Why is it that the odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with ONLY a loaf of bread are about 3 billion to one?
Food prices in the U.S. have climbed so dramatically in recent months that a stroll through the aisles of a typical supermarket is enough to kill your appetite.
It’s no secret that supermarkets and grocery stores purposely design their layouts to entice us to buy lots more than we’d planned, but shoppers are not victims. It all boils down to the choices we make — not just for what we buy but also for when we buy it.
There must be dozens of ways to shop for groceries, and I’m certain I’ve tried them all. But when it comes right down to it, every possible method falls into one of two categories — needs shopping or reserve shopping.
Needs shopping. You buy what you need now at the best price possible, and you buy enough to last until you go shopping again.
Needs shoppers are frequent shoppers. They’re meal-planners and make shopping lists. They keep their eyes open for sales, frequently opting for the best price rather than specific brands for the items they need.
Reserve shopping. You buy what’s on sale even if you don’t need it now so that you don’t have to pay full price for it when you do need it.
Reserve shopping is the process of building a small in-house grocery store. When it’s time to make dinner, you visit your own store.
Gratefully, I learned to be a reserve shopper years ago, thanks to Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game. I credit this method with the rather large stockpile of food and household supplies that has allowed me and my family to sail through surprising food shortages and disappearing household supplies. Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know what I’m talking about.
Let’s just say that my deep pantry (as opposed to the small pantry in my kitchen) has not been fazed. We have not had a shortage of anything in the past four months, including toilet tissue and all types of sanitizers. Items we used from the deep pantry are starting to go on sale again, and you can bet that as they do, I’m reserve shopping to replace and replenish.
The goal of a reserve shopper is to never pay full price for anything. It’s possible, and if you are diligent, you will get there eventually.
As a reserve shopper, rather than coming up with menus before you go shopping, you look to the store’s sales cycles to determine your food purchases. Here’s a hint: Almost every supermarket in the U.S. works on a 12-week sales cycle. That means once every three months, something in every aisle and department of that store will be on sale — not every brand, perhaps, but a brand that is well known and popular. And when it does, you buy, even if you do not need it now. When you need to prepare a meal, you go shopping in your own reserve grocery stockpile.
Eventually, you will have a month’s worth of basic groceries on hand. You will become diligent to buy what’s on sale — and enough of it until it goes on sale the next time. This insulates you against wild price fluctuations at the grocery store. You won’t find yourself running to the store for one or two things, forced to pay the highly inflated full price.
When challenges come your way — you lose your job or get sick; there’s a blizzard; you’re hit with unexpected car repairs or even a global pandemic — with food in the pantry, hard times are less hard.
Mary Hunt writes this column for Creators Syndicate. She is the founder of www.EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of “Debt-Proof Living. Submit comments or tips or address questions on her website. She will answer questions of general interest via this column, but letters cannot be answered individually.