Coffee is a favorite go-to example in money-saving circles. Brew your own coffee at home, and you'll spend $15 to $40 per month -- about $180 to $480 per year. Buy one or two coffees each day at an outlet such as Starbucks (SBUX), and shelling out from $3 to $6 or more per day can cost as much as $1,500 per year.
Forgoing the tap or the water cooler at work in favor of buying a bottle or two of H2O each day easily can add up to $3 a day, or about $1,000 a year. Instead, try filtering water at home with a special pitcher or sink-attached device and filling a water bottle or two to last you through the day. If that's too much trouble, just buy your own bottled water at supermarkets, where cases of it on sale can be relatively inexpensive.
When shopping for produce, focus on what's in season. These days, for example, you might find cherries selling for $3 per pound, whereas they can sell for $7 or more per pound in other seasons.
Keep life spans in mind, too. A lot of money can be wasted if you don't get around to preparing and eating fruits and vegetables before they spoil. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away more than $40 of food each month (some 33 pounds' worth), totaling close to $500 annually. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans waste about $100 billion worth of food annually -- enough to fill the Rose Bowl each day!
Be careful with "convenience" foods, too. It can certainly be handy to buy small packets of potato chips or cookies, as they can immediately be tossed into a lunchbox or bag, but that convenience is costing you money -- up to 40% more than the item needs to cost. Consider buying regular-sized packages, or better still, buy in bulk then assemble your own individual servings.
Try to buy store brands, too. According to a study by the (admittedly not so objective) Private Label Manufacturers Association, over six weeks the typical consumer can save about 33% by opting for store brands over name brands. That amounted to roughly $42 in the six-week period, or $364 per year.
When it comes to frozen dinners or other prepared meals, know that you can save a bundle by opting to make the meal yourself -- even when the prepared ones are on sale.
A Lean Cuisine dinner might be on special for just $2.50, but for less than a dollar a serving, you can prepare a more filling pasta meal, with a vegetable on the side. Even if your homemade meal costs more than a frozen alternative, it can be far more nutritious and filling, keeping you from seeking supplemental snacks.
Coupons also offer great savings. It's not too hard for a household to rack up $10 in supermarket savings each week by using coupons. That adds up to more than $500 in savings per year, without too much effort. Don't be embarrassed about using them, either -- studies show that those most likely to use coupons are the wealthy.
Food costs a lot already. By planning ahead, sticking to your shopping list, making smart decisions, using coupons, and changing a few habits, you can save $2,000 or more per year -- relatively easily. Share your tips and tricks for slashing your food tab below.