Grocery shopping is pretty routine. Week after week, we go in and buy the same items without thinking too much about it.
But you should be wary of shopping on autopilot. Chances are, you're overpaying -- sometimes by as much as 50 percent. The secret lies in the store's sales cycle, and the sooner you learn it, the sooner you save.
There are two types of sales cycles. The first is seasonal. A lot of seasonal sales are common sense; canned pumpkin is cheaper in October, chocolate sells for less in February. But there are a lot of other seasonal items that go on sale during months you wouldn't expect -- like oatmeal in January, and peanut butter in September.
The next type is a rotational sales cycle. These sales are typically used to rotate the stock on the shelves every 6 to 12 weeks.
This may seem complicated, but with some time and practice, you can learn how to keep tabs on the best deals.
Start by making a list of the top 10 items you most often buy at the store. Then, start tracking those prices week to week. Grab a circular if there's one handy. After 6 to 12 weeks, you'll start to see a point where the price drops noticeably lower than the other weeks. This is when you should shop for this item, and potentially even buy in bulk. Remember, each item will have its own cycle, so track each product individually for the most accuracy.
So if you want to maximize savings in the long run, start tracking your store's sales cycle. Some codes are definitely worth cracking!
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Saving money at the grocery store doesn't require switching to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches three meals a day.
Click through our gallery as Mainstreet.com shares nine ways to cut the financial fat from your supermarket list.
The key impulse zones are near the checkout lanes and the center aisles, where small, but tempting purchases -- a can of mixed nuts, a jar of salsa or a handful of magazines -- can quickly bulk up your bill. Don't linger at the sample table, just get what you came for and move on.
Are there any items that you can or should eat --frozen chicken, leftover stir fry, a jar of sauce that's near its expiration date -- that you can use as a basis for a new meal or to recreate something different? If so, look for simple recipes with what you have first.
These days it pays to clip (or click) coupons. Redeeming the savings can be as easy as a click of the mouse. For instance, online sites like couponsurfer.com offer two ways to save: online coupons for Web sites like buy.com or printable coupons that can be used at your supermarket.
Brand loyalty won't get you far in a struggling economy. To get the best deals you need to shop around. Know who has the best prices on the items your family uses, particularly higher-priced goods like detergents, fresh produce and meats. A little extra leg work can translate into big savings.
Size can matter when it comes to savings. Items packaged by the bundle will likely save you a few dollars. So will foods you can buy in bulk such as brown rice, cereals and coffee. Many items are easy to freeze (including nuts, fresh herbs, breads), which means you don't have to worry about using them immediately.
One of the fastest ways to watch your grocery budget dwindle is to purchase last-minute, unplanned items. If you know you've got no willpower, allow yourself just one spontaneous grab from the shelves (preferably not the caviar or champagne sections), then focus on checking off the items you're allowed to buy.
Planning meals in advance allows you to know how much flexibility (or not) you have in your budget before you shop. By selecting recipes, you're able to create a firm list of what you need before you set foot in the grocery store.
Mood shopping can be a budget killer, especially if you're an emotional eater. If you're anxious, angry or depressed, take a walk, phone a friend or hit the gym first, then shop when you're clear headed. The same rule applies to hunger. Walking through aisles and aisles of enticing foods while your stomach is grumbling is like strolling through Bergdorf's shoe department on payday. You can't be expected to exercise smart spending under extreme conditions of vulnerability. Don't even try it.