Cut your grocery bill in half

Everyone's hurting thanks to high food prices - here's how to slash what you spend on groceries.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Nearly $5 for a box of cereal is outrageous - and it's probably only going to get worse. But there's a crop of new online resources that can help take the sticker shock out of food shopping.

The average U.S. household spent $3,240 on groceries last year, according to the American Express Everyday Spending index, and prices have risen substantially since then.

Of course, clipping coupons can help, but it's time consuming and tedious. The good news is that now there are Web sites that can help make saving much easier.

Strategic shopping

Stephanie Nelson, a mother of two, says cutting your grocery bill in half is easy. She launched couponmom.com seven years ago to show other shoppers what weekly sales and savings are available - saving them time, and of course, money.

The Web site's database tracks what's on sale at your local grocery store and matches it with what coupons are available.

For example, New Jersey shoppers can use a $1 coupon in the RedPlum circular when All brand laundry detergent goes on sale at Pathmark, and save 50% off the retail price.

Nelson says that shoppers who match up weekly specials with coupons from newspaper circulars can easily take 50% off their entire bill, if not more. That's what she calls "strategic shopping." And it's catching on, Nelson has seen a huge uptick in interest in her site, which lists grocery bargains at 41 retailers in 50 states. Since January, traffic has tripled, she said.

"You can't do much about your mortgage payment or car payment," Nelson said. "Grocery shopping is where you have the most opportunity to save money."

Virtual coupon clipping

If sifting through the newspaper for savings is not your bag, more stores are offering electronic coupons, which can be printed at home, or loaded right on to your store loyalty card.

Kroger (KR, Fortune 500) customers can go to Shortcuts.com, enter their loyalty card information, click on coupons they want, and have the savings automatically applied to their bill at checkout.

And Shortcuts.com is currently in discussions with other national chains to roll out similar programs soon.

Other sites, such as coupons.com and eversave.com, offer a slew of printable coupons as well as coupon codes that can be used for online shopping.

Buy online

Shopping online is another way to score great deals on groceries. Although the prices aren't always better, comparison shopping is definitely easier. And the savings of time - and gas - can be substantial.

New online grocery and delivery services are emerging across the country, such as FreshDirect, Peapod and SimonDelivers, and sell everything from fresh produce to frozen dinners.

Amazon.com's (AMZN, Fortune 500) grocery service, which launched two years ago, sells nonperishable items in bulk (no milk, fresh meat, or produce) at relatively low cost.

A pack of four boxes of Kellogg's (K, Fortune 500) Mini-Wheats is $17.60 on Amazon, 10% less per unit than on the bulk shopping site buythecase.net, and 18% lower than the per-unit price on Walgreens.com.

On top of that, Amazon orders over $25 qualify for free shipping, and additional savings are available when shoppers sign up to have deliveries made regularly.

The e-tailer manages to keep per-unit costs down by selling items in larger pack sizes or manufacturer's cases, which cuts the cost of handling and packaging, according to Tom Furphy, vice president of consumables.

You may have to clean out your pantry to make room for all that sugar-coated cereal, but the savings will be sweet.  To top of page

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