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Good ways to save money when buying food

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One of the best ways to make more room in your finances is by tightening up your food budget. Here are good ways to make that happen.

1. Be a bounty hunter. If your grocery store has a sale on ground beef (for example) and it's a great big package, buy it any way, and cut it up into sizes you'll use. Use the freezer quality zipper top, plastic bags. You're going to go to all this trouble, you might as well have something of quality to eat when it's time to thaw!

2. Bigger isn't better. Not necessarily anyway. Don't automatically reach for the biggest package at the grocery store. Compare prices and watch for the price per ounce or unit on the price tag.

3. Make mine a markdown. Check around to see if your store has a markdown shelf. Not all stores have these, but some do and you can pick up some good deals.

4. Count your losses. Loss leaders (the cheap stuff they advertise on the front of the fliers they send out every week) are designed to get you into the door. But watch out for the end cap displays in the store. They're usually not the loss leaders! Just regular merchandise. Don't be duped.

5. Grocery store smarts. Give yourself this quick test before leaving the house. Do I have my list? (no list, no store) Is this a bad time to shop? (avoid prime time at the grocery store) Can someone watch the kids? (no explanation necessary) Am I hungry? (you know what happens when you're hungry and you're shopping for food!). If you've passed the test, go to the bathroom, tuck your list into your pocketbook and go!

6. Spice it up. I don't buy my spices at the regular grocery store. I get mine at a discount store for $1 each or 2 for a dollar. I've also bought them from the bulk jars at the health food store for mere pocket change.

7. Take stock. Create a perpetual pantry. That means you bulk up on what you use and need. But you must watch it when you're in that "stocking up" mood. Stock up, but don't hoard.

8. Go bananas. If your bananas get a little too ripe, don't throw them out — freeze them. Peel and throw them in a freezer bag. They are great for smoothies.

9. Menus aren't just for restaurants. You must plan your meals. No plan spells disaster — you know that. It is stressful not knowing what's for dinner.

10. Rubber chicken. This is the mother of all dollar-stretching recipes. Roast a chicken for meal No. 1, then use the leftover chicken mixed with beans to make burritos for meal No. 2 and finally, soup gets made out of the carcass. See how far you can stretch a chicken?

11. My freezer, my friend. Everyone loves those new dinner assembly franchise places. We do, too! But we do it at home instead and save big bucks. To find out more how to do this yourself, go to our Web site: www.savingdinner.com

All of these tips are tried and true. They delivered me from debt. Give them a try!

Leanne Ely, a k a Dinner Diva, is the author of the best-selling "Saving Dinner" and "Saving Dinner the Low Carb Way" (Ballantine). What's for dinner? Go to www.savingdinner.com and find the solution!