WITH THE cost of food skyrocketing, I have been on the lookout for ways to economize on the food budget. Clipping coupons, mailing refunds, comparison shopping, and reading articles on "How I Feed My Family of Four on $40 (or even $30 or $20) A Week" have been routine chores for me.

Now, I have devised my own system to cut down spending at the supermarket. Providing food at a reasonable price is now a challenge I enjoy, and you might, too, if you choose to follow my easy method.

My family of four is not unusual. My husband, George, and I have a son, 6, and a daughter, 3. All of us love to eat, and I must say, my husband and children not only have learned to live with our new way of eating, but have actually begun to relish the food provided.

So much for the build-up. Here is my method. The Shopping List

We live in a lovely subdivision of 160 homes. The only shopping list I make relates to my neighborhood. I divide the subdivision into sections on my calendar, and I make a list of foods I need with an address in one section for each food. Then I simply borrow one item per house and record the transaction on my list. I never borrow twice from the same house in a two-month period.

Some products easily obtainable by this simple method are eggs, margarine, tea bags, rice, flour, fruit, bread and the traditional cup or two of sugar. Needless to say, I never return the borrowed item. By not borrowing too much or too often at each stop, the lender usually does not remember the favor anyway. The Shopping Trip

One of my main rules is to Always Shop With the Family and Oh An Empty Stomach.

We all to to the supermarket every day or two. Our first stop is the produce department. There, we each have an apple, a few grapes, perhaps a pear. Raw crookneck squash is good, too, especially since it is well-washed. I make certain the children snack on these nutritious, natural foods. Our next stop is the demonstration area where there is always someone making homemake peanut butter, frying sample sausages or serving cut up pieces of cake.

We travel back and forth between produce and free samples eating our fill, and all for free. Before we leave, we check at the meat counter for any free bones, and then we go to the back to check the trash bins. It is truly unbelievable what one can find in those bins -- perfectly good produce, bent cans and old baked goods that can be revived by reheating. Free Meals

A wonderful shopping aid that I always have with me is a very large plastic-lined tote bag. There are a multitude of conventions in Washington which we attend (uninvited). It is quite easy to get in the hotel buffet dinners if one wears a name tag. I carry a variety of materials in my tote bag to quickly create a reasonable facsimile of one that is needed. Once inside, I eat my fill and surreptitiously fill the tote to bring home to the kids. I also do this at promotional fried chicken or hot dog dinners provided by car dealers and land developers.

My husband and I enjoy a very active social life. We have joined many clubs and interest groups. We have joined many clubs and outgoing at meetings, and we do make many acquaintances. Inevitably, we are invited to dinner, and if not, we are skillful at inviting ourselves. It is unnecessary to reciprocate. When the invites wear out, we move on to a new club. You could say we are Renaissance people. (Occasionally, we do reciprocate dinner invitations in a special way. I invite 15 couples to a pot luck supper which I carefully organize. No one ever checks to see what I made, and after all, I do provide the tables and chairs and roof over everyone's head, so I do not feel guilty.) Pioneer Spirit

In the pioneer spirit, my family has learned to forage for food. My husband hunts and bags all sorts of game -- squirrels, rabbits, roaming dogs or cats (this also provides a valuable service to the neighorhood by ridding it of unwanted pests,) robins and other wild birds. The children have become clever at setting snares. We all go down to the creek to fish (besides catching a meal, this is a fun family outing), and to catch bullfrogs and turtles. We have read many library books on survival. Now we consume many edible wild plants, seeds and roots. Dandelion wine is delicious. Martyr

Another foolproof method for obtaining delicious food is to be a martyr. I cry the blues about the high cost of food to my mother and George's mother, and aunts and uncles. Eventually, family comes to visit us. The company usually stocks part of our freezer (at least) with meats, turkeys and so forth. Fast Days

Once a week, we have foodless Monday. Self-denial is good for self-discipline and character development. Also, it's a great way to shed the weight we gain over weekends. Non-Foods

Many articles on a typical shopping list are not foods.They can be gotten without a trip to the supermarket. Paper towels, soap, toilet paper are all available at public rest rooms. Sugar cubes, napkins and straws are available at restuarants. A creative person could think of many more.

Could you follow my plan?

First off, you need a supportive family. George has been wonderful about my system. Many are the nights he comes home around midnight after making the rounds of the local pubs. He brings us nuts, pretzels and popcorn and occasionally, cheese and crackers in his plastic-lined tote bag when he remembers.

Second, you need thoroughly disciplined children. My children will eat anything that is not nailed down. I have taught them to try every dish that is offered to them. "If you're not hungry for anything else, and you don't get anything else!" My children have learned from us the skills necessary to get invited to friends' homes for lunch or dinner. Nutrition

You will notice that I buy nothing that has high cholesterol content, additives, preservatives nitrates or nitrites. I buy no refined foods, Thus, I feel our hard earned dollars are not wasted on junk.

But, of course, nothing is completely free and I spend $1.69 a week. What is the $1.69 for, you ask? I do feel the children need an occasional treat should provide some nutritional benefits. I buy the children frozen yogurt which they enjoy, and which I know is good for them. This purchase also gives me a legitimate reason for being in the supermarket.