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Food is one of those variable expenses that can definitely hit your budget below the belt. I mean, have you seen the price of beef lately?

According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. household spent about $4,000 on groceries in 2012.

The good news is that couponing, shopping sales and making a list aren’t the only ways to save a substantial amount of money on your grocery bill.

1. Do Your Own Slicing & Dicing

Prepackaged products are convenient for the consumer, but they come with a much higher price tag. Although it may be a tad bit time-consuming, buying whole food products, such as fruit from the produce section, whole chicken, block cheese and fresh vegetables, will save you a substantial amount of money.

In other words, put your hands to work and stop paying others for something you can do on your own.

2. Buy Generic

What’s the point of buying the high-end version of the product if the generic one is comparable in both quality and taste? That’s exactly why you should give those generics a shot, and save between 20% and 50% on your grocery bill while doing so.

I was once a Froot Loop junkie until I discovered that the Walmart brand not only tastes better, but is half the price.

And with store brands, you can also rest assured that you’re not wasting money, as most grocers offer a money-back guarantee on their products if you are not satisfied. So why not give it a shot? You may just be in for a treat.

3. Seek Alternative Sources

Be sure to check out alternatives to the major grocery chains to substantially reduce your grocery bill. And, no, I’m not referring only to warehouse clubs, such as Sam’s Club and Costco, but local meat markets, fruit stands, food co-ops and salvage grocery stores. The latter stock dented cans, closeouts and items with torn packaging — at rock-bottom prices.

Please note that dented cans have the potential to be hazardous to your health. Check out this document to learn more.

4. Store Food Properly

Storing your food in the most effective manner possible will extend the food’s shelf life and significantly reduce the number of trips you make to the grocery store each month. You can butter cheese to prevent mold, store perishables in smaller quantities in durable, airtight containers, and freeze meats.

Also, take a look at this list of optimal storage times from FoodSafety.gov.

5. Shop Strategically 

Just like everything else in life, saving big bucks on your grocery bill requires that some sort of strategy be implemented.

For instance, you should never go to the store hungry because you will be tempted to buy all sorts of junk food and other items that look good. Instead, fill up your food tank before heading out so you don’t need to resist the urge to give in to your cravings.

If you’re a member of a warehouse club, take advantage of the bulk offers on the items that you consume frequently. The Sam’s Club in my neck of the woods offers a jumbo box of oatmeal for $8.99, which is what I used to spend for two small boxes each month. But thanks to what I like to call the “mega-pack,” we are still eating away three months later.

6. Look Forward to Leftovers

There’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned family feast that provides plenty of leftovers, enough to last for several days. In my home, after a holiday meal or other special occasion I know I’ll be spared from cooking duties for a few days.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you cook a Thanksgiving feast for a family of four in an ordinary week, but it’s not a bad idea to prepare a large enough meal to yield leftovers that can be consumed for lunch the following day.

7. Set Boundaries

The ultimate goal here is saving, correct? That’s why your needs must supersede your wants. Isn’t it funny how we all of a sudden crave items that we hadn’t thought of before we spot them in an aisle at the grocery store? You must not give in to your cravings, but be disciplined enough to stick to your grocery budget and list.

8. Check the Bottom Racks

Manufacturers pay for shelf space, and they sometimes cover the cost by passing it on to the consumer. When you’re grocery shopping, take a moment to look at the lower shelves for the cheaper products that you may have overlooked in the past.

9. Plan Ahead

It’s important to plan ahead if you want to cut your grocery bill in half. For instance, you won’t spend money on items you already have in your home.

I’d also suggest creatively combining the food products already at your disposal and preparing meals with items that have been collecting dust on the shelf. In other words, be wise with what you already have, and don’t let food go to waste.

This post originally appeared on Money Talks News.

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