Wednesday, November 03, 2010 1:30 AM
Four Questions to Help Save Money on Meals
By Jill Cataldo | CTW Features
Last week, a reader asked if it's more cost-effective to plan meals around what's on sale or based on the coupons you might have in hand. If you stock up on foods that you eat regularly, you'll soon find yourself "shopping" and meal-planning from supplies in your pantry and freezer versus limiting yourself to what's on sale at the store any given week.
Whenever a great sale comes around on an item that I consider a staple – chicken breasts, pasta sauces, frozen vegetables, side dishes – I ask myself the following questions:
1. Is this the lowest price I'm likely to see for the next twelve weeks on this product?
Prices at the supermarket range high and low over the course of a cycle that lasts, on average, twelve weeks. Chicken breasts may range in price from $1.69/pound to $3.99/pound. As you start monitoring the price variation on products you buy, you'll begin to notice when prices dip. Keep these benchmark prices in mind and you'll be able to spot a deal.
In my area, $1.50 or less is a good price for 64-ounce bottles of 100 percent juice. If I see them for that price, regardless of brand, they are a "buy" for me.
2. How many coupons do I have for this item?
Once I spot a price in the super-low range, I use all of the coupons I have for that product. With the juice, any coupons reduce the already low price even more. During a previous juice sale, I had two $1 coupons and four coupons for $1.50 off the purchase of two bottles; instead of buying 10 bottles, I bought 18. Why? Read on.
3. How much will I use before another good sale comes around or before the product expires?
During the juice sale, the juice was $1.29 a bottle, an excellent price. We drink about 1 1/2 bottles each week. Anticipating that we'll drink 18 bottles of juice during the next 12 weeks, I purchased not just what I had coupons for, but as many as we'd consume before this low price comes around again. I paid $15.22 for 18 bottles. That worked out to about 85 cents per bottle. By buying in quantity with coupons during this sale, I paid about 75 percent less than the high-cycle price of $3.50 per bottle.
I'm reminded of a sale on boxed dinner kits, which include pasta or rice for making an Italian or Chinese restaurant-style meal. Ordinarily, these kits are more expensive than making a similar meal from scratch. You pay for the convenience of simply adding meat to complete the meal. But the kits were part of a Catalina sale where shoppers received $7 good for a future shopping trip in the form of a register receipt at checkout. After coupons, I paid $7.96 for four dinner kits and got $7 back. It worked out to 24 cents per box!
This is a small price to pay for a convenient meal for busy evenings. And, there were many coupons available during the sale so it was possible to repeat the purchase several times. The expiration date for the meal kits was eight months away. Assuming we'll eat one of these dinners every other week, I bought 16 for $3.84. That's less than one fast-food meal for one person!
4. Do I have enough room in the pantry or freezer?
Extra freezer and shelf space come in handy when playing the price-cycle game. The more space you have, the more you can devote to stocking your own "store" with staples for meals.
© 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.supercouponing.com. E-mail your own couponing victories and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.