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To save money on groceries, try these tips before going to the store


Take a moment and think about the last thing you cooked. How much do you think the carrot in that recipe cost? And what about those three cups of vegetable broth? Beth Moncel could actually answer that question. She's the founder of budgetbytes.com, a recipe website for folks with small budgets. When she studied nutritional science in college, she learned a costing method that restaurants and cafeterias use, and you can use it at home, too.

BETH MONCEL: I suggest everyone try costing at least once because it's so eye-opening. It really does make you rethink the way you look at all of the ingredients that you're buying.

DETROW: Marielle Segarra, the host of NPR's Life Kit, talked to Moncel recently, and she is going to share some more about that technique, along with other tips for how to spend less on groceries.

MARIELLE SEGARRA, BYLINE: This technique, costing, means calculating the per-service cost of a recipe. So let's say you are making lentil bolognese. That's a recipe on Moncel's website. One ingredient is a carrot. You'd figure out the price of that carrot, add it to the cost of all the other ingredients in the recipe and then...

MONCEL: Divide it by the number of servings so you know how much each of your meals is costing.

SEGARRA: The lentil bolognese costs $1.40 per serving. Moncel says when you do this, you start to notice patterns, like some of the components are way cheaper than others. One carrot is $0.15. One cup of red lentils - $0.67. Half a cup of walnuts - $1.07. Moncel says once you know these things, you can tweak the ratios in your recipes to make them cheaper - like if she's making chili with ground beef.

MONCEL: So something that I like to do is reduce that ground beef by half, so I'm still getting that beefy flavor and that satisfying mouthfeel of, you know, actually eating beef. But then I bulk up the recipe with extra beans, maybe some lentils or maybe even some extra vegetables if I have them.

SEGARRA: Some other foods that tend to be cheap and substantive.

MONCEL: My favorite is cabbage. Cabbage is so versatile because it can go with so many different flavors, and there's a lot of different ways you can prepare it. And it's so filling. Don't forget about potatoes, onions, carrots. Even broccoli sometimes can be pretty inexpensive.

SEGARRA: On the flip side, ingredients that tend to be more expensive are meat, cheese, other dairy products and nuts. Another way to lower your monthly grocery bill is to make sure you're not wasting food. Moncel relies heavily on her freezer.

MONCEL: I often freeze leftover cheese. Leftover bread products freeze really well.

SEGARRA: If you can't freeze a leftover ingredient, try incorporating it into your menu for the next few days. Now, if you're one of those people who puts stuff in the freezer and then forgets that it's in there...

MONCEL: One way to stay on top of that is you can actually keep a list magnetized to the front of your freezer. And every time you put, like, a leftover ingredient in the freezer, you know, just write it down. Write the date on it. And then if you use it, cross it off your list.

SEGARRA: In terms of the actual grocery shopping, Moncel looks at circulars online before she heads to the store. She does that while she's making a meal plan so she can work in ingredients that are on sale. She says keep in mind, it's not always cheaper to buy in bulk. Also, think about whether you'll use that huge bag of flour before it goes bad. Lastly, if you're having a hard time paying for groceries, she suggests that you look up food banks in your area.

MONCEL: I think it's a really great resource that is often overlooked, or people think food banks are for people who only have no food. But really, it's like a bridge to help people through these tough times.

SEGARRA: Maybe you just need a couple of things to get you to your next paycheck. For NPR News, I'm Marielle Segarra. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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