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Publication #FCS8924

Raising Healthy Children: Frugal Shopping Tips for Families1

Julie M. Martinez and Karla P. Shelnutt2

In today's uncertain economic times, families are cutting their budgets wherever possible to make ends meet. This includes reducing the amount of money spent on food. Although a tighter food budget may make grocery shopping a challenge, learning how to stretch food dollars can help families afford enough healthy foods for the whole family to enjoy. This publication will discuss ways to plan ahead and strategies to help stretch your food dollars!

Figure 1. 
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Before Going to the Store

Preparation is the key when it comes to saving money on food. It's smart to plan meals and to make a shopping list before going to the grocery store. This can help prevent forgetting food items, having to make additional trips, spending money on unnecessary items, and failing to take advantage of discounts or sales. Follow these steps to make the most of your shopping trip:

  • Make a food budget. Calculate a food budget based on USDA's low-cost food plan. An easy-to-use calculator is offered by Iowa State University Extension Service at www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/fooddollar/.

  • Check to see what you have on hand. Checking your pantry, kitchen cabinets, and refrigerator or freezer can reduce the chance of buying foods you don't need.

  • Check store ads for sales. Plan meals for the week that include sale item ingredients.

  • Clip coupons only for foods on your grocery list. If you have children, ask them to help you with this.

  • Plan meals and snacks for the week ahead. Remember to select foods high in nutrients and low in fat and sugar.

  • Don't shop when you are hungry. Hungry shoppers are likely to spend more on groceries (Mela, Aaron, & Gatemby, 1997).

  • Make a list. Keep an ongoing grocery list that family members can add to when an ingredient or food item is running low or gone. Take the list with you when you go shopping to avoid having to make another trip.

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Shopping at the Store

The following strategies can be used to help save time and money at the grocery store:

  • Try store brands. Store brands may be less expensive than brand-name items and can be just as nutritious and enjoyable (Soberman & Parker, 2006). In some cases, they are made with the same ingredients. Brand-name items are placed at eye level, so be sure to look on the upper and lower shelves for less expensive options.

  • Check the "unit price" to compare similar foods. This tells you the cost per pound, ounce, or pint so you will know which brand or size is a better buy. The unit price is usually placed right below the product on a shelf sticker (Figure 3):

Figure 3. 

1. Retail Price = The price you pay; 2. Unit price = Price per unit-amount (ounces, pounds, pints); 3. Name of the food item; 4. Entire package size


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  • Buy larger containers. They are usually cheaper.

  • Read the labels and get the most for your money. Select foods with lower amounts of fat and sugar.

  • Sign up for a bonus or discount card that your store offers for additional savings. Some grocery store discount programs include discounts on grocery, beauty care, health, and fresh items.

  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season.

  • Shop at your local farmers market to find fresh, local produce at a good price.

  • Purchase fruits and vegetables that are canned (in water or 100% fruit juice) or frozen. These have a longer shelf life! You can use frozen fruit in desserts, or blend them into delicious smoothies by adding low-fat milk or yogurt.

  • Avoid the junk food aisles when shopping. Skipping these aisles will make it easier to avoid temptation. Many prepackaged baked goods are high in fat or sugar, and are costly to your wallet as well as your waistline.

  • Buy milk (fat-free or low-fat) in larger containers. It is usually less expensive than purchasing it in quart containers. The least expensive milk option is usually non-fat dry milk. Milk from convenience stores is usually the most costly.

  • Buy "whole" items and cut them into pieces at home to save money. Foods such as meats and produce are usually more expensive pre-cut. For example, buying poultry already cut into pieces is usually more expensive than buying the whole thing and cutting it at home. This is true for cut vegetables and fruits, too.

  • Stock up on sale items. Be sure to purchase only what you will eat if it is a perishable food. Stocking up can be especially useful for staple items that have a longer shelf life. For example, buy in bulk when you see buy-one-get-one-free sales on non-perishable foods that can be frozen. Be careful not to stock up on unhealthy options just because they are on sale!

Ways to Save at Home

Use the following ideas to minimize waste and to help save money:

  • Use batch-cooking. Cook a large amount of food, divide it into family-size portions, and freeze them for meals later in the month.

  • Make your own healthy snacks at home and put them in small plastic bags or reusable containers. Mixing whole-grain cereals with nuts and seeds makes a quick and easy, nutritious snack. Other options include cut-up fruits or vegetables, or whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese. This can be healthier and more cost-effective than buying prepackaged and processed snacks.

  • Freeze or refrigerate leftover foods or ingredients to use later. Leftover vegetables, meat, rice, and noodles can be used in other dishes such as stews or soups, or as toppings on a pizza or casserole.

  • Organize your cupboard and refrigerator. Bring the older items and/or ingredients to the front and place the new items in the back.

  • Grow your own vegetables and herbs. A small family greenhouse or garden is a great way to enjoy fresh vegetables. If you don't have time or room for a garden, consider growing small vegetable plants and herbs in indoor pots (see http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/resources/Nibbles/Nibbles_Newsletter_33.pdf to learn more).

  • Save money by eating at home rather than at restaurants.

  • Plan, organize, and be prepared to shop in a smart and frugal manner. This can help families maintain a healthy diet and manage their time while watching their wallets.

  • For more information on food storage at home, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/topic_food_storage.

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Learn More

If you would like more information on frugal shopping contact the following resources in your county:

  • UF/IFAS Extension Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) Educator (look in the blue pages of your telephone book). UF/IFAS Extension offices are listed online at http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/map.

  • Contact a WIC nutritionist at your county health department (also in the blue pages of the phonebook).

  • For referral to a registered dietitian (RD) you can contact the Florida Dietetic Association at (850) 386-8850 or check the yellow pages of the phonebook under dietitian or nutrition. Find an RD anywhere in the nation using this website: http://www.eatright.org/public/find.aspx. Look at the top right corner of the page.

Recommended Websites

USDA’s Family Food Shopping: Spend Less, Get More. http://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/resources/Nibbles/Nibbles_Newsletter_9.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 30 Ways in 30 Days to Stretch Your Fruit and Vegetable Budget. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/downloads/stretch_FV_budget.pdf

USDA’s Nutrition Assistance Programs: Eat Right When Money’s Tight. http://www.nal.usda.gov/snap/EatRightWhenMoneysTight.pdf

Oregon State University Extension’s Eat Well for Less - Module 3: Strategies at the Store. http://extension.oregonstate.edu/fcd/nutrition/ewfl/index.php

USDA Meal Planning, Shopping, and Budgeting. http://snap.nal.usda.gov/resource-library/manage-your-food-resources-wisely/meal-planning-shopping-and-budgeting

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: On a Budget? Learn Cheap Ways To Be Healthy. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/BudgetForHealth/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Fruits and Vegetables on a Budget: Getting More for Your Money. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/?page_id=5653.

References

Mela, D. J., Aaron, J. I., & Gatemby, S. J. (1997). Relationships of consumer characteristics and food deprivation to food purchasing behavior.Physiology & Behavior60(5), 1331–1335.

Soberman, D. A., & Parker, P. M. (2006). The economics of quality-equivalent store brands. International Journal of Research in Marketing, 23(2), 125–139.

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS8924, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. First published: April 2010. Latest revision: July 2013. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Julie M. Martinez, former dietetic intern, Master of Science Dietetic Internship Program, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, and Karla P. Shelnutt, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.