DEAR JILL: Would you happen to have a list of stock-up prices for different products? I am new at this and would love to know my benchmarks. Is this something you could share for different products?” — Carla M.
DEAR CARLA: I always aim to pay the lowest possible price, whether that results from a sale, a coupon or the combination of a sale and a coupon. Price cycles at major supermarkets and drugstores tend to operate on a 12-week basis. Over the course of each 12-week span, the price for an item will fluctuate both to its highest price point and its lowest price point. We, of course, want to buy when the price dips into the lowest part of this cycle.
For example, a box of cereal may range in price from $1.99 to $3.99 over the course of one pricing cycle. Recently, I’ve had both 50-cent coupons and $1 coupons for a variety of cereals, dropping the $1.99 sale price as low as 99 cents per box.
My list of benchmarks represents the maximum price, post-coupon and post-sale, that I’m willing to pay for an item. Prices in your local area are likely to be a bit different than mine are in Chicagoland. Prices will vary throughout the country, especially if you live far from a major market area or do not live within the continental U.S. (I’ll never forget the sticker shock I experienced while traveling in Hawaii. At the supermarket, I was greeted with $7.59 half-gallons of orange juice, $7.79 name-brand cereal and $9.29 gallons of milk.)
Additionally, if you follow a diet that requires organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, low-carbohydrate or other specialty ingredients, these benchmarks will not apply as these typically have greater costs than their traditional counterparts. These prices are a guideline to help you recognize good, stock-up prices for common items. These benchmarks are not brand-specific — one brand of an item is as good as another, from a sale-price stand point. However, you’ll typically find your best, deepest discounts on name-brand items over store-brand items, simply because there are far more name-brand coupons available.
Paper products: The most I ever want to pay for a single roll of bath tissue is 25 cents. If you’re buying double-sized rolls, that benchmark is 50 cents per roll, and 75 cents for triple rolls. However, I often pay less than this. Last week, my local supermarket had another name-brand of bath tissue on sale for $3.49. These were 12-double-plus roll packs, equivalent to 31 regular-sized rolls. With a 25-cent coupon, I paid $3.24, or 27 cents per double-plus roll. That works out to the equivalent of just 10 cents per regular roll.
For paper towels, I aim to pay less than 75 cents per regular-sized roll. If they are double-size rolls, again, adjust your benchmarks up accordingly.
Cereal and granola bars: I aim to pay between $1 and $1.50 per box for each of these, and this is a fairly easy benchmark to achieve if you’re not brand-specific. I often let many cereal deals go by because I’ve already stocked up enough during a previous sale.
Condiments: I aim to pay less than $1 for ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauces, salad dressings and marinades. During picnic and grilling season, I’m often able to take them home for even lower prices if there are coupons available.
Meats: I aim to pay less than $1 per pound for chicken, $3 per pound for ground or cubed beef, $4 per pound for fish fillets (tilapia, cod, salmon are what we typically buy) and $6 per pound for shrimp.
Produce: To keep produce prices down, I typically buy what’s in season. I like to pay under $1 per pound for apples, peaches, grapes, plums, apricots, strawberries, green beans, and many other fruits and vegetables. Potatoes can often be had for around 20 cents per pound.
Milk: Less than $2.50 per gallon is a good price for regular cow’s milk. Try to pay less than $5.99 per gallon for organic. If you’re purchasing alternative milks like nut, soy, or pea milks, aim to pay less than $2.50 per half-gallon.
Next week, I’ll share additional price benchmarks for personal care, household and cleaning items.