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Five easy ways to save on groceries

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Tony Avelar/Staff/File

(Read caption) Some grocery stores, such as Safeway, Kroger, and Whole Foods, have apps that help you easily plan your shopping trip. Sticking to your list will help you save.

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Do you need to cut your budget — and fast? Stuff like blown tires, broken furnaces, and other unexpected expenses have to come from somewhere, and so many of our regular monthly expenses are fixed bills we can't do much to budge.

So here are some ways you can dramatically cut your grocery bill in a pinch to redirect some of your hard earned dollars elsewhere. (See also: How to Eat Well on Just $20 a Week)

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1. Dig Deep

Before heading to the store, dig into all your cabinets and drawers to assess what you have in stock. Pasta and rice can be dressed up to make delicious meals with few ingredients added — here are some recipes for inspiration. A simple can of salmon can be transformed into a salad, sandwich, or soup. You may even discover some foods hiding around that are nearing their expiration dates. If you're stuck, try tools like Supercook, which allow you to look up recipes by searching the ingredients you already have at home.

2. Go Vegetarian

Some of the most expensive items in your cart? Meat and seafood. If you're up for it, try eating a vegetable-based diet for a period of time. It's likely your cheapest meal alternative. You don't need to worry about protein since you'll find plenty in inexpensive sources like eggs, tofu, nuts, etc. And if you think you can cut dairy, that's more savings. There are millions of people thriving on vegan diets around the globe. Who knows! You might even lose a few pounds. (See also: 35 Slow Cooker Recipes for Busy Vegetarians)

3. Plan Accordingly

It sounds counterintuitive, but meal planning might be costing you money. Variety can be tricky and require lots of expensive ingredients if you aren't careful. Though you want to keep a good balance of nutrients in your diet, try choosing a few cheap, satisfying meals that might sustain you all week long. We keep our breakfasts and lunches very simple: Usually oatmeal with banana and homemade hummus sandwiches with chopped raw veggies. For dinner, consider sticking to meals that use similar ingredients but have different flavors or textures. Pizza and pasta make a good duo, as do taco salad and quesadillas, for example. (See also: 35 Grocery Items You Should Make at Home)

4. Substitute Similar

Have your heart set on certain recipes? Try substituting ingredients that you might already have at home versus buying new. There are a number of foods that can easily swap in similar ratios to get tasty results. The best part is that you'll not just save money this way, you'll also eliminate food waste and learn some new culinary tricks.

5. Track and Plan Ahead

I often shop at Wegmans. Something that's really helped save me money is using the Wegmans app to plan my trip in advance. I make an organized list on my phone — including the prices at my store that get tallied up at the end. That way, if I stick to the list, I know exactly how much I'll be spending (provided I don't grab something random off the shelf). A growing number of stores offer similar apps — like SafewayKroger, and Whole Foods — giving you the power to write lists or even snag coupons.