Shop smarter and save on supermarket bills

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According to an article on Kiplinger's.com, grocery prices will rise another 5% or so this year, as they did in 2007. There are myriad causes, including mounting corn, wheat and soybean prices, as well as the weakening dollar and inflated oil prices.

Some specifics: the price of milk is up 30%, bad news for those of us with children who are supposed to drink a couple glasses a day. Actually, most adults take in far too little calcium so I try to drink my fair share. Eggs are up 24% and margarine 20%--also staples in any household with kids, including mine.

I read another article in SmartMoney (the story is all over the news) called Eight Ways to Cut Your Grocery Bill, which also cited the 5% hike in food prices in 2007, again blaming the rise in oil and grain prices. The bad news about grocery prices comes just as most of are trying to cut back on household expenses. The cost of feeding a family of four-including a 70 pound eight year old boy who eats more than I do-is staggering. I didn't comprehend this in full until last month, when my husband pointed out that we spend an embarrassing amount of money at the supermarket each month. We agreed to make a wholehearted effort to cut our grocery bill.

The SmartMoney article lists some helpful suggestions like clipping coupons (that would be admitting that I have in fact become my mother and it seems like all the coupons are for things I don't really need or want) so I nixed that one. The article also links to websites devoted to saving money on grocery bills like livingonadime. Some of these ideas are hardcore, so I came up with my own strategies (for budgeting beginners) to reduce my grocery bill this Spring:

Pay attention: Since I'm not used to a strict grocery budget, the first step for me was to try to be more conscious of what I buy and how much things cost. This may seem obvious, but I can't tell you how many times I've run into the closest grocery store, grabbed what I needed and paid the bill without looking at a single price tag.

Bulk Up: I am one of the few people who hates warehouse shopping and behemoth-sized stores, but there's no question shopping at my local Costco for certain items saves money. I go, buy what I need – toilet paper, paper towels, saline solution, kids' snacks, milk and a few other food products. Then I leave so I don't buy unnecessary items.

Eat leftovers: Since I work out of my home, when it' time for lunch, I'm going to look in the fridge and heat up last night's dinner. Otherwise, I'll make something quick like a PBJ, truly an underrated sandwich, and enjoy it with a glass of milk. Making lunch takes more time than picking up lunch while I'm out, but it's usually better, cheaper and healthier.

Use a delivery service: Using a local supermarket that delivers, in my area, Peapod, may seem like it should add to my grocery bills, but I find it's economical because shopping for food online removes all impulse buying. This is good for my pocketbook and my waistline. Reading about Oreos isn't tempting-unless they're on sale.

"Shop" at home: I'm certain that my family could survive for a couple months using what's already stashed away in my kitchen cupboards. In my extra basement freezer, there's a whole ham, homemade meatballs from my mother, and vegetarian chili. Add a few vegetables and a box of spaghetti and that's a week of meals!

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