Saturday, January 2, 2010

Be a smart shopper- buy in season

As a non US citizen, I get quite envious of all of you who get circulars and are able to see what is on sale when and where, and who receive coupons in the mail. This is a really great resource and really should be taken advantage of, even if it takes a little bit more time. My father has dubbed himself the Coupon King and can do whole grocery shops for pennies. I will post more about how to get the most for your buck with coupons in a future blog post.

My friends tell me what they are serving their family for the week and I sometimes just shake my head in disbelief. They're serving fruit salad with fresh strawberries in the middle of the winter? Rice with multi-colored bell peppers is on the menu? These types of produce are so expensive at this time of the year; I could not fathom why my friends would be serving such expensive items on the menu.
"Sarah- how much are peppers in your area? They're in season at this time of year?"
"I don't know. How do I know if they're in season?"
"You look at current price of that produce, and if its more expensive than the average price for that type of produce, you know it is not in season."
"Oh. I wouldn't know. I never look at price."

My jaw nearly hit the floor after that conversation with my friend.
Not looking at produce prices? I was absolutely flabbergasted. Produce is the number one type of food whose prices fluctuate the most in stores. Week to week and even sometimes day to day, those numbers skyrocket and then plummet suddenly in Wall Street style.

Last winter I was reminded of the importance of checking produce prices before loading up my shopping cart. I usually make chicken soup for my family for our weekly family dinner, with zucchini being one of the prime ingredients in the broth. Had I just loaded up my cart and paid for it without checking prices, I would have been dumbfounded when my grocery bill would have ended up much more expensive than I had expected. Instead of the usual 50 cents to a dollar a pound I am accustomed to paying for that vegetable; the price for zucchini neared 4 dollars a pound.
I questioned the greengrocer as to the cause of the outrageous price of zucchini and was informed that a late frost killed out most of the zucchini harvest in the area and hence the prices peaked as there was very little stock.

From discussions with other homemakers, I think menu planning is one of the biggest money wasting methods implemented by many a housewife.
Menu planning is touted as being the "way to ensure that one doesn't overspend on grocery shopping" as it is suggested to write a shopping list based on the menu and stick to it religiously.
Specifically because the prices of produce fluctuate so much, menu planning can be disastrous to ones wallet. Unless one first peruses the circulars to find out the current prices, one is likely to incorporate some out of season and highly overpriced foods in their menu.
As I do not live in a place with circulars, I am not able to write up menus based on what is on sale before I get to the store, as I have no way of knowing what is cheap and what is not. In a later post I will discuss how to menu plan while saving money.

Although it can be annoying when craving a specific out of season fruit or vegetable, in many ways I am glad that out of season fruits and vegetables cannot be bought at my local supermarket. I don't have overripe pomegranites staring at me, tempting me to buy them during the winter when they are out of season. Strawberries don't blush in front of me in the fall. Grapes are not available year round and neither are peaches and plums. Thankfully I am not tempted to buy way overpriced out of season produce as my local store does not even carry it and I would have to travel far to buy them.

But for those who's local stores do carry way overpriced fruits and veggies, remember Penniless Parenting's number one bit of advice:

Penniless Parenting's #1 Rule: Stick To Buying Fruits and Vegetables in Season!

Penniless Parenting's rules will be listed in the sidebar and will be updated on a regular basis.

Next time you shop, if it isn't your current practice, take a look at the prices of fruits and vegetables. If one item on your shopping list is high, just maybe, maybe, put the item back and try to incorporate something else into your menu.


  1. So if you haven't been keeping record over the months (and say your local mom-and-pop shop doesn't bothet listing all the produce prices, and also only gives itemized bills upon request, which I usually forget until they're half-way through ringing up my bill)... how do we know what's in season? Is there some list?

  2. But I must have certain vegetables at all times. We could not function properly without cucumbers and tomatoes!

  3. Must is relative. ;) Nobody dies without cucumbers and tomatoes.
    If you want to get it even though its not in season, realize that that is a choice you're making monetarily.
    You're lucky though- tomatoes and cucumbers never go really really really out of season. I've almost always found them for a relatively reasonable price, even when they're not in season.


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