One of the single best ways you can save money on your grocery bill is by stocking up on frequently-used products when the price is low, especially when those products have a long shelf-life or can be frozen.
In one of our first posts on this blog, I talked about how memorizing grocery store prices can save you money, but today I want to elaborate on that a bit. In order to know when you should stock up and how much you should buy, you need to know a good stock-up price for the products you’re buying — so how do you know when to buy?
Here’s some things to think about when deciding when to stock up:
Know what store has the best “full price” for the item
I’ve raved before about how shopping at Aldi saves us money. Aldi notoriously doesn’t allow coupons, so the price on the shelf is pretty much the price you’re going to pay, but that’s a good thing, because the prices at Aldi are often vastly cheaper than the prices at other stores.
What this means is that a big sale at Winn Dixie or Walmart may not be a particularly good deal at all, despite the advertising — often, it just brings the price in line with Aldi’s normal pricing. That’s good, because it gives me a baseline. If I’m going to stock up on an item, I know it needs to be cheaper than the normal price at Aldi, or I’m not getting a good deal.
Here’s an example. At my local Aldi, their brand of frozen pizzas are $3.99 each. They’re pretty tasty pizzas, and much cheaper than the typical price for DiGiorno or Palermo pizzas, which are our favorite brands. Since I know Aldi’s pizzas are $3.99, that gives me a baseline price to aim for when shopping for deals on other frozen pizzas.
With coupons, it’s not uncommon to be able to pick up DiGiorno pizzas for $3.50 each. That’s an okay price, and definitely worth picking up DiGiornos instead of Aldi’s brand.
But $3.00 is better.
If I can get DiGiorno pizzas for $2.50 each or less? That’s a pack-the-freezer price.
Know how much each item costs individually
I’ve mentioned before how keeping a price notebook can be a valuable tool in the grocery store. If you’re going to find the best stock-up prices, you need to know how exactly much you’re paying now, and set some target prices. What those actual prices are will vary from item to item. Sometimes, 50 cents off retail is a great deal to aim for, especially on steady items that don’t fluctuate in price much. For others, paying more than 25% of the retail price is losing money, because sales and coupons are so frequent.
As a general rule of thumb, though, I try to look for certain ranges:
- Under 30% off retail: Nice price, but nothing remarkable. Just buy your normal amount.
- 30% off retail: Good price. Grab an extra container or two.
- 50% off retail: Great price. Pick up several extra boxes.
- 75% or more off retail: AMAZING price. Fill the cart with as much as you can reasonably store and use.
Know how often sales and coupons come around
Some items almost always have an available coupon. I’ve never bought a bottle of ACT mouthwash without getting at least $1.00 off from an online printable coupon. Kikkoman products and Bird’s Eye frozen veggies also have coupons and sales all the time. Paying full price for these items is basically throwing money out the window.
Milk, on the other hand, doesn’t go on sale very often. In many places, it’s more expensive per gallon than gasoline. If you look carefully, though, you can find coupons for milk now and then, although they’re somewhat rare. When those coupons are available, it’s a good idea to get as many as you can and stock up on milk (assuming your family uses enough milk). Personally, I’ve never found that the coupons brought the final price low enough to beat Aldi’s normal price, but if you don’t have an Aldi nearby, those coupons can save you some substantial cash on your next gallon of milk.
Dry boxed pasta is a great example. The stuff is pretty cheap anyway, usually a dollar a box at most of my local stores. Unless you’re buying something special like gluten-free or whole wheat, most brands of pasta taste about the same, and there’s several popular brands on the market. Coupons and sales on pasta are literally available at almost any time, so it’s one of those products that you don’t necessarily need to stock up on (unless you can get it for free) — any time I go to the store, I know I’ll be able to buy pasta at a fraction of the retail price.
Question yourself before buying
Dirt-cheap stock up prices are only helpful if you can actually make use of everything you’re buying, of course. Run this quick analysis before you buy those 12 cartons of 50-cent sour cream:
- Is this something I buy and use frequently?
- Can I use all of this before it goes bad?
- Do I have a place to store this?
- Will I get sick of this before it’s all gone?
Take online stock-up price guides with a grain of salt
Some bloggers have tried to do the hard work for you, by listing products and their target stock up prices. These can be nice resources, but they can also be wildly inaccurate. Prices can vary widely by region and over time — a price guide written two years ago by a blogger a thousand miles away probably isn’t going to reflect the current grocery store prices in your town. If you want to use a price guide, try to find one close to you and recent.
Do you have any other tips for finding stock-up prices on groceries?
Photo by Bev Sykes.