More than half the counties in the United States have become government-designated disaster areas this year -– mostly due to drought.

A new survey says 94 percent of 2,208 respondents were concerned about the drought –- although 8 percent apparently first heard of it through the survey, which says only 86 percent were aware “of the recent drought issues.”

(If you haven’t heard, you can read up on the drought outlook in specific areas of the country at the National Weather Service website.)

More than a third (36 percent) of respondents expect higher food prices because of it. Here’s how they plan to avoid a bigger total at checkout…

  • Use coupons (70 percent)

  • Buy store brands and generics (60 percent)

  • Buy less expensive items, e.g. more canned and less fresh food (48 percent)

  • Shop at a discount grocer (45 percent)

  • Buy in bulk (41 percent)

  • Freeze large amounts of food (33 percent)

The drought may impact dairy and beef prices within the year, but increases on corn products – including anything with high fructose corn syrup, which is in everything from soda to cereal, won’t be as dramatic and may not be noticeable until next year, according to the latest update to the USDA’s Food Price Outlook

"The severe drought in the Midwest is expected to affect prices for corn and soybeans as well as other field crops which should, in turn, impact retail food prices. However, the transmission of commodity price changes into retail prices typically takes several months to occur, and most of the impact of the drought is expected to be realized in 2013."

The USDA says the “full extent” of the drought’s effects on prices isn’t obvious yet. Future updates will continue to adjust the price estimates. But regardless of price hikes, taking any of the steps above will shrink your grocery bill, as will these…

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  • 1. Coupons

    70 percent of respondents in the CouponCabin survey said they plan on cutting costs by using coupons.

  • 2. Buy Store Brands And Generics

    60 percent of respondents in the CouponCabin survey said they plan on cutting costs by buying generic or store brands.

  • 3. Buy Less Expensive Items

    48 percent of respondents said they plan to buy more canned and less fresh food in order to cut costs.

  • 4. Shop At A Discount Grocer

    45 percent of respondents plan on shopping at a discount grocer.

  • 5. Buy In Bulk

    41 percent plan to buy items in bulk.

  • 6. Freeze Large Amounts Of Food

    33 percent of survey respondents are planning on freezing large amounts of food.

  • 7. Price Match

    Learning price-match policies can save money - and if you shop at multiple stores, it can also save you time and gas. Some retailers (such as Walmart) will price match just about any store's weekly ad. Others only match certain competitors' ads. And some take competitors' coupons - so you could see savings from a store you don't use.

  • 8. Shrink Portions

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Research suggests</a> we often underestimate portion sizes by more than half - we're not good at gauging how much we actually eat. So try serving smaller portions.

  • 9. Substitute Cheaper Ingredients

    You can go a step further than generic - by cutting out ingredients you don't need or using cheaper alternatives. Get some substitution ideas from <a href="" target="_hplink">The Cook's Thesaurus</a>.

  • 10. Add Filler

    Rice and noodles are cheap additions to leftovers. And as we mentioned in <a href="" target="_hplink">30 Tips to Save on Food</a> back in April, you can do something similar with meat. Add cheaper ingredients (like cottage cheese to hamburger) to stretch it.

  • 11. Cut Out Prep Costs

    Pre-sliced cheese often costs more than a block. Same with meat, fruit, and vegetables. Almost everything can cost a third more after a markup for labor. So stop paying your grocery store to chop, grate, slice, dice, and shrink-wrap your food.

  • 12. Learn To Love Cooking

    Homemade is often cheaper, tastier, and healthier than pre-made and pre-packaged food. Yes, there's a significant trade-off in time, but you don't have to do everything from scratch - sometimes there are simple shortcuts to making your own, like the method we recently discovered for making <a href="" target="_hplink">homemade ice cream</a>. You can also plan your schedule to shop and cook up several meals in advance over the weekend, and store them for later. For ideas, check out <a href="" target="_hplink">Professional Cooking on an Amateur Budget</a>.

  • 13. Buy In Season

    Thanks to our ability to rapidly transport/import food, many of us have forgotten (or never learned) that many foods grow during a certain time of year. Your favorite fruits and vegetables may be available year-round, but they're usually freshest and cheapest when they're in season and delivered locally. Check out the Produce for Better Health Foundation for a list of <a href="" target="_hplink">fruits and vegetables available by season.</a>

  • 14. Veg Out

    Vegetables, beans, and soy products cost less than meat. You don't have to go vegan, but replacing even a couple of meals a week with meatless alternatives will trim the fat from your budget and possibly your waist.

  • 15. Pay Attention To Expiration Dates

    Learn <a href="" target="_hplink">when food really expires</a> (hint: the package date isn't always an expiration) and plan accordingly. If you're not sure what you can make with what's in the fridge, check out the <a href=" Drought Price Hikes %E2%80%93 20 Ways to Save on Food %7C Money Talks News&txt=BigOven&jsonp=vglnk_jsonp_13449654237283" target="_hplink">BigOven</a> app: Enter three ingredients, and the app spits out a recipe idea. Check expiration dates when you shop to avoid spoiled or off-tasting food that's either thrown out or costs time and gas to return. And buy marked-down bread, meat, and other food near its expiration date. You can prepare and eat it right away or freeze it for a while.

  • 16. Check Unit Price

    Buying bulk and sale items isn't always the way to save. Check the per-unit cost on the price tag, so you know how much the little one and the big one cost per ounce or pound. If you don't see the label, whip out your phone and do a little math - you'll remember which one's cheapest next time and only have to check again when something's repriced or repackaged.

  • 17. Use A List

    Don't shop or write a grocery list when you're hungry, and make sure to check items against the list before they go into your cart. Impulse buys can give you a shock at checkout when you suddenly owe 10 or 20 percent more than you expected, and a list is the best way to avoid them. That and leaving the kids at home.

  • 18. Skip Snacks

    Or at least pick cheaper, <a href="" target="_hplink">healthier ones like nuts</a> and fruit. We all have our guilty pleasures, but when you focus on cost vs. nutrition, it's hard to miss how much money is going to empty calories - ones that could also result in higher health care costs.

  • 19. Grow Your Own

    It can be difficult to find yard space for a garden, and <a href=" Drought Price Hikes %E2%80%93 20 Ways to Save on Food %7C Money Talks News&txt=your city might impose restrictions&jsonp=vglnk_jsonp_13449669069611" target="_hplink">your city might impose restrictions</a> on what and how much you can grow. But anyone who thinks they might have a green thumb can find savings by <a href="" target="_hplink">starting a little garden of vegetables and herbs</a>. If not, you might contribute to maintaining a community garden or shop at a farmer's market. Nothing's juicier than saving on the fruits of someone else's labor.

  • 20. Shop Online

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Walmart and Amazon</a> both sell groceries online. <a href="" target="_hplink">Watch for deals</a> and increase savings by getting free shipping or savings by subscribing (making regular purchases of the same item).

Related stories:
30 Tips To Save On Food
Eating Healthy By Eating Cheap
14 Smart Tips For Stockpiling Groceries