My first date with my husband was in 1986. Yes, thank you for asking. I was still in diapers when we started going steady. I’d known him several years, but only loosely. He was old enough to drive when we met, and I was still in junior high. Obviously, quite a lot of time passed before I was ‘cool’ enough to catch his interest. So, our date was a BIG thing!
My best friend and I discussed possible hair and outfit combinations. My mom, (who’s always been better at clothes than me), weighed in with suggestions. I spent ages trying different clothes and experimenting with my hair and makeup. I’m four years younger, and I’d had a crush on him for a while. So, I was desperate not to seem childish.
Clearly, my mid-eighties Alyssa Milano (from Who’s the Boss) inspired fashions worked, because, we’ll celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary this year! Since I confessed to my own eighties fashion faux pas, I’ll also admit that my husband arrived dressed like an extra from the set of Miami Vice. Since he’s a blue jeans, boots, and cowboy hat kind of guy, I can only assume that he put some thought into his outfit too!
While I’m in purging my soul, I’ll also confess, that I thought he looked ‘totally rad’ in his cotton trousers, ¾ length sleeved jacket, and sockless deck shoes! (Everyone under 40 is now completely confused and pausing to google Miami Vice, Who’s the Boss, and deck shoes. Saccharine Moment Alert: We both went home and told our respective best friends we were going to get married someday. We didn’t admit that to each other until after we were engaged, about a year later.)
My point is (Yes, I do have one.) we try to make a good impression. Grocery stores do the same! We dress to impress in hopes of having the option of a second date. Grocery stores try to woo us with great deals, in the hope of getting us to buy the items on our list, pick up a few extra things, and treat ourselves to a splurge!
Grocery stores use ‘loss leaders’ to make their best impressions. These are items the business takes a ‘loss’ on to ‘lead’ us into their stores. Loss leaders change weekly, usually rotate, and tend to be seasonal. One of the easiest ways to stretch a grocery budget is to take advantage of loss leaders. The internet makes it easy to pull up our best grocery options and cast an eye over their weekly circulars.
In my area (the boondocks), there aren’t a ton of options. The town fifteen miles away has a Walmart and a Brookshire’s. However, along my drive to work there are better choices. I pass a Kroger, an Aldi, and a Win-Co. Our Brookshire’s has high prices and unimpressive sales, so I’ve only been there a few times. (My aunt and best friend seem to get great deals at their local Brookshire’s.) Walmart is convenient, has good prices, and occasionally decent sales. However, their quality is unimpressive. (That’s me being diplomatic. Don’t blink, you might miss it.) Kroger has occasional produce and meat sales that are really good, but they’re hit or miss. Aldi has amazing seasonal sales and loss leaders, but a limited selection overall. Win-Co doesn’t have a flyer to study, but their prices and sales are excellent. Their produce and meat are good quality and they have a large selection. I realize that none of you live in my area, but the point is to know what to expect from local shops. Understanding their strengths can help you shop smarter.
I know there are articles that recommend shoppers go to three or four stores in order to catch all the sales. If that works for you, great! However like Sweet Georgia Brown, at my house, “ain’t nobody got time for that”! Usually, while I’m waiting for Liam to pump gas or some other ‘dead’ time, I pull up the local ads on my phone. I scan through and see if anything looks like a great deal. If it does, I take a screen shot so I don’t forget. Then, I try to arrange to do my shopping at that store, so I get the deal and get the rest done in the same trip. Occasionally, a store has a deal that’s too good to pass up, but higher prices overall. Other times, there are two shops with outstanding loss leaders. Then, I juggle. This may mean I make two trips or I might ask Liam to hit one store’s loss leader, while I do the rest of the shopping at the store with the best overall prices.
Saving big on just a couple of items a week doesn’t make a huge difference unless you really take advantage of it. If something we use regularly goes on a great sale, I stock up. Peanut butter is a great example. Peanut butter goes on sale about every three months. Not a little sale, but a good solid discount. As I’ve said before, I have teenage boys who REALLY like peanut butter. So, when it’s on sale I buy enough to carry us through until the next cycle. It takes more money up front, but saves a lot in the long run.
Let’s pretend peanut butter is usually $3.50, and I get it on sale for $2. I save $1.50. Right? Wrong. I buy five of them (at least). I have to spend $17.50 on peanut butter that week, but in the long run, I save $7.50. I leave that $7.50 in my grocery budget if I can. Then, when sliced cheddar is on sale the next week, I can roll that $7.50 into saving on the cheese that’s already on special. If I have the ability to leave my savings in my grocery budget, I can gradually increase the amount I’m stocking up without having to increase the amount I’m spending. By working the loss leaders, I’m able to wait for the best price on many items.
Obviously, this works better with shelf stable foods than with fresh dairy and produce. However, there are ways to take advantage with those too. Since it’s spring, let’s look at some of the recent perishable loss leaders I’ve bought. Our family loves asparagus (all except Jonah, but we love him anyway). We plan to start an asparagus bed on our property, but it takes years to be ready to harvest. Asparagus is in season in spring, so in late March, I start watching for it in the sales fliers.
Normally, if I’m patient, I can get it for $0.99/lb. This year, the lowest I’ve seen was $1.18/lb. When I think the price has bottomed out and the quality looks good, I buy asparagus. I buy a LOT of asparagus. I usually buy at least fifty pounds. About twenty pounds gets pickled with garlic and red pepper. This is one of our favorite condiments and people often ask for it in gift baskets. We eat at least five pounds fresh. I roast them with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. The rest gets microwave blanched, vacuum packed, and frozen. That’s our year’s supply of asparagus.
Note: The tough ends of the asparagus are removed before processing. These can be cooked down and run through the Victorio strainer. The resulting puree makes amazing soup with the addition of cream, chicken stock, onions, and good cheese. Also, I pickle some asparagus in wide mouth pint jars for gifts. This means I have to cut off more than just the tough bits to make them fit in the jars. I take the tender parts of these ends and blanch them. Then I freeze them on a baking sheet and toss them in a good quality freezer container. They’re perfect for quiches and casseroles. Our goal is to waste as little as possible!
Another common spring loss leader is strawberries. These cycle throughout spring and summer. When the price reaches a low and the berries look really good, I stock up. I usually turn ten to twenty pounds into preserves, both plain and my favorite strawberry-lemonade preserves. (Part of these are for gift baskets. We really don’t go through that much sugar ourselves!) I wash, hull, and freeze about twenty more pounds. We also dehydrate a lot, because they’re great to bake with and make a terrific ‘from the jar’ snack.
Bear in mind, we also eat fresh berries through spring and summer. We snack on them, eat them for dessert, and I like them cut up in cottage cheese. (Liam blames my mother for this. He hates cottage cheese.) We also eat more than our share of homemade strawberry shortcake. (I’m trying to decide if sponge cake or scones are better for this. I have yet to come to a conclusion, so research is frequent and ongoing!)
The more you can stock up on the sales, the more you’ll save. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to be ready to stock up for the year to take advantage of them. If buying what you’ll eat fresh is what you can do, then do that. In that case, we would eat tons of asparagus in spring, then switch to zucchini when spring is over. In the summer, asparagus is $4-5 a pound! That’s more than I’ll pay for a side dish. However, I think anyone could blanch and freeze a few pounds. I’ll admit to feeling pretty smug all through the year when I’m pulling out my frozen bounty.
For strawberries, if you can only buy for fresh use that’s okay. I’d just take advantage of the sale as much as possible. Strawberries are pretty versatile. They’re snacks, desserts, salad toppers, yogurt mix-ins, smoothie add-ins… However, if you have space, hull some and freeze them. Even if it’s just a few, they are great tossed in smoothies or defrosted in yogurt. (Liam mixes the frozen berries in his yogurt on work days. The berries keep the yogurt colder and slowly defrost in time for his mid-morning snack [AKA: Second Breakfast].)
These are just a couple of examples that help our budget. The loss leaders you should take advantage of depend on what your family eats. Take note of things you eat regularly and start watching for them in the fliers. Try to set aside a few extra dollars to stock up when they go on sale and have a plan to store your treasure! If you buy more than you can store and use before it spoils, you aren’t saving money. You’re wasting it!
If you do a quick google search, you’ll find lists that tell you when certain things should go on sale. Seasonal produce, foods eaten for the holidays, and even foods featured at football parties can really help your overall budget! I’ve bought ham after Easter, pumpkins after Halloween, turkeys and baking supplies in the holiday sales, ground beef and brats around Memorial Day, and sausage, Ro-tel, and chicken wings at Superbowl time. Watch your stores’ prices and the cost of your regular buys, so you’re ready to recognize that great deal when it comes along!
Contrary to some articles I’ve seen, there isn’t one specific strategy that will ‘Slash Your Grocery Budget in Half’. Instead, there are a lot of little changes that whittle down food costs. Taking advantage of loss leaders is one of the things I find to be the most helpful. If you want to start really taking advantage of loss leaders, but don’t know how to process food for long-term storage, stick around! We’re going to talk about lots of different ways to prepare foods for storage.
If you’ve never experimented with food storage before, don’t try to leap in at the deep end. Try one new thing, such as blanching and freezing vegetables. When you’ve mastered that, decide on a new challenge and conquer it! Before you know it, you’ll be freezing, dehydrating, pickling, canning, and saving lots of cash!
What loss leaders does your family stock up on? Please, leave a comment if you have the time! Also, if the information here was helpful to you, please consider sharing the link and/or following us on social media. Every share helps more people hear about our blog!
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