I started grocery shopping when I was a teenager. I worked as a "bag girl" at the local Lucky Store so my mind was literally on food at least four hours a day. I convinced my dad to let me do the family grocery shopping. I made a list of meals I wanted to eat during the week and bought the items on the list. Rarely did I take inventory or adhere to a food budget. I just bought what I wanted. This habit followed me into my college and newlywed years.
To the detriment of my bank account, I rarely consulted the grocery sales ad. How silly! Since then I've changed how I orient my shopping to sales.
Instead I paid full pop for meat, fresh produce, and canned goods, ignorant of or ignoring the fact that certain items went on sale for less than half their regular prices.
There are reasons I pay attention to sales now when I grocery shop — while they are of course a great way to save money on food, they also give me a number of other benefits.
1. I stretch my dollar.
I can buy boneless chicken breast for $6 a pound (at full price) or I can wait until it's on sale for $2/pound. I can then buy three times as much for the same price or divert the savings to other things that I need that week.
2. I enjoy food in season.
Typically sale items are those that are seasonal. Apples in the fall, watermelons in July. By buying my grocery items according to what's on sale, I enjoy in-season produce that tastes better. I can buy mediocre and expensive stone fruit in December or enjoy fantastic peaches in August. Which would you choose?
3. I can build my pantry.
The idea of an unlimited pantry is something I had only dreamed of. Until we went into debt. Once I started using coupons and stockpiling sale items, I found that I had a wealth of ingredients to work with all the time.
I build a frugal pantry when I shop the sales. Not only do I feel "rich" when this happens, but I am also free to get more creative in the kitchen.
4. I feel free to give more.
I'm buying good food at great prices — and getting a big bang for my buck — I am more able and comfortable to share with others.
Whether it's taking a meal to a friend or donating to the food bank, shopping the sales makes it easier to give.
5. I expand my horizons.
By buying the "loss leaders," those items that the store offers deep discounts on at a loss in order to lure shoppers, I am apt to encounter a fruit, vegetable, or cut of meat that I hadn't previously tried before.
In doing so, I expand my culinary horizons and learn more about that particular ingredient and how best to make it work at our house. Necessity is the mother of invention, right?
Planning your meals based on the sales can save you money, but it will also open a lot of other doors as well. Do you have habits or good tips around shopping sales? Do you find that grocery store sales work well for your cooking?