The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension’s web site offers four tips it says can save consumers 15 percent or more at the supermarket:

1. Use grocery store ads to plan your shopping.
2. Make a menu plan.
3. Write a grocery list.
4. Use unit pricing to determine which size or brand is the better buy.

Even if you don’t follow any of the suggestions above, you can still save money by simply buying store brands whenever they are available. They cost less than name brands and are comparable in nutrition, quality and taste. The October Consumer Reports says that of products tested in 29 categories, store brands, including Publix, Target, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, tied the name brands in 19 and bested them in 4 categories.

Just as important as saving money is serving healthy meals. Here’s where the menu comes in.

Planning even part of the menu, perhaps just dinners, saves time and extra trips to the store. This would be a good time to work in at least one vegetarian meal per week. Consider:

• Current sales and coupons, especially for whole-grain pastas, cereals and breads.
• Your family’s needs and preferences.
• What you already have on hand.
• What is fresh and in season.

Next make your shopping list.

• Keep a running list of items as you use them up.
• Base the list on your menu and your budget.
• Check it against your on-hand inventory before going to the store.
• Look at the sales in circulars and on store Web sites.
• Note on your list the items that are on sale or for which you have coupons.
• Check recipe amounts so you don’t over- or under-buy.

Now, go shopping!

• Try to combine grocery trips with other errands. Do the grocery shopping last.
• Eat first, shop last. When you shop hungry, everything looks like a good buy, especially single candy bars, soft drinks and snack packs.
• Shop alone if possible and at a time when the market is less busy. It’s easier to focus on getting what you need and make sure the prices at the register match those posted on the shelf.
• Gather ads, list, coupons, reusable bags and, if you will be buying cold foods, a cooler and cold pack. It may be helpful to take printed menus and recipes to double check the amounts you will need.
• Buy only what is on your list, unless you see an unadvertised or in-store special on something you use regularly.
• Know prices of items you buy frequently so you can compare among stores and to know whether advertised prices represent savings. Don’t buy into the “it’s in the sale circular, so it must be on sale” mentality. An article in May 2009 Consumer Reports notes that manufacturers may pay for placement in circulars and, according to the article, sales of an item shown in a flyer may increase by as much as 500 percent, even with no price reduction. Ditto for the “end cap assumption.” Items may be displayed there for quick sale because they are nearing their expiration date, but their prices may not be reduced.
• At the beginning of a sale, buy small amounts of fresh perishable foods and use them up, then buy them again toward the end of the sale to maximize savings and health benefits.
• Stocking up on sale items saves money only if you don’t buy more than you can use or safely store. Buy-one-get-one sales mean you are paying half-price, but you have to buy two. Items priced 4 for $5 or 2 for $6, for example, can usually be purchased singly at the sale price. Check regular price tags on shelves to be sure the advertised price actually represents a savings.
• Find out if or when your store reduces prices for quick sale. Roast or fried chicken and baked goods may be cheaper at the end of the day. Some raw meats may also be reduced.
• Use coupons only for items you would normally buy, or to try new products. Take advantage of double or triple coupon days.
• Check expiration and sell-by dates. The expiration date indicates when the food is past its flavor and nutritional prime. The sell-by date indicates the date on which stores will normally pull unsold items. Food sold by that date will maintain its quality if consumed within a reasonable time. Often stores stock foods with earlier dates toward the front of the shelf, so later dates will be toward the back.
• Companies pay stores to display their products in favorable places so look above and below eye-level for comparable products at lower prices.
• Pick up cold and frozen items last and put them in a cooler with a cold pack.
• Get rain checks for any sale items that are not in stock.
• At the checkout, watch the scanner for errors and give coupons to the cashier.