Moms' new battle: The food price bulge

Beyond clipping coupons, families are embracing generic grocery brands, and making their own baby food and detergent.

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By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com senior writer

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Christina Pond says she's saving money by making her own detergent (as seen in this picture), growing her own herbs and shopping at a local feed store for farm eggs.
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Jean Heis' family has significantly cut down on eating out.
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Some moms are using coupons and other discounts to stockpile food items like cereals. Breakfast cereal prices have jumped 4.8% over the past 12 months.
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- As American families face the double whammy of higher gas and food prices, moms nationwide are resorting to considerable ingenuity to stretch their monthly grocery budget.

For instance, Christina Pond of Arlington, Texas, makes her own detergent.

Pond, 26, a stay-at-home mom with an almost 8-month old daughter, does four loads of laundry every other day.

"Detergent is very expensive, so I make my own," she said.

She grates natural soap, boils it, adds Borax, baking soda and essential oils, and lets it cool overnight.

"I make five gallons at a time," she said.

Her husband is a bartender, and the rising cost of living is making it difficult to make ends meet.

"I am constantly trying to find ways to cut corners," she said.

To that end, Pond has planted her own herb garden. She buys eggs at the local feed store and pays $4.50 for 20 eggs. She purees vegetables and fruits into home-made baby food.

As a result, she's been able to bring down her monthly grocery bill to under $200.

Shaving money off the grocery bill

Linda Murray, editor-in-chief of BabyCenter.com, an online community for moms with more than 4 million subscribers, said thousands of mothers - including those mentioned in this story - have expressed their concerns about gas and food prices through the Web site's message board.

While there's been an "uptick" in those discussions, Murray said she's come across plenty of resourceful ideas from moms as well.

Many more moms are cooking at home, growing their own vegetables, breastfeeding instead of buying expensive formula, using leftovers to stretch the week's meals, and even hoarding discounted products.

"Most families are spending $500 a month on groceries," Murray said. "That's a mortgage payment for many of them."

Moms who aren't as inclined to tap their inner Martha Stewart are cutting costs by trading down to generic products from pricier name brand and organic foods and beverages.

While supermarkets are rushing to introduce more organic products, some moms are forgoing those "green" purchases because they typically also cost more.

Amanda Richardson of Richmond, Va., is doing just that.

Organic milk, which tends to be pricier, has given way to "just plain old store milk," she said.

Still, store milk prices are up more than 13% over the past year amid the worst food price inflation in 17 years.

Richardson said she's using coupons more frequently, and shopping for cheaper generic store brands for coffee and other items.

Richardson, who's in her late 30s, works in cancer research. Her husband is a self-employed carpenter who's struggling to find new business.

"We're a typical middle-income family," she said. "If we did not carry foolish debt, we would be OK. But with our debt burden, combined with paying for two children in day care, there is nothing left over at the end of the month."

For cost-saving reasons, Richardson has added less-expensive rice-and-beans to the family's weekly menu, and has all but eliminated red meat.

Beyond these cutbacks, if money still is especially tight, Richardson skips on purchases for herself such as skim milk and her favorite cereal.

"Being a mother, you want to cut back on things for yourself first before you cut back for the family," said Richardson.

After these adjustments, Richardson has brought down her grocery expenses to about $200 every two weeks.

Generic brands vs. name brands?

Like Richardson, Hannah Christopher has also traded down to store brands, albeit with some initial uneasiness.

Christopher, 33, is a third-grade teacher who lives in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., with her three children and her husband, who's also a teacher.

Last October, she started shopping at the discount food store Aldi.

"We were nervous at first because everything was really cheap," Christopher said. "We thought how can anything here be good?"

She took a chance and "the food is fine." Christopher is now buying staples such as milk, bread, cereal and juice at Aldi.

"Sometimes it's a hit or miss because you may not find the same product the next time you go, but it's worth the trip," she said.

There are things Christopher won't skimp on, such as bottled water and baby formula.

Still, switching to a discount food store has helped her shave between $200 to $300 from her monthly $500 grocery bill.

Chicago resident Jean Heis, 35, a married working mom of two small kids, has switched to discounter Food 4 Less to bring down her food expenses.

"Six months ago, I was shopping for my groceries online," said Heis, who works for a non-profit while her husband is in law enforcement. "Now I am at the end of a conveyor belt bagging my own food."

"In February, we were spending about $280 for groceries." Heis said "Now it's less than $200 a month."

What's more, the family has significantly cut down on eating out to once every two weeks from three nights a week.

"Why pay $22 for pizza when you can make it at home for under $10," Heis said.

For Amanda Richardson, the food price squeeze has taught her one more important lesson.

"Before we were incredibly wasteful. We'd let food go bad. I am more conscientious now," she said. "If prices go back down, I won't return to my wasteful ways."

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