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Want to cut your grocery bill in half? Here's how

From author Stephanie Nelson, the 'Coupon Mom' Want to start the new year off right with healthy savings on groceries? The average family spends nearly $11,000 per year on groceries and household items. If you shop strategically, it’s realistic to cut that number in half without compromising on the quality of the food you feed your family. To get started saving immediately, these are the strat

From author Stephanie Nelson, the 'Coupon Mom' Want to start the new year off right with healthy savings on groceries? The average family spends nearly $11,000 per year on groceries and household items. If you shop strategically, it’s realistic to cut that number in half without compromising on the quality of the food you feed your family. To get started saving immediately, these are the strategies that have saved me thousands of dollars on my grocery shopping over the past 16 years. Track and compare prices of your top grocery items.Identify the items you buy most often and make a list. For the next few weeks, note the items’ prices at your regular grocery store. Over a period of several weeks you will notice that prices fluctuate, and you’ll be able to recognize what a rock-bottom price is for your common items in the future. To be even more thorough, compare your supermarket prices for these items to other shopping options, such as a big-box super center (Walmart, Target), a no-frills grocery store (ALDI or Save-A-Lot) and a warehouse club (Sam’s, Costco, BJs). You may find that you’ll save by stocking up on a few items during a once-a-month trip to an alternate store. Commit to plan your meals and shopping trip for a full week to have a comprehensive shopping list. Then stick to it when you shop!Use your store’s weekly circular and/or grocery deals Web sites and blogs to find the best bargains at your store, then plan meals around the featured bargains. If chicken is one of your top items and it is half price, stock the freezer for future weeks so that you never have to pay full price. Making a comprehensive list will also reduce unplanned trips to the store in the middle of the week for a forgotten item. You’ll save money by reducing impulse shopping, and you’ll save time by spending less time in the store overall. Best of all, knowing what you’re having for dinner all week is a big stress-reliever. Cook more meals at home.Restaurant meals can be 75 percent more expensive than cooking the same meals at home. In other words, if you skipped a few restaurant meals a month you would actually be able to afford many more nice meals at home. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to prepare meals at home, and probably takes less time than waiting at a restaurant. Plus, you can make sure home-cooked meals are healthy. And you don’t have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Cook once and eat twice with simple one-pot meals like soups and chilis that make enough for more than one dinner. Or give the crockpot a try, that’s my favorite easy-cooking trick. You’ll find my favorite simple recipes in "The Coupon Mom’s Guide." Be a flexible shopper.Be brand flexible and store flexible. You don’t have to shop at several stores per week to save money, but you should review the grocery bargains at a few different stores to decide which store offers the best bargains for your family that week. As you plan your list, be flexible about brands. Buy the brand that is on sale that week instead of buying the same brands regardless of price. You may just discover a new favorite item! Use coupons easilyIf you aren’t a coupon user, give them a try this year with the latest easy methods of using coupons. You will be surprised at how many coupons there are for items you buy when you really pay attention. The Sunday newspaper is the best source of grocery coupons, providing about 80 percent of the $315 billion worth of grocery coupons distributed annually. Use the “No Clip System” described in "The Coupon Mom’s Guide" to use coupons efficiently, spending about 15 minutes per week to clip only the coupons you plan to use each week. Also get in the habit of printing coupons from the Web and downloading electronic coupons on your store discount card for very easy savings. Just for fun, save your grocery receipts so that you can see how much you saved at the end of each month and at the end of the year that’s your own performance review! Do you have a question for Coupon Mom Stephanie Nelson? If so, post it below and she'll be joining TODAY Moms to share her answers.Related stories:Video: Coupon Mom helps TODAY's Jenna Wolfe get $100 worth of groceries for 25 cents

Coupon Mom's strategic shopping secretsCoupon Mom Stephanie Nelson is the author of “The Coupon Mom’s Guide to Cutting Your Grocery Bills in Half." Learn more by visiting her site and her book site.