Saving Money on Food for the New Year

This blog post is the second of our “Ask EFNEP” series where members of UMaine Cooperative Extension’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) answer questions they are asked when delivering food and nutrition programs.

This question was answered by Brenda Bracy. Brenda has worked with EFNEP in Cumberland County for the past 25 years. Brenda says, “Being involved with this work for 25 years has allowed me to connect with people of all ages, and deliver a variety of nutrition lessons and activities. Overall, the best part of my job is knowing I’ve helped empower clients to stop, look, and make wiser choices when it comes to grocery shopping, cooking, and eating healthier for themselves and their families. When I’m not at work I enjoy spending time with my husband, two daughters, two grandchildren, and my dog Molly. I also love to cook, garden, travel, and stay active.”

Question: I’m looking for ways to save money on my food bill in the new year. What are some ways I can do that?

Answer: When I’m trying to budget the cost of my groceries, I rely on two core strategies:

  1. Planning
  2. Being flexible when meal planning


  • The first step when planning is to decide how much money you have available for food and then to figure out how much food you’ll need to meet the needs of your family. Begin by keeping track of spending to get an idea of the amount that is needed. Then plan to shop either weekly or monthly. Note that fewer trips to the grocery store either weekly or monthly can save you money on transportation costs while decreasing your chances of spending more money while in the store. Other tips include: Keeping a list of items you run out of, and items needed for meals and snacks you plan to prepare.
  • Checking cupboards and your refrigerator and freezer to see what you already have so you won’t buy unnecessary or duplicate items.
  • Comparing grocery store prices by using store flyers or online store websites.
  • Planning also involves using the five food groups from MyPlate to ensure that you are planning meals with foods from these food groups such as beans, eggs, milk, peanut butter, or tuna. Be sure to plan together with family members to ensure meals and snacks contain foods that everyone likes.

Some grocery stores have online digital grocery fliers and menu templates that allow you to create a shopping list, compare prices, and shop virtually. In addition, they offer customer loyalty rewards like coupons and a cash amount off a certain amount spent like $5 off a $40 purchase.

Be Flexible When Meal Planning

The more you practice cooking at home the easier it becomes. You begin to organize and know your kitchen. Having an organized supply of cooking supplies like sharp knives, a cutting board, mixing bowls, baking sheets, and saucepans makes the job easier. Also, having a ready supply of staples like flour, baking powder, vegetable oil, eggs, and spices allow you to whip up pancakes, muffins, or quick breads.

It’s fun to get creative and experiment with recipes. You can add different ingredients to make a recipe healthier or change the flavor. I’ve made mac and cheese and know my family likes spinach so I added spinach and it was enjoyed by all. Another time, I added cocoa powder to a chili recipe, and it brought the flavor to a new level! Most recipes don’t need to be followed exactly and many times can be modified to be healthier. For example, I’ve reduced sugar, and fat in many recipes, and they still came out with delicious results. With practice, cooking really gets easier and tastier.

I’ve also discovered that the high cost of meat as a protein source can raise my food budget substantially. To offset this cost, I’ve learned to use protein alternatives whenever possible. Remember that there are a variety of choices in the protein food group. Plant-based proteins like beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu can be lower in price. Also, eggs and some canned fish can be healthy protein foods and usually cost less per serving; overall, helping you to spend less, and stay within your budget. Also, watch for sales in the store, and be willing to give up a higher-cost protein choice for the one on sale if it’s another family favorite.

For example, black beans are a delicious and cheap source of protein. Check out our delicious Black Bean and Squash Chili Recipe.

Take advantage of the nutritious recipes on our Mainely Dish website, and start saving today!


By Brenda Bracy, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education (EFNEP) Community Education Assistant