REAL SIMPLE. REAL expert Farnoosh Torabi and food pro Nathan Lyon share their tips for stretching grocery dollars.

By Real Simple
Updated December 18, 2008
Emily Wilson

Switch to generic. You can save up to 50 percent on groceries just by filling your cart with store-brand products instead of upscale labels. Often there’s no difference in the actual ingredients, so don’t judge a book by its cover.

Buy in bulk. Stock up on canned and dry goods from wholesale discount clubs―the items won’t expire for at least a year.

Create meals around the food items you already have. Planning ahead for a week of meals is a great saver―but building them around ingredients you’ve already paid for is even better. (On average, about 30 percent of the groceries we buy go to waste every year!)

Clip coupons. It may sound old-fashioned, but sites like and are a great (and modern) resource for big savings on everyday staples.

Shop on a full stomach. Roaming the aisles when you’re starving will only lead to regrettable impulse purchases. (As tempting as it may be in the moment, you could probably manage without that jar of Marshmallow Fluff.)

Pick and choose when to buy organic. Organic foods can cost up to 100 percent more than their conventional counterparts―but they’re not always worth it. For example: Certain nonorganic produce like asparagus, bananas, and corn are rarely sprayed with pesticides, so there’s no need to pay extra. Same goes for certain organic cereals and breads; according to nutrition experts, grain isn't as prone to collecting the same levels of pesticide residue as, say, produce. Bottom line: you'll be making a nutritious, safe choice if you stick with regular whole-grain products.

Select seasonal produce. Grocery stores pride themselves on being able to offer a huge selection year-round, but you’ll pay a premium for ingredients that can’t be grown locally at certain times of year. (Those mid-winter peaches imported from the south of Chile? Not such a hot deal.) If you have certain favorites you can’t live without, try freezing them when they’re at their peak. (Frozen peaches, for instance, make for great cobblers, smoothies, and jams.)

Go where negotiating is welcome. Unlike mass-market stores where haggling is unheard of, the individual proprietors at farmers’ markets often welcome a bit of give-and-take on the price. (They tend to be particularly amenable when you’re buying larger quantities―say, a bushel of apples instead of just a bag.)

Get smart about leftovers. When you’re preparing meals, think about which components would lend themselves to other uses. Cooking up a batch of tomato sauce? Make a little extra and have homemade pizza later in the week. Repurpose leftover brown rice into a coconut rice pudding dessert, or puree roast vegetables into a soup for tomorrow’s lunch.