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How to Save Big Bucks at the Supermarket

The cost of food is taking a huge bite out of family budgets that are already stretched to the max these days.

So, over the summer, All You magazine gave its readers a challenge, asking who could feed their families best on a limited budget.

The winner: Sara Vanderzee, of Grand Rapids, Mich. The prize? $1,000.

She cut her family's food budget from $200 to $60.

Now, instead of stopping in the cookie aisle, Sara buys fresh produce on sale.

Rather than eating out - with all the expenses and unhealthy food ingredients that go with it -- she's dusted off her Crock-Pot and bread-maker.

She also does things such as freezing fruits and veggies for later use, searches online for recipes, rather than buying cookbooks, and doubles the batch when preparing a meal, to have leftovers.

"I'm finally starting to realize," she says, "that cooking and baking from scratch, it saves a lot of money but is definitely offering healthier choices, too."

On "The Early Show" Friday, All You Senior Editor Amy Goodman offered many other tips readers sent in for the challenge.

TRACK YOUR COSTS
SHOP ONCE A WEEK, WITH CASH ONLY
MAKE HOMEMADE SNACKS
SHOP AT ETHNIC COMMUNITY STORES
RECRUIT A SHOPPING BUDDY

TRACK YOUR COSTS

Spreadsheet your spending and savings (rebates, coupons) to see where your money is going, but don't stick too closely to your produce list as you may miss out on deals.

"It wasn't until I started recording what we eat in a daily journal, along with a spreadsheet listing coupons, rebates and amount spent and saved, that I realized how much I was really spending." (reader Michelle Huddleston). However, as reader Heidi Carpenter points out, "Meal planning is smart, but I was actually spending more by sticking to a plan when it came to produce. Now I sketch out a general menu and look in the store for the best looking of the cheapest produce."

To help you track your supermarket spending:

PearBudget.com: An easy step-by-step setup guide to setting up a budget. It'll help you make a spending plan (less than 20 minutes). Then, you can enter your receipts into PearBudget, and you'll see your spending record. Together, your spending plan and your spending record make up your budget. This service is free for the first month, then it is $3 a month. You may want to sample this site to get an idea on how to organize and track your expenditures. Pearbudget.com provides a simple, elegant way to help you track your yearly expenses in a simple fashion. It is great for people who may be uncomfortable with plugging all of their financial information online

BankRate.com: Free Household Budgeting worksheet: There is a great template on bankrate.com -- just type in free household budgeting worksheet into the search bar and this handy dandy sheet shows up: Budgeting Worksheet

In addition, in the Excel computer program, there's a great pre-formatted budgeting tool. All you need to do is go into the project gallery portion, and there is a file called home essentials.

SHOP ONCE A WEEK, WITH CASH ONLY

No one wants to come up short at the register, and nothing is more effective at teaching you how to live within your means than on-the-ground training.

"As soon as I started the challenge, I realized we weren't always sticking to our budget. Now, we get $125 out of the bank in cash each week and use that to shop with," reader Kristin Davis wrote in.

MAKE HOMEMADE SNACKS

If you're like our readers, it isn't just your kids you've got to feed -- friends and friends of friends may be raiding your kitchen cabinets. Never underestimate the appeal of homemade snacks for kids, pre-teens, and teens - ingredients often run up cheaper, and compared to those packaged snacks high in saturated fat, providing a healthy alternative brings you one step closer to winning mom of the year. Make your own.

"I've figured out how to keep visiting preteens happy without buying pricey snacks. They love popcorn cooked on the stove, banana bread, smoothies and homemade cookies," says reader Michelle Huddleston.

"SHOP AT ETHNIC COMMUNITY STORES"

If it is convenient and you can spare the gas money, try working your local ethnic supermarket into your grocery shopping expeditions. They have markedly cheaper produce, probably about 20-30 percent on vegetables.

"I shop at ethnic grocery stores in town because they have substantially cheaper prices on produce. At my local Hispanic store I was able to purchase three full bags of vegetables for less than $4!" reader Samantha Finnegan says.

RECRUIT A SHOPPING BUDDY

You have a work-out buddy to make exercise more effective, so why not find a shopping buddy to make savings more efficient?

"Can you pick up 10 boxes of cheap cereal but you need only 4 or 5? Trade or go in on the deal with a friend," says reader Beth Taylor, who saved more than $10,000 last year combining coupons with store sales.