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Cash in Hand: How to Save Big Bucks at the Grocery Store

By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, MPH, RD

Whether you're a single gay guy or even a couple of gay DINKs (double income no kids), money is probably tighter for you than it was a year ago. With skyrocketing gas prices driving up the cost of everything else, it seems nearly impossible to find a financial surplus.

That extra change is easier to come by than you may think; look no further than your local grocery store. By making smarter weekly shopping decisions, you can easily save more than $2,500 over the course of year…and you won't have to subsist on Ramen noodles or mac 'n' cheese, either.

Saving money at the grocery store is simple—just follow the expert tips you'll find below, which have been culled by the best in the grocery business. For a little extra motivation, we've figured the average savings based on some of the tips. Best of all, these tips are designed not just to save you money, but to help you maintain and even improve your eating habits and overall health.

Be a Menu Maestro and a List Lover
Got 10 minutes? Then you have time to throw together a grocery list. Maximize spare time in front of the TV or on hold on the phone to scratch out a menu and make a list based on your weekly food picks. Take into consideration what you will eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as what your schedule looks like for the coming week. Why buy food you won't have time to prepare if you have a week's worth of late meetings scheduled? And if you think making a grocery list is an old school, unnecessary practice, you may want to reassess. Most top budget experts agree: Shopping without a list is the easiest way to blow time and money at the grocery store, since you will inevitably buy things you don't need or food that will go to waste.

What's more, if you're list-driven you can get in and out of the store faster (isn't that the point?) and it's easier to avoid forgotten items that you'll have to return to the store to buy (and hence, burn yet more gas and time to get). Plus, the more you visit the grocery store, the more likely you are to buy unnecessary impulse items. A list can also keep you from looking down the barrel of an empty fridge, and thus buying expensive meals out.

Your Pennies Saved…

  1. $1.00 in gas for another trip to the store to pick up something you forgot.
  2. $15.00 for the (saturated-fat-loaded!) pizza you had to order because there was nothing in the house to eat.
  3. $3.50 for the produce you ambitiously chose at the store, but that you don't have time to eat this week.
Fly Solo and on a Full Tank
Good advice that you've probably heard thousands of times: Don't go to the grocery store hungry! Nothing makes boxed junk food look more appealing than a growling, empty stomach filled with hunger hormones. To avoid buying a cartful of empty calories, eat a satisfying, high-protein snack or meal before you head to the store.

Another sure way to save money at the grocery store is to be the lone man with the list. Unlike a lot of things, grocery shopping is one activity better done solo. No matter who accompanies you, more company will almost always mean more unneeded expenses on your bill as your partner in crime makes suggestions, fills in apparent gaps, or offers elaborate ideas.

Your Pennies Saved…
  1. $2.50 for the box of high-calorie, trans-fat-packed crackers that seemed like a good idea when you were famished.
  2. $3.50 for the carton of coffee ice cream your shopping companion convinced you to buy.
Ditch the Junk
If you're filling your grocery cart with both healthy foods and junk, your grocery bill will quickly become unmanageable. By skipping purchases of popsicles, cookies, chips, and other "extras," you will find that a significant proportion of your budget is free. You can use that extra money to purchase higher quality, nutritious food such as lean cuts of meat and antioxidant-packed produce. Another budget saver: No matter what you buy, if you're watching portion sizes (and you should be), your purchases will last longer since you won't be eating as much.

Your Pennies Saved…
  1. $4.50 for the bag of chips you really don't need. Also, you won't sabotage all those hours you spend at the gym.
Scope the Sales and Buy in Bulk
What does that annoying woman waving her fistful of coupons and holding up the checkout line know that you don't? Potentially nothing. Before you get out your scissors, think about it: Is the brand you're clipping still more expensive than the (just as good) store brand—even with the coupon? Do you normally even eat this stuff? That fistful of coupons could actually cost you money. In many cases, the store brand is just as tasty and healthy as the higher-cost national brand, and countless blind taste tests can prove the point. If you're still not sure, try both brands and decide on your own personal preference for next time.

If you have the room, another way to save at the grocery store is to buy in bulk. For example, lean cuts of meat like pork tenderloin are healthy, but can put a stranglehold on your bill. You can get a better price by buying meat in bulk, then dividing into portions when you get home. Refrigerate what you will use in the next few days, and freeze what you won't for later. Even better, if you find lean, expensive cuts on sale, you can double your savings by stocking up. For other foods, like staple items, bulk buying can be the way to go; however, keep in mind that a bulk buy isn't a bargain if you can't use or freeze it before it spoils.

Your Pennies Saved…
  1. $3.75 for passing on the cereal that you have a coupon for—it's a decent deal, but you don't eat that brand. Ever.
  2. $4.00 for your bulk buy of pork tenderloin on sale.
Savvy Swapping
Besides stocking up on lean meats in bulk, taming your inner carnivore can also lead to savings when it comes to protein foods. Swapping vegetarian protein choices for your usual meats at least twice a week is not only good for your wallet—it's good for your cholesterol, too. You can easily substitute high-quality meatless proteins like beans, eggs, egg whites, tofu, and nuts into your weekly menu, often into the very same recipes you would ordinarily make with meat.

Another simple way to save on protein foods is to choose frozen meats instead of fresh. Flash frozen meats with no added preservatives or saline can be more convenient and less costly than fresh—and they still taste good and are generally just as healthy as fresh.

Your Pennies Saved…
  1. $5.50 for choosing an egg- or bean-based dinner meal over a meat-based dinner meal twice during the week.
  2. $1.75 for choosing frozen fish over fresh.
Pick Your Produce
Ever tried to buy strawberries out of season? Chances are you paid a premium for bland tasting fruit. If you buy fresh produce in season you will find the taste, nutrition, and price much more to your liking. Besides the more agreeable price, seasonal produce is better both for you and for the environment since it's more likely to come from a closer geographical radius. Nutrients break down the longer produce sits from harvest to consumption, and a shorter trek to your local grocery store means less environmentally damaging transit, too. For off-season budget savers, stock up on frozen or canned fruit and veggies, since research has proven that these choices pack nutrition comparable to fresh.

Your Pennies Saved…
  1. $4.00 for sticking to in-season produce.
Total Tally?
By using all of the tips listed above, it's possible to save almost $50 per week at the grocery store…adding up to nearly $2,600 a year. Simple, healthy alterations to your grocery spending habits can quickly add up, improving not only your financial fitness, but your personal fitness, too.