As the cost of living creeps up, more and more people are turning to new ways to balance their budget at home. Food is one of the biggest expenditures for most Americans, and maximizing your opportunities to get the most bang for your buck in that department can lead to more dough in your pocket and your oven. By taking a fresh look at not just what you eat, but how you eat, you can start saving from the start.

1. Start clipping coupons.

If there was ever anything to make you feel more like your grandmother, it’s clipping coupons. However, shows like Extreme Couponing and websites such as Couponing101.com are fueling the fire of consumers looking to save a buck. Be sure to buy your weekly Sunday paper and set aside some time out of your week to go through and clip coupons for things you use. It’s also good to know your local supermarket’s coupon policies, as there may be days or times where they’ll double your coupons. There are also tons of “coupon classes” online, such as the one above, to teach you the basics before you even pick up the scissors.

2. Get digital.

Have a particular item that you use a lot? Get digging online. More and more retailers are using coupons as a way to drive traffic to their websites, social media accounts, and blogs. Digital coupons are also huge with supermarkets, with most of them offering a range that can be clicked online and used in-store with a card or your phone number. Lastly, check with coupon sites online for additional coupons you can easily print from home and use when you hit the shops.

3. Ask yourself not what you want to eat, but what you can afford to eat.

A common mistake that consumers make is to figure out what they want to eat, rather than thinking about their budget. When you start clipping coupons, try to tailor your weekly menu around what’s on sale. Checking with supermarket flyers and advertisements, as well looking into information on how to create healthy budget meals, is also a great way to start figuring out your weekly menu. Don’t forget to take a look at what you already have in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, as these items are already paid for and ready to go.

4. Buy in bulk.

Hitting up your local wholesaler may mean you’re lugging huge boxes of pasta out to your car, but it can also mean significant savings. Buying in bulk is nearly always your best bet for saving more money on your food budget. Look for bulk buys on things you regularly use, as they’re less likely to sit around on your shelves and go bad. Great bulk purchases include pantry items, such as canned goods, pastas and grains–all of which can be used to make a quick, healthy and not to mention easy meals.

5. Put your freezer to work.

Your freezer is a great key to saving more money on your food budget. This is particularly true if you’re buying in bulk, as you’ll be able to freeze meats, dairy and produce for use later on down the road. Take some time to learn the best ways to freeze various food items so you’ll know how to maximize your savings, as well as how to prevent freezer burn and food wastage.

6. When you can, make your own.

Still buying jarred pasta sauces and loaves of bread? Why, when you can make your own more delicious versions for much less? Making your own sauces and food not only means you know exactly what went into them, it’s also generally more healthy as it’s less likely to be packed with additives and preservatives. Cost-wise, it can’t be beat. For example, making your own bread costs, on average, $0.66 per loaf. Compare that to a good quality sandwich bread at $3.99 and there’s really no argument.

7. Pay more attention to leftovers.

Just made a roast chicken for dinner? Now it’s time to throw away that pesky carcass, right? Wrong. Learning to use or repurpose your leftovers to make additional meals is an excellent way to save cash while eating deliciously. Turn leftover meatballs into hero sandwiches, roast bones to make stock, and use those leftover egg whites to make meringues for dessert. The more willing you are to think creatively about your leftovers, the more you’ll get out of them.

8. Kick food waste to the curb.

When it comes to your refrigerator and freezer, your new budget-conscious mantra should be: “No food left behind.” Before you head to the store, see what you still have left to use. You can even make it a challenge to come up with new ways to use those few lonely carrots languishing at the bottom of the vegetable drawer, or what’s going to happen with that sad leftover chicken breast.

9. Eat seasonally.

Craving a tomato during the winter? That’s going to cost you a bundle. Focusing on seasonal eating means you’re going to chow down on more delicious produce, as well as preventing your pocketbook from taking a beat down. Learn about what’s great in your area and when its at the peak of availability. Not only can you stock up and fill your freezer, but you can do it a lot cheaper.

10. Don’t fear the cheaper cuts.

If you love meat-based dishes but aren’t sure you can afford it, then looking at the less lovely bits can be your ticket to carnivorous nirvana. As the nation’s food budgets become smaller, a new focus on cheaper cuts, such as chicken thighs, beef brisket and even offal, has become the hot new trend in American kitchens. Try focusing on a long, slow cooking with these meats to get the very best out of them. They also tend to freeze beautifully, making them a budget savior.

11. Start living like a veggie.

If you’re already working the vegetarian vibe, then you’re already on the path to saving on your food budget. Ditching meat from your diet, even just a couple of days a week, can offer significant savings to your bank account. Try signing on to the global Meatless Monday Challenge, or simply make a pledge to eat veggie for one meal each day. Not only is it a healthy way to live, you can also save some extra cash effortlessly.

12. Grow your own.

Love fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables? Even the tiniest of spaces can help support your food budget. Try growing a kitchen window box with your favorite herbs, planting a small garden in your backyard, or even just trying out a basic outdoor planter with a few carrots, onions and potatoes. You can grow a surprising amount of food, and once you’ve had it freshly picked, it’s difficult to go back to store-bought.

Featured photo credit: cpyles via flickr.com

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