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Determined to slash your grocery budget this year? Make it happen by implementing these changes and see your savings add up.

Track sale prices at more than one store.

Ever stock up on apples at one store only to notice them on sale for half the price at another store the next day? Avoid the frustration of feeling like you overpaid by regularly keeping track of sale prices at your two favorite stores (or, if you’re really ambitious, three favorite stores). If you split your grocery list between the two according to which items are on sale at each store, you’ll maximize your savings.

Get creative with saving strategies.

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If tracking sales is the first step to saving big, the next is using coupons. Find them online, in your newspaper or even directly from the brands you like. Don’t want to mess with the paper? Load e-coupons directly to your store loyalty card online to have them automatically applied at checkout. Lastly, take advantage of drugstore rewards (you can use rewards you earned for buying shampoo and diapers to pick up some free peanut butter, juice or snack items) and grocery store promotions. You can earn valuable coupons, double or triple gas rewards (how does $1 off per gallon sound?), and even free groceries just for buying gift cards. (Of course, this is a great deal only if you would spend the money at those stores anyway, like if you’re planning a big remodel and Home Depot gift cards are included in the deal.)

Stock up at rock-bottom prices.

Make a list of the 20 or so food items you buy most often and start taking note of the prices. When, by matching a coupon and sale, you can get it for 50 percent off the regular price (or less), stock up by buying enough to last your family a few months. Most grocery stores cycle sales every 12 weeks, so if you purchase enough to last three months, you could be able to get it again at rock-bottom the next time the price really drops. Do this with enough items in your pantry and you’ll start to see your grocery budget stretch much farther.

Plan your meals.

Take the stress and scramble out of weeknight meals by putting together a simple menu plan. Just planning out what you’re going to serve each night and making sure you’ve got all necessary ingredients on hand ahead of time can streamline your entire week, reduce the waste of produce going bad, and ensure healthy dinners are served — rather than takeout.

Make your own freezer convenience foods.

Whipping up a batch of lasagna or burritos to freeze is easier than most people think. When you’re already making a dish for dinner that would freeze well, simply double your recipe and put half in the freezer to have on hand for those truly hectic days when you need something quick. All you’ll have to do is reheat it and it’s ready to go. Doing this will reduce the likelihood of getting takeout or eating out, which can save a bundle. And you’ll also be certain of what’s in your food (no additives).

Don’t buy what you can make for less.

If you now buy any convenience foods, think carefully about whether you can set aside 15 minutes to make them yourself. Peanut butter cracker sandwiches are incredibly fast and easy to make — not to mention cheap. Lunchables? Just toss your cold cuts, crackers, cheese and a few apple slices into a portable container with dividers. You can make two weeks’ worth for half the price of buying them.

Andrea Dashiell is a freelance writer.

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