Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Four: Only Buy Food When It Is at Its Lowest Price

Eat for 40 Cents a Day: Part Four: Only Buy Food When It Is at Its Lowest Price

It’s July now, which means back to school sales are starting on school supplies in the United States. While most people know that they have a once a year shot to get the best prices on school supplies and now is the time to stock up on those items, what many of us aren’t willing to do is discipline ourselves in the same way for food prices.

For example, we know that at back to school time, we can buy a box of crayons for .25, while the rest of the year we’ll have to pay $1.99 to $3.29 for the exact same box. We’re willing to only buy crayons in July at .25 to save for the rest of the year.

In order to keep food costs super low, we need to be willing to buy food only at the super-low prices.

Most sales in the U.S. run on a 12-week cycle. If you can buy enough of an item at its lowest price to last you 3 months, you can wait to buy that item again when it goes on sale 3 months from now.

For example: How many times are you going to eat pasta in the next 3 months? Is it 12 times? Then buy 12 pounds of pasta (if your family eats a pound at a meal) when it is at its lowest price for your area. (If you eat 2 pounds at a meal, buy 24 pounds, or if you have a smaller family and only eat half a pound at a meal, buy 6 pounds).

Some items don’t come around every 12 weeks, but are like back to school sales: they are truly seasonal. Turkeys are on sale Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, but the lowest prices are in November for Thanksgiving. Hams are on sale for those same three holidays, but are lowest at Christmas and Easter.

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are the lowest prices in season. Corn on the cob is lowest in the summer. Broccoli is lowest in January. Grapefruit is lowest in December. Apples are the lowest in the fall. Peaches and grapes are lowest in the summer. Blanching, freezing, and canning can help you to get more at the lowest price to use later.

If you don’t already have a price book, creating a price book for the stores in your area with the items that you buy will help you to determine the lowest prices in your area. In my area, grocery ads come in the mail. You can also look at ads online, page by page, on individual stores’ websites.

Within a 3 month period, you can determine what the lowest prices are for the items that you buy, and which store usually has those items for sale. (If the item is never listed in the ads, you’ll need to update your price book by writing in the prices per pound/ounce/kilogram that each store you visit charges for those items).

Once you know the lowest price for an item, do not buy it at anything higher than that price.

In my area, the lowest price for strawberries is $0.99 a pound. This price occurs when they are is season (of course). Stores still sell strawberries at other times of the year, but the prices can be as much as $4.99 a pound. I’ll commonly see them on sale for $1.25 a pound a few more time a year, but $0.99 a pound is only once or twice a year. I won’t pay $1.25 a pound, even though I would love to purchase strawberries more often. I wait for the best tasting berries in season at the lowest price ($0.99), and the rest of the year, I buy other fruits that are a lower price, and that are in season (plums and peaches are on sale for .99 a pound right now; some stores have them for even less!)

No matter how much I might want or need eggs, I won’t pay $1.79 a dozen for them. I wait until they are at an acceptable price point for me and then I buy several dozen. Eggs will last 4-6 weeks past the best buy date, according to the American Egg Board, so if I am careful, I can stretch my eggs until they go on sale again.

I have readers all over the world, and I know prices are vastly different in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany. Even within the U.S. prices vary greatly by region. I’ve written a long and detailed post about my own personal price points here. Yours will vary depending on where you live. Find out your lowest prices and stick to them.

The key is discipline. Save your funds for the best prices and the money you have will go further.


This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. I would hold off on buying potatoes then, until the fall. What about rice? Could you make some stir-fries right now? Carrots are low now if you buy them in a large bag and you could include carrots as part of your stir fry.The cleaning supplies is another thing that you could change. Are you using homemade cleaning supplies? Vinegar, baking soda, and bleach go a long way. You can buy the store brand of bleach and use it to clean toliets. Did you see my post on washing windows? Do a search for windows on here if you haven’t seen it.

  2. momma-lana

    It is much the same here in the USA. Sadly it is a lost skill and needs to be taught to those who need it. In my area there is a young man who is outfitting a building to do just that and I applaud him for it.

  3. momma-lana

    I routinely buy 4 pound bags for .99 cents an sale and with a coupon. Astounding that you have to pay so much for sugar!

  4. momma-lana

    littlehouseliving.com is a blog that is in your area. She has posted about how she handles their groceries on a smallish budget without many choices. Hope it helps.

  5. A Lopez

    Thank you all so very much for your help! I had no idea that there was a LDS cannery in Pierre and Mitchell. I tried to look them up, but can’t find them. I will keep looking though. Both places are about three hours away, it may be worth a trip once or twice a year.I like the idea of stir fry with rice. I have some dehydrated cabbage that I would like to use up. Perhaps I can add that to the rice as well. Thank you all for the encouragement. I can only do the best with what is available and I need to keep that in mind more often.

  6. Lisa

    Potatoes are ridiculously expensive here too! I was paying 40¢/lb and the price literally jumped overnight to $1.00/lb. I’m curious what the price in the fall will be but for now I’m not buying them. I am attempting to grow my own in buckets outside but I’m not sure how it’s going to work out. You said you have a basement apartment-could you put a few pots of veggies outside your door? You could grow some lettuce, swiss chard, carrots, or even tomatoes and they take up little space. Also, keep an eye out at the smaller grocery stores for mark downs. I have a small mom and pop owned store down the street and they always have mark downs in every department. I always shop those sections first. And lastly, try Amazon.com. good luck!

  7. Sakura

    I’m working on putting a price book together for the bulk items I buy. I’ve tried this before, but I think I added too many items. I’ll start small then add to it. Yesterday I found carrots for .10¢ a pound, you bet I stocked up. I’ve been wanting to make some pickles.

  8. Marivene

    A Lopez, I looked up the prices at lds.org under provident living. They sell white rice in boxes of six #10 cans, for about $30, so that will give you an idea for cost comparison. They also have pinto beans, but I didn’t check the price on those. Rather than drive 3 hours, you could always have the boxes shipped to your home. With gas the price it is, the shipping would probably be less than the cost of the gas. You also might want to check to see if you have a local farm co-op that sells beans produced by local farmers. We did that when we lived in Idaho. I had to sort the beans more carefully, because they were only “field sorted”, but I was ok with that, since they were a LOT cheaper.

  9. A Lopez

    Marivene, That was so kind of you to look that up for me. Thank you very much. I never would have thought to have the boxes shipped to me. I know it may sound funny, but I am having a slow time at “figuring out” South Dakota. I have been here a year and still feel like I don’t know where to look for things. However, send me to CA, NY, NJ, PA, KS, or FL and I can navigate the deals lol. Thank you all so much for your help! You have all helped to “recharge” my battery so to speak. I feel like I can charge ahead and accomplish something.

  10. Becky

    Sometimes I cut up canned pears and add to a fruit salad. Then it’s like fruit cocktail. I don’t know how big your family it, but they might eat pears that way. Also, your baby will soon be able to eat small pieces of canned pears, if they can’t already. So, you could always do pints. Also, in the past when I was feeding a large family group, I would arrange the canned, drained pears in a flat, circular bowl with all points in the center so it looked like a sunflower. Then I heaped a can of tropical fruit salad (purchased) or some fruit coctail (home-canned) in a little mountain in the middle. Then I put a maraschino cherry in each pear’s crater and one on top of the heap in the center. I called it sunshine salad. It took 2 minutes to make and people liked it. If they don’t like pears, you could do one peach, one pair, etc. If the cherries weren’t in your pantry, you could put a razzberry, a grape, a piece of banana, etc. in their places. Half the key was to make it look pretty and appatizing. Another way to use canned pears is to put a rounded schoop of cottage cheese in a pear 1/2. Then sprinkle with any sprinkles you’ve got on hand. I called them “party pears” and they went over. I’ve used peaches fot that as well.

  11. Penelope

    A Lopez,Just a thought about living in a small town. Before Albertson’s around here went out of business, they had raised their prices because a market survey told them people in our small city were willing to pay higher prices. My mother lives 45 min north of us in a suburb of the big city with fancy expensive houses and her prices were so much better than mine. I have found it to be true in other instances as well, somehow a local restaurant thinks a pile of spinach in a styrofoam container is worth $8 and called a salad, and I have a neighbor that thinks the place is the best around.Sometimes market research is how a price is set, and sometimes, I think stores think they have a captive audience and set prices accordingly.Over time you will be able to circumvent the “system” if that is what is going on. Keep trying, things will get better!

  12. Cathy Foster

    I once tried to create a price book but was not successful. For some reason I just cannot figure out the best way to create one. I took a spiral notebook and put one item on each page to gather prices. However, it didn’t seem organized enough. How do others do it? Do you just make a huge list with columns for the prices? Do you put diary on one page, veggies on another, etc? Do you put 1 item on each page? Do you do it in alphabetical order? Or would file cards work better? Help me out here if you don’t mind.

  13. A Lopez

    Penelope,Oh my goodness! I think you are very right. That would explain why everyone looks at me like I am crazy when I say things are so expensive here. I guess they are willing to pay higher prices. I know for a fact that a handful of people own everything “big” in the town from grocery to clothing stores to restaurants, so that may explain a lot on why the prices are what they are.I wanted to cry the other day when a friend stopped by and dropped of some food that the local YMCA told her to throw away at the dump. It was boxed and canned goods that weren’t even close to expiring. She said there were two trucks loads of food in fact. If that is the attitude in this town, I am starting to understand that I am doing pretty good with the circumstances!

  14. Debbie in Florida

    Hello Cathy! I started a price book many times and got discouraged and restarted over and over. What I do now is a spreadsheet and a 3-ring note book.I use the spreadsheet because I like it alphabetical and can add rows and can have the calculations done for me and it’s nice and neat. I have a column for what kind of food (alphabetical by food) then a column calculated next to it for the unit price (ounce or pound whatever makes sense) then a column for the lowest regular price and what store it’s at. Then for baking items I have a column for price per tablespoon or cup so I can easily calculate the cost of recipes. Then at the end I have a separate section for all the different types of beans. I like to keep an updated printout with me when I shop and when I figure out my coupons so I have a quick reference for lowest regular price – it gives me a quick reference point on if a sale is good and how good and I don’t have to rely on memory when I’m out, especially since I like to shop at multiple stores and sometimes a sale at one store is still more than the price at another store.I also keep a 3 ring binder one page for each food item with notes I just jot down of notes really good sales, dates, which stores, how much I bought, any coupons I used, final price – anything else I want to remember so I can refer back to that. I tried a spiral notebook but it was too hard to later add a food or if I filled a page and I like things alphabetical and easier to find. I can also print pages out from online and hole punch them to add to it like the egg board has a conversion chart to figure out comparable prices of different sized eggs or my conversion page for how much fresh mushrooms equals how much dried equal how much canned, etc – things like that.

  15. Tricia

    I was just doing some research on non-alcoholic, homemade extracts. Apparently you can substitute vegetable glycerin or apple cider vinegar for the alcohol. They should be mixed with water (a different amount each). And if you use vinegar you can add a little honey for taste. I’m very excited to start experimenting. Just google if you’re interested.

  16. Paula

    I am just starting to think this out for myself. The cheapest way would be to take a thick, smallish format spiral notebook and divide it into sections, using divider label tabs from the office supply.A little more expensive way that would be easier to keep neat and organized would be about a 6″ by 8″ by 1″ or so thick three ring binder with loose leaf notebook paper and divided by the label tabs. This way, you could keep it neat when you updated pages.

    1. Kathleen

      Read “The Tightwad Gazette” by Amy Dacyzyn. She talks about how to do a pricebook very easily. Excellent book by the way. Most libraries have a copy. There is the original book, then Volumes II and III, and best of all, The Complete Tightwad Gazette with all three books in one. I learned to be frugal by reading all her books from the library when I was a single mom for 8 years. Tons of great ideas, recipes, etc. I checked the books out so often that I finally asked for it for Christmas and now it is dog-eared and stained (recipe pages lol) but a great treasure to me.

  17. Paula

    That is just awful. I volunteer at both a food pantry and federal commodity distribution. Both are at a dangerous low right now. There must be others besides yourself in the community who have trouble affording food. Someone there should organize a way to get this unwanted food donated and distribute it. Throwing away things that others need is surely a sin.

  18. Marivene

    We used to have those prices here, but not for the last 2 years.

  19. Athanasia

    Becky, your 5th paragraph says a lot. People need to carry through. Someone who brushes off the beans like that AND the learning of a life skill hasn’t reached that level of need or commitment yet. I have seen that in the designer canning blogs…the making of 4 little jars of jam, with little regard for seasonality or finance. Just to have something to write about…oh and one time they went on about the food that has gone to waste as they overbought at the farmer’s market and other things came up and they couldn’t get to it and how they had to throw food away…and dozens of people chimed in saying this was them also!Reminds me of the trend now to buy all new fabric to make a patchwork quilt, removing it totally from it’s heritage. Sure, it is very pretty , but you can’t see bits and pieces of family history in it.I was at the food pantry one day (our church collects food) and they had a donation of pork roasts and the workers were complaining that no one would take them. They wanted food that didn’t take work like ground beef and Hamburger helper. Plus too many said they didn’t know what to do with it. When a cookbook was suggested a number even admitted to not owning a cookbook.When I read your words Brandy, and all the other ladies here I feel , well maybe there is still hope. There are still people willing to work hard, do the best they can for their families and pass on wonderful skills to the next generation. Thank you.

  20. Bethany

    A great preservation method for peppers is to roast them and then dehydrate them, I if you happen to have a food dehydrator. They rehydrate well for sandwiches and burritos, or can be used as is on pizza or in soups, etc. My husband really likes them like this.

  21. I keep meaning to ask you if you have considered keeping chickens? Or if they are even allowed? They can eat your garden scraps and give you both eggs and manure to amend your soil. In my city, we are allowed two per resident. I don’t have the space at the moment but one day…KK

  22. I have looked for loopholes but from what I can see we are not zoned for chickens. However, there is nothing about bees or quail. Unfortunately quail eggs are quite tiny! (A friend said it took her 28 eggs to make an omelet!)On top of that we have an HOA, and the last time I went to a meeting and people were wanting to change the rules to allow people to put stone on their houses, and the management company that runs the HOA totally shot them down.Fortunately there are no rules about what plants I can plant and they were not even a little bit concerned about that! They only cared about the wall we were building and how tall it was, and the concrete that we were pouring.

  23. I’m not sure to whom you were directing your comment. There are groups that distribute food in those ways, but there are also a lot of laws against it as well. Just today I was watching a food photographer from New York who said that he wanted to give away the huge amounts of leftover food that is left when they are done styling food for photo shoots to the needy, and that the city said he had to pay for a permit for that, and they had to be inspected (like a restaurant would be). He could not legally give the food away. There are many places that face this same problem; they want to give away food, but the law prohibits it.

  24. Paula

    I was replying to A.Lopez, about the good packaged food that was being sent to the dump where she lives.

  25. katytrackslife

    Yes, this is such a great way to eat quality food at a good price. I love your blog

  26. Janet

    I watched and waited for Smith’s to have their sale on pasta for $.50 a lb. because I read about it from your posts. Finally, just recently bought a supply of pasta there. Thank you for the advice. Before that, I ‘d watch for sales and the best I had found was $.69 a lb.

Leave a Reply