How I'm getting $50 to $60 worth of 'free' groceries every month thanks to the pandemic

  • At the start of the pandemic, I started shopping twice a month to limit my exposure to the virus. This helped me build up food storage.
  • My local grocery store offers 20% off when you reaching a certain spending threshold, and I typically land that reward once a month.
  • When I have the 20% off option, I load up an extra $60 worth of groceries in my cart (to add to my pantry), then get them for free when the discount is applied.
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When the pandemic first hit, I couldn't get a time slot for curbside groceries; the store was booked out for a week, and stopped taking reservations after that. But my family still needed food, so I ventured into those toilet-paper-free aisles. 

In this environment, I decided to start consolidating my shopping trips to twice per month instead of once a week. I wanted to limit my exposure to both the virus and the visual shock of empty shelves.

When curbside slots became accessible again, I kept up my twice-a-month ritual. I was building food storage, and a lot of the food items I was buying would keep. I didn't need to make a weekly trip.

By shopping twice per month and utilizing store rewards, I've been able to get $50 to $60 worth of "free" food almost every month during the pandemic.

How I get $60 in free groceries

When I hit a certain rewards points threshold, my store gives me 20% off my grocery order. It just so happens that my monthly grocery spend helps me hit that threshold almost exactly.

That means about every other trip, I'm offered 20% off on my order. When I am focusing on maintaining or replenishing food storage, I'll load up my virtual cart as usual. Then, I'll buy about $60 worth of extra product that I'll need in the future anyway. I can experiment with this online in a way that I simply couldn't when I was browsing the aisles in person. With the 20% discount, that $60 gets knocked off my bill, making all that extra food free. 

I pay the same amount, but drive away with an extra $60 in free groceries.

If I were doing more than two trips per month, my orders would be smaller, reducing the impact of the 20% discount.

How I use my store rewards to make up budget shortfalls

The pandemic has not been smooth sailing for any of us, and I am no exception. There have been months where an emergency expense threw off my budget. I'm a freelancer, and my work has been more irregular than usual, causing cash flow hiccups from time to time.

When these things happen, you have to make up the money somewhere or risk dipping into savings. Rewards points help me use my grocery budget to make up some of the difference guilt-free.

In these instances, I will load up my cart as usual. As long as I'm comfortable with my food storage situation, I won't load those extra groceries into the cart. I'll choose my grocery bill as the place to "make up" the extra money I've spent that month.

I use the 20% discount on the order as-is. That takes about $50 off my bill, allowing me to reduce my grocery spend while still receiving the same amount of food to cover my family's needs for two weeks. 

Why this works for me

This works because of the size of my family. If I were living on my own, I wouldn't get nearly as many free groceries — and I certainly wouldn't be spending enough money to earn them so frequently.

But if you have a family and are able to shop different grocery store rewards programs in your area, consolidating your shopping to fewer trips at just one store can help. It can help save you time. It can save you stress. And ultimately, it can get you free groceries.

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