Shopping the holiday sales is a sure-fire way to save money on groceries. It's also an opportunity to save money on "seasonal" items you use year-round. Some of these may be ingredients that just get marked down for the winter holidays — like baking supplies, holiday beverage supplies, and cold-weather foods at rock-bottom prices — and others may be items that are really hard to find any other time of year.
Before you load up the sleigh with all the good stuff you love, consider these questions first.
1. Is the Price Really That Good?
It will help your grocery budget year-round if you know your prices. When you see a great price, then it's time to snatch up multiples of that item. For instance, I prefer unbleached, unbromated flour, which tends to go on sale at the holidays. Snatching up several bags ensures that I'll have a few months' worth on hand at a great price. If I know what the prices are year-round, I can better judge a great deal.
2. How Much Space Do You Have?
If the item passes the price test, you next need to ask yourself if you've got room to store this lovely item in bulk. Canned goods can be stashed in cupboards and under beds, but some items need refrigeration or freezing to maintain quality and texture.
When I find a great sale on butter and flour, I buy extras and store them in my deep freeze. It's important to know how full my freezer is at any given time so I know how much more I can buy. An inventory is so helpful in this instance!
3. When Does It Expire?
Expiration and "best-by" dates can vary by manufacturer, and there are different schools of thought as to how rigidly you should observe them. I tend to be on the conservative side and give myself a lot of room to use up the items I stock in my pantry.
4. Do You Really Love It?
One year I bought several boxes of graham cracker crumbs at 50 cents a box. They had a few months to go, so I bought a lot. I bought more than I could reasonably use, and unfortunately some went to waste. While I love to make homemade cheesecakes, I just didn't make them as often as I thought I would.
5. Can You Afford It?
Once your holiday sale ingredient has passed all these tests, now you have to ask the hard question: Can you afford to buy it? Is there enough room in the grocery budget this month to buy extras for next month?
Holiday Items to Look for at Great Prices
- Baking supplies, like flour, sugar, chocolate chips, baking chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, baking mixes, candy decor items, and seasonally available cookies.
- Tamale-making supplies, like masa, corn husks, lard, chili pods, and cuts of pork and beef.
- Meat and seafood items, like turkey, ham, and shrimp cocktail.
- Holiday produce, like sweet potatoes, cranberries, and clementines.
- Dairy, like butter, eggs, and eggnog.
- Frozen items, like ice cream and frozen vegetables.
- Canned/boxed items, like canned vegetables, soups, broths, boxed stuffing mixes, and cranberry sauce.
- Drinks, like mixers, wine, beer, and sparkling beverages.