My kids get up in the morning and pour themselves a bowl of Apple Jacks which cost me 75 cents a box. They top it with 99 cents a gallon milk. We have 10 cent Cup of Noodles in the cupboard for a quick lunch. The freezer is full of 15 pounds of ground beef, purchased for $1 a pound. It also has 8 pounds of chicken thighs and drumsticks purchased at 79 cents a pound. All of these items were purchased in the last 2 weeks, and I didn't clip a single coupon.
My trick? I shop clearance. All of these items were near or past the sell by or better by date. Here are a few tips for shopping in this area. Dry packaged goods like cereal and noodles have a better by date. It is not an expiration date. The company just doesn't guarantee it past that date. The Apple Jacks had a better by date of December 2011, but they taste fine. Everyone (except me, as I don't care for flavored cereal) has been eating and enjoying it.
Milk is a bit trickier. Most stores will mark it down when they have several gallons (or half gallons) that are within a few days of their expiration date. Most milk will last for 1 week past expiration. Keep in mind the higher the fat content, the faster it will taste bad. Also milk in plastic containers will taste bad quicker due to letting light in. Adding a pinch of salt when you open in will help it taste good longer. Also, don't be afraid to freeze it. I often open the container, pour off some milk into a cup or other container for immediate use, add a pinch of salt and freeze it. The lower the fat, the better it freezes.
Finally, meat is simple. If it's almost at it's sell by date, or at it. Cook it up or freeze it. I have learned that ground beef is the trickiest. If you are hoping to use some of it in a way that would require you to completely defrost the frozen package first, do that right away. By that I mean, I froze 2 loaves of meatloaf. Pre form your hamburger patties, or mix up your meat balls. You can even just cook it up and freeze the cooked meat if you'd like. Other meats defrost well, but ground beef can taste off when exposed to air, and the closer it is to the sell by date, the less time you will have to work with the meat. I often freeze the meat squished thin in the bag so I can just cook it from frozen for meals where it's not formed.
What are your clearance tips?