Lets face it, most people don’t have extra money laying around in December. There’s travel, family, gifts and feasts, not to mention extra expenses for heating and winter clothes. But what if you’d planned ahead for this holiday season? What if I told you that you could have an extra $1000 in your pocket this time next year, if you plan ahead with your grocery shopping now?
December is a huge time for grocery sales. Stores run “loss leader” ads to get you in, hoping that you’ll be enticed in by the sale and then fill your shopping cart with impulse purchases for your holiday table.
Those loss leaders tend to be things that just about everyone needs. Pantry and refrigerator staples so that they appeal to the largest possible audience.
Those very pantry staples are the things you use all year long. Every December, I go to work filling the chest freezer with perishables and stocking the pantry with basics along with home preserved goods. Planning ahead, I buy enough to feed my family of 4 on a few key items for the rest of the year.
I’m not taking about cheap candy. I’m taking about real food. Real butter, meat and organic produce.
I’m not the only one that’s caught on.
My friend Victoria at A Modern Homestead feeds her family an all grass fed, whole food, organic diet for less than $200 a month by planning ahead. Victoria is the master, and if you’d like to learn from her I’d recommend her Money Saving Worksheets that can help you plan ahead and dramatically cut your spending.
Including savings on groceries and other household items, these worksheets helped her family cut their spending by $15,000 a year. Well worth the investment if you ask me…
Here’s the items I stock up on in December to cut my grocery bill by $1000 every year.
I was raised on margarine. Butter was one of those “extravagances” that we only bought when it went on sale just before Christmas. Just one box for the Christmas dinner table was all my parents allowed in a whole year.
Looking back, I wonder why my parent’s didn’t stock up. Butter lasts an unbelievably long time in the freezer, and I buy a full year’s supply in December and the quality remains perfect all year long.
What is a year’s supply of butter you ask?
Well, we are a butter loving people. So much so that I actually considered the blog name “A Butter Loving People” but changed my mind at the last minute.
For basic cooking, we use about a pound a week. That’s on toast, buttering the pan for eggs, mixing into mashed potatoes. All those day to day uses. When you add in baking, we use, on average, about another half pound. That includes biscuits, pies and the like.
We do all our own scratch baking, so if you’re family doesn’t, stick to a rough estimate of 1 pound per week for a family of 3-4 people.
At 1.5 pounds of butter a week, times 52 weeks a year, that’s 78 pounds. I round up and make it an even 80 pounds, just for good measure. That’s a lot of butter.
Real butter sells for around $5.00 per pound, but around the holidays you can get it for as little as $2.50 per pound. A savings of $2.50 per box over 80 boxes of butter adds up to a savings of $200.
Do I really buy 80 boxes of butter in December? Yup.
It usually takes about 4 shopping trips, cleaning out the case each time. Every time I checkout I get strange looks, but I’ll take a few strange looks for an extra $200 in my pocket.
Turkey sales start a bit before December 1st. The day before Thanksgiving, stores generally have defrosted and ready to cook birds available for between $2.50/lb for conventional and $5.00/lb for free range organic. Often they’ll also have “extra” birds that are still frozen.
Few people need a frozen turkey the day before Thanksgiving. The store bought too many hoping to sell them, and now they’ll be unloading them at a discount starting the day before Thanksgiving all the way through much of December.
Since they’re sold at such a deal, stores tend to limit frozen turkey purchases for 1 per shopping trip. The idea is to get bargain hunters to have to return again and again, each time hopefully impulsively buying more than just a turkey.
I don’t make special trips, but I do buy a turkey (or two if my husband’s with me) each time I shop for the full 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years.
This year, frozen turkeys were on sale for $0.50 cents per pound!
Since there’s a limit, look for the largest bird you can reasonably handle. For us, that’s about 25 lbs. For conventional birds at a normal price of $2.50/lb, two dollars off across 25 pounds is a savings of 50 per bird. Without extra shopping trips or extra impulse buying, we’re generally able to pick up 8 turkeys.
That’s a savings of $400 per year!
With all that extra turkey, we cook turkey enchiladas, turkey soup, turkey tacos and just about everything else you can think of, including roasting our own turkey breast for lunch meat and using the carcasses to make turkey stock. We pressure can turkey stock, and yield about a gallon of rich stock, so those 8 turkeys keep us supplied with rich bone broth as well.
Just like sweet potatoes, white potatoes are plentiful right after the fall harvest and they’re on most people’s holiday table. Organic potatoes sell for around $2.50/lb year round. Potatoes are one of those things that we try to always buy organic. Conventional potatoes are some of the top GMO crops, and just about every major variety has been engineered to produce it’s own pesticide right within the potato.
Five pound sacks of organic potatoes were on sale for $1.50, meaning they were $0.30/lb!
In the past we’ve bought them directly from the farm in bulk in 50 pound sacks for $0.50/lb. The first year we bought 2 sacks thinking 100 pounds is way more potatoes than we could possibly use in a year. We used them all up in 4 months. What can I say? When we have potatoes, we eat our potatoes.
At 25 lbs of potatoes per month, that’s 300 pounds of potatoes in a year.
Most commercial potato varieties store well, including our favorite, yukon gold. We’ve kept them in the basement for 8 months without issue. Past that, frozen mashed potatoes or pressure canned whole potatoes will get you through.
While it might be hard to walk out of the grocery store with 300 pounds of potatoes, it’s pretty easy to set up an arrangement with you local organic farmer. At just $0.50/lb, that’s $2 off per pound.
That’s a savings of $600 on potatoes.
If you want to be conservative because your family is not as potato crazy as mine, go ahead and cut that in half. It’s still a savings of $300.
In our house, sweet potatoes are a staple. They’re highly nutritious, low on the glycemic index and delicious. Properly stored, sweet potatoes can keep for months. Beyond that, sweet potatoes can be pressure canned for quick and easy meals.
Throughout the year they sell for around $2/lb, and on occasion as much as $3/lb. A single potato can be well over a pound, and I’ve watched a 2 year old devour a whole one and ask for more. That gets expensive fast.
Around the holidays their price drops dramatically. This year, I found them for $0.69/lb and bought 3 cases case! A full case of sweet potatoes was just over 25 pounds.
Three cases of sweet potatoes is enough to supply my family for 6 months with fresh sweet potatoes (stored in our basement) and after that with home canned for the rest of the year. That’s a lot of delicious shelf stable food.
That’s a savings of $100 in sweet potatoes.
I’ve tried buying cheap flour. It’s not the same. You can get dirt cheap, store brand flour for next to nothing any time of the year. Baking with it leads to inconsistent results, because they’ve sourced the wheat from the cheapest possible source, meaning that from month to month the gluten content and baking properties change.
I use King Arthur Flour for all my baking and though it’s generally more expensive, I have far less waste to mediocre batches. All purpose King Arthur Flour sells for roughly $5 per 5 pound sack. In December, the same flour is sold for $0.50 per pound or less.
White Flour, kept in a clean dry place, is shelf stable literally for decades. We stock up and store flour in 5 gallon food safe buckets with gamma seal lids. These lids can be opened over and over, and each time they re-seal completely air tight. We keep a few half gallon mason jars full of flour in the pantry, and store the rest of our years supply in bulk in the basement.
Without packing too tightly, you can fit 30 lbs of flour in a 5 gallon bucket (or 33 if you really tamp it down).
We bake all our food from scratch, including bread, muffins, scones, pancakes, tortillas and everything else. That means we use a lot of flour. All in all, we use 20 pounds of flour per month or roughly 2/3 of a 5 gallon bucket. A total of 8 five gallon buckets, or 240 pounds of flour suits us for a full year. I buy 250 lbs for good measure.
At 50 pounds per week each week for the 5 weeks between Thanksgiving and New years, we fill our basement with enough flour for a full year.
That’s a savings of $125 per year.
To be fair, socking up on flour takes up a lot of space and is inconvenient for a relatively small savings per year. Buying flour in bulk is more about preparedness than money savings. Blizzards, ice storms and even hurricanes have caused whole Vermont towns to be cut off for weeks at a time. If I have flour in the house, I know I can feed my family. It’s that simple.
Other Ways to Save
December is a time where there are a lot of other sales happening. Everything from cleaning supplies to liquor. I’m not going to suggest you buy 10 handles of gin just because they’re half price (though it might not be a bad idea…they keep forever…)
Still, there are a lot of ways to save by planning ahead and learning how to preserve your own organic groceries. If you’re looking for more ideas, I’d recommend investing in Victoria’s Money Saving Worksheets to help your family plan for savings all year long.