The Secret Calendar for Big Supermarket Savings

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BH1YMJ Mature woman selects tinned goods in supermarket aisle. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.
Buy your groceries when they are on sale. That's a no-brainer, right? But when are they on sale?

"There are supermarket sales cycles, and they occur every 12 weeks for many major categories," according to Sue Perry, deputy editor of ShopSmart magazine, which is published by Consumer Reports.

"When you identify the sale cycles of things that your family always buys, you'll never buy at full price again," said Perry. She notes that every supermarket is different, but if you're a regular shopper, you know when it's time to stock up on good deal on a family favorite.

Use Your Freezer

To make this work, you'll need to use your pantry shelves and your freezer to full advantage. "Meat has a long shelf-life in the freezer," according to Perry. "You can freeze a whole bird for up to a year. ... Air is food's worst enemy, so you have squeeze it out.

Long-term freezing doesn't affect the taste of the food. ShopSmart says, even though the texture and appearance could be. For example, you can keep hard cheeses like parmesan in the freezer for up to six months, and if it changes the texture "you can crumble it up and use it for baking, instead of serving as a block to guests."

Whether you're storing a box of cereal in the panty or a pack of chicken breasts in the freezer, you should rotate your food by putting your newest purchases in the back and bringing older items up front. Follow the "first-in, first-out" inventory system.

If you're not sure how long certain items will last in the refrigerator or freezer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has tons of information about what to freeze, how to do it safely, and how long each item can stay frozen and still be safe to eat.

Seasonal Sales

In addition to the 12-week sales cycle, you can stock up on some items on a seasonal basis. Right now, with Easter coming up, it's a good time to buy lamb, ham and pineapple (to glaze the ham) -- even if you're not serving the big family dinner. Freeze the meat, put cans of pineapple in the closet and enjoy another Easter meal later this year. April is also Cancer Awareness Month, so certain low-fat foods are on sale too. DailyFinance compiles a monthly list of what's on sale.

And barbecue season begins next month, making it time to stock up on ground beef, hot dogs, mustard and other condiments. Many of these items will go on and off sale prices for the rest of the summer, giving you the opportunity to stock up for when weather turns chilly.

For shoppers who are willing to take the time and effort to clip or download coupons, combining them with the sales cycle can "boost your savings up to 67 percent off regular price," according to Perry.
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