Shopping the specials is the second key hack to keeping your grocery costs low. Right off the bat I need to say this strategy could be a bit controversial in the personal finance world and it’s not for everyone. If you have to have a strict week to week grocery budget because you are on a low income or aggressively paying down debt, then it might be more appropriate to do a meal plan and shop to that.
The crux of it is, I try to buy anything and everything that can be stored in the pantry or freezer when it is deeply discounted, either because of a promotion or because it is close to its best before or use by date.* At any point in time I will have a stockpile of food and a bunch of dinner options, all purchased at low cost. Speaking of which, if you stockpile goods, you need to have a reasonably organised pantry so that you know you are using your oldest goods first. That’s on my to do list…
Every time something you usually buy goes on promotion, buy enough to keep supplies til the next time it is on special. I guess this is not an approach for the faint hearted as it can lead to wildly fluctuating grocery bills. To make sure you’re not justly wildly spending money and are in fact making some savings, take care to check the cost per 100g or unit to make sure it is a real special. And it’s not a special if you wouldn’t normally buy it, either because you don’t eat it or if there is a viable cheaper alternative even after the discount. By ‘viable’ I mean that there is an alternative that you wouldn’t mind eating. I wouldn’t suggest buying something just because it is the cheapest as sometimes the lowest price can mean low quality or high in sugar or salt.
Often an item goes for 20% off one week and 50% off the next so the key is to know the cycles and how deep a discount a supermarket will offer. Rarely will this happen but if you see an item being sold for less than half price, it is the time to stock up on a year’s supply.
With fresh items, if you can use them on the day or freeze them, you can get up to 80% off the marked price as they reach the best before or use by date. This is a great strategy for meat but it only keeps a couple of months in the freezer before it dries out so keep rotating what you’ve got. In terms of finding marked down goods, I’ve had the most luck on a weekday morning at Coles – they tend to be all gone by the evening. If you have any tips for the best times or days to look, please share them in the comments.
Some items like homebrand canned tomatoes and homebrand flavoured tuna never go on special so you just buy those things as you need them. But overall, if you go hard and stockpile when the discounts are deep, you will save an awful lot of cash.
Happy grocery hacking
*A note: If a product is marked with a use by date, then you need to abide by that and use by the date or freeze it immediately. If the product has a best before date, you can pretty much ignore that date and go by the look, smell and taste in that order to see if something is edible.