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  • iStock

  • iStock

  • iStock

Even if you’re not actively bargain-hunting, you probably don’t want to spend more money than you have to at the grocery store. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for convenience – which is why we’re shopping at the grocery store and not buying a side of beef from a wholesaler or threshing bushels of wheat to grind into flour. But the grocery store can sometimes entice us with too much of that convenience. Foods that are partially prepared or packaged to save us time and trouble can be some of the most expensive at your local supermarket.

Has convenience gone too far? Where should we draw the line? That answer is probably different for everyone, depending on budget, skill level, available cooking tools, and the time required to cook an item. Some convenience products are wonderful for emergencies, but silly and expensive for everyday use. Some products that our grandparents would have thought of as luxuries have become staples. How many of us make our own jelly?

But if you’re cooking every day, there are simple ways to trim the budget without too much fuss. Tackling some of the prep work yourself (like cutting up your own produce for a stir-fry), or making foods that don’t require much cooking skill or effort but can be costly ready-made (do you really need to buy pre-mixed seasoned salt?) can really help you save money at the grocery store. With some sensible shopping, a little extra time, and – yes – a little bit more effort, you can shave dollars off of your grocery bill.

If you’re looking for concrete ways to save money, try avoiding these commonly overpriced foods and making a few simple items at home instead.

  • 1. Pre-cut chicken

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    Pre-cut chicken is seldom a good bargain. Try buying a whole chicken and cutting it up at home; you’ll save money per pound and can use the bones to make your own chicken stock.

  • 2. Vanilla beans

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    At the store, you’ll find one or two vanilla beans per jar. Online, you can buy vanilla beans in larger quantities, for a lot less money per ounce. Don’t think you need 1/4 pound of vanilla beans? Share with friends, or use them to make vanilla extract that will keep almost indefinitely.

  • 3. Breadcrumbs and croutons

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    Bread crumbs and croutons are simple to make, and a great use for leftover bread that’s starting to get a little dry on its own. To make croutons, just cube or shred the bread before drying it in the oven; if you’re making bread crumbs, pulse the dried croutons in a food processor.

  • 4. Crème fraîche

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    If you can find it, crème fraîche is packed in small containers and way too expensive. There’s no need to buy it: it’s easy to make at home, using heavy cream and buttermilk.

    Watch out for these grocery store items that you're spending too much money on.

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