Why I Shop Loss Leaders (when I can)


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If you are a regular Simplify, Live, Love reader, you probably know that I pride myself on keeping my grocery budget low – while eating as healthfully as possible at the same time. A couple years ago, I started reading deal blogs like Money Saving Mom and Hip2Save, and actively played the coupon and drug store game. I saved a ton of money, learned so much about prices and coupons,  and had a lot of fun.

But then life got really busy and I kind of fell out of the couponing loop. And I still need to keep my grocery budget low, especially in the winter, when my garden is not providing my fresh fruit and veggies. What I realized, though, is that I can still save a ton of money by planning my menus around store’s lost leaders. I still watch out for coupons and use them when I can find them – but mostly I stick to buying loss leaders, goods at Aldi, and bulk grains.

Here’s why:

Pictured above is $72.10 worth of groceries we bought in Florida. Does it look like a lot to you? It doesn’t to me!  In all fairness, it’s not totally comparable because the biggest portion of the bill was 12+ pounds of $4 / lb pick-your-own-strawberries that were gobbled down in 3 short days while we were on vacation in Florida. But this is an example of paying top price for groceries. When I started paying attention to store fliers, I was amazed at how much prices fluctuate from week to week and season to season.

Here’s a bunch of groceries I picked up this week at home in Iowa for less money than I paid for the fruit and eggs pictured above (3 dozen farm fresh eggs are missing from the pictures):

All of the items in the three pictures cost less than $70. I did buy a few things I’ve been staying away from – conventional potatoes and peppers and a bag of nasty pepperoni. What can I say? I couldn’t stomach the price of organic potatoes and I totally caved on the pepperoni. Overall though, it seems to be a lot more food to me than the fruit I bought in Florida.

I’ve become so conscious of grocery store prices in the last couple of years, that I can tell you when a lot of produce will be at its lowest price. (And yes, I buy mostly produce at grocery stores in the winter because most of my other goods come from bulk food stores and my Iowa garden doesn’t grow in the winter).

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • In the winter, we eat a lot of citrus. Why? It’s plentiful and CHEAP! – pineapples, mangoes, pomegranates, avocados, as well as oranges, grapefruit and beloved cuties – all of these fruits are cheaper in the winter.
  • In March, watch out for cheap cabbage! Why? St. Patrick’s Day!
  • In the spring – strawberries (and other berries) will be at the rock bottom prices.
  • In the summer – well, truthfully, I’m not sure because that’s when I’m in my garden!
  • In the fall – cheap apples
  • Around Thanksgiving & Christmas – cheap sweet potatoes!

So now, instead of couponing, I shop lost leaders. I check out the weekly ads, shop my pantry, and plan my menus. This week, mushrooms happened to be on sale at Aldi for 59 cents a pack! I bought 8 packs and almost everything we’re eating this week has included mushrooms. Onions were also super cheap. Since they keep fairly well, I bought a bunch.

Eating this way is actually kind of fun. Our society makes having whatever you want when you want it possible. If I want raspberries in the middle of winter (in Iowa), I can go to the store and buy them. Buying according to what’s cheapest (which corresponds to what’s in season somewhere) makes me look forward to changing seasons even more. I waited a long time for citrus. And now I’ve eaten so much of it, I’m beyond excited to move on to berries – and I won’t have to wait much longer because spring is right around the corner.

The best part of shopping loss leaders {besides saving a ton of money} is it’s easy for me and saves me time. Time is an invaluable commodity I can’t buy right now. And that’s why I shop lost leaders.

Do you shop loss leaders? How do you save money on groceries?

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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  1. 59-cent mushrooms? I wish we had an Aldi nearby. It’s HyVee or Fareway here. HyVee has some decent sales, but not like that!

  2. Very wise! I will keep this in mind as I shop. I think eating with the seasons is better for the environment, too.

  3. I love Aldi too and find that I save so much money (and time) if I coordinate our menu plan with the season and what’s on sale!

  4. Florida is just so expensive for groceries too. We lived there for 14 months and I struggled to feed our family of 5. I remember being excited to see grapes for $3.50 a pound because usually they were almost double that! I knew these same grapes could be had in Michigan for .89 a lb on sale.

    I too shop for fresh veggies and fruits according to season. I try to stock up in season so we have some on hand for out of season too– this works best with berries that I freeze. Last summer all of us became addicted to smoothies and we went through our winter stash of berries in just a few weeks. So we are a fairly sad family right now.

    1. I stock up too! Last month I figured out how to freeze avocado puree and bought 20 when they were 49 cents each. I also dehydrated pineapple and froze some more! I also process the food I grow in my own garden – pickles, tomatoes, salsa, jelly…I make it all.

      1. Would love to hear more about how to freeze avocado puree. We’re avocado junkies around here. Does it have the same texture as fresh? Turn brown more quickly?

  5. LOL, I thought the picture of the four kids was the answer to why you shop loss leaders. Well, maybe it is. I have four of my own, so I know. Ha, ha…wait until they are strapping teenagers! (Mine are all in their 20s now, with only 2 left here at home.) Good thing you’ve got a head start on savings! Look at all that loot!
    I can’t wait for strawberries to be reasonably priced. I’m about out of the jam I made last year and I can’t wait to make more. In the summer, I rely on the local farmstand, as I am probably the only person in America who can’t get a bumper crop of tomatoes, LOL.
    We just joined BJ’s and so far the prices there are very good. I also find that Target is generally cheaper than the grocery store if there isn’t a sale. I love to shop with coupons and try to keep a fairly well stocked pantry.
    PS–the kids are adorable!

    1. Clare – the 4 kids in that picture aren’t all mine. I do have 4 of my own, but that picture was a mix of the 4 kids we were visiting and my own. Can you imagine? We stayed with great friends and their 4 kids in Florida and there were a total of 12 people to feed!! Talk about putting a hurting on food. I’ve never seen food disappear so quickly.

  6. Great advice – plus, eating what is in season isn’t only cheaper, it’s healthier! My family tries very hard to eat what is in season, preferably locally sourced. I always advise my clients to do the same – and it’s fun to find out what is in season for them (that I might not have access to!).

    1. I agree,Pam! We do a great job of eating locally in the spring and summer when things are growing in Iowa, but I haven’t really taken the time to figure out what’s local for winter eating. There did used to be Indians here and they must have eaten something…but I have not yet figured out exactly they ate. I’m guessing they saved a lot of winter squash? I’m trying to grow root cellar friendly veggies this year to beef up the winter stash. Hope it works! 🙂

  7. wow! What a great example of how to shop and how not to shop (not that there is anything you can really do about it on vacation). You got a ton more food at home than on vacation, way to go!

  8. Glad someone else pointed out that Florida is expensive for groceries because I feel it’s not a true comparison to other areas of the country. When I first moved to Florida I was surprised by how expensive food was (excluding citrus). It made more sense when I was told that because trucks have to drive down full loads, but don’t really have anything to transport back out, that it makes everything more expensive because of the transportation. Now that I live in Nevada, where almost nothing is actually produced, I also see groceries are higher priced than back home (in PA). That being said, I think it highlights your point about shopping in season and also locally.