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17 Ways to save at the supermarket that don't involve extreme couponing

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Outsmart your grocery store with these coupon-less money-saving tips

Saving at the grocery store is a top priority, but coupons can be such a pain. Unless you're really into extreme couponing, they also aren't very helpful sometimes. Instead of making coupons a full-time job, try some of these methods for saving money at the supermarket.

1. Check the savings circulars

Look at the savings circulars the supermarkets send out — all of them — to see what's on sale where. Plan your menu around what they've got on sale. Note that many supermarkets have them available online and you can search by zip code.

2. Make a list

Did you know they make shopping carts bigger and bigger because people feel like they need to fill them up? Before you go to the store, make a list based on the menu you created, and do your best to stick to it.

3. Don't be afraid to make last-minute menu changes

If you see a great sale on something, don't be afraid to make a change to your meal plan. But that's the key: It has to be a change, not an addition.

4. Learn to butcher your own meat

Did you know that buying a whole chicken is almost half the price of buying the store's precut, prepackaged chicken pieces?

5. Ask for free services

If you have to buy something from the butcher, ask what free services they offer. How many times have you passed on an inexpensive dinner idea because you just don't have the kind of time it takes to prep the meat? Many butchers provide a lot of these services for free — trimming fat, tenderizing meat, breaking down a large roast so you can freeze part of it. It doesn't directly save you money, but it may make you more likely to invest in cheaper items.

More: Whole Foods should apologize for more than overcharging on prepared foods

6. Ask for discounts

If fresh items like bread, cheese, produce or milk are getting close to their expiration date, ask for a discount. Chances are it would be on sale tomorrow anyway.

7. Don't buy from the aisle caps

The aisle caps are where grocery stores display their more expensive items. Even when they're on sale, there's probably a cheaper brand on the regular aisle.

8. Brand name isn't better

Often the "store brand" is made by the same company as another name brand. In many cases, they're just as good as the name brand for half the price.

9. Learn to DIY

How is that a shopping tip? Easy. Dried beans are cheaper than the canned stuff and ridiculously easy to make in your slow cooker. The same may apply to things like chicken stock, peanut butter, bread, cookies, butter, whipped cream and more, depending on the brand you typically buy. Those spice blends are the worst offenders — especially if you already keep a pretty well-stocked spice rack.

Outsmart your grocery store with these coupon-less money-saving tips

More: New grocery store pioneers a healthier way to shop

10. Check online

Check online stores for deals on things you buy frequently, like paper goods or nonperishable food items. You may have to buy in bulk, but if you're going to use it anyway, you'll still save in the long run.

11. Consider cheaper alternatives

Red meat is expensive. Stick to what's on sale, and consider buying less-desirable cuts (like flank steak). It's all in the preparation, so learning some great recipes will ensure your tougher steak isn't a workout for your jaws. Or buy in bulk when it's on sale, and freeze part of it.

12. Skip the prepared foods

Prewashed and cut veggies, cooked meats, packaged guacamole... Not only are they probably not as good as you could make yourself, but you're paying someone else to do that work. If you like the convenience, set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to do the prep yourself so it's ready when you are.

13. Learn to eat in season

Foods that are in season are plentiful, therefore cheaper. Also, you can often get really great deals (on better, local produce) at the farmers market.

14. Tap the international market

It's fun to experiment with exotic flavors (especially since many international cuisines make excellent use of cheaper meat cuts we don't often think of in the U.S.), but buying things like garam masala in the supermarket is expensive. If you can find an international grocer that focuses on a particular region, not only will you probably get "the good stuff," but you'll have access to far more exotic ingredients and may even find great deals on stuff readily available in the U.S. My local Asian market sells fresh corn for less than my Kroger.

15. No more bottled water

Buy a Brita or a Pur or similar filtration system, get some reusable bottles, and make your own. It's better for the environment and your pocketbook. Besides, half the time it's not any better than what Brita could do anyway.

More: 21 Ingredients that shouldn't be on your food label

16. Leave the kids at home

They want you to buy stuff you don't need, and it's not always easy to say no, especially if there's the possibility of a meltdown.

17. Grow your own herbs

Herb gardens are fun and easy. Seriously. And they don't cost an arm and a leg. You can also just pop the last couple of inches of green onions into a jar filled with water (change it every couple of days) and regrow them.

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