Cooking is one of my hobbies, you could say. I enjoy the different flavors that come from changing a few ingredients or adjusting your methods. And one of the best things about cooking is trying a new recipe. Resources, such as Pinterest, are great ways to find out what other people have concocted in their own kitchens and what you’ll be adding to your grocery list for next week’s meals.

However, if you’ve shopped for groceries for any length of time, you will have realized that food isn’t cheap. And I’m not just talking about the premium and organic items. Even buying generic brands can add up faster than you thought possible. While you may be able to splurge on specialty items here and there, many times we’re just looking for the best deal. And how to exit the store without spending a fortune on perishable items that won’t live to see next week. To make matters more difficult, sometimes money is tight. Whether you’re in between jobs or and unexpected expense has cleaned out your bank account, life is anything but forgiving when it comes to our finances. I will admit that I have been there, more than once, and making simple purchases sometimes seems like the impossible. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be. Through my own experiences, I have found ways that you can save big on your grocery expenses.

Cook Basic

I love trying new recipes and tasting unique ingredients, but when the budget shrinks it’s no time to be spending frivolously on extra items. Cook basic meals as a way to save money. Instead of making prosciutto-wrapped chicken served with red wine demi-glace try for something simpler (and cheaper). Notice that I am not saying to buy poor-quality or unhealthy items. Putting money towards such items will do nothing but rob you and your family of much-needed nutrients. You can, however, purchase a clearanced cut of meat and serve two simple sides with it. Perhaps some steamed vegetables and potatoes? For many years now, I have enjoyed grabbing the bags of vegetables from the freezer section. They are much healthier (and tastier) than their canned counterparts and they’re versatile! Put them in soups and stews, or roast them to serve with meat or pasta. Find creative ways to cook basic and you’ll be able to save more than a few dollars.

Check Clearance

While I realize that some stores out there will not have clearance, I also realize that many do. You just have to know where to look. Kroger, for instance, has great clearance sections for meat, freezer items, and general products. Because I know this, not only do I shop the clearance sections first, but also I base the rest of my shopping list on what I find. For instance, if I find a really great priced roast, I could easily use it to make any number of things such as tacos, stew, or, of course, a roast. With only two people in my home, I also know that it can easily feed us for a few meals. The only thing left would be a few sides.

Hold the Meat

In contrast to my previous point, watch how much meat you’re putting in your shopping cart. A low-budget shopping trip can easily escalate once meat is factored into the total price. I would be especially wary of buying beef, in particular, due to its higher prices. While other types of meat are typically cheaper, opting for meatless meals is an easy way to cut your costs. Think more veggie- or pasta-based meals. This is both a tasty as well as (sometimes) healthier solution.

Think Chicken

In contrast to my previous point (again), you don’t have to totally leave meat off of your shopping list. Depending on your budget, you may be able to squeeze in the extra protein. Chicken is a great item to buy and one that I pick up almost every time I shop. Buying larger packages will allow you to use it for several different meals. And chicken has never been restrained to any one flavor or culture. Think creatively on what to do with it and I believe you’ll never run out of options. Grilling, pan frying, baking…I could easily go on. And be sure to experiment with your spice cabinet. But the best thing about chicken? It’s inexpensive.

Shop Deals

Thanks to the various marketing teams that work within a company’s walls, grocery stores are constantly battling for the consumers’ wallets. And by far one of the best ways to do so is to offer the lowest prices and the best deals. Take advantage of this! Compare the generic brand with the name brand and buy whichever one is cheaper. Be sure to buy what you need and don’t settle for poor quality, yet many of the generic brands out there are just as good (if not better) than their more expensive cousins.

Use Coupons

As technology progresses, coupons are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Companies are now advertising digital coupons or offering marked down prices in their stores. However, coupons are still used by many and do come in useful. If you have any lying around, be sure to use whatever you can. There are some times I have gone so far as to base a meal off of a few coupons in my purse.

Limit Yourself

Whether you’re struggling financially or simply trying to establish a budget, one of the most important things you must do is limit yourself and your spending. Limit the amount of items and unnecessary items you allow yourself to buy. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you have a set amount of money that you have available for grocery expenses, spend nothing more. Hold yourself accountable to your bank account and keep to it!

I hope this list will help you in your future grocery expenses. Ultimately you will have to find what works best for you, but these have been a few methods that have helped me. Life is expensive, but groceries don’t have to be.