By Jennifer Dorsett

Groceries sure are adding up these days. In April, grocery prices rose 2.6 percent and increased another 1 percent in May.

All those price hikes can leave shoppers with a “basket half-empty” feeling, and for good reason. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service said food-at-home prices (groceries) are now expected to increase between 2.5 and 3.5 percent this year.

What’s a hungry shopper to do? Be creative with our food dollars! Here are a few tips to help stretch your food dollar:

Shop with a list and time limit.

Making a grocery list and sticking to it is the best way to avoid spending more than you planned. And time is money, the old saying goes. It’s true in the grocery store, as well. Research shows the longer you spend in a store, the more you’re likely to spend money on unplanned items. Those impulse purchases can add a big punch to the total at checkout.

Make a meal plan.

This goes hand-in-hand with sticking to your list. Create a meal plan prior to going to the grocery store. This will help you better organize your shopping list, and it can help make meal times less stressful during the week.

Take inventory.

Keep your pantry organized and take inventory of the items you have. This will help you know when you are running low on certain items and can also help you with your meal planning.

Buy what’s on sale.

Shopping the store’s circular can help keep costs down.

This can also help you plan ahead. If you know you’re getting low on items and they’re on sale this week, consider buying it now. Pinching pennies adds up over time.

But don’t fall into the trap of buying something not on your list “because it’s on sale.”

Sales are a well-established retail tactic to get people to buy things they don’t always need. Even if a product has a great discount, if it’s something you didn’t need and your family doesn’t like it or you end up throwing it out, you haven’t saved any money at all.

Consider clipping coupons.

The savings can really add up by using coupons. And many stores now have apps or digital coupons that help keep the paper mess to a minimum. Put a “C” next to items on your list that have a coupon for it, so you remember to use the it when you checkout.

Coupons for coffee, prepared foods, cereals and flour can save about 10 percent in most food budgets. If you spend $150 a week on groceries, that’s $15 a week or $780 a year saved.

Coupon clipping doesn’t seem so bad now, huh?

Keep a running tally while you shop.

As you make your way through the grocery store, keep a running tally of your grocery bill. It’ll help you know when you’ve reached your budget and help you cut down on impulse purchases.

Consider food preferences.

Think about appetite appeal. We eat with our eyes first, so try to plan meals that include contrasting colors, flavors and textures.

When you serve meals that your family enjoys, you can avoid food waste. So consider economical and nutritious recipes that everyone can enjoy.

Learn to love leftovers.

I know leftovers aren’t for everyone, but by embracing leftovers, you can cut down on food waste and get the most out of your food dollars.

Plan to cook dinner a few nights a week and incorporate the leftover dishes in your meal plan for the week. Monday’s dinner feels new again on Wednesday at lunch.

Find ways to make new meals with your leftovers. Meatloaf can become a meatloaf sandwich for lunch or use leftover protein in a salad later in the week.

You can even freeze leftovers for another time.

A few other tips include:

Buy in bulk, but don’t buy more than you can eat.

Take advantage of seasonal specials. Foods, especially vegetables and fresh fruits, are generally less expensive when in great supply.

Reserve one night a week for a repeat item, like hamburger night or taco night.

These are all simple tips, but they’re tried-and-true and help save money when you follow them.

Drop a comment below with some of your favorite tips for stretching your budget at the grocery store. Because every dollar counts!