We all want to cut down on our grocery bills, but most of us aren’t willing to go through the same lengths as the Extreme Couponers we see on TV.

While sale hunting is a tried and true method for saving money, there are a surprising amount of other ways you can cut your spending at the grocery store without having to clip coupons every Sunday, or eat only Mac n’ Cheese for a week because you got roped into a bulk sale (we’re not proud of it, but we’ve been there).

But before we get to our savings tips and tricks it’s time to address the elephant in the room, kicking and screaming in the cereal aisle: our kids. Check out our blog for tips on getting through the grocery store with your family in one piece.

So without further delay, here are our 3 easiest ways to save money at the store:

1) Know when to buy generic.

A lot of brand name items have generic counterparts, some of which are indistinguishable from the original, more expensive products and others that well… fall short of our expectations. Sometimes generic brands differ only in their packaging. Other times they rely on quality skimming to bring the price down.

It’s up to you what you choose to buy generic. Some people actually prefer the taste of specific store brands, while others avoid versions that replace certain ingredients (a good example is when cane sugar is replaced by high fructose corn syrup). But whether or not you “should” opt for generic brands varies from product to product and brand to brand.

What to buy

For the most part, base ingredients like flour, sugar, and salt are safe bets to buy generic. No one ever stops to ask, “Wow! What kind of baking powder did you use?” when you hand them a cookie. If you’re worried about taste, it won’t be an issue with these items.

Generic beverages like juice and pop are often comparable to name brands. They might not taste exactly the same, but they often have their own distinct flavors that are just as good, especially when it comes to soda. Just be careful not to overload on these items- water is free and much healthier!

*Bonus tip: Instead of buying juice from the bottle, try frozen concentrates instead. They come at a fraction of the price, save on plastic waste and let you mix and match your favorite flavors.

There are a number of great reasons to buy your cereal generic. Aside from being cheaper, you can usually buy generic cereal in large sizes not available from brand names.  Not to mention, they often come in superior, no nonsense packaging.

Bags of cereal might be intimidating at first if you’re used to buying boxes, but they’re actually more convenient and create less waste. The bags are resealable and you don’t lose space putting it in a box.

What not to buy

Again, your shopping decisions should correspond to your own personal tastes and budget. Generic brands are often times a better option and a better bargain, but there are certain products that, as a rule, just can’t live up to the original. For instance:

Generic yogurt is often cram-packed with high fructose corn syrup, sugar and artificial sweeteners. It often bears little or no resemblance to actual yogurt that has real digestive benefits and active cultures.

If you don’t have the budget for the real deal- make it yourself! It’s a fun activity to do with the kids, is super easy, and most of all, makes for a pretty cool science experiment!

Spaghetti sauce is another example of a product whose generic equivalent really isn’t that equal. Some people complain they can taste “ketchup-y” while others worry they don’t contain many vegetables. If you’re looking for nutritional value, the best way to get it is by making your own sauce with fresh ingredients- and it’s much cheaper and tastier too! You can make a large batch at once and keep it in your freezer.

Keep track of the generic brands you try and like, and the one’s you don’t. If no one at home will eat that product, no matter how little it cost you, that’s money down the drain.

2) Know when to take advantage of sales.

Sales are always a good thing, right? If you’re paying less, than you’re saving. Here’s the problem- when we go to the store without a plan and a grocery list, we’re tempted to buy sale items we normally wouldn’t or that we don’t need. Kitty litter might be on sale at an all-time low, but if you don’t have a cat it’s probably not worth it!

Sales also tempt us to buy too much of one item, especially novelty foods. Don’t end up regretting a pantry stuffed to the brim with make-your-own pizza crust kits. Know how to shop sales wisely:

Stock up on essential, non-perishable items. If you can store it in your basement or keep it in the freezer, go ahead and stock up on sale items- provided you have plans to use the item down the line. Remember, kids can get sick of the same food fast. Try to stock up on staples, not trendy items or snack foods.

Before you stock up, check the expiration date. Food items often go on sale right before they expire. Depending on the product and when you plan to use it, it might not be useful to you.

*Keep in mind expiration dates usually err on the side of caution. Just because the expiration date has passed doesn’t mean you should throw it out quite yet. The smell test is often times more reliable than the date on the package.

3) Make a list and stick to it.

Perhaps the most important (yet often overlooked) way to save money on your trip to the store is by making a grocery list ahead of time and sticking to it. Prior to making the list, plan ahead for the next 3 or 4 days of meals.

When you’re writing your list out, group items by where they’re located in the store. That will save you from having to circle the store more than once, and will keep you from passing tempting products over and over. Next to each item on your list, write down how much you’re willing to spend. Total all items and stick to that budget as much as you can.

*Bonus tip: Shop with cash instead of cards. After you’ve landed on a reasonable budget, bring that exact amount with you to the store in cash. This will prevent you from picking up those impulse items, plus it benefits your local merchants by eliminating credit card fees

Be sure you’re writing your list down and not just memorizing it. It’s easy to forget about key items after a long day of work or when we’re busy trying to manage our children. It’s a defeating experience to get home and realize you’ve forgotten about tomorrow’s coffee and have to haul the family back to the store for one item.

Going to the store with a goal in mind will allow you to focus on your list. When we go to the store to browse, it’s easy to end up with a cart full of food that sounds good at the time, but that we won’t ever end up eating.

Having a rigid list also teaches us to avoid impulse purchases. These items can slowly accumulate and eat away at your budget without you noticing.