Bankrate.com staff

How much of your budget do you eat each week?

Does your food bill include the amount you spend on your coffee break each day or the snack money you give the kids as they head off to school? How about the amount you spend on sodas at the office, or hotdogs you bought at the ballpark last week?

All of these things are a part of your total food costs, so they must be included for you to really see what’s eating away at your food budget.

Unlike luxury items, “take it or leave it” is not an option when it comes to food. So what can you do? Two words — brown bag. Stop paying 50 cents for a stickie-frosted-yum-yum when you can buy a box of 12 stickie-frosted-yum-yums for a dollar. Stash some in your desk drawer or kids lunch boxes for those times when you absolutely, positively must have sugar. As far as sodas go, do the math. Why would you want to pay 65 cents for one can of soda when you can get a six pack for less than two dollars?

And how about coupons? Did you know that 78 percent of coupons are not redeemed? With so many stores doubling coupons these days, it’s hard to believe that we all haven’t become scissor-wielding maniacs. Let’s say you have a coupon for 50 cents off of salad dressing and go to a store that doubles the coupon — that’s $1.00 off. Salad dressing typically costs around $1.40 so you’d only pay 40 cents for a zesty Italian extravaganza! The same thing goes for soap, cereal, french fries, detergent, and so on and so on and so on.

Are you ready to completely change the way you approach grocery shopping? If so, you can maximize your savings by applying “The Pantry Principle.” Never heard of it? Well, in a nutshell, the pantry principle means you shop to restock your pantry instead of shopping for just your weekly needs.

Plus, you only shop sales.

And, if you have coupons for those items, the more you can save.

Instead of using the grocery store circulars in your local paper to line the bottom of your bird cage, read them and see what sales are going on where. You want to buy these sale items in quantity and stock your pantry with the item at its sale price. So instead of buying five cans of corn when they’re on sale for $1, buy 30 cans.

Stock up on sale items so you won’t have to buy them when they aren’t on sale. You can save a lot of money this way. Chicken on sale for 19 cents a pound? Buy 50 pounds! Noodle-raviolio at six cans for $1 — buy, buy and buy some more. Not only will you be saving money, but you’ll be totally prepared for any natural disaster, too! The truth is, applying The Pantry Principle will allow you to take full advantage of sales, avoid seasonal price increases, and get the most out of your food dollars.

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