Most of us have turned the calendars to fall for a few weeks now – and in fact, there’s already skiing going on here in Colorado! With the changing of seasons comes a new segment in the grocery sale cycle, and it’s my favorite one of the year. This month’s posts in the Eat Well, Spend Less series are exploring the wonderful bounty of food during the autumn months, and I’m going to take a look at what’s on sale, when to expect the lowest prices, some warnings about items that could be scarce, and share some specific price points to help you know when to stock up on certain items.
In my opinion, the months of October, November, and December have the best sales of the year on pantry staples – especially December. This year, I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll see some good sales, but with grocery prices rising and the frequency of sales decreasing, I’m a bit apprehensive as well. Here’s what I think we’ll see and how I’m planning to shop these sales.
✓ What’s on sale at this time of year
This is the time of year we will be seeing lots of sales on baking supplies and of course, the traditional turkeys and hams. We also often seen great deals on snack items like crackers and soft drinks, and retailers center promotions around holiday parties. We’ll also probably get good prices on canned items like soup, broth, and maybe even canned vegetables.
Fresh produce that goes on sale at this time of year includes winter squash, potatoes, and apples – items that some of the other bloggers in the Eat Well, Spend Less series are covering this month. (Be sure to check out Tammy’s ideas for pumpkins and squashes, and Katie’s apple recipe ideas, which they’ll be posting sometime this week.)
And in the meat department, you will see rock-bottom prices on turkeys and hams, as well as beef ribeye roasts/prime rib.
✓ When to expect the lowest prices
Every Friday, staff writer Abby takes one item that’s on sale at a great price and gives you lots of different recipe ideas and preparation tips. Check out our What To Make With What’s On Sale archives and come back every Friday for a new post!
It’s always a game to know when the exact rock-bottom price of any item will hit, but I can tell you that there are a few items that almost always follow the same trends, and if you wait too long for a deal, you may miss out completely.
Turkeys will be on sale in November – likely, you’ll see the best prices the two weeks preceding Thanksgiving. If you plan to have a turkey for Christmas, do not wait until December to buy a turkey if you want a good deal. Though turkeys go “on sale” for Christmas, they will almost certainly be much, much cheaper at Thanksgiving.
The best ham prices will be in December, naturally. While this is a good time to buy ham, there aren’t usually an amazing one-week sales: usually the prices that you see the first or second week of December will be valid all month long. The week or two leading up to Christmas will see sales on prime rib.
In my experience, the best sales on baking goods will probably be in December. Traditionally, the first Sunday in December will have four to five coupon inserts that contain lots of coupons for items like sugar, chocolate chips, flour, canned milk, pie filling, and more. This is a great week to buy extra newspapers so that you can use those coupons to stock up on these items during the first few weeks of December when they will likely go on sale.
The week leading up to Thanksgiving will typically have good deals on potatoes. Last year seemed to be a horrible potato harvest and we rarely saw ten-pound bags of potatoes for less than $2, but there were a few good deals around Thanksgiving.
We’ve also seen good deals on pineapples in December, and of course, it’s the time of year to stock up on cranberries.
✓ Items that could be scarce
We’re already having people ask where they can find canned pumpkin, as store shelves are low or completely empty. The pumpkin shortage that started a couple of years ago seems to still be going on! Right now, your best bets seem to be to try finding pumpkin at stores like Whole Foods or Natural Grocers, as many of the bigger grocery stores seem to be sold out.
You can also look for sales on canned pumpkin on Amazon. If you just have to have it, you may want to buy it at any price, as it’s in short enough supply that it hasn’t been going on sale much. Though, I did somehow stumble upon a $1/can sale at Albertsons last year – it was unadvertised, so be sure to glance at the pie filling shelf as you walk by!
While I don’t know of any other items that might be scarce in quantity this fall, I do know that there are many items that are scarce in sale frequency, so if you see a good deal, it’s probably wise to stock up!
✓ Specific price stock-up points
Butter: When I rated $2 Challenge butter as a 5 recently (Colorado Bargains-speak for a “stock up price), a reader questioned if that was going to be a stock up price this year. I’m afraid that I can’t see the future, but in looking at the past and analyzing current trends, I’m going to predict that we will probably not see butter prices much below $2/lb very often this year.
Last year, we did see Challenge butter at $0.99 (after coupon) once during November and December, and we saw Land O Lakes at $1.99 (after coupon) once. It could go lower than $2/lb this year, but I’m personally going to be stocking up at $2/lb and I’ll be tickled pink if it goes lower.
However, I do think that we may see butter (any brand) on sale for $2/lb several times, so I will not be buying 30 pounds the first time it hits $2. Keep in mind, though, that butter’s big sales are typically Thanksgiving/Christmas and Easter, so my goal is to stock enough butter to hopefully get me through until Easter. (Butter freezes quite well!)
Flour: I am hoping to see flour at $0.99 for a five-pound bag this year, as we have seen for the last couple of years. In 2009, we saw this sale quite often (usually at our Albertsons stores), but it happened just a few times in 2010, so I will be jumping on it when it (hopefully) happens in 2011!
Sugar: This is the time of year to stock up on sugar. Based on last year’s sales and this year’s trends, I am going to consider $1.50 a stock-up price for two-pound bags of brown and powdered sugar, especially for C&H. (C&H almost always puts out coupons, so be on the lookout!) Granulated sugar always perplexes me, as it seems like something that should go on sale more often than it does, but I would consider $1.50 per four-pound bag a stock-up price and I may even stock up on C&H granulated sugar at $2.
Baking Mixes: The lowest cake mixes typically go is about $0.50; you can sometimes get brownie mixes for free with the right coupons. As with everything, though, we didn’t see as many or as good of sales on these items last year, so I would stock up at $0.50 for sure! If you use cookie mixes and frosting, they should hit around $0.50, with cookie mixes sometime going free.
Apples: Most varieties of apples are almost always $1/lb for several months (at least in Colorado), so when they hit about $0.75/lb or less, I would stock up and plan to do a week’s worth of canning and baking if you love apples.
Turkeys: The lowest price we’ve seen on turkeys during the past few Thanksgivings has been $0.39/lb – in Colorado, that price usually comes at Albertsons and is limit one. (Albertsons is not my overall favorite store but as you can tell, they do have good loss leaders!) A lot of stores, such as Safeway and King Soopers, use flat rate pricing for turkeys now, and in order to get the best deal you have to do some searching in order to get the maximum weight limit for the price point. I’m not a fan of that!
Hams: Look for whole or shank half hams at $1/lb and spiral-sliced at about $1.60/lb – this is about as low as they’ll probably go.
✓ Allowing room in your budget to stock up
November and December are almost always my highest-spending months for groceries. Not only are there many opportunities to make food, it’s also a great time of year to stock up on many pantry essentials, as we’ve seen above.
I allow room in my budget to stock up, knowing that in January and February, there are usually very few sales on items we use, so I spend more in December and “coast” on what’s in my pantry and freezer during the first few months of year. It’s a great motivation to clean out the freezer and enables me to spend more in December without feeling like I’m overspending
✓ More tips from Eat Well, Spend Less bloggers
The other bloggers in the Eat Well, Spend Less series will be sharing posts about making the most of fall’s bounty this week – be sure to check them out for great recipe ideas and budget-friendly, good-food inspiration!