I’ve mentioned Strategy Number 4: Take Advantage of Cyclic Changes in the Market, many times, on every Holiday post. While we think of cycles in food as being seasonal, seasonality isn’t the only, and maybe not even the most important, cycle affecting grocery store prices.
Every Holiday gives the retailers an opportunity to lure you into their stores with great prices on specific items. But none of the Holidays (there are six major food Holidays, the Big Six: Superbowl, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, and many lesser holidays) drive quite the glut of sales and coupons as what I call the “Trifecta of Holidays,” that starts with pre-Thanksgiving sales and continues until the New Years holidays.
There are other holidays throughout the season, religious and secular, and if you’re aware of them, you may notice items particular to them as well. (Examples might be a great price on brisket around Chanukah, low prices on Mexican foods around Christmas or great prices on Asian foods starting the first of the year in response to different Asian New Years.) If you shop, if you cook, if you eat, you should be thinking about these Holiday Sales when you’re planning and budgeting.
Retailers particularly focus on the “trifecta” because they’re counting on making a good part of their money (off of you!) during this season. And they’re not afraid to post low, low sales prices to get you in the door because they’re playing a game. A game that has three strategies:
- Get you in the door to buy the sales, then hope you’re so tired, busy or overwhelmed that you’ll buy all the things you need in that one shop, even items that aren’t on sale.
- Hope you’re spending so much money during the holidays that you’ll buy just what you need for upcoming feasts, parties and baking & you won’t take advantage of the lowest prices of the year to stock up for the year (or at least until the next big sale or holiday.)
- Know that you won’t take advantage of the biggest sale items, particularly poultry and cuts of meat because most people aren’t going to have the ability to store them. (Get yourself a freezer.)
Sales like these can be leveraged to YOUR advantage instead of the retailer’s, once you recognize the “cycles” of sales. Your mission in this game is always to get the most for the least, so:
- Shop Around: Look through the flyers and check coupon matching sites for the best items and cherry pick those at the grocers. (Coupon sites list great sales that don’t involve coupons, too.)
- Budget & Buy Low: Prepare to spend a little extra money to stock up on items at their lowest prices and use in the next few weeks to months.
- Store as Needed: Make sure you have a place for extra items, and consider a freezer. Buy it during the Black Friday sales. (The cost of running a new freezer is less than one Big Mac a month.)
Even if this time of year seems rife with the opportunity to overwhelm your budget in extravagant spending, you should be purchasing a lot of your food, and the majority of some items for the year, at the great budget prices that happen with these holiday sales.
While there will always be sales for many of these items, the next big sale will be the Superbowl & then Valentine’s Day, with only very specific items on sale, followed by the Easter holiday with some really great sales. If you can think about buying food this way, and if you have an idea of when items might next be on a big sale, it’s so well worth the savings.
Some of the things on sale might just surprise you!
Meats, Poultry, and Fish & Seafood:
The trifecta is a great time to stock up on the larger, maybe fancier, but still budget-priced items. Maximize your savings if you have a freezer & buy enough in quantity to last to the next Holiday, or perhaps throughout the year on some items.
(Notice this is the 3rd time I have mentioned a freezer!)
Thanksgiving is THE time to buy turkey, with some great prices on ham. As we morph into Christmas, the ham prices may be lower. That’s the time to look for better prices on the fancier items such as roasts, seafood, fish, etc. The week prior to New Years promises many sales on gourmet cuts. The big surprise: how low basic cuts of beef & pork may drop in price to keep them moving – after all, an animal only has so many “specialty” cuts!
Big box stores often have specialty roasts, cuts, and seafood at good or great prices, but rarely do they match the grocery stores on turkey& ham.
There may be some sale prices around Easter, but Thanksgiving & Christmas are the best time of year to buy turkey!
- Turkey: Often 68 to 99 cents a pound, pick up several if you’re not stocked up. Just like ham, it’s hard to find a cheaper protein and many meals, if you’ve planned wisely, can come from a turkey. See links at the bottom of the page for leftover ideas.
- Other Poultry: Fun for a special dinner, Cornish game hens, duck, goose & fancier poultry is often on sale. Items like this don’t make my frugal list, even on sale, but can “make” a fancy dinner for a price more reasonable than a lot of options. If you can, pick them up and keep a few in your freezer.
The holiday season is simply the best time to buy most beef; there will likely be a few good sales on beef (and ribs) in January and beyond, but those sales are more hit and miss.
- Beef Roasts: From fancy to basic, roasts simply abound at great sales prices! Pick them up if your budget allows and you appreciate them. Tenderloin may drop to $6.99 a pound, Rib Roast drops to $7.99 a pound.
- Basic Cuts: Even basic cuts of roast, steak and ground beef are often on sale.
- Steak: Keep an eye open for smaller, specialty cuts to be on sale right before New Years. Think *steak.*
Fish & Seafood:
The best pricing of the year is often during Lent, which starts in most areas on Ash Wednesday and extends until Easter. There are great prices around Christmas and New Years on some seafood, too.
- Seafood: Look for fresh or frozen Crab and Shrimp. Generally, avoid “platters” of shrimp & buy frozen or fresh. Lobster tails & crab may be at a low right before New Years and Oysters are always on sale during the season.
- Fish: Look for great prices on many fish, especially Salmon and Smoked Salmon. Jarred herrings, anchovies, etc., are often at a low.
Pork is Big:
Remember, even if you don’t have a freezer, Hams (and bacon) last for weeks in the refrigerator. Pork loin can easily be cut up into chops, frozen and stacked neatly in the corner of a regular fridge/freezer combo, and bacon takes up little room.
- Hams: Hams reach an all-time low in our area at Easter, they will be at a great price around Christmas, too. Look for specials where you buy so many items, and get a discount on the ham, or coupons from the producers. As a general rule, spiral hams are more expensive, and you’ll want to look for a ham that isn’t injected with a lot of fluid.
- Pork Loin and Center Cut Pork Loins: These are often on sale, though generally, they’re cheaper in the fall/winter sales. The loin is usually less expensive than chops. Pick up the larger loins and cut chops to your specification, bag, and freeze.
- Standing Pork Roasts: Often on sale at Christmas, they are also usually at a great price at Easter. Even on sale, they are generally pricey and difficult to wrap well to freeze. If you buy, buy with the idea of using it fresh or at the very least within a few weeks.
- Bacon and Sausage: Grocers respond to the idea that Holidays are a prime time for company and overnight guests – bacon and sausage is often on sale.
This is simply the best time of year to stock up on baking items, Easter is next, and other holidays have minor sales. Make it a habit to freeze any items containing flour for three days and you’ll avoid pesky flour bugs.
Almost any baking item will be on sale sometime during the trifecta. Check Aldi, too, for some of these items.
- Dried Fruits & Nuts: Next to coffee, these are the best seasonal buy for the year. You’ll find coupons so make sure to stock up. Keep nuts in the freezer. Repackage fruit if the packaging is flimsy. Check multiple aisles. You’ll find them in baking, produce, bulk, snacks & organic or “health food” aisles.
- Yeast: Generally 25 percent off, often there are coupons. Keep yeast in freezer or fridge.
- Flour: Pick up smaller packages for dirt cheap with sales with coupons.
- Sugars: Most sugars and sugar type products (corn syrup, molasses) are on sale with coupons.
- Chocolate and Baking Chips: They do go on sale periodically, but any Holiday is a good time to stack up.
- Oil: Cooking Oil is on sale, and Olive Oil generally is, too; shortening may or may not be.
- Spices and Extracts & Herbs: Look for coupons and great sales and especially look for Catalina offers (buy so many get money off of next visit.)
- Pie Filling, Pie Crusts, Baking Mixes: All on sale, and usually with coupons.
- Jello & Pudding: On sale, and the next great sale will be at Easter.
While there may be non-holiday related foods on sale, in particular, look for these items.
- Coffee: Prices for coffee are highly competitive, and you’ll probably never find coffee at a lower price than around Christmas. Look for coupons, too, if buying vacuum packed. Keurig type coffee (it makes me cringe!) is going to be at its lowest all year, and up to twice as much, later.
- Boxed & Bagged Items: Boxed potatoes, stuffing mixes, bread for stuffing, gravy mixes, boxed mixes like French Onion Soup, etc. will all be on sale.
- Rice: All types of rice is likely to be on sale, including wild rice.
- Dried Beans and Peas: On sale, often unadvertised before, during or after any major Holiday when Ham is likely to be served.
- Broths & Stocks: Canned and boxed chicken and beef stocks are low – the next low sale will likely be Easter, so pick up a lot if you use it.
- Condiments: While much cheaper (and often free with coupons) in the summer, most condiments will probably be on sale. The next great sale price will likely be the Superbowl, so don’t stock up heavily.
- Crackers: If you keep crackers on hand, buy enough now to last through Easter. Use your coupons. Usually, everything from store brands to gourmet will be on sale.
- Canned Items: Canned soup, Mandarin oranges, and canned pineapple are probably at their lowest now, but will be on sale during any holiday. Use your coupons. Consider buying for the year.
- Canned Specialty Items: You’ll find great prices at some point during the season on almost anything that could be considered a specialty item: olives, artichokes, canned crab & seafood, deviled ham, canned cranberry sauce and so on.
- Canned Vegetables & Fruits: Take a peek and see if the prices are great (hopefully you’ll use coupons) and stock up if they are. Canned goods like this tend to rise a bit through summer and drop after the harvest starts coming in.
- French’s Fried Onions: Stock up if you use these throughout the year.
- Pop and Junk Food: If you’re buying, buy it on sale, and preferably with a coupon. These items are on sale at almost every major Holiday – the next great sale will be Superbowl. Don’t pay full price!
Dairy & Eggs:
Sales are big for most eggs & dairy items from a few weeks before Thanksgiving all the way through New Years.
- Butter: Often nearly half off, and sometimes you’ll see coupons. Pick up as much as you can and freeze. You probably won’t see a better price until Easter.
- Cream Cheese: Drops to about 98 cents a package, sometimes less with sales and coupons (Aldi has good prices, too.) Cream cheese keeps for months, so stock up. It does freeze, but I don’t like to use if for Cheesecake after it’s been frozen – it’s still fine in dips and cooking. I find the premade dips and cooking cremes, whipped and flavored cream cheese too expensive.
- Cream, Sour Cream & Half and Half: You’ll find great sales – pick up several. They’ll generally last way beyond their “buy by” or “best if used by” date – remember, this is NOT an expiration date on dairy.
- “Fancy” Near – Deli Cheese: a lot of the cheeses that are kept packaged near the Deli will be on deep sales.
You’ll generally find all kinds of great vegetable sales, and some of those vegetables are shipped in because of the holidays – that doesn’t mean you’ll see them in the store a couple of weeks down the line.
- Look Special Items: whole mushrooms, green beans, , Brussels sprouts, green onions. Pick up extra of the ones that will last longer.
- Look Basics: Broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes and maybe onions ar great prices along with carrots and celery. Pick up extra of the ones that will last longer.
- Pineapples and Pomegranates: Pick up extra. Pomegranates last for months, well wrapped and consider getting 1 ripe pineapple and a couple less ripe to sit on your counter.
- Cranberries: They’re always at their lowest and sometimes the only time of year to buy them fresh! Stock up for the year and chuck in the freezer.
- Chestnuts: Christmas will likely be the only time you’ll see them at the grocery in many areas.
- Lettuce: Both loose and bagged may be on sale. Even on sale, the bagged is usually 4 to 10x the amount per ounce more than the loose.
- Fruits: Watch for great prices on in-season fruits – as well as berries, which may or may not be good.
- Bread: Rhodes frozen Bread is often on sale and combined with coupons, I pick up a package or two of brown and serve for free during almost every major Holiday.
- Vegetables: This is the best time of year to buy frozen vegetables. I try to never buy frozen broccoli which is almost half water.
- Frozen Fruit: Check to see if there are sales, advertised or not.
- Frozen Pie Dough & Filo, & Puff Pastry: Easter and Thanksgiving are great times to pick up free or near free pie dough – use coupons combined with sales. The sales are often unadvertised on Filo & Puff Pastry.
- Frozen Pies and Frozen Desserts: Generally these find their way to deep sales.
- Cool Whip or Frozen Topping: Yep, as expected, on sale.
Any holiday would not be complete if the specialty bread, pies, and cakes were not on sale. Look for great prices on loaves of bread or premade packages of dried bread cubes for stuffing.
Stock up on many of these sales priced items, especially if there are coupons available to lower the price.
- Batteries: They’re never going to be as low as during the holiday sales, although they’re on special around Easter and Back to School, too.
- Light Bulbs: They may be at a great price.
- Paper Goods: Look for sale priced items and use coupons for things like garbage bags, storage containers, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, cooking bags as well as toilet paper. Many might be picked up at a great price with coups for free or near free, with the exception of garbage bags & toilet paper. Paper plates, cups, and napkins are generally on sale – I’ll usually find better sales during the summer.
Halloween is a great time to buy candy, but there will be sales at Christmas (best price is AFTER Christmas!) too, as well as Easter and Valentine’s Day.
Yeah, it’s a great time of year to pick up all kinds of alcohol, especially specialty cocktail makings and Champagne. Look for good Sparkling wines that may be better than champagne at a fraction of the cost.
Leftovers are the most expensive items in your home – You shop for them, buy them, transport them, store them, prepare them, serve them, then store them again. They’re a product of your time and money.
Taking advantage of leftovers can be a bit of a dance, with a few ad-lib moves interrupting the pattern. Learn to do that dance well and you’ll not only eliminate potential waste but make the most of your time, effort and money. Here’s plenty of links to help give you your best moves.
helpful leftover links: