When it comes to household budgeting, food is one of the more flexible expenses, says Springfield, Ill., financial counselor Jiffy Johnson. Unlike the rent or phone bill, food spending is usually not fixed, making it a prime area in which to trim pennies.

Who doesn’t want to save money on food costs?


When it comes to household budgeting, food is one of the more flexible expenses, says Springfield, Ill., financial counselor Jiffy Johnson. Unlike the rent or phone bill, food spending is usually not fixed, making it a prime area in which to trim pennies.


“You gotta eat, but you can eat smarter and wiser,” she said.


Johnson says the biggest savings come from finding cheaper alternatives to items you buy on a regular basis. If you buy milk each week, for example, check out Walgreens, which often has a good price on it.


“If you buy anchovies once a year, who cares about the price? But if you buy the same thing every week, the savings add up,” Johnson said.


Generics can yield a treasure chest of savings. Rather than automatically pooh-poohing store brands, give them a try, Johnson advised.


“I’ve been drinking Pepsi for years. But I tried the Meijer soda and was surprised that I like it even better.”


For example, recently, at Meijer, a two-liter bottle of Pepsi was $1.59, while the store brand cola was 88 cents. Avoiding convenience foods can be another way to save, too.


“You’re paying more because they are doing the work for you. You can pay $3 for a little cup of coleslaw at the deli, or you can buy a head of cabbage for 30 cents. How much time does it take to cut it up?”


Other tips:


-- Pay with cash. It limits the tendency to overbuy.


-- Order a glass of water with restaurant meals. It’s an easy way to save $2 or $3 on a beverage.


-- Freeze foods in convenient portions. If you’ll need a cup of turkey breast chunks for a casserole, freeze them in that amount.


-- Check serving sizes. According to the label of a 20-ounce bottle of Hawaiian Punch, it has 2.5 servings. Either buy it in a true single-serving container, or get a large bottle and pour a reasonable amount into a glass.


-- Consider portion control. A box of ice cream sandwiches may seem expensive, but you’re likely to eat just one. The sandwiches may be a smarter buy than a tub of ice cream, which you may be tempted to eat with abandon.


-- Buy a wide-mouth thermos. Fill it with soup or chili for a meal when you’re away from home.


-- Eat eggs. They are a fairly cheap source of protein. “Usually one or two fried is a meal,” Johnson said.


-- Consider multiple uses for products. Babies don’t need their own little jars of applesauce; they can eat the same applesauce the whole family eats. Likewise, bottled marinades can be used as meat sauces and salad dressings, and cleaning products can be used to clean all rooms of a home, not just the kitchen or bathroom.


-- See if your children qualify for reduced-price school lunches. “The standards are amazingly generous,” she said.


-- Go to a church supper. It’s an inexpensive way to eat out.


Changing your food-buying habits can do more than save money at the cash register. Cooking from scratch and getting rid of junk food also contribute to a more healthful diet.


“If you eat nutritiously,” Johnson said, “you may be able to save some money at the doctor’s office.”


Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at kathryn.rem@sj-r.com. Follow her via twitter.com/KathrynRemSJR.