End of the year budgets are tight for everyone, especially in this economy.
It's especially hard for the millions of Americans who depend on government programs like food stamps to help make ends meet. Roughly one-seventh of the country -- 48 million Americans -- live on a food budget $5-$6 per day, according to the most recent government data sited in The New York Times. Starting Nov. 1, food stamp recipients started receiving benefits reduced by about 5%-10%.
To help stretch those food dollars a little further, CostHelper compiled a list of smart shopping ideas.
1. Check the ads
Even if you don't read the Sunday paper, most grocery stores mail out fliers with weekly savings. Some stores also post them just inside the doors of the store -- I've seen it at my local Target, which often has good grocery deals.
2. Go beyond paper coupons
Although paper coupons are great for a few dollars off, it's not the only option out there. There's also the virtual kind -- which are somewhat easier to keep track of and carry around. Apps like Grocery Smarts, which is available for both Apple and Android phones, help consumers track sales at their favorite national stores. There are also apps for the specific stores you frequent. Target recently offered Cartwheel which has deals outside of the weekly ads.
3. Take advantage of age-related discounts
Age is golden. Supermarkets and grocery store chains across the country offer discounts to senior citizens. The age rules vary from store to store, so ask, but some offer discounts for those as young as 50. Typically, the discounts are 5%-10% off grocery orders.
4. Buy in bulk
If you are a member of a discount warehouse like Sam's Club or Costco, buying items in bulk is often less expensive in the long run. The cost of 30 eggs at my local Costco (usually about $3) often beats the price of a dozen at my local grocery stores, but last 2.5 times as long.
5. Make batches for multiple meals
One of my favorite fall foods is soup -- it's filling and affordable. For less than $20 in groceries, including fresh veggies, premade stock and your choice of meat, a big pot of soup can be thrown together. You can spread it over several meals or freeze some for later.
6. Get generic or store brands instead
Name brand items usually cost a bit more than the generic versions, and that can add up. Taking off 20 cents here and 30 cents there can mean a difference of several dollars at the end of the day. Just because you can't sing the jingles for the generic brand, does not mean it doesn?t taste the same.
7. Try dollar stores
Many dollar stores have food selections, and it's not all bad. I admit, there have been hits and misses among my dollar store dinners. But overall, there are some good deals there -- boxes of cereal, snacks for packing lunches and condiments are not bad for a buck.
It may take a bit of time to stretch the grocery dollars, but it's worth it to keep a family full.