Growing up with a mother who couponed like a fiend made me forever averse to creating a grocery list centered exclusively upon sale items. Not only is the process tedious and time-consuming, but it also forces you to buy larger quantities of food than you need. All of these extra items then must either be frozen – which kills freshness – or eaten at once – which ruins the diversity of your meals.
Nevertheless, shopping sales can still be great way to save money at the grocery store. I recommend, though, that you only look for sales on items you already need to buy for the week. For instance, when my wife and I need to restock our olive oil or want to get a bottle of wine, we typically go for what’s on sale. We don’t get these items unless we need to, but when we have them on our grocery list for week, we can almost always find them at significantly reduced prices.
For lovers of brand loyalty, shopping this way means you cannot always buy the same products from the same companies month after month. Instead, spotting sales on items such as sauces, cereal, coffee or cheese encourages you to eat a variety of brands, which just might turn you on to a great – and sometimes local – producer you’ve never heard of before.
Another way to shop sales efficiently and easily is to buy seasonal produce. Instead of catering an entire week’s worth of meals to a few specific ingredients, I recommend switching out certain items in a dish for similar ones that are on sale. Need some veggies for a roast chicken? During the fall, stick to root vegetables and Brussels sprouts, or go for squash, bell peppers and leeks in the summer. This way, you can still make your favorite dishes whenever you want, but you can use seasonal ingredients – which are often on sale – to save money and eat sustainably.
Incorporating seasonal items into your weekly menu can also help you learn more about local agriculture and support regional farmers. Apple and sweet potato farming, for example, were big business in my hometown, and this local produce would always be on sale during the early autumn. By shopping sales on seasonal foods, you can learn a great deal about what crops grow best in your area, and you can more easily support local agriculture.
Finally, just as shopping sale items encourages you to eat a variety of brands, it also pushes you to step outside of your culinary comfort zone and try new foods. I always enjoy seeing the wide array of fruits that come in season during the late spring, and my wife and I love sampling new varieties and types when we can. In fact, just last month we tried cape gooseberries for the first time, and if they weren’t on sale and in season, I don’t think we would have ever noticed them, let alone give them a try.
Shopping sales wisely can help save money on your weekly grocery bill, and it doesn’t take the time and intense planning that couponing does. Instead, it promotes diverse eating and it helps support sustainable farming and local agriculture, all the while shaving off dollars at checkout. So keep an eye out for those yellow price tags, and see where sales can take you.