0

Win the grocery store price cycle game

Have you ever gone to the grocery store and wondered why prices on the same items change so much each week? A box of pasta may cost 79 cents one week and $2.39 the next. A bottle of juice that costs $2 today may cost $4.29 just a few days from now. Most people accept these price fluctuations as normal. Many don't even notice them at all.

Why do prices at the grocery store change so much in a short period of time? Grocery stores' sales run in 12-week cycles. Most everything in the store is at its lowest price point just once every 12 weeks. Throughout the rest of the cycle the price may fluctuate a bit, but it won't go to its rock-bottom low again until the 12-week cycle is complete.

You might be thinking what I thought when I initially learned this valuable piece of information: "What if I had just bought more pasta last week when it was 79 cents?" Better yet: "What would have happened if I bought enough boxes of pasta to last my household 12 weeks?" I'd save $1.60 on each box. If we ate pasta once a week for the next 12 weeks, I would save $19.20 by buying all 12 boxes in one trip when the price was low.

Granted, this approach goes against everything we typically do as shoppers. When it's time to go to the store, most of us look around the house, see what we're out of, and then go to the store to buy it. But the problem with this is that it's impossible for every item on our list to be at its lowest price point, since different categories of grocery items operate on different pricing cycles. That's part of the grocery store's marketing plan. Stores know that if shoppers come in for a sale item, it's likely they will buy many other full-priced items.

As shoppers, changing the way we shop is the key to saving money. Obviously, it's not easy to stock up on perishable produce and dairy items. But many other products are easy to store for long periods. If you start saving money on slow-to-outdate items - cereal, canned and frozen foods and personal-care items like toothpaste and shampoo - your entire grocery bill will start to come down.

Here's the challenge: We are just not in the habit of buying 12 boxes of pasta at a time. But why not? Pasta has a long shelf life. It doesn't spoil. It's easy to store. Yet, when we see it on sale we usually don't think, "That's a great price. I'm going to buy a dozen." When I became a Super-Couponer, I started seeing shopping in a new light. I started buying larger quantities of my household staples when they were at their lowest prices.

Die-hard couponers refer to buying in quantity as "stockpiling." When you buy more than you need because the price is low you can "shop from home" the next time you need that item, because you have stockpiled it in your kitchen cupboard. And you've avoided paying the higher price for the identical item in the grocery store this week because you purchased enough to last your household almost three months when the price was lowest.

And we haven't even discussed coupons yet! Imagine that during the pasta sale, I had coupons for 75 cents off each box of pasta. I would now be buying my pasta for just four cents a box. We'll discuss how to use coupons in conjunction with the 12-week sales cycle next week.

(c) CTW Features

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her Web site, www.super-couponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.