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The grocery challenge: Money-saving tips for Chicago families

If your grocery bill depresses you, you are not alone. Outside of your mortgage or rent, food is usually the next biggest expense in your budget.

We consulted some of the best money-saving bloggers to get tips on ways to start reducing your monthly food expenses.

Menu plan. You have to know what you are going to prepare for your meals before you shop. Without this, you will spend more by making multiple trips to the store or skip making dinner completely and going out to dinner.

Shop high and low. The most expensive items are often at eye level. Take the time to check out the upper and lower shelves to find other brands at lower prices.

Think before you buy something on sale or with a coupon. If you would not buy it at regular price, then it is probably something you really don’t need.

Shop the loss leaders. These are the items on the cover of a weekly ad. Stock up on these items when you see them on sale, as they will be the best price available.

The easiest place to find coupons is your Sunday newspaper. You can also go online to coupons.com or even the manufacturer’s website to find coupons you can print from home.

Tracie Fobes, Penny Pinchin’ Mom

Pair a sale with a coupon. A coupon alone isn’t where the savings are. You need the store discount and then the manufacturer’s coupon to really see a big savings.

Always use your personalized store loyalty card. While they track your spending, they also target you with discounts, promos and rewards based on that spending. Many stores send out coupons and offers to your mailing or email address, so make sure those are up to date.

Toss aside brand loyalties. With many of the products we think are the best, we only think that because of their marketing. If you are brand loyal to Tide, maybe try Purex if you can get it for 75 percent less.

Grocery stores usually start their sales on Wednesdays and drug stores start on Sundays. Since new inserts of coupons come in the newspapers on Sunday, that is often the best day to shop if you only shop once a week.

Know what a good price is. $4 for a box of cereal is ridiculous; 50 cents is an actual good price. Don’t be swayed by fancy sale signs promising “Buy one, get one free.” Do the math yourself to see if it’s really a good sale price or not.

Jessie Alonzo, Moola Saving Mom

Make grocery shopping an event and have a plan with a specific list. If you go without a plan, you fall subject to the grocer’s plan. Without a list, 60 percent of the items people put in their cart are impulse buys.

The less often you shop, the more you save. Try to go only once every two weeks. Staying out of the store saves you tons of money.

Before you leave the house, go through what you have in stock. Inventory what you have so you don’t buy what’s already in the pantry. Then start a menu based on what you have. For example, if you have carrots and onions, buy beef.

Save on produce by buying pre-bagged items. For example, a 3-pound bag of apples is usually 30-60 percent cheaper than selecting individual apples. Also always buy produce that is in season.

Steve and Annette Economides, Money Smart Family and authors of “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half”

Keep a price log of good, better and best prices on everything you buy, so you know when it is time to stock up or let a deal slide. The best deals are almost always going to be when you pair a store promotion or sale with a coupon.

There are often discounted items at the deli counter and bakery right before these particular areas of the store close.

Know if your stores have double coupon days. Stores are often out of sale or promotional items by Friday and Saturday, which means you need to ask for rain checks. Watch for two-day sales. For instance, Meijer often has these on Fridays and Saturdays.

Jennifer Roskamp, The Intentional Mom

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