- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

Beware of the grocery store it is a necessity, and yet it is the biggest budget-killer.

That is the message Jonni McCoy, author of the book "Miserly Moms: Living on One Income in a Two Income Economy," wants newly frugal parents to know. When Mrs. McCoy quit her job forgoing half her family's income the food budget was the first black hole she found.

By planning grocery purchases, a family can shave nearly 50 percent off its food expenses, she says.

"Planning is essential to saving," Mrs. McCoy says. "Instead of making a random menu plan and shopping around it, plan the menu and lists around the grocery sales. One friend of mine saved $30 the first time she switched her planning style."

Other grocery tips:

• Don't shop in one store. Determine which stores have the items you want on sale and go to each. The money you save will offset the cost of extra gas to get there, Mrs. McCoy says.

• Make your own whenever possible. One of the biggest expenses for working families is the cost of "convenience" foods, she says.

She points out that a restaurant meal costs six to 10 times more than one made from scratch; a frozen meal costs four times more than one made from scratch; even pre-cut cheese or ready-made salads cost twice as much as making your own. Baking a batch of muffins or a loaf of bread usually is better, healthier and cheaper and can be entertaining, she says.

• Become acquainted with supermarket psychology.

"Have you ever wondered why the milk is in the farthest reaches of the store?" asks Mary Snyder, co-author of "You Can Afford to Stay Home With Your Kids: A Step-by-Step Guide for Converting Your Family From Two Incomes to One." "Or did you ever wonder why bread is almost always as far from the milk as possible? It is because the store owners know you are likely to be in the store for bread and milk, and they want you to walk past the maximum amount of merchandise to get there."

Mrs. Snyder advises sticking to the perimeter of the store where the produce, meat and dairy sections are located. When parents change to making meals from scratch, they'll notice that most of the items they need are on the edges anyway, she says.

• Beware of the end-of-the-aisle displays. Grocery stores often use this space as a display to boost sales of a product. Just because they are featured there doesn't mean they are on sale, Mrs. Snyder says.

• Don't go to the store as often. Have you ever run to the store to get two things and come back with $40 worth of food? We all have, Mrs. Snyder says, pointing out that a stocked pantry will save money in the long run.

"Our grandmothers were extremely creative," she says. "We should be, too. If you find something to cook out of the cabinet, you probably can make dinner for less than $10."

There are ways to cut corners beyond the food budget. Mrs. Snyder says she loves to vacation, and her family goes away twice a year for seven days at a time. The Snyders recently enjoyed a week at the beach in North Carolina. By going a week before high season began, they earned a substantial discount on their lodging.

Jill Downing, a stay-at-home mother of two in Fairmount Heights, does similar research before her family vacations. The Downings recently drove to Myrtle Beach, S.C., then stayed at a discounted hotel room they had reserved with a bid on Priceline.com.

Bartering is a way to save money on children's activities such as sports and camps, Mrs. Snyder says. If you have a particular skill or just offer to donate your time, the league or management might discount your fees.

"Activities are so desperately in need of volunteers," she says.

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