Paying for food and common household staples is just a part of life, but there’s no reason to pay more than you need to. Indeed, there are a lot of ways you're wasting money at the grocery store, and not in the obvious ways like picking up items on the aisle endcaps or walking in hungry. You can throw away your hard-earned dollars just by paying the listed retail price for basic groceries and home goods.
Kitchen staples like milk, eggs and butter rarely — if ever — go on sale. But shelf-stable products, freezer aisle favorites and common household items are frequently available at a discount. If you shop seasonally and know how to optimize coupons and sales, you can seriously reduce the price of your grocery bill. We consulted coupon-savvy family members and budgeting blogs such as Living Richly on a Budget and The Krazy Coupon Lady and determined the 35 groceries you should never pay full price for.
You won’t necessarily see pantry staples like flour and sugar on sale much, but if you’re looking for convenience products, stock up around the holidays. Canned pumpkin, frozen pie crusts, cake mixes and whipped cream will go on sale around the holiday season. These items will make baking those holiday pies so much easier.
Bottled water frequently goes on sale, especially around major summer holidays such as Memorial Day and Fourth of July and events like the Super Bowl. Stock up when this item is at a discount; bottled water will keep for up to two years, but you don’t want to drink it after its expiration date.
Thanksgiving and Christmastime aren’t just about an abundance of food on the table; these holidays are also about an abundance of food sales at the grocery store. Common Thanksgiving side dishes like stuffing and gravy require lots of broth, so you’ll find this on sale throughout the holiday season. The great thing? Boxed broth can keep up to a year unopened, so you can make soup any time.
Summertime is a great time to grill outdoors, and no hot dog or great hamburger recipe is complete without a bun. Luckily, buns are deeply discounted during this time, so be sure to stock up. And while you may not think that soft, packaged bread products will keep, if stored properly in a freezer-safe bag, buns will keep up to three months.
Even the most popular candies go on deep sales after Easter, Halloween and Christmas, so be sure to hit up the holiday aisles in the days following those celebrations. And if you have coupons to go along with these discounts, it’ll be especially cheap. Also, as candy companies announce new products, these treats go on sale to lure new customers. So be sure to pick up those limited-edition M&M's when you can.
Canned soups go on sale with some regularity, but you’re going to see bigger discounts at the beginning of fall and winter. Check for coupons for these items too, and you can buy them dirt cheap. The best part about canned soup? It’ll stay good for years and just so happens to be among the list of groceries with surprisingly long shelf life.
There are a surprising number of dishes you can make using canned goods, and canned veggies like corn, beans and potatoes can be a real lifesaver. They may have more sodium than their fresh or frozen counterparts, but canned vegetables will last for up to two years in your pantry. Like many items on this list, canned corn, peas, beans and other vegetables go on sale during the holiday season.
Cereal is a pretty constant coupon item; you can get 50 cents or $1 off boxes of most popular breakfast cereals. Cereal also tends to go on deep sale during the back-to-school season, so if you combine coupons with sales, the savings can be immense.
If you’re paying full price for chips, you’re basically a chump. This party-time staple goes on sale for every major party and holiday. Super Bowl? Chips are on sale. Summer three-day weekend? Chips are on sale. Thanksgiving? Chips are on sale. If you time it right, you can also use coupons for potato chips to boost your savings.
You can find coffee coupons for $1 or $2 off, and when a bag of coffee retails for around $5, that’s a significant percentage. Coffee and other hot beverages like tea and cocoa also tend to go on sale in the late fall and early winter, and bags of coffee stay fresh for six months when stored in a cold, dark place.
Summertime is the perfect time to stock up on one very common pantry staple: condiments. Ketchup, mustard, hot sauce and barbecue sauces will go on sale frequently from May to August, anticipating hot dogs, burgers and grilled chicken.
When you don’t feel like baking a batch of cookies at home, look out for coupons for packaged chocolate chip cookies. You can often find coupons for 75 cents off a box of these treats.
The same coupons that apply to cookies often apply to crackers, but unlike cookies, it seems like every time you walk down the grocery aisle you see them on sale. So you can purchase your Ritz and Wheat Thins at a deep discount, which makes your cheese board a whole lot more affordable.
Frozen dinners aren’t always the tastiest option, but they’re convenient when you need an easy meal. You won’t often find coupons for frozen dinners like Lean Cuisine or Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, but they do go on sale with some frequency. Just read up on the healthiest and unhealthiest frozen dinners are before you shop.
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, stock up on jars of gravy. This convenience item is not only easier to buy than to make from scratch, but it's cheap. Keep your eyes peeled for coupons and then you can almost get your gravy for free. Gravy is insanely shelf-stable too; when left unopened, it’ll keep for three years.
Another staple of summertime, you can find hot dogs at a discount during grilling season. If you pair them with a coupon — which there often are for hot dogs — you can buy this quick and easy dinner for practically free. The best news? Hot dogs will keep in the freezer for a long time. Just know which brands are the healthiest and unhealthiest.
If you have a sweet tooth, then you know just how necessary it can be to keep ice cream on hand at all times. Unfortunately, ice cream can be expensive, so be sure to always buy this product on sale. If you scan the freezer aisles, there’s always at least one brand available at a discount. Double up with coupons, which often have $1 or more off, and you can be snacking happily all year long.
Even the most casual couponer will tell you to never pay full price for laundry detergent. Not only do all brands and varieties of this household must-have go on sale all the time, but there are also almost always sales on detergent of some kind. If you combine a sale with a good coupon, you can get detergent for insanely low prices.
Oatmeal, a staple of healthy breakfasts, is almost always on sale. For the New Year, it’s bulked in with other healthy groceries people stock up on for their resolutions. For back-to-school season, it’s lumped in with quick and easy breakfast dishes. Oatmeal also lasts forever in your pantry. Unopened, it can be good for up to three years.
We love a homemade tomato sauce as much as the next person, but when you’re busy, the jarred stuff can make dinner a breeze. It can also be insanely cost-effective. The best pasta sauces are always going on sale for as low as $1 a jar. If you pair that with coupons, you can have a cheap yet delicious meal. Stock up on these too; oil- and tomato-based sauces will last about one year in your pantry, while cream-based sauces have a shelf life of about six months.
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When grilling season hits, be on the lookout for deep sales on sauces and marinades; they are always featured in coupon books and inserts. If left unopened, they can stay in your pantry all summer long (and next summer too). And make sure you’re also browsing the grocery aisles for Dr. Pepper, juice, Italian dressing and other unusual meat marinades.
Wander down the convenience section of your grocery store, and you’ll find a selection of shampoos and conditioners that rival any Target. These hygiene items oftentimes have coupons that range from 50 cents to $2 off. If you pair that with a sale, you can obtain these items for pennies with ease.
Shredded cheese isn’t as shelf-stable as most of the items on this list, but if you find yourself sprinkling cheese on your tacos and salads on the regular, pick up this convenient (and delicious) product. It’s almost always on sale. Shredded cheese won’t have coupons as frequently as many other items, but if you find one, definitely nab it for ultimate savings.
You can almost always find one brand of soda on sale, and unless you’re a die-hard fan of Pepsi or Coca-Cola, this is a great way to cut down on your party planning budget. If you search through papers, you can also find coupons for buy one, get one free 2-liters or a certain percentage off soda cans.
It’s important to wash your hands, but your healthy kitchen and bathroom habit doesn’t have to cost you a darn thing. You can find 50 cents or $1 off coupons for name-brand soaps almost every week. Pair that with a sale, and your hands are clean for next to nothing.
While most of these items allow you to save money through coupons or sales, getting spices at a discount is all about shopping smart. Skip jarred spices and go straight for the bulk bins, where you can buy pantry must-haves like garlic powder, dried oregano and paprika for pennies. Shopping the bins is one of the easiest ways to cut your grocery bill in half. Just be sure you know how long your spices last before you stock up.
Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are full of electrolytes and can be just as hydrating as water. Like bottled water and soda, these beverages are often on sale during the summertime.
Paper towels, toilet paper and paper napkins are absolute must-haves in every household. Unlike other staples, these goods will go on sale and have coupons almost every week. The best thing about these products? They never go bad. So if you have the storage space, you can stock up when the sales and coupons coincide.
Sure, you can receive a free toothbrush when you go to the dentist, but did you know you need to swap out your brush every three months? That doesn’t mean you have to pay for one. Just wait for this must-have health item to go on sale and pair it with a coupon (and there’s almost always a coupon). You’ll have a fresh, new and free toothbrush.
A couponer will tell you never to pay for one thing: toothpaste. Keep your eyes peeled for 10 for $10 sales, combine it with a toothpaste coupon, and you’ll have this must-have item for free.
Yogurt is a seriously healthy breakfast or snack, and it frequently goes on sale. Not only will this be another 10-for-10 item, but you can also clip coupons for popular yogurt brands like Yoplait, Chobani and Siggi’s, seriously cutting down on your grocery bill. And while these popular items are things you should never spend big bucks on, there are some groceries that are worth the splurge.
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