My husband and I are trying to find ways to slash our budgets and grocery bill is one of those areas that we are constantly struggling to reduce. I have friends who are amazing coupon queens. I keep trying and trying to use coupons to save money, but find that I am spending a lot of time cutting coupons, watching for deals and running to different stores just to save a dollar or two! I commend all of the mother’s and father’s out there that can do this and stay sane!!

One of the reasons that I am so discouraged is because I find myself more inclined to buy products that I wouldn’t normally buy and coupons are generally only offered for pre-packaged foods! Pre-packaged foods should not be on our healthy shopping list (minus a few items). Also, many of the items that I use on a consistent basis are available in a cheaper generic brand that is just as good. Here are some tips that I have found over the years.

1. Buy from your local farmer’s market. Don’t go crazy. Think about what you will actually use and prepare based on the season.

2. Buy from the outer perimeter of the store. Try not to go down the aisles. Grocery stores are very good at putting things at a level that will entice you to buy them. The healthiest food is on the outer perimeter. However, whole grains are generally down the aisles so put blinders on if you have to.

3. Learn to like oatmeal and cream of wheat or rice. If you like those pre-packaged packets of hot oatmeal for breakfast, learn to make your own from regular oats and the boxes of simple cream of wheat or rice. This is much healthier and you get less sugar and other junk. I know what I am putting into my own oatmeal and it DOES NOT take more time than the packaged stuff. There are about 30 servings in a 42 oz box of oats. This means your morning oatmeal costs approximately .10 per serving. The packets of oatmeal cost more like .40-.50 cents per serving and you get less food! The big box can last a few weeks!

4. Make your own bread. I know this sounds tedious. It did to me too, but I just whipped up some French bread that is now in the process of rising as I write this. It really only took a few minutes and I had all of the ingredients on hand. There weren’t that many. I also didn’t get high fructose corn syrup or any of those ingredients that I can’t even read! Plus, the ingredients I have on hand (flour, butter, milk, eggs, water, yeast, salt, etc) will make a lot of other types of bread also.

5. Make your list of meals and snacks for the entire week. My family and I eat different things for our meals, but if you think ahead you can have everything ready ahead of time.

6. Eat the same things every day for breakfast and lunch. I know this sounds terribly boring, but it really isn’t if you like what you eat. This helps me maintain my blood sugar and energy levels because it’s the same each day. Plus, I can make sure I am using up all of my fruits and vegetables for the week.

7. Prepare your food ahead of time. I know this sounds hard, but it’s not. For example, bring your chicken breasts home and throw them all in a crock pot to cook. Take them out and shred them and place in containers for different meals. We freeze some and put some in the fridge for a meal coming up. You can make casseroles, chicken fajitas, quesadillas, chicken spaghetti, chicken and rice, chicken salad or just eat the shredded chicken in a tortilla or on some bread. It is really juicy this way and easy to grab and go! Do the same with other types of meat. When I do this, I find us eating much healthier and my cooking time is cut in half.

8. Cut your veggies right when you get home from the store. Cut them however you are likely to eat them. I like to have carrot and celery sticks ready to eat for the week.

9. Buy the amount that you need for the week or that you know you can cook and freeze. If you buy too many items in the produce aisle, you will find them rotting in your fridge. Just buy the exact number you will eat. For example, I like to eat an apple a day when I can get them cheaply. I buy one per day for me and usually one per day for my daughter. If I run out sooner, that’s okay.

10. Stop buying pop. This is directed mostly at myself. I really like to have a diet soda every day, but I also really like iced tea. Diet soda costs me a lot more than making my own pitcher of tea. I know entirely too many people who spend a ton on soda. Cut it out and watch your bill drop.

11. Back to pre-packaged, but this must be said – Stop buying instant potatoes! They have no nutritional value and are not cheaper. I know that is why some people buy them, but a bag of potatoes can be turned into numerous things. You can also make your potatoes healthier. Make French fried potatoes in the oven using olive oil. Make rosemary potatoes with garlic. Make your own mashed potatoes. Take baked potatoes to work and top with salsa or cottage cheese. Use leftover potatoes for other things. Leftover baked potatoes make incredible (but not as healthy) potato skins. Yum.

12. Stop buying fat free and low fat items. This does not pertain to dairy products. Low fat and skim milk are still better than whole and low fat yogurt and cottage cheese are okay too. Otherwise, low fat and fat free is really not necessary if you are eating whole foods and using portion control and they are always more expensive. Portion control is a must for saving money and watching your waistline. Some fat is healthy and necessary. Stop depending on pre-packaged fat free foods.