Need a foolproof way to cut your food/grocery expenses by 25 percent this month? Announce to your family that there will be a complete ban on the consumption of food during the first week of every month. There. That should do it!  Twenty-five percent right off the top.

What?! Don’t think you can pull that off? Me either, but not to worry. Here are some less painful—and I hope a bit more realistic—ways to chop the high cost of food.

25 Ways to Chop the High Cost of Groceries

Create your shopping list at home when you are hungry. You will be more creative and thorough.

But never shop when hungry. You will be compelled to buy everything in sight regardless of what’s on your list.

Leave the kids at home. You will stick to your shopping list with much less frustration and stress if you fly solo.

Don’t shop at convenience or specialty stores. You won’t find many bargains there.

Groceries online. Online grocery shopping is the latest and greatest for many (me!). It keeps me out of the supermarket where, even with a list, I’m an impulsive disaster just waiting to happen. I shop at KingSoopers (part of the Kroger Family of stores) and pay a flat fee of $4.95  per order for its ClickList service. (Read more about that here.) Walmart groceries online with free same-day pickup is now available at hundreds of Walmart stores nationwide (store locator). Walmart does not charge a pickup fee but has a minimum order requirement of $30.

Hint: 24 Fabulous Ideas for Mother’s Day Gifts

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Extreme bargain hunters have something in common: timing. They’ve got it down to a science and I’m talking about specific days and even the exact time of day to get great bargains.

These shoppers wait patiently and then swoop down to pick up bargains unknown to the novice shopper. Thankfully, they’re willing to share their secrets.

Best time to buy depicted with clock, second hand sweep and sticky notes

HOTEL

The best time to snag a great deal on a room is at 4 p.m., local time on Sunday, says CBS Travel Editor, Peter Greenberg. This is when you will have the best shot at speaking with an employee whose job depends on keeping rooms filled, who can also negotiate room rates. But this can be tricky, so here are the steps to follow:

Do not call the hotel’s 800 number. That will connect you to a big clearinghouse that books rooms for hundreds of locations. The people who answer those phones do not have the power to give you a better deal, according to Greenberg. Instead, call the specific hotel’s local direct line.

Next, do not ask for the reservations department, which will only get you routed back through to the 800 number clearinghouse you are trying to avoid. Instead, ask to speak manager on duty, who at this time of day on the weekend will probably be a lower level employee whose job it is to keep rooms filled—a person who has the authority to negotiate rates and book rooms. This is better for you than calling during the week when you will be connected to a “revenue manager” who is more interested in keeping the rates high.

Be very courteous. Say that you are shopping for a great room rate during a specific week, followed by, “What can you do for me?” See yourself as a valuable commodity at this moment because you will take an unsold room out of inventory, which represents job security for the person you’re speaking with.

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I blame my suspicious nature on my neighborhood grocery store. The store used to be a logically arranged market with bright lights and clean floors—a basic, friendly, functional place to shop.

Then the bulldozers morphed it into a big fancy supermarket complete with clothing, mood lighting and cushy chairs. And hidden cameras.

I have nothing against beautiful spaces and modern conveniences, but I’m no fool. I knew all of this effort was to one end: to get me to spend more. Take the “Three for $6!” special of the week. “Why not just say $2 each and drop the exclamation mark?” I muttered to myself as I placed one jar of spaghetti sauce in the cart. Before I could wheel away I had my answer: I saw several customers dutifully place three jars in their carts. Not two, not four, but three jars.

That response was no accident. In fact, that’s a simple example of how retailers use tricks to persuade consumers to buy more.

It’s been a few years since I had the privilege to interview Paco Underhill, author of Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping. Retailers hire Underhil’s company, Envirosell, to follow thousands of shoppers a year in person and on videotape, observing their every move.

Using this information, the stores find ways to get people to shop longer, spend more and return often. Underhill and his crew are so good at what they do, they can tell retailers what will entice people to enter the store, which way they’ll look once they’re inside, and more.

How important is consumer persuasion to the marketplace? “If we went into stores only when we needed to buy something,” Underhill told me, “and if once there we bought only what we needed, the economy would collapse. Boom.”

No one wants the economy to get any worse, but we don’t want to overspend either. So our defense as consumers is to educate ourselves. Here are 7 tricks together with easy ways to outsmart those sneaky  retailers.

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I can’t think of many things worse than waking up on Dec. 26 with a raging debt hangover—an all-too-common after-Christmas condition.

The only reason you paid for everything with a credit card is that it was convenient. Besides, it’s not safe to shop online with a debit card, so what were your options?

Of course, you promised yourself that you would be paying the balance in full the minute the statement arrives, but who are we kidding here?

You were already carrying a balance on every card in your wallet, so now all of those new purchases will exacerbate the problem by plunging you even deeper into debt. Worse, you don’t even know for sure how much you spent because who keeps track when you pay for everything with a credit card?

Just imagine if you’d kept your promise that this year would be an all-cash Christmas—that you locked those credit cards away where they were safe from you. You’d be heading into the New Year with a much different attitude. No excuses, no hiding the holiday bills; no worries and no regrets.

I’ve got some good news for you. This year really can be an all-cash Christmas. You can do it and make your cash stretch even further when you take advantage of the lower prices when you shop online. You really can shop with CASH at Amazon, absolutely no credit card or debit card required.

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Your money is limited and time is short. Here is my best advice to make sure back-to-school clothes shopping doesn’t send you to the poorhouse.

Set spending limits. Time to get real. How much money (not credit) do you have available for school clothes? Write it down.

Take an inventory. Sort through your kids’ clothes and decide which ones you want to keep and which ones they don’t wear due to wear and tear, or because they no longer fit. This gives you a clear idea of what you have, and what you need to buy.

Sell the old to buy the new. If you have gently used clothes in good condition, sell them and use the money towards the purchase of back-to-school clothing. You can sell on eBay or on Craigslist, at a garage sale or by taking them to a resale consignment shop to sell or use as trade items.

Assess needs. Not every child will have the same needs when it comes to school clothes. What is reasonable? Now divvy up the money you have against the children’s needs then moving on to wants until all the money has been appropriated.

Start with new shoes. There’s nothing like a new pair of shoes to get kids in the mood for the first day of school. Shoes are so satisfying, this will take the edge off the raging case of the “I wants” that your children may have picked up somewhere. And a new pair of shoes even make last seasons’ clothes perk up. Read more

Consignment shopping is an excellent way to purchase kids and baby clothes, often brand new and for less than one-third of the retail price. Most cities these days have specialty consignment shops for babies, children and teens, too.

The consignment process is simple. If you are a seller, the store sets its criteria for accepting merchandise, and sets the price—usually 50 percent of the new retail price.

Expect a consignment shop to have very high standards for what they will accept: Must be a current style, must be brought in clean and must have no visible wear, holes or stains. You bring your items to the store to be reviewed and submitted for sale. Because most stores have limited hours for this process, be sure to call ahead. Read more

Grocery shopping is tricky anytime, but especially challenging when you’re on budget. On one hand, having everything you need in one place is convenient. But on the other hand, having so many options can sabotage every intention you have of sticking to your budget. Supermarkets are filled with everything you need and everything you don’t need, too.

Don’t expect a supermarket to help you avoid overspending. The place is specifically designed, decorated and arranged to encourage and increase impulse spending. They want you to spend more and they know how to persuade you to do it. With that in mind, consider these five ways to beat them at their own game:

Don’t go in hungry. You believe that you dash in to pick up the infamous few things. But if you’re starving, you’re a dead aim for a couple of steaks and a load of snacks. You know what I’m talking about. This is because of the first rule of grocery stores: Anything can happen when you are hungry.

Don’t try to remember. Without a list of the exact items you’ve come to purchase who knows what could happen? It’s normal for our brains to slip into neutral in the face of fabulous food. A written list is the crutch you need desperately to make sure you do not slip and fall, so to speak.

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If you want to drive yourself nuts, go shopping for a new mattress. You’ll hear dozens of theories on coils, fabrics, stuffing, foam density and warranties.

What I know about buying a mattress I’ve learned from the best: Insiders now retired from the sleep product industry.

CONFUSION FACTOR

All of the major brands—Simmons, Serta, Sealy, etc., make decent mattresses but if you’re planning to go from one chain store to the next comparing prices, forget it. The major brands change the names of the same mattress for each of the stores so it is impossible to compare by make and model.

SHOP BY LEVEL

Each company makes “levels” of mattresses: Very cheap, decently cheap, good and best. That’s not what they call them, but you can tell by the pricing within each manufacturer’s line of products. Expect several models in each price level.

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