or one, if you're a die hard meat fan).
• Make simple meals. One-dish meals can contain your meat, your vegetable and your bread.
• Drink water for your meals. If your family is used to drinking milk, juice or pop for every meal then start by cutting juice from one meal or snack a day and drinking only water. After you get used to this, cut from another meal until you drink only water for meals and a glass of juice or milk at snack time.
• You can also try allowing one glass of juice at meal times and then water after it is gone.
• You save over $500 a year by cutting just one glass of juice per person per day for a family of four.
• Don't assume homemade is cheaper. If you get a very good deal on chocolate chips and ingredients for candies, it is cheaper to make them than buying them pre-made. Make sure you do the calculations, though. If you don't purchase them on sale, homemade candies can be more expensive than candies purchased at the store.
• Stop wasting food. Give young children small portions. They can always have more if they are still hungry. Give them a half glass of juice and a half sandwich so you don't waste uneaten food. Put food in the refrigerator right after the meal so it doesn't spoil. Use leftovers for lunches, in other dishes or frozen in one portion sizes for a quick meal.
• Remember, cooking frugally is a mindset. You have to change your cooking and eating habits. Don't get discouraged if one idea fails. Try another one.
• Stop buying things like toaster pastries and breakfast bars for breakfast. Eat oatmeal, pancakes, granola and fruit instead.
• Don't assume that bulk is cheaper. Compare cost by the ounce or pound.
Most people don't think they can live the frugal life and still be comfortable. I feed my family of six on $400 per month. Over five years, when my husband earned an average of $22,000 per year, we paid off $20,000 debt. When cutting your grocery bill, it's the little things that add up.
Tawra Kellam and Jill Cooper are the publishers of the website www.LivingOnADime.com and authors of “Dining On A Dime Cookbook.”