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Getting quality ingredients that are packed with nutrition has become increasingly difficult on a tight budget. Finding someone to tell you how to keep expenses down can become even more confusing because every family has different needs and there are TONS of methods for saving on groceries.

So, what I will share in this article are a few things that work for me. These are not hard fast rules. I will not send the Learn and Live Well police to your home to check for violations. These are simply guidelines that I use which have proved helpful. Hopefully, there is enough here to help you get the most for your money.

Become a Low Price Expert
Your family's grocery shopper may not have a lot of influence over the household and food budget. Regardless of your circumstances, you can make yourself a student of pricing in your area. Knowing how much an item costs -- what is actually a good price and what isn't -- will make you a smart shopper. If you've only got $5 to spend, you may as well get the most out of your limited budget. One way to do this is to start a price comparison notebook. Give a separate page for each item you regularly purchase. Include cleaning products, snacks, toiletries and food. You can use your receipts, sales fliers or just walk the aisles of your favorite store and record the size and price of each item, along with brand name and a short description. Once you know what's a good price for an item, you can watch the notices for sales and make purchases when you see the price fall to that level.

Use Basic Ingredients
Another way to save money is to stop purchasing convenience items. Processed foods don't just compromise your health, they lower your bank balance. Learning how to organize your kitchen and cook from scratch isn't too overwhelming if you just begin with one thing at a time. Mastering one dish will encourage you to attempt more ambitious things. For instance, knowing how to make bread can lead to grinding your own grain which can lead to learning how to make your own tortillas and pasta . . . . all of which will be more nutritious and less costly than the name brand item you are purchasing now. I can get organic brown rice cheaper than the regular off the shelf version by knowing how to find it cheap, store it and prepare it.

Of course, this will change the items you purchase and your price comparison notebook will reflect the change. Instead of the best price on glass and surface cleaner, you'll want to know the best price on vinegar and baking soda. The good news is that you'll automatically be spending less by purchasing the ingredients AND you'll save more on top of this by finding the best price on those ingredients.

Invest in Local Farmers
It's one thing to tell everyone they should be eating farm fresh produce, but it's quite another to find a way to accomplish it in practice. Unless you have years of farming experience and plenty of acreage outside of a residential area, you may find the task a daunting one. Not everyone has the vision and abilities that Jules Dervaes has demonstrated by turning his little city lot into a working farmstead. (Check out the Dervaes' story on www.urbanhomestead.org you might be inspired to plant a tomato or two.)

Instead, you can do the next best thing. Consider purchasing shares in a local farm. Find farmers near you that are willing to allow you to invest in their farm. These are called CSA's which stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture. Using the web site www.localharvest.org we were able to find a farmer near us that had a good reputation and a wide variety of produce. After touring his farm (and meeting his lovely family), we agreed on a price and purchased shares in all three 7-week growing seasons in our area. In addition, we were able to make arrangements to purchase some beef in advance of processing. This required some up-front money, but it also insured that we would have weekly baskets of fresh produce and a freezer full of beef without a hint of pink slime. *blech!*

Purchase Bulk Dry Goods
Organic staples like dried beans, brown rice, wheat berries, grits, corn meal, etc. can be difficult to find at good prices. One way to make sure you have them on hand is to purchase them in bulk. These are often found in 25 pound bags or larger. The dry goods can be kept in a large freezer or at controlled room temperature in pest-proof containers. I've found that placing a bay leaf in containers keeps them weevil and bug free as well as placing them in wide-mouthed canning jars that I vacuum seal using a FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer using a Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer attachment. Combining this with a well built shelving unit has freed up my freezer space (for the beef I purchased from our CSA *smiles*).

Combine Coupons With Sales on Items You Use
There are a lot of web sites out there which tell you how to accomplish this. In fact, by making so many things from scratch you will already be beating most couponers in the low price game. However, when it comes to ANYTHING you buy off the rack -- from tires to toilet paper -- you can save some MAJOR money using coupons. One store near me sells organic canned vegetables for more than $1 per can. I wait until those same items go on sale for $.60 and then load up my cart with enough to keep the pantry full until the sale hits again. I use my customer loyalty card that gives me an additional discount on certain days and saves me money when my husband gets gas for the vehicles. For more discussion on whether coupons are worth your time, check our this post: STOCKING UP ON SAVINGS -- ARE COUPONS WORTH THE EFFORT?

Here are my three favorite sites for information on how to save money with coupons.

Southern Saver -- I like this site for practical strategies and information for beginners. She includes a lot of in-store videos that demonstrate her methods. She also gives workshops. Check her calendar.

Krazy Coupon Lady -- This site helps those who already use coupons increase their savings with various strategies. They also have a really good book available on the subject called: Pick Another Checkout Lane, Honey: Save Big Money & Make the Grocery Aisle your Catwalk!

Coupon Mom -- This site includes a very handy searchable database to investigate the sales in your area and tell you where to find coupons.

Check out the coupon helps section of Morrison's Mercantile.


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