How to figure out the lowest price on groceries

Posted by Amy Dunn on May 15, 2014 

  • Sign up for coupon class

    Learn more about cutting your grocery bill by attending one of my half-day coupon workshops, which I teach four times per year.

    Registration is now open for my Saturday, June 14, class, covering basic and advanced methods of shopping sales and strategically using coupons.

    The workshop is at The N&O's downtown Raleigh offices at 215 S. McDowell St. Registration is $15 and open to the public. Most folks easily recoup the cost of the class after one shopping trip.

    The fee includes free parking, a free breakfast, a detailed class handout, recipes, worksheets and a reusable grocery bag filled with freebies.

    Go to newsobserver.com/couponclass to sign up. If you need help with registration, please call 919-836-2890.

  • A cheat sheet to the lowest grocery prices

    Here’s a sample from my personal price book, which will give you a glimpse at the rock-bottom prices you can find at Triangle grocery stores. Depending on need, I may occasionally pay a little more. Less experienced shoppers may have to pay a bit more until their pantries, refrigerators and freezers are better stocked.

    Split chicken breasts: 99 cents per pound

    Milk: $2.99 per gallon or less.

    Eggs: 99 cents per dozen.

    Peanut butter: $2 or less without coupon; $1 or less with coupon.

    Bread: $1 per loaf. Many Dollar Tree stores carry Nature’s Own bread for $1.

    Apples: 99 cents per pound

    Peaches: 99 cents per pound

    Grapes: 99 cents per pound

    Tomatoes: 99 cents per pound

    Cereals: $1 or less per box after coupon

    Canned vegetables: 50 cents each

    Snacks: $1 per box or bag after coupon

    Name-brand 12-pack canned soda: $2.50 or less

    Toothpaste: Free to 25 cents after coupon

For shoppers looking for a deal on groceries -- and who isn’t these days -- there are few things more tantalizing than the front of a supermarket ad screaming BOGO deals.

A BOGO -- or buy one item, get one free sale -- has got to be a deal, right?

Not necessarily.

The supermarkets would certainly like you to believe that a BOGO sale is always a bargain. That’s why they feature them on the front pages of their weekly circulars in large print.

But the truth is, sometimes grocery store prices are so inflated that you still might be paying too much.

A prime example is the price of canned soda. The regular grocery store price on 12-packs of the major brands can be more than $6.50. A BOGO sale brings that price down to $3.25 per 12-pack.

That might sound like a good deal, but if you know your prices, you’ll skip the BOGO sale and wait for the rock-bottom price, which is about $2.50 in the Triangle and surrounding areas.

So what’s a careful consumer to do?

The single best way to spot the best deals is to know your prices.

That may sound obvious, but there’s a bit more to it than trying to rely on your memory.

The easiest, and most efficient, way to tell the difference between a truly good sale and a pseudo sale is to create a price book of the top ten or 20 items you buy on a regular basis. Typical items might include: milk, cereal, bread, eggs, chicken, ground beef, apples, peanut butter, cheese, canned goods and snacks.

Here’s a simple price book how-to:

Write down the grocery items you purchase most often. Use your smartphone or a pocket- or purse-size spiral bound notebook.

Each time you make a trip to the grocery, note the date, the name of the grocery store, the price and the price per unit. You can also jot down prices from the weekly circulars or the online shopping tools such as Harris Teeter’s Express Lane.

Frugal tip: Ditch your brand loyalties and store loyalties and record the prices of several brands at multiple stores. And don’t forget to check the house-label products.

An entry might look like this:

Peanut butter

Skippy, 15 oz.

Harris Teeter; 0/0/14

$3.69; 25 cents/oz.

$2.19 after coupon

Final: 15 cents/oz.

----------------------------

Peter Pan, 16.3 oz.

Lowes Foods; 0/0/14

$2; 12 cents/oz.

------------------------

Nice! brand, 18 oz.

Walgreens; 0/0/14

$2;

$1.50 after rewards

Final: 8 cents/oz.

Over time, you’ll notice patterns emerge. While many grocery items seem to always be on sale, oftentimes that sale amounts to as little as a dime off. You want to watch for the big sales when items are at their rock-bottom prices.

Typically, that low price will be offered every six to eight weeks, though some items, especially those seasonal in nature, may only be offered for a brief time once or twice per year. You’ll find the lowest prices on baking items at Christmas and Easter; the best sales on picnic fixings show up close to Memorial Day and the Fourth of July; and you’ll likely score the lowest prices on peanut butter and jelly at back-to-school time.

Once you’ve established the rock-bottom prices for the items you buy, be ready to stock up. Buy enough to carry you to the next sale plus one. I like to think of that extra one as my insurance policy against paying full price.

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