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8 Supermarket Staples You Should Always Buy on Sale

Stock up on these grocery items when they’re marked down to save money


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AARP (Source: Getty Images (4))

Supermarket sales are hard to come by these days, with food prices still elevated and shrinkflation still a thing. So when you see one should you pounce? The answer is maybe. Not all grocery store sales are created equal. Some will save you money while others can cost you more. ​

“Stocking up wherever you can is a really good strategy,” says Trae Bodge, a shopping expert at TrueTrae.com. “But be careful about buying things that are perishable.” 

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When it comes to supermarket sales, consumers should focus on shelf-stable foods. These are foods that can last in the pantry for at least a year. They don’t have to be cooked or refrigerated to eat. Other foods that can be frozen for a few months can also be bargains. With that in mind, here’s a list of eight supermarket staples that you should buy on sale to help beat inflation. ​

1. Canned goods

Beans, soup, tuna fish, mushrooms and other canned staples are great to stock up on if they go on sale. These items are safe to consume years later, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, assuming the cans are in good shape, which means no rust, dents or swells. 

2. Packaged foods

Cereal, pasta, cookies and other packaged foods also have long shelf lives and make a good option to stock up on when supermarkets offer discounts. They aren’t going to last for years, but they will remain safe beyond the “best by” date, according to the USDA. Keep in mind these grocery staples can become stale or develop an off flavor after a time, which will be evident when you open the package. ​

3. Beef and poultry

Buying beef and poultry on sale can be a great way to save money if you have the space in your freezer to store them properly. Ground beef is safe indefinitely if frozen, but the USDA says it’s best to use it within four months. Raw whole chickens can be frozen for up to one year, while parts can last for nine months and giblets or ground chicken can stay frozen for three to four months, according to the USDA. Bodge recommends buying them in bulk, breaking them down into smaller portions and putting a date on them. “It's always a good idea to date each item and eat them within a few weeks,” she says. ​

4. Some dairy products

If you consume a lot of cheese, milk and other dairy products, buying them on sale is a great way to save money. But if you want to stock up for the future, be careful which dairy products you purchase because their shelf life varies broadly.  In the freezer, hard cheese can last six months, milk about three months and yogurt between one and two months, though the texture may be affected by thawing. Shredded cheese freezes the best, cheese experts say, while soft cheese and processed cheese slices don’t freeze well. In the refrigerator, hard cheese stores for six months before opening (and three to four weeks after it’s opened), processed cheese slices last one to two months, soft cheese about a week and yogurt one to two weeks, according to the USDA. ​

5. Oatmeal, rice and dry pasta

Oatmeal has a lot of nutritional value and as a result is a mainstay for countless households. It also has a long shelf life, making it a perfect supermarket staple to stock up on when it’s on sale. Oatmeal and cereals can be stored in a pantry for six to 12 months unopened and three months after opening. White rice and dried pasta can last two years. 

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6. Frozen foods

From vegetables to fruits, frozen foods are great to stock up on, since according to the USDA they are “safe forever.” That’s because bacteria and other pathogens can’t grow in food that’s frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. They will lose some quality, flavor, color and texture, the USDA warns. Bodge suggests writing dates on the frozen items to ensure you eat them within a few months to avoid any chance of freezer burn.

7. Dried legumes and other beans

Not only does having a stock of dried lentils and beans in the cupboard come in handy if you want to make bean soup, hummus or bean dip on the fly, but they also have a long shelf life, which makes them a good item to buy on sale. Studies have shown that over several months of storage, dried beans do not lose any of their vitamin potency. After two or three years the vitamins in beans do start to degrade, so it’s best to use them before then.

8. Baking supplies

Who doesn’t have a sweet tooth from time to time? Instead of running out to the grocery store to pay top dollar for a box of cookies or a bakery cake, consider stocking up on baking supplies like sugars, flour, baking powder, and cookie and cake mixes when they go on sale. Unopened baking items can last for six months, while cake, brownie and bread mixes have a 12- to 18-month shelf life, according to the USDA. “If you’re keeping these items in a pantry, I suggest transferring them to an airtight container to avoid weevils or other critters,” Bodge says.

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