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We all must eat food, so saving money on food at the grocery is no longer an option. It is the most valuable skill you can acquire, especially in 2021, when food prices are rising, there are global food shortages and global lock-out thanks to Covid-19.
Knowing when to shop for the best foods and getting them at their lowest prices will keep you ahead of most people who shop based on their weekly food needs. Learn how to cut the costs at grocery stores by playing the retail store’s sales cycles and creating a buying strategy for your family’s needs. You need not be a wholesale buyer to get maximum savings. And you do not need to be a wholesale club member for saving big. You can use the strategies mentioned below for any stores in the USA.
Tip– If you love couponing, you will get more benefits from the tips below. But do not fret if you dread couponing. I do not like them as well. But I use them if they are easy to clip.
Know the Seasonal Produce Cycle
Be a smart shopper by understanding the seasonal produce cycles. When you consume foods produced fresh in a given season, you get maximum nutrients for that food. You also get the best value for the food when you shop them during their harvesting season. We are lucky that the US Department of Agriculture maintains this seasonal produce guide. Why not use this for reducing our monthly grocery expenses?
You can also refer to the guide I have created that includes some of our family’s favorite vegetables and fruits for each season. Just click the Download Button to receive it.DOWNLOAD
Tip- I print two copies of this list. One goes on our refrigerator to plan out our weekly meals and organize the inside of the freezer, refrigerator. The other list goes into my purse for easy access while doing the shopping.
Know The Annual Sales Cycles of Frozen and Refrigerated Foods
Ideally, if you have access to a local farmer’s garden or CSAs, you will not buy many frozen foods every time you shop for food. In that case, you do not need to use this tip.
Always buy the produce in their peak harvesting seasons like pick apples, berries, pumpkins in their harvesting season from the farmer’s market and freeze them in advance before they go bad.
For those of you who do not have access to the fresh farmer’s market or CSA or do not have enough time and space to store frozen foods, you can make use of the annual calendar published by National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association. Even though it is the promotion calendar for grocery stores, you can always get an idea as to when your favorites grocery stores will stock their refrigerated and frozen foods at cheaper costs.
Sign up for your favorite store’s sales
Do you tend to shop in your favorite stores every month? We do. We always shop at Aldi every other week and then at Wholesale Shop once a month or sometimes once a quarter. On days, we are not in the mood to travel far (the nearest Aldi is still 20 minutes away from us), we shop at our nearby farmer’s market.
So, I signed up for their sales notifications. I get their weekly sales notifications in email. I always mark these emails and tuck them into the grocery shopping folder. It comes in handy while planning out the meals for the month and then shopping for those meals.
Tip- If you like being a member of your grocery store, you can sign for their membership cards. They are free to sign up except for the wholesale club stores. They give you rewards points every time you show them the membership card at the check out lane. Furthermore, they also send you digital coupons that you can clip on these membership cards. This saves you further on top of their sales cycles. I always prefer digital coupon clipping to physical coupons. Less mess, more savings!
Mark National Holidays and Sales in your Calendars
Most of us are eagerly waiting for national holidays to take a good long break from our stressful work. Some of us plan months in advance for the upcoming holidays and travels. Why not use these holidays to plan for your family’s annual shopping needs? Most retailers organize huge sale events during these national holidays. That is just an excuse for people to spend more on the stuff thinking that they are getting a good deal.
But what if you do not use what you bought?
Save the receipts and return the items if you have not opened them within a few weeks of purchase. Always remember to shop for your needs.
But, you do not need to always shop on the sales during these national holidays. Food is always needed in every household. Why not use these holidays to stock up on the foods you and your family enjoy every month. Check out the holidays here that show special food and beverages days in a year. It is so interesting to see there is National Food month for 321 different food and beverages. E.g. National Pie day is on January 23rd and National Bacon Day on December 30th.
The national holiday website is so much fun. But do not get carried away, follow the next step.
Plan your Grocery Shopping in advance
Only choose the foods that your family loves and eats all year long on your grocery shopping list in advance.
We all anyway shop for Thanksgiving and Christmas in advance. I bet you shop for Easter, the Summer season, and special events in advance as well. Use the same principle and shop for your family’s weekly and monthly grocery needs using these sales cycles.
We shop our family’s breakfast items in January. This month all oats meals, hot teas, cereals are on deep discount. So I stocked up on old-fashioned steel cut organic oats, Organic Tea, Organic Coffee, Organic Maple Syrup, Organic Honey, Waffle, and Pancake mixes for the next 6 months. They last long and can be stored well at room temperature. I know my family will eat them every single day.
Similarly, we purchase noodles, sauces, flours in March, BBQ Sauce, Salsa, and Berries in May, Honey in September, and all non-GMO perishable foods in October.
Make a List and Stick with it
It takes hard work and planning to save money at a grocery store. If you do not plan in advance, you will end up spending more money on foods that are on sale but will not be consumed within their expiry date because you and your family do not enjoy eating those foods. Make a list of your favorite meals- including snacks, breaks fats, lunches, and dinners.
Also, do not forget to make a list of ingredients you will need for all those meals. I have written list of top 10 BULK food ingredients we always keep in our home. They save us a lot of money by not shopping for them every week or month. Check our list here.
Stick with your shopping list every time you go shopping. Do not get tempted to buy stuff just because it is on sale.
If it’s not in the list, it should not be in the shopping cart.
Shop alone if you can. That way you can focus on getting the shopping done without distractions and remain in your budget. Those extra helpers, be it children or spouse, can add extra goodies to the basket that are not needed and not on your well-thought-out list. It always happens to me when my hubby is with me inside the grocery shopping. He tends to buy food from the frozen food section especially the meat that we know we can not finish eating since he is the only one who eats meat in this family.
Once you are home from your shopping trip, do not forget to update your bulk food list with the updated quantity and their expiry date.
Always keep checking this list every month. Never shop for food if you have duplicated the items. This way, you don’t come home with duplicate items that may eventually go to waste.
Save the Receipts
Don’t forget to save the receipts of your purchases at the grocery stores. I never used to store them earlier but after a couple of times when I got the damaged food items, I wanted to return the items to the store. But I could not submit the receipt to get cashback. Since then, I keep a separate baggie to save all receipts in one place. These also come in handy to update the bulk food ingredient list we maintain in our home.
Check the grocery receipt for errors. Most often we tend to discard the receipts and wonder why our weekly or monthly budget exceeded. Stores don’t do this intentionally, but it happens frequently. It may be that the cashier is new or the items are not marked correctly to reflect the weekly sales. It could be entered incorrectly on the computer scanner or the checker could be rushed and enter the wrong amount or wrong quantity purchased. Check for errors as soon as you can. Never be shy about getting it corrected. It is your hard-earned money. Most stores are apologetic and give you a prompt refund.
Also, do not shop on an empty stomach. If you do shop with an empty stomach, it will keep telling you that everything looks good and buy everything NOW. Then you’ll find yourself straying away from the list. You might want to have a small snack or a big meal like I do before you shop to curb any ravenous appetite.
When you are ready for shopping, plan your trip earlier in the day or late at night to avoid the frantic crowds. This has a double benefit- you will get freshly stocked produce and on the last night, most store managers mark their special Manager’s sale for some perishable food items.
Tip- For the middle of the weekly food shopping, it is best to buy perishable foods on Wednesday or Thursday late at night. I tend to see most foods marked down as Manager’s special on those two days. E.g Organic onions, cabbage, and spinach are always marked at 50% off on those days in my local store. Those days I stock up and freeze these foods for monthly meals.
Stock up on perishable foods in advance
Compare the unit price and buy a larger size if it’s less per ounce or per pound. This is perfect for non-perishable foods. But if you have a larger family, you can use this principle for shopping perishable foods that your family consumer regularly.
Ours is a small family and there are certain perishable foods we just can not justify buying in bulk. Some fresh produce like spinach, kale, broccoli, and some fruits we buy in bulk and store them in freezer-safe bags to last them longer. We got a big box of freezer-safe bags at Costco about 3 years ago, and they are still going strong. You can also get them on Amazon. Always check their current price and buy them when they go on sale.
Remember that higher-priced items are usually placed at your eye level. So when shopping for your list, look up or down for lower-priced foods. More expensive items are also usually stocked in the high traffic aisles. So, wander off the beaten path to save some bucks and get a little exercise in the process. E.g never shop for magazines, candies, and batteries in the check-out lane. Walk at the end of the typical aisle to see the clearance items and manager’s specials. I have found a big box for Spaghetti noodles, a great freezer-safe container set, a filter water bottle, and a bunch of organic pasta sauce bottles in those far away counters at the end of familiar aisles.
Do your own food slicing, dicing, and packaging. Those prepackaged pre-cut veggies, meats, and cheeses are convenient, but you will pay more for this convenience. If you are short on time, of course, go ahead and get the prepackaged fresh foods than going to the restaurants for your weekly meals.
Any saving is a good saving as long as you know your trade-offs!
E.g. Bulk cheese is cheaper and said to be healthier. Look for the month and week when you will get the bulk cheese at a deeper discount. Buying a whole chicken is much cheaper. Cut it into parts when you bring it home. Freeze what you don’t need right away into the freezer-safe baggies or containers. Less tender cuts of meat are cheaper and if the prepared right can be just as delicious.
The same goes for cereal. Those tiny one-person servings cost more, so buy the larger boxes. They are OK to buy if you are planning for a trip or preparing emergency food packages. But not for everyday consumption. Hot cereals are usually less expensive per serving than the ready to eat cereals. Ditto for baking. If you love baking, bake your own cakes, cookies, bread, and stuff from scratch. Your only investment will be breadmaker and electricity.
You pay more for ready mixes of cakes and cookies. The most important cardinal rule of Frugal families-
Prepared foods will cost you more so do a little more work and save your hard earned money.
Keep Annual Sales Cycle Favorites in Your Family Binder
To make this process smoother every year, print 4 lists and store them in your family’s home management binder.
- Seasonal Produce List- This stays constant unless the whole world weather changes drastically. Let’s pray that does not happen any time soon!
- The annual sales cycle for frozen and refrigerated foods
- Bulk food ingredients list
- Meal Planning and Shopping list.
Every month, when you are working on your budget, take out these lists and see how much of your monthly budget you need to spend on food. If you are doing the above steps with dedication, you will find enough room to save money every month.
We also keep a grocery shopping tracker in our finance budget binder. That way we can track the months when we spend the most on food and non-food items. This grocery expense tracker helps us in managing our money saving challenges, no-spend weekends and weekdays as well.
Related Article– $1000 money-saving challenge.
Rinse and Repeat
Repeat what worked for you and discard what did not. When you put these strategies in practice, you may notice that you are very good at freezing or drying fresh foods. Then you do not have to worry about sales cycles. If you love canning, you may end up stocking up more seasonal produce than a family who just does not fancy canning during summer.
If you do not like using canned foods, you can just cross them off in the seasonal sales cycles to avoid distraction. In general, make this a fun family activity and stick with what works for you.
Finally, keep a goal to reduce food spending
What I mentioned here are some ways we save money on food in our household. But they are not by all means complete. Tweak and change what suits you and your family and your season of life. You may be able to cut the grocery bills for certain years of your life but during those hectic years of your life, you may not get the time to plan your grocery shopping well. In those times, stick with what works for you. Do not fret about saving money on all the shopping trips. Even if you follow these rules once in a while you will still save money. Consider grocery shopping a good therapy.
This article first published on Consciousdebtfreelife.com
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