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11 Ways to Reduce Your Food Costs

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Written by Jill Ettinger

There's a myth that eating healthy is not economical. But eating smart and healthy can be one and the same. Being a bit frugal can help us to make more conscious choices, not just for our health, but for the health of our planet, too. Plus, droughts throughout the Midwest and California could cause food prices to rise as much as 4 percent over the next year, according to the USDA. The agency just added 76 counties in six states to its list of "drought emergencies," bringing the total to 1,369 counties in 31 states. If ever there were a time to reduce our food costs, now would seem to be that time.

And let's face it, clipping coupons is of little use for most reasonably healthy food items. Try out these money saving tips on how to grocery shop to reduce your food expenses instead.

1. Plan ahead: Giving yourself a food schedule of sorts helps to make the most out of every purchase. It's easy to wander around a supermarket in a daze, dropping items into the basket. And that adds up, fast. Know exactly what you need and stick to your list.

2. Buy ingredients, not meals: Whole foods go a lot farther than designated items. You can do much more with tomatoes than you can with a jar of pasta sauce. And ingredients typically cost less than those specialty processed items in the long run.

3. Pre-cook: You're less likely to come home from a long day and order takeout if there are healthy, simple and inexpensive ingredients just a few minutes away from being a tasty meal. Make big batches of beans and grains like rice or quinoa ahead of time. Store them in the fridge for the week. You can even steam veggies ahead of time to decrease their cooking time.

4. Buy bulk: Can't finish a 25-pound bag of rice on your own anytime soon? See if a friend will split it with you. Buying in bulk reduces your costs significantly and can help ensure you always have healthy ingredients around.

5. Eat seasonally: Grapes flown in from Chile are going to cost you. Opt instead for local, seasonal fruits and vegetables. They're cheaper and freshest.

6. Grow it: The best food is actually free -- because it's the stuff you grow yourself! Containers can provide ample bounty if you're an urban dweller, too. Grow the more expensive items if you can: fruits, tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc.

7. Buy direct: From farmer CSA programs to buy-the-case options, sometimes you can save a bundle buying directly from the supplier rather than the supermarket.

8. Join a food co-op: Food co-ops offer members discount programs that can help reduce your costs on all sorts of items including household goods.

9. Make your own: We spend billions on items like cereal, candy bars, single-serve drinks and bags of chips. You can make many of these items yourself (healthier, too) and save cash to boot.

10. Decrease your waste: On average, we throw out more than 25 percent of the food we buy! That's a tragedy for many reasons including wasteful management of our bank accounts. Keep an inventory of what you have that's about to turn bad. Most fresh fruits and vegetables can be frozen or quickly used to avoid waste.

11. Share: Potluck dinners can cut your cost and are a great way to connect with your community. You can learn new recipes and make new friends, too!

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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