When it comes to personal finance, there’s something amazingly un-cool about finding ways to save money on groceries. It’s not that it’s unimportant, but more that it doesn’t have the wealth producing potential of investment- and retirement-planning, nor the debt reduction potential of a solid mortgage pre-payment program.

But with drought threatening the heartland, finding ways to save money at the grocery store is getting more important. As the largest (generally) flexible expense in most household budgets, it’s worth working to save some money here. How do you do that?

Cut back on meat

Meat tends to take up a disproportionate percentage of the typical grocery bill. Pound for pound, meat is simply more expensive than most other food types. And these days, it no longer seems as if you can substitute and save much money either. Chuck costs roughly as much as London broil, so it seems to be more a choice between meat and no meat.

There’s a double benefit here too. Not only will you save money buying less meat, but eating less meat is also considered to have health benefits. It means less fat and cholesterol, which the medical community tells us we need to cut back on anyhow. If we do get health benefits from eating less meat, it may also mean fewer trips to the doctor. That’ll save even more money!

Shop alone

I much prefer to go it alone when I do my grocery shopping. It’s not that I don’t love my family and value their input, but rather that experience has taught me that grocery bills tend to rise in a crowd. You go into the store knowing what you need to buy for the family, but human nature is that we all want a little be extra added to the cart. Multiply that by two, three or four people, and the final bill will skyrocket.

Unless you absolutely need the help, leave your loved ones at home. One person doing the shopping can exercise some form of control over spending. Two or more is a budget buster.

Never shop when you’re hungry

You’ve probably read or heard this any time the topic is saving money on grocery shopping, but it’s true. Being hungry adds a physical component to an expedition that should be financial in nature. Hunger can be a powerful game changer. It can force you to buy what you want, rather than what you need, as in what you want right now.

When you’re hungry, you’re acting impulsively and as we all know, when impulses are in control of the game, you’re not. Even if you’re on the run, get a little something to eat before you go shopping. The $3 you spend on a hot pretzel could easily save you $30 at the check out counter.

Buy staples in bulk and stock up on them

You never want to buy perishables or other specialties in bulk. For one, you may not have enough refrigerator space to hold them, and for another if you don’t use them in time you may end up throwing them away. Mission not accomplished.

But dry goods—rice, pasta or anything that comes in a box or bottle and that you use a lot of—are worthy of buying in large quantities and on sale. It may even be worth buying them at another grocery store, if that store has them on sale and your regular store doesn’t.

Not only will you have saved money on the purchase, but if prices start taking off, you’ll have locked in the prices early.

Set a budget, and don’t go over it

Some people resist budgets, and while that can cause obvious problems for family finances, it has its own set of issues when grocery shopping.

Grocery stores are like bazaars, they’re filled with colorful displays and organized in ways that encourage you to buy. That can mean (and usually does) buying what you don’t need. The only way to resist the pressure is to have a grocery budget.

To be effective, the budget must have a final number that you won’t exceed. Sure, you might buy an impulse item or two, but in order to stay within your budget you may decide to buy frozen vegetables instead of fresh. The key is to make the budget the final word on the cost of your spending trip. There can be flexibility, but it must happen within the scope of the final budgeted spending amount.

What are you doing to save money on grocery shopping?

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.