Why is it that the odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with ONLY a loaf of bread are about three billion to one?
Food prices in the U.S. have climbed so dramatically in recent months, a stroll through the aisles of a typical supermarket is enough to kill your appetite. If that were the only place we spent our food dollars that would be one thing. But most families these days spend as much eating out as they do for food to prepare at home.
It’s no secret that supermarkets and grocery stores purposely design their layouts to entice us to buy lots more than we’d planned to purchase when we walked through the door, but shoppers are not victims. It all boils down to the choices we make—not just for what we buy but when we buy it.
There must be dozens of ways to shop for groceries, and I’m certain I’ve tried them all. But when it comes right down to it, every possible method falls into one of two categories—needs shopping or reserve shopping.
You buy what you need now at the best price possible and enough to last until you go shopping again.
Needs shoppers are frequent shoppers. They’re meal planners and make shopping lists. They keep their eyes open for sales, frequently opting for the best price rather than specific brands for the items they need.
You buy what’s on sale even if you don’t need it now so that you don’t have to pay full price for it when you do need it.
Reserve shopping is the process of building a small in-house grocery store. When it’s time to make dinner you visit your own store.
Gratefully, years ago I learned to be a reserve shopper, thanks to Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game. I credit this method with a rather large stockpile of food and household supplies that has allowed me and my family to sail through surprising food shortages and disappearing household supplies. Unless you’ve been living on another planet you know what I’m talking about.
Let’s just say that my deep pantry (as opposed to the small pantry in my kitchen) has not been fazed. We have not had a shortage of anything in the past four months, including toilet tissue and all manner of sanitizers. Items we used from the deep pantry are starting to go on sale again, and you can bet that as they do, I’m reserve shopping to replace and replenish.
A flawed method
Needs shopping is, in my opinion, a flawed system. Even the most diligent needs shopper who shops with cash, builds the week’s menus around what’s on sale, and is careful to avoid all impulsive purchases—will eventually need something that is not on sale. That’s what food stores count on. When you pay the full price for some of the items in your cart, the store’s plan works. They win. Mission accomplished.
How needs shopping works
Consider this needs shopping dilemma: You need mayonnaise, preferably a name brand. But at $5.99 for one quart, you choke a little and keep looking, The best price today is $3.99 for the store brand. You need it; you buy it. It’s not a horrible deal but it’s not great.
Four weeks ago, at the high-priced supermarket across town where they do crazy things like BOGO (buy one get one free) and loss leaders below cost that are so cheap they get unsuspecting shoppers through the door—the quart size of Hellman’s mayonnaise (aka Best Foods, the Cadillac of mayonnaise among those who rate their condiments), was on sale: 3/$6. Two weeks earlier there was a $.75 manufacturer’s coupon for Hellman’s in that store’s weekly flyer!
Here’s the way that deal would have played out had you been aware of the sale, clipped and held that all-important coupon: $2.00 for one quart, less $.75 for the coupon. Final price for the Hellman’s: $1.25.
That beats your store-brand deal by a country mile! And had you been diligent to get a couple of those $.75 coupons when they were available, you could have duplicated the $1.25 final price a few times and been well-stocked until Hellman’s goes on sale again.
Needs shopping dilemma
As a needs shopper here’s your dilemma: You didn’t need mayonnaise a month ago. You need it now. You have no coupon, the sale is over. So you pay $3.99 for the off-brand mayonnaise because that’s the best deal at the time you need it. To make matters worse, you discover that your friend, a reserve shopper, bought three quarts of Hellman’s for $1.25 each and won’t have to restock until it goes on sale again.
Half the price
The goal of a reserve shopper is to never pay full price for anything. It’s possible and if you are diligent, eventually you will get there.
Reserve shopping is the best way I know to consistently pay half price for name-brand, high-quality groceries. This method requires a minimal investment of time and energy. It’s a reliable system—you can count on it to work for you week after week. You will enjoy a wide variety of foods in all of the food groups, including meat, produce, dairy; household cleaning products, and personal care items.
As a reserve shopper, rather than coming up with menus before you go shopping, you look to the store’s sales cycles to determine your food purchases. Here’s a hint: Most every supermarket in the U.S. works on a 12-week sales cycle. That means once every 3 months, something in every aisle and department of that store will be on sale—not every brand perhaps, but a brand that is well-known and popular. And when it does, you buy even if you do not need it now, putting it in reserve. When you need to prepare a meal, you go shopping in your own reserve grocery stockpile.
Reserve shopping is an ideal grocery method for singles, families with kids, big families, little families, seniors with no kids—for all situations. You are not locked into narrow selections but have lots of freedom to choose the foods you want to buy. The amount of food is limited by the amount of money you wish to spend—not the number of meals you need to prepare between now and your next shopping trip. You simply spend up to that limit and stop.
Eventually, you will have a month’s worth of basic groceries on hand. It will just happen as you are diligent to buy what’s on sale, and enough of it until it goes on sale the next time. This insulates you against wild price fluctuations at the grocery store. You won’t find yourself running to the store for one or two things, forced to pay the highly inflated full price.
When challenges come your way—you lose your job or get sick; there’s a blizzard; you’re hit with unexpected car repairs, even a global pandemic—whatever the setback, with food in the pantry, hard times are less hard.