Q: “I keep hearing about the price cycle at the grocery store and how it’s the key to saving big. How does this work? How do I know when things I want to buy are going to drop in price?
A: I’ve talked about the 12-week pricing cycle at the grocery store at great length in the past, and with good reason. It’s a key component in cutting your grocery bill, with or without coupons. To understand the pricing cycles, understand that everything you buy at your local grocery store fluctuates in price. Approximately every 12 weeks, each item in the store, everything from a box of cereal to a bottle of juice, will hit both a high point and a low point within that nearly three-month time period.
When coupon shoppers shop the cycles, they’re buying when products’ prices are at their lowest points in the cycle, then moving in with their coupons to cut those lowest prices even more. This is how attentive coupon shoppers are able to realize big, significant savings.
Let me give you an example. A name-brand 8-ounce bag of shredded mozzarella cheese may range in price from a high of $3.29 to a low of $1.99. Even without any coupons, if I buy the cheese when it’s cycling low in price at $1.99, I’ll save $1.30 per bag of cheese.
Any coupons I have for the cheese will further reduce its price. In order to save the most money, I must time my coupon usage to the sales. During this cheese sale, I had a $5 coupon for the purchase of 5 bagged cheeses of this brand. By using that great coupon during this sale, I took home five bags of cheese for $4.95, or 99 cents each.
What if I chose to use that coupon during a different week, when the cheese was not on sale? I certainly still could have used my $5-off-five coupon to buy five bags of cheese, but at $3.29 a bag, I’d still have paid $11.45, even after the coupon. By aligning the coupon with a better sale, I paid less than half the non-sale price. Shredded cheese freezes well, so if a good sale comes around I’m never afraid to buy more than I might need at the moment.
Now, consider the big picture. If you watch sales and only purchase the items you need when the prices are all cycling low, using coupons to reduce already-good prices even more, you dramatically slash prices on everything you purchase. Buying the products we need when prices take a big dip and also buying enough to last until the next time the price cycles low again, we can save a great deal of money.
It’s not always easy to do this on your own. Every product and category in the store operates on its own cycle, independent of the others’. This week, frozen vegetables may be cycling low, while cereal is priced at the highest point in the cycle. Next week, pasta sauce may be low, while frozen pizzas are high. How do we know what to buy and when to buy it?
Years ago, dedicated coupon shoppers would track these price cycles manually. They’d take a little notebook to the store each week to record the prices of products they purchased most frequently to learn the highs and lows that each product takes in price throughout the course of one pricing cycle. (Example: “Week 1. Corn flakes are $1.99. Pasta sauce is $1.79. Apple juice is $2.49.” Week 2: “Corn flakes are $2.29, pasta sauce is $1.59, apple juice is $1.99,” and so on.) After tracking the highs and lows for everything you buy at the store on a regular basis, you start to learn what the best prices. But this process is tedious and extremely time-consuming.
Next week, I’ll share a better, easier method of tracking these prices.