Holiday grocery shopping survival tips
Grocery shopping during the holidays can turn even a steadfast shopper into an anxious wreck. These tips help you streamline your trip to save time and money.
Special to The Seattle Times
Between crowded checkout lines, stretched budgets and stress-induced short tempers, grocery shopping during the holidays can turn even a steadfast shopper into an anxious wreck. But with a little planning, you can streamline your trip and cut the frustration and frazzle — and maybe shave a few bucks off your bill. Here’s how.
Avoid peak hours.
Don’t want to wait in a six cart-deep line? Don’t shop during rush hours. Rise an hour early to get your grocery shopping out of the way before work, or hit the aisles midday if you can. When all else fails, shopping after 8 p.m. is usually a safe (and quiet) bet.
Nothing throws a wrench in a shopping trip like an untamable toddler tantrum, being forced to say the word “No” every thirty seconds, or discovering that five boxes of candy canes have unexpectedly made their way into your cart — along with a rogue bottle of hot fudge ice cream sauce — that you now need to return to their rightful places. To avoid the frustration, make every possible effort to shop without the kids in tow and enjoy a stress-free trip.
Get familiar with your store’s schedule.
Knowing when your store restocks can prevent the hassle of discovering empty shelves on hot sales items. (Any sales associate should be able to tell you which days the trucks come.) This could save you a trip back later in the week for that one item they were out of.
Peruse the circular at home.
Instead of grabbing an ad on your way into the store (or worse, not grabbing one at all), pull the circular from your newspaper ahead of time and give it a good look as you plan your meals for the coming week. This will help you plan recipes around items that are on sale and note prices as you’re making your list.
Organize your list.
Having a list is a must, but to truly be efficient, try organizing your list by department or aisle. List all your dairy, frozen, produce, deli and dry goods together with like items to avoid backtracking at the store.
Once upon a time, I grocery shopped by walking up and down every aisle scanning for items I thought I needed or assumed I would use. Not only was my grocery bill more than double what it is now (all those impulse purchases add up), it also took me twice as long to shop. Stick to your list and you can be in and out in less than 40 minutes. Really.
Take advantage of store promotions.
Watch for store promotions this time of year. Many stores will reward you with a free turkey or ham just for doing your regular shopping there, while others award bonus points for cash back or gas rewards. Some even issue valuable coupons for buying certain gift cards, which can translate to free groceries. For example, Safeway recently ran a gift card promotion that offered a $10 coupon for every $100 Prepaid MasterCard debit card purchased. Since the prepaid debit cards can be used as cash, I bought the dollar amount I had earmarked for Christmas presents and then used the MasterCards to purchase all my gifts. I earned several $10 coupons, which paid for my groceries.
Maybe you think they’re a hassle. Perhaps you think there’s a stigma. Maybe you just don’t see how 10 cents off a cup of yogurt is really going to transform your grocery budget. But if you make an effort to seek out the best deals and the coupons to use with them, you will see your dollars go further. (Local blogs like The Coupon Project and Coupon Connections do all the matching for you; just look at their lists and decide which items you need.) If you’re just getting your feet wet, sign up for electronic coupons via your store’s website. They will be loaded to your loyalty card and automatically come off at checkout — no fumbling with paper coupons required.
Andrea Dashiell is a freelance writer.