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Keep your grocery bill in check

There you are, in the grocery store. You're hungry, and everything looks delicious as you wander the aisles filling your cart. When you reach the checkout counter, you're shocked by the amount of money you're asked to pay. Then you go home and smack your forehead when you realize you forgot to buy kitty litter and toothpaste again. If this scenario sounds even remotely familiar, the following tips are designed for you.

1. Make a plan. A shopping list will help you control your purchases and your spending. It doesn't have to be time-consuming to prepare. Before you leave for the store, take a quick pass through your home to jog your memory about items you need.

2. Be realistic about your needs. Have you ever had to throw away vegetables or fruit that went bad before you had time to eat them? Did you wince when you thought about how much money had been wasted? Before your next shopping trip, reflect on what you and your family like, need and realistically will eat in the course of a week.

3. Select a menu. Plan a menu of family meals for the week, bearing in mind that leftovers can be turned into sandwiches or put into soups, stews, potpies and casseroles. Put some thought into choosing nutritious foods, as well as a good variety of foods.

4. Eat before you shop. If you're hungry, you'll tend to buy more food than you anticipated, and that might mean some of the food you purchase will go bad.

5. Buy in season. Find out when fruits and vegetables are in season and purchase them then. Not only will you get fresher produce, you'll also save money because in-season vegetables and fruits are less expensive. Remember to make good use of the citrus fruit that might be growing in your own backyard.

6. Compare prices. Jot down the costs of products you buy most often. When those items go on sale, compare the old and new prices to make sure you're getting a good deal.

7. Ask yourself questions, such as: How much will I save if I buy a certain food item frozen, canned, fresh or dried? Should I buy the larger package of a product or two smaller ones to get the better value? How does the cost of a convenience food compare with the cost of making it from scratch?

8. Don't turn your nose up at generic brands. Generic or store brands usually cost much less than brand-name items, and they frequently offer the same level of quality. Sugar and flour don't change from brand to brand, and generic drugs, which are required by law to meet specific criteria, are often exactly the same as flashier brand-name medicines.

9. Clip coupons. It may seem old-fashioned, but just do it. Coupons really will help you keep more of your hard-earned money in your wallet.

10. Buy items that won't spoil in bulk. Especially if you have a family _ but even if you don't _ warehouse stores that cater specifically to bulk buyers can help you bag serious bargains.

Sources: University of Illinois Extension (www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/thriftyliving /tl-savefood.html); Consumer.gov (www.consumer.gov/ncpw/); The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift As a Viable Alternative Lifestyle, by Amy Dacyczyn

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