DEAR JILL: One thing I do that has benefited me greatly is buy ahead of our needs. We have a specific cereal we eat each day, and I now know how to buy it at its lowest price, then stocking up for a few months’ worth.
At times I find, though, that I have overbought. I was going through my cabinets and found canned goods that have expired on the shelf. I felt terrible about this as we try to be good stewards of our finances and not be wasteful. Have you any tips on how to avoid this situation? — Jane R.
One of the keys to saving on groceries is shopping sales cycles. The same box of cereal that sells for $1.79 one week may be $3.79 just a few weeks later. Using coupons with low sales prices is important, too — by pairing low sale prices with high-value coupons, we can often bring products home for less than half their normal, non-sale prices.
However, when you score an especially great deal, it’s certainly tempting to take home a large quantity of something you know you’ll use! My children enjoy a popular brand of oat cereal, and I recently saw it on clearance for 83 cents a box. The cereal inside does not expire for 11 months, but there was a coupon on the back of the box that was expiring sooner. It appeared that the store was moving these boxes out so that they would not have expired coupons visible on the product’s packaging. Of course, I had multiple $1-off-2 coupons for the same brand of cereal, and 33 cents per box, after coupon, was a steal. I stocked up on quite a few boxes, knowing that my children have plenty of time to eat it.
Whenever you’re buying more than you may use over a three- to six-month span, you do run the risk of those items either disappearing to the back of your shelves, only to be remembered and rediscovered later.
I try to go through my pantry once a month and peek at the expiration dates on my products. If food items are getting close to expiring, I will move them to the front so that we can consume them soon, or I will bag them up to take to our local food pantry.
I’m a big believer in donating to local food banks and food pantries. They help people right in your community, and if you’re an avid couponer, you often haven’t spent very much to buy the grocery items in the first place. Couponing and sale-shopping has definitely made me more generous in this way, and when I find fantastic deals (like the 33-cent cereal above) I’m always happy to buy a few more packages that will be earmarked for our local pantry as soon as they come home with me.
To keep your home stockpile under control, I recommend going through it monthly. I try to keep my shelves sorted in order of expiration dates, with the soonest-to-expire items up front. Some shoppers have written to tell me that they find it helpful to write the expiration date large in black marker on the front of the package before putting it on the shelves so that it’s easily readable.
If you like this tip, find out what kinds of products your local food pantry or food bank will accept. It may surprise you to hear that many of them accept non-food products as well, such as household cleaners and personal care items like toothpaste and shampoo. One of my local pantries even accepts cosmetic items like hair color and makeup., as they feel access to these may help people look their best at a time when they may be seeking work or needing a confidence boost.
If a food product does expire on your shelves, don’t fret — it may still be safe to eat. I like the website StillTasty.com, which allows you to search specific packaged food items to see if they are still safe to consume after the dates printed on the packaging.