- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

Where is the money going? Two big categories may be worthy of a financial makeover in your home. Food and entertainment are spots that can be examined and overhauled, says Mary Hunt, founder of the Cheapskate Monthly newsletter and author of several books on family finance.

“Americans are so spoiled,” Ms. Hunt says. “So much is available to us. The average family spends $5,500 a year just on groceries.”

Look at your grocery receipts, she says. Often what you think of as “my food bill” can be trimmed in a big way.

“Some people spend more on food than on their mortgage each month,” Ms. Hunt says. “The food bill is about the only thing you can change today.”

Ms. Hunt’s tips include:

• Write down every food expense. Those quick lunches out at work or sodas from a machine can add up to big bucks.

mState that you will eat out only a certain number of times per month. Learn to cook and eat at home and brown-bag lunches.

• Become a savvy grocery shopper. This includes reading newspaper circulars each week to determine what is on sale. Combine the sale price with a coupon to save even more money.

Jonni McCoy, author of the book “Frugal Families: Making the Most of Your Hard Earned Money,” says making your own meals is the key to saving on the food budget.

People mistakenly believe that food should be bought, rather than made, she says. Items such as muffins, waffles and burritos can be made for a fraction of what pre-made products cost. Even pre-cut food such as cheese, carrots or bagged salad cost twice as much as what you prepare yourself.

Other advice from Mrs. McCoy includes:

• Cut back on meats. Eating a few meatless meals a week can save money in the long run.

mBuy in bulk whenever you can. You are saving money on the cost of packaging. This will pay off especially for items such as boneless chicken breasts and hamburger.

mWhen you’re buying in bulk, the best deals may not be found at the warehouse club. Though those stores often have great prices, a sale at the neighborhood supermarket might beat the price. Compare both prices. Also, if you can’t handle the temptations to spend on clothes, books or other items at a warehouse club, you will not come out ahead on the bottom line.

As for entertainment, books, movies, theaters, video rentals and video games all chip away at household entertainment allocations.

If you are creative, you can cut the costs in half, Ms. Hunt says.

“Just find different ways,” she says. “Don’t pay money at Blockbuster when you can borrow from the library. Look in the paper and find the $1 movie theater. You might have to change your attitude a bit, but cheaper opportunities are out there.”

Ms. Hunt points out that in cities such as the District, where the Smithsonian museums are free, cheaper opportunities abound.

“Don’t look at it as ‘I am so poor,’” she says. “Say to yourself, ‘I work hard for my money. I want to make it last.’”

Ms. McCoy has found many ways to entertain her children by making toys and games. Recipes for homemade modeling dough or sidewalk chalk can be found in her book “Miserly Moms: Living on One Income in a Two-Income World” or online.

Other entertainment savers from Ms. McCoy:

• Don’t go to the mall for entertainment.

• Reduce your cable package. Eliminating movie channels and going to the basic service can save more than $200 annually.

• If you have movie channels, stop renting movies. Watch what is being broadcast instead.

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