13 Shopping Tips to Stretch Your Food Dollar

I enjoy food shopping. However, more often than not, I come away from my local Walmart or Sparkle with a cart that’s crammed and overflowing with unplanned purchases.


Did I really need three large bags of Krunchers Kettle Cooked Jalapeno Potato Chip that cost me more than $11 or those three half gallons of ice cream that cost me hundreds of extra calories?


Of course not … but that’s how I shop. Or, as my girlfriend is fond of saying, that’s how I buy.


Shopping should mean looking for deals and sticking to a list, not grabbing a pack of cupcakes or a frozen pizza just because the colorful packaging or end-of-aisle location happened to catch your eye.


Meet Sally Ketchum. She’s a Michigander who has been writing food and cooking columns for me for some 20 years now. Sally is fun and knowledgeable about food and shopping so I have asked her to whip up a baker’s dozen of tips for us.


The next time you find yourself in a supermarket and mulling over buying that super-sized package of Double Stuf Oreos, ask yourself, “What would Sally do?”

Well, Sally says …


Know your store

Note how the aisles are laid out. Many stores place groceries that they want to push for various reasons up front. You might want to go deep into the store and more or less shop your way forward.


Know the products in a no-frills store

Not all will be up to your standard. Soups from your neighborhood “SAVE HERE” store are mostly salt and water, while their tissue paper special is OK. Your dog may not touch cheap chews from one store (Made in China), but beg for ones from the large chain store (Made in Brazil).


Read labels for healthy content, proportions and additives.

Make it simple with questions like, “So, how many clams are really in that clam chowder?” Ingredients are listed in order of volume.


Seek input from friends and family

Have your guests at the dinner table help rate brands of chili. Determine the family favorite … and ask, “Is it worth the cost?” Try this with soups, sauces, canned vegetables, etc.


Don’t shop when you are hungry!

Sometimes we have no choice. We need to pick up “a few things” on our way home from work or school. Be prepared by carrying a healthy snack bar or pack of low-cal mints in your pocket.


When making shopping lists, think “meal builders”

Ground beef has got to be America’s No. 1 hearty meal recipe base. The best buy, all reasons considered, is ground chuck since it produces the best flavor. While some dieters prefer extra-lean ground beef, it may not deliver enough flavor. The cook can always cut down on the amount of beef in a recipe when using chuck. Make your burgers smaller and top with light-on-the-mayo slaw.


Make shopping lists – and stick to them!

There can always be exceptions so don’t beat yourself up over this one. You need that wiggle room for great sales — 10 cans of soup for $10 — or truly needed items you forgot to jot down like milk, bread or eggs.


Shop when stores are less crowded

I’ve found that Tuesday is a good shopping day and mid-day, after lunch hour, is a good time. You’ll be less rushed and less likely to grab something without thinking.


Ready, steady, go green!

Certainly, reusable cloth bags save our environment. If they are homemade, put a sturdy piece of cardboard in the bottom so the bags stand up in your car on the way home.


Meet and greet your meat cutter!

Talk to your butchers – even at larger chain stores. Ask to meet them, and then ask them a couple of questions. You’ll be surprised at the extra services they can give you … including money saving tips, too.


Bone up on your knowledge

Some stores charge for bones, some do not. And, I’m not talking about bones for your dog. Economical, healthy soups can be made with bones and barley or rice, or noodles. Think of the children’s tale of Stone Soup.

Use coupons wisely

If you are a coupon clipper, review your coupons frequently. Toss the outdated ones, and also those for products that you do not usually use or ones that you may have changed your mind about. A basement or stuffed pantry full of sale items that are out of date and past their prime does not save you money.


Deal … or no deal?

Take advantages of specials like 5 items for the price of $4. In order to not overstock your shelves, label three bags for the coming months of June, July and August. Distribute extra sale items in them; restocking handy shelves from the bags the first of the appropriate month. Turn June’s bag into September, and so on. This makes a surprisingly good start for each month.

Thank you Sally! You remain my food hero. For more on Sally, check out her LinkedIn profile.



John McGran has been writing about health and weight loss for several national companies since 2000. He brings his knowledge of diets — and his passion for dropping pounds — to Meal Plan Map because he believes it is the future of smart, stress-free eating and improved health.


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