PEOPLE OFTEN WONDER how they can afford high-quality food, such as locally made tortillas or organically grown vegetables. My feeling that anyone can afford such food was bolstered significantly by news of a booklet called The $30-A-Week Grocery Budget, by Donna McKenna ($5, RR1 Box 189, Casco, ME 04015). McKenna is a mother of four documenting many of the shortcuts I have found by accident. Her motivation is to keep food expenditures as low as possible while her husband finishes school. Mine is to save enough grocery money to buy previously unaffordable foods such as virgin olive oil, stone-ground flour, and fresh herbs. A person could do a little of each, using some grocery savings for non-food purposes and the rest for special foods.
The main trade-off is time, because you have to be willing to make more things from scratch. But before you quit reading here, be assured that it will take less time than you think. Besides, it's time you can spend listening to music or news on the radio, or talking to friends and family while you work.
Rule number one in gaining grocery dollars is to keep anything even remotely resembling convenience food out of your cart. No frozen waffles, box cereal, snack foods, juice in boxes, package cookies, sauces, salad dressings, etc. You can make all these yourself for pennies. A rich red spaghetti sauce takes 20-30 minutes to prepare--you'd have to spend 10 minutes of that anyway waiting for the pasta to cook. Refried beans take longer, but most of the soaking and boiling time can be spent doing something else.
To replace box cereal, make pancakes or waffles more often (try buckwheat, cornmeal, and whole wheat variations). Eat them with applesauce or homemade berry syrup, or make your own maple syrup from sugar, water, and flavoring (available in most spice sections). Make your own granola. Experiment with soups, cookies, and muffins. Substitute popcorn for potato chips.