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Everyone is feeling inflation’s effects, which is noticeable at the grocery store. Grocery prices are up 12 percent from last year, with specific categories increasing. Staple items like beef, eggs, and milk have significantly higher prices. Even for the savviest shopper, those dollars add up. A 12 percent price increase means a grocery bill that’s usually $500 is now $560.

However, there are ways to spend less on groceries and put nutritious meals on the table. Here are some tips on cutting back costs at the grocery store, even with inflation driving prices up.

Plan out your grocery store trip.

This idea is hard to quantify, but planning helps you save money for numerous reasons. Making a grocery list enables you to avoid impulse purchasing, which typically adds up. You’re more likely to use what you buy and already have, which helps cut back costs. Researchers believe households throw away about 30 percent of the food they buy on average.

Having a plan for dinner plus some breakfasts and lunches for the week will also help you cook more at home instead of choosing takeout or other expensive options on busy days. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but having some recipes written down and shopping for those ingredients is an excellent way to save money at the grocery store.

Be picky with your produce.

Dieticians always suggest adding more vegetables and fruit to your diet. They may be expensive, but there are ways to stretch your dollar and still get the nutrition that produce provides. Choosing canned, dried, or frozen fruits and vegetables is a great way to save money and get antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and vitamins into your diet. It would be best to find low-salt and added-sugar options.

It would also be best if you considered switching out more expensive vegetables and fruits with something cheaper. For example, turn cabbage into a slaw instead of a mixed green salad to save money. You could also try using onions instead of shallots in your soup recipes and use frozen berries over fresh in your smoothies.

You should also make sure that you eat what you buy. That’s another reason why canned and frozen produce are great staples, but use your fresh produce first, so you don’t waste money. Freezing your produce will also help, or adding anything on its last leg to your eggs, fried rice or soups.

Look for sales.

Some people are already skilled at looking through weekly sale flyers and using coupons. However, if you don’t currently, it’s never too late to start. Most grocery stores give discounts throughout the store. Combine those sales with your coupons, and you could save some money. If you use a grocery delivery or pickup service, filter products by what’s on sale or use virtual coupons. Also, if you have a particular grocery store that you frequent, sign up for their reward points.

One favored strategy is to see what’s on sale first, then add those foods to your weekly meal plan. That way, you’re not adding extra food because it’s on sale. It would also help if you checked for coupons for foods that you typically buy.

Look at unit prices.

Unit prices are located on the shelf next to the price for the item. They allow you to compare different brands and sizes better. For example, say you eat cereal every week. It would make sense to buy a bigger box, which costs more but will be cheaper per pound over the smaller box. Unit prices are based on weight, showing that smaller sizes cost more. Scanning unit prices can also assist with comparing different brands that offer food products in various size packages and finding one that makes sense for your budget.

Reconsider your protein.

Protein-rich foods like poultry, meat and seafood are some of the more expensive foods on our plates, but there are ways to see some savings without giving up meat. However, if you want to give up meat, that’s your choice. Many plant-based proteins, like tofu and beans, are cheaper than meat, so a meatless meal or two might save you some cash.

It would also help to buy less expensive meat cuts, like ground meats, chicken thighs instead of breasts, and top-round steaks. You could also talk to your butcher about meat cuts or compare prices. If you have the freezer space, it might help to stock up on protein while it’s on sale. That way, you have the meat and can thaw it out when ready to use it.

Blending your meat with grains and vegetables in meals like casseroles or stir-fries can also help you stretch your meat. With proteins, little things can help you save money over time instead of all or nothing.

Know your expiration dates.

If you have grandparents that grew up during the Great Depression, you know they rarely throw food away. You could try to throw away something you think is expired, but they’ll quickly correct you and put it back in the refrigerator. Food can grow mold or turn rancid, so don’t eat it once it gets to that point. However, the expiration dates on food packages often signify quality standards, not safety.

Besides infant formula, which doesn’t have a safety date, foods have “sell-by,” “use-by,” or “best if used by” dates that imply quality and freshness, per the USDA. Check those dates at your house and the store to guarantee you buy fresh food and use older products first. Checking your expiration dates can help you save some cash since you’re eating food while it’s fresh. However, you don’t have to treat those dates as hard rules to throw food away.

Shop your freezer and pantry.

When it seems like there’s nothing to eat in the house, there usually is. Turning to what you have before making your grocery list and shopping can help save some cash since you’re using what you have. It might take effort, but using these building blocks to tackle a meal can help keep costs low.

Trips to the grocery store are getting more and more expensive. Hopefully, inflation will go down soon, but in the meantime, these tips should help you save a couple of bucks at the grocery store.

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