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Groceries are expensive, but they don't have to break the bank. Here are some tips to save

NEW YORK — (AP) — If you've noticed that you're paying more than before for the same amount of groceries, you're not the only one. Inflation is easing slightly, but grocery prices are still high — up 21% on average since inflation started to surge more than three years ago.

“When inflation rises, it reduces people’s ability to afford groceries by increasing the overall cost of goods,” said Cassandra Happe, analyst for WalletHub.

Unlike some other items, you can't just stop buying groceries when they get pricey. There's nothing you can do about inflation, but you can find ways to save on groceries so they don't heavily impact your wallet or your eating habits. These include using coupons, budgeting, and buying in bulk.

Here's are some expert recommendations for saving on groceries:

Try coupons

Kiersten Torok started using coupons back when she was in high school, after her parents lost their jobs during the 2008 recession. She began relying on them even more in 2020, when she lost her own job during the pandemic. Now she's using her social media platform to help others learn how to save.

"When times like these come up, coupons are a necessity for so many Americans," said Torok, known on Instagram and TikTok as Torok Coupon Hunter.

Many might think that using coupons means cutting them out of a magazine. While you can certainly still do that, there are now easier ways to get the discounts. Many stores, like Walmart and Target, have coupons available on their apps.

“All you have to do is scan an item in a store, the coupons pop up on your app and then they automatically apply in the register," Torok said. "It’s become much more streamlined."

One of Torok’s coupon golden rules is: never pay for toothpaste — there's always a combination of coupons and offers available. For anyone who wants to try couponing, Torok recommends that you first start using them at your favorite store and never buy things you don’t need, even if there's a big discount.

Apps like Flipp, which lets you browse for coupons from all major grocery stores, and Ibotta, an app that gives you cashback for using coupons, can make your journey with couponing easier.

Track current spending

Making a budget is a key to keeping grocery spending under control, and the first step is to track how much you're already spending. Start by reviewing how much you have spent on the last few times you've gone grocery shopping, recommended David Brindley, deputy editor for AARP Bulletin.

If you don’t keep receipts from past grocery runs, try looking at your bank account statement and adding up the grocery charges. Once you know how much you spend on groceries, set a goal, for example, staying within a specific budget or reducing your spending.

Review what you already have

You need a plan, but before you make one, ensure you know what you currently have in your fridge and your pantry. Sarah Schweisthal, personal finance expert and social media manager at budgeting app YNAB, recommends taking everything out and making an inventory so you don't buy duplicates of things you already have on hand.

Brindley also recommends planning to cook multiple meals with similar ingredients, which saves money and also cuts down on food waste.

Make a plan

Once you’ve tracked your spending and inventoried what you already have, the next step is to make a plan. Write down the items you’re looking to buy and your estimated cost, making sure you stay on budget. Meal planning for the week or month can be a good way to stay on top of your spending, Schweisthal said.

Going up and down the aisles can sometimes make you crave things that you haven’t planned for, like a snack or a new dish. If you foresee that it’ll be hard for you to stick to your list, include some flexibility in your plan, such as allotting a specific amount to buy snacks or a random item you see at the checkout line.

“I think having flexibility in a plan actually helps you stick to it more,” Schweisthal said.

Making a plan can be as simple as writing down a list on paper or in your phone's notes app. Or, you can use apps that specifically help you with meal planning such as AnyList or Mealime.

Shop online

If you tend to wander off your grocery list because every time you go to the store you buy things you don’t need, shopping online and picking up curbside is a good workaround.

“I 100% recommend sitting down Sunday morning and just looking at the stores and comparing the items you need for the week, especially with things you can get for curbside pickup,” Torok said.

If you buy your groceries from multiple stores because each has better prices on some items, ordering ahead of time can also save time.

Involve your family in saving

If you are in charge of buying groceries for your entire family, it can be beneficial to include them in your grocery budgeting routine. For Torok, this has meant teaching her children how to scan coupons while they shop.

Since buying in bulk can be very cost-effective. Brindley also recommends that you team up with a friend or a family member to buy specific items in bulk and share the discount.

Food sharing apps

Lastly, you can save money by using food-sharing apps such as Olio, which connects people around their community to share extra grocery items, and Too Good to Go, where you can buy surplus food at a discount.

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The Associated Press receives support from Charles Schwab Foundation for educational and explanatory reporting to improve financial literacy. The independent foundation is separate from Charles Schwab and Co. Inc. The AP is solely responsible for its journalism.

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