Thursday, April 10, 2014

How do you know how much will be enough?

I've been asked how I figure amounts of grocery items, when stocking up at rock-bottom prices, and how do I know when it truly is a rock-bottom price?

The answer is astoundingly boring.

How do I know how much to buy when stocking up?

  • based on past use, I calculate how much we run through in a week.
  • based on past sales seasons, I make an educated estimate on when I expect this item to go on sale again.
  • I inventory my current supplies.
  • I get out my calendar, and count out the weeks until the next expected sales season, then multiply by our weekly use of that item, plus 1 or 2 extras. Then subtract the amount of our current inventory. (Does this all sound like it smacks of restaurant inventory work? I'm found out. I did work as a restaurant manager in my early 20s.)
So, for example, real butter has a couple of sales seasons, surrounding family-gathering type holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. It can go on sale at other times of the year, but I know that in my area, I can count on these 3 holidays for a loss leader price on butter.

Easter is approaching and some of the grocery sales have been announced already. I'm watching ads closely and paying attention to current regular prices when in stores.

I've recently noticed that we're using about 1/2 pound of butter per week. I counted our current inventory of butter and we have about 9  1/2 pounds in the fridge and freezer. I counted out the weeks until the next sales season on butter -- Thanksgiving -- and found that I will likely go through an additional 8 pounds of butter. I'll add in 2 additional pounds, just in case we entertain more, or I bake more, or I just want to pass on some butter to a friend (you know, bring over a loaf of homemade bread along with some butter for it). So, I'll be buying 10 pounds of butter this month.

I've already located a fair price on butter, good through April 20th at Cash and Carry. It's $2.25 per pound. It's possible local grocery stores will have butter on sale for less, but with a limit. So, my plan is to buy butter at it's lowest price between now and April 20, hitting the limits at each store, then fill in the remainder at Cash and Carry.


And with the question on how do I know when the price is rock-bottom?

The answer is two-fold.
  • are there limits on purchase amounts?
A big clue is if there's a limit on how much I can purchase. This usually indicates that a store is marketing this item as a loss leader, and they want to put limits on just how much an individual can buy at the grocer's loss. And the lower the limit, the better the price that I'm getting, generally.

Whole chickens at Safeway the other week were just one such item. They had whole chickens for 79 cents per pound, but with a limit of 4. Previous years have seen whole chickens as low as 67 to 69 cents per pound, with limits. 79 cents per pound is an increase, yes. But that price may very well be the lowest I find this spring.  (Safeway has whole chickens on ad for 88 cents per pound this week, with no limits. 79 cents per pound was indeed a good price.)

Bone-in hams are 99 cents per pound at one store this week, with a limit of 2 hams. I think this will prove to be an excellent price per pound for any cured pork product, in my area.
  • research and awareness of current and future market supplies
The second method I use to determine when a rock-bottom price is indeed rock-bottom is research and awareness. 

On the news this week, it was mentioned that there's been a virus infecting US hogs this year, reducing the hog herds. This will drive pork prices up considerably in the coming months.

I'm already thinking towards early fall, and what meats we'll be consuming. Bacon prices are already quite high, yet they're expected to rise even more. Being aware of future price increases on pork products, I'm thinking I'll pick up an extra ham this week, to freeze until early fall, then bake, slice and use as breakfast meat for our family in September and October, in place of bacon.

So, that's my method. During this time when our family has to watch its budget very closely, this sort of exacting process has been essential in keeping our grocery costs as low as we can.

Do I ever get it wrong, and either wind up with way too much, or pay more than I wish I had, or run out long before I had calculated? Oh sure! I just try my best, and mitigate any mistakes in calculations as well as I can. For instance, if I do find whole chickens for less than 79 cents per pound this spring, I'll probably buy whatever the limit is. If I have more ham than we could possibly want to eat, I'll invite a bunch of friends over for dinner some week. If we run out of butter long before fall sales kick in, I'll just make-do for the most part, find recipes that use oil instead of butter, and maybe buy a pound or two of butter at a higher price. We do the best we can, with the circumstances that we've been given. That's the most that we can expect of ourselves.




12 comments:

  1. I imagine you were a very good restaurant manager. Or at the very least, you learned well from you job.

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    1. Hi live and learn,
      the owners were very thorough in their training. They left little to chance with me. And I did learn a lot working there for just a couple of years.

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  2. You know my theory--God was preparing you by being a restaurant manager for meeting your family's needs. :)

    Butter prices and cream cheese prices were better this past week at Aldi's. Butter was $1.89 and cream cheese, 99 cents! Welcome news after all the price hikes in the past 2 months. My husband works close to a grocery store that often has good loss leaders on meat, so he often buys our meat from them. You have this purchasing thing down to a fine art!

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    1. Hi Kris,
      I did learn a lot of very helpful things concerning running a kitchen. I think the most valuable thing I learned was efficiency. I hadn't thought about it in that way before. I had always thought it was just a job that I needed to pay my bills at the time. But you're right, God knew best, and could see what kind of experience I would need in my current role.

      Those are some great prices at Aldi's! Is $1.89 a great price on butter for your area? If I found butter for that price, I'd be stocking my freezer with butter! I'm hoping for $1.99 a pound, here. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised!

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  3. $1.89 is an unbelievably good price! Typically $2/pound is the best I can do. I use more canola oil than butter (although now there are questions about the health benefits of canola oil, so I may have to rethink this one).

    I worked as a cook in a camp kitchen for several summers. I knew how to bake before I began working there (I started at age 15) but had done very little cooking. Talk about trial by fire! My first batches of bacon and pancakes were for crowds of 100 people! It was a steep learning curve, but I gained a lot of skill in basic cooking, cooking for a crowd, etc.

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    1. Kris,
      you must have had fun in the camp kitchen those summers! But, yeah, cooking for 100 people would be a huge challenge!

      I've read some of the claims against canola oil. But I've also read some of the claims for it. I think it's just another one of those things where moderation is key. No one fat or oil will be perfect. As popular as coconut oil is now, it wasn't too long ago that it was considered one of the "bad" oils. And I also remember when butter was deemed "bad" and margarine was deemed "good". I think it's just best to use a variety of fats, so that exposure to any one fat (and it's potential downsides) is limited.

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  4. Aldi here is $2.19 for butter, still not bad, but not $1.89! I love your "formula" for amounts. I have read a lot of different points of view about food storage and stocking up, but have never heard it explained using basic math. Fantastic idea and something each household can adapt to their needs. BTW I thought the last 2 lines of your blog were the absolute best.

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    1. Hi Anne--

      I can't comment on your blog because I don't have any of the accounts for replying, but your posted rolls look tasty--I have a similar recipe in which I add grated cheese and that's good. If you want more very quick yeast bread recipes, check out averiecooks.com. She has a breadstick recipe which is 1 hour start to finish. Maybe not quite as good as one with multiple risings, but great for homemade bread in a pinch.

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    2. Hi Anne,
      It's true. I think we tend to beat ourselves up when we can't do everything perfectly. At least, I know I'm guilty of that. But we need to give ourselves a break, and accept a "good enough" standard.

      Kris is right -- those rolls on your blog look tasty, and easy!

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    3. Kris, Thanks for letting me know about averiecooks. Great site!

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  5. This is about how I do it. How much I buy is more limited by how much money I have; I might want more and it might be the lowest price of the year, but if I don't have more money, I am limited to buying what can afford and not how many we would preferably use. I don't buy at higher prices, though, in between--we just eat something else instead of that item.

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    1. Hi Brandy,
      I've been there. I think that's a very practical attitude you have, that if you run out of something, you just eat something else -- a great attitude that you're modeling for your kids.

      I do feel grateful to be in a place, now, where there's some wiggle room.

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