With living costs rising at a seemingly constant rate, simple, everyday expenses are getting more and more difficult to accommodate, and many people are finding their budgets getting tighter than ever.

While there are plenty of areas people can trim their budgets, such as spending on entertainment or shoe shopping, the rising costs of necessary items like food and gasoline make it harder and harder for people to cut enough spending elsewhere in their budgets to accommodate the increased expense of these everyday necessities. And despite the need, it’s simply unrealistic to eliminate all extraneous spending in order to make room for the ever-increasing expense of groceries and gasoline.

Thankfully, with a little budgetary reorganization, some planning, and a dash of creativity, you can maximize your food budget to make sure you get the best value for your dollar. Here are a few tips to help you spend wisely at the grocery store, and stretch your food budget as far as possible.

Plan ahead All too often, people approach grocery shopping with an impulse-buy mentality. “I’ll just go see what’s on sale,” is an extremely ineffective approach to grocery shopping. Sit down with a cookbook and plan your meals at least a week in advance. Scheduling meals out in advance will allow you to maximize your food spending, as you can organize meals by primary ingredients, using them from one day to the next. Also, planning ahead will help you avoid impulse buys when you get to the store. Make a list and stick to it.
Buy in bulk. The larger quantities you’re able to buy, the more you’ll save. While memberships at wholesale discount clubs aren’t cheap, they pay for themselves almost immediately in big savings. Buying items like individually packaged frozen meats, toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, etc., is significantly more cost effective than buying these items in smaller amounts at your local grocery.

Keep it simple. Sticking to simple, basic ingredients is a great way to save at the grocery store. Creative recipes and exotic spices can make even the simplest items (chicken breasts, for example) a culinary treat. So skip the fillet and get creative with your recipes. You’ll still eat well, and your budget will go much farther.

Be prudent with produce.. While buying in bulk is great for some items, it’s rarely wise when it comes to produce and other perishables. Less is more when it comes to items that have a shorter shelf life. When buying produce, only buy what you’re certain you’ll use. This will help you avoid unnecessary waste, and will help you save money.

Keep it close to home. Eating out is one of the fastest ways to blow through your food budget. Between overprices meals, drinks, tax, and tip, it’s extremely difficult to get enough value in a meal out to justify it over eating in. Sure, there’s more work involved in cooking for yourself, but it’s significantly more cost effective. Save eating out for special occasions only, and you’ll find your food budget will go much farther.