Smart Shopping Tips

Create a detailed shopping list based on your needs and weekly menu plan, and take into account how you plan on using leftovers.

Have a budget. Know exactly what you can spend, and try your best to stick within that limit. If you don't know how much you can spend, you'll certainly spend too much.

Plan your meals around your grocery store's flyer. Instead of just planning your meals based on a cookbook or whatever you can dream up, plan all your meals around what's on sale in your grocery store's flyer. Look at the biggest sales, then plan meals based on those ingredients and what you have on hand, and you'll find yourself with a much smaller food bill than you're used to.

Prepare your grocery list by aisle. If you regularly shop at the same stores, organize your list so that you can easily find and check off items as you walk down the aisle. We always shop from right to left, so we're not constantly running back and forth in the store.

When there's a sale, stock up. Sale items can be a great deal. If it's an item you normally use, buy a bunch of them.

Cut out and Organize Coupons. You can't save big if you don't know what you have! Split your coupon organizer into sections so that you can find what you need quickly and easily.

Don't go when you're hungry. This is a common tip, but it's true: when you're hungry, you want to buy all kinds of junk. You'll end up spending a lot more. Eat a good meal first, and you'll be more likely to stick to your list.

Keep a list on your fridge, and write things down immediately. When you run out of something, don't leave it to your memory. Jot it down immediately, and you'll never have to run back to the store because you don't have eggs.

Make a pantry checklist. Make a checklist of everything you normally stock in your pantry. Keep it posted on the pantry. Put a slash next to each item for the number of items you have (if you have two cans of stewed tomatoes, put two slashes). Then, when you use something, turn the slash into an x. This makes it much easier when it comes time to make your list.

Buy Produce in Season. Check the food section in your newspaper to find the best buys for the week based on fresh produce in season. Food in season is usually priced to sell.

Think deep freeze. If you really want to save, you'll need a big freezer. Ask around — someone you know might have a relatively new model they don't need any more. You can use freezers to stock up on meat, frozen veggies, and similar staples, and to freeze big batches of pasta, casseroles, and other dinners you prepare ahead of time.

Make a quadruple batch of a casserole. Casseroles are nice, easy dishes to prepare, but on busy nights, it's often still easier to just order some take-out or eat out or just plop a prepackaged meal in the oven. Instead, the next time you make a casserole, make four batches of it and put the other three in the freezer. Then, the next time you need a quick meal for the family, grab one of those batches and just heat it up - easy as can be. Even better, doing this allows you to buy the ingredients in bulk, making each casserole cheaper than it would be ordinarily - and far, far cheaper than eating out or trying a prepackaged meal.

Pack your own lunch snacks. Buying pre-made snacks is convenient, but a big waste of money. Buy little baggies and buy the snacks in bulk, then it will take just a few minutes to pack some snacks for lunch each day.

Make leftovers for lunch. Plan to cook a bit extra for each dinner, so that you'll have leftovers for your lunch and for the kids' lunches. Pack it right away, after dinner, so you don't have to worry about it in the morning.

Try crock pot dinners. They are easy and cheap and tasty. Cut up a bunch of ingredients, throw them in the pot in the morning, and have dinner ready for you when you get home.

Use everything possible. Got a bunch of leftover ingredients (half an onion, a bit of tomato, some pasta, a few other veggies?) … combine them for a quick meal, so that these don't go to waste before your next grocery trip. The more you can stretch the food, and the less you waste, the less you'll spend in the long run.

Try the store brands. Brand names are often no better than generic, and you're paying for all the advertising they do to have a brand name. Give the store brand a try, and often you won't notice a difference.

Comparison shop. Look at the different brands for a certain type of product, including store brands. Sometimes there will be a significant difference.

Cut back on the convenience foods - fast foods, microwave meals, and so on. Instead of eating fast food or just nuking some prepackaged food when you get home, try making some simple and healthy replacements that you can take with you. An hour's worth of preparation one weekend can give you a ton of cheap and handy meals that will end up saving you a lot of cash and not eat into your time when you're busy.

Cut back on your "one-item" trips. They waste gas, and almost inevitably, you buy more than that one item. If you plan ahead, make a weekly menu, and shop with a list, this should drastically reduce the number of trips you make for a small number of items.

Avoid trips to the corner store. Or the gas station! These are some of the most expensive stores. (Ranking right up there with airport stores.)

Use store savings cards. These can add up to big savings over the long run.

Use reusable bags or bring your own paper/plastic bags for reuse. Many stores offer a discount for bringing your own bag.

Make your own gifts. You can make food mixes, candles, bread, cookies, soap, and all kinds of other things at home quite easily and inexpensively. These make spectacular gifts for others because they involve your homemade touch, plus quite often they're consumable, meaning they don't wind up filling someone's closet with junk. Even better - include a personal handwritten note with the gift. This will make it even more special.

Invite friends over instead of going out. Almost every activity at home is less expensive than going out. Invite some friends over and have a cookout or a potluck meal, then play some cards and have a few drinks. Everyone will have fun, the cost will be low, and the others will likely reciprocate not long afterwards.

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