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One of the things that takes some getting used to as a senior citizen is living on a fixed income. And even if you have a healthy retirement, investments, a 401K plan and Social Security benefits, when you stop working, your income comes out of that nest egg which is a diminishing bucket of funds. So anything you can do to protect your money and economize means your money will last longer, be there for you when you have an emergency or be available for fun things which is what retirement is all about.

If you are able to continue to prepare your own food, you are already well ahead of the game because one big expense for any budget is the food budget. And if you are buying food for a spouse, older children still at home or you are helping to raise the grandkids, you can see a food budget that can get out of control. So it pays to come up with some tips for how to slash that food budget, but do so in a way that does not impact the quality of food you eat or feed your family.

Economy begins at home so you can do a lot before you even go to the grocery store by learning to use everything you buy. An investment in some quality storage units so you can keep leftovers fresh or keep fresh vegetables or fruits on hand will help you eat everything you buy and cut down on waste. In fact, if you like to garden, you can even take the organic waste such as coffee grounds and apple cores and make your own compost which can go into your garden to grow your own food next spring. 

But the key to saving money at the grocery store is to be a smart shopper. Remember that grocery stores stock lots of items that are made to appeal to people who want convenience over low prices. So you can save a lot of money by avoiding fast foods, frozen foods or “TV dinners” and buying the ingredients to make your own meals every day.

Being a smart shopper also means knowing when and where to shop and how to find the good values in food and grocery supplies at the store. Some core principles of smart shopping are:

- If you can buy in bulk – do it. Most items are cheaper at the unit cost level if you buy larger quantities. So if you can buy and store more food at once, you can take advantage of those savings.

- Avoid impulse purchases. Stores carefully place items that are appealing so you will buy higher priced items. Work from a list and stick to your list.

- Slice or grate your own cheese. Pre-sliced and grated convenience cheese comes at a higher price. Buy cheese in blocks and slice or grate it yourself. Some cheeses freeze well. Talk about convenience.

- Buy fresh produce. Fresh foods are not only better for you, they are cheaper over the convenience of processed canned foods. However watch for deals on frozen fruits and vegetables - some of them are extremely good buys.

- Know your town. Each grocery store has certain categories they do best at outselling the others. Know what stores are good with produce, with meat and with everyday savings and create your shopping lists accordingly. Also look for stores that are Senior-Friendly. Not necessarily advertised, but nevertheless true, some markets offer senior discounts on your entire purchase if you shop with them on a certain day of the week!

- Loss-leaders can be a double edged sword. Loss-leaders are the staples that a market will put on sale (most notably milk and eggs) to get you into their market, with the hopes that you will impulse-buy a few other items on your way to the checkout counter. It works way more often than not. If you are shopping the loss-leaders, stick to the loss-leaders. Buy other items from your grocery list only if competitively priced.

- Know your store. Each week, your store marks down certain items in preparation for the weekend. Routinely they will slash the prices of fresh meat to get rid of last week’s supply in preparation for the higher priced specials for this week. If you know when that stuff hits the shelves, you can score big savings and freeze what you buy to use over the next few weeks.

- Know your items. Learn your price points of what is a good price for each item on your list. Try to buy under those price points so your budget is controlled.

- Buy store brands.

- Learn how to use coupons religiously. Coupon wars are in full swing at this writing. If you are diligent, and purchase what you need carefully, you can cut your food bill in half with coupons. I know it sounds impossible. Test my claim for a week and see how much you can save by becoming part of the coupon wars!

- Leave the hungry hubby at home! That man can load a basket up with more impulse items than a preschooler.

- Leave the grandkids home. Children will add dozens of items to your shopping cart and slow you down. Leave them out of the picture and you won’t have to buy their impulse items and the trip will go faster too.

By being a smart shopper, you can stretch your food budget, see an impressive savings on what you spend on groceries, and help you stretch your retirement savings which means a longer more prosperous retirement, and one that is more worry free as well. And isn't that worth the extra effort?