Today, I’m excited to host Susie Sharf from Cheapskate, who will be sharing her best tips for shopping for Pesach on a budget. I know, I know — It’s not even Purim yet! But with so many of you asking for Pesach shopping tips, I thought an early start was advisable.
I grew up in Brooklyn, Supreme Wonderland of Low-Cost Kosher Food. I had my choice of hundreds of kosher restaurants and supermarkets and was spoiled rotten when it came to kosher food acquisition.
Ten years ago, I got married and moved out to Denver, Colorado. Wow, what a splash of cold water in the face that was. I was astounded to see how much more kosher food cost “out-of-town.”
And then along comes Passover. Pesach shopping can be, er, stressful. And very expensive, especially if you live in a community outside of metro NY. After going through my share of Pesach spending frenzies, I think I have finally figured out how to apply some common sense principles to the Pesach shopping process, so I can get through it without blowing my budget or losing my mind:
1. Make a master list.
I’m not talking about a one-time Pesach shopping list. Make a list of all the Pesach foods that you need from year to year, and save it as a file on your computer. Each year, rename it and save it anew, so that you can revise it for the current year and still have a record from previous ones.
I have a working master list that is ten years old. It evolves from year to year, depending on what our needs are, how many guests we are planning on having, etc.
My master list will be very different from your master list, but feel free to use mine as a starting point. I keep it in a spreadsheet so that I can make notes right on my list, like which items from last year I’ve stored, which items I need to buy this year, last year’s prices, and which store or website had specials.
This master list is probably my most important Pesach shopping tool, and keeps me from “reinventing the wheel” every year. Armed with this list and having it all in front of me, I’m much less likely to buy KLP (Kosher l’Pesach) stuff that I don’t need, and I rarely forget anything that I do.
2. It’s only 8 days — You can do without.
If KLP tunafish is going for $4/can, you and your family can go for eight days without tunafish. You really can. Have fresh salmon instead. Same thing for cranberry sauce, pickles, cereal, or pretty much anything else that your family might normally eat during the year.
If you’ve got kids who insist on having cereal in the morning and KLP cereal is $6/box, make breakfast something special for them and whip up some homemade matzoh brei with fresh fruit. Aside from the basics, there is almost nothing that you can’t do without for a week.
Pesach food itself is so special, with so many wonderfully creative and delicious recipes, that it’s not too difficult to skip the regular favorites if they are exorbitantly priced.
If you find that baking and cooking ingredients are pricey as well, take at look at this: the OU has a great list of Passover substitutions in their incredibly useful downloadable handbook (it’s on page 34).
3. Arm yourself with a knowledge of Pesach-related halacha.
Knowledge is power! Make sure you know what needs a special KLP hechsher and what doesn’t. This can slice your Pesach spending in half. Download the OU’s and Star-K’s Passover booklets and become acquainted with your local reliable Va’ad.
I’m going to point out some helpful halachic tidbits that were true as of last year; however, keep this in mind: I am clearly not a halachic authority, things do change from year to year, and halacha and minhag vary from community to community, so please check with your halachic authority this year to confirm that these factoids are still true.
The reason I’m bringing up these points is to show you that you do not need to get special, pricey, KLP hechshered stuff for many of your Pesach shopping staples. All of the following were true as of last year, according to either the Denver Va’ad or the OU:
- Unflavored seltzer does not require any KLP hechsher, if the only ingredient is carbonated water. Same thing with bottled water. (Club soda and tonic water do require a KLP hechsher.) So instead of spending $3/bottle on KLP Diet Coke, get your $0.70/bottle store-brand seltzer instead. (And it’s way healthier!)
- Unsweetened whole frozen fruit without syrup or any other ingredients is acceptable without KLP certification, i.e. “ingredients: blueberries” (if there is any added sugar, salt or preservatives, it does require a KLP hechsher). Instead of buying pricey KLP ice cream, invest in a Pesach food processor that you will have from year to year, and make your kids frozen fruit smoothies or slushies.
- Extra-virgin olive oil does not require a KLP hechsher. (Any olive oil other than extra-virgin does.)
- Raw nuts, whole or chopped (e.g. almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, etc.) without preservatives or other additives such as BHT, BHA or corn oil, are acceptable without Pesach certification. (Peanuts are kitniyot, and pecans do require a KLP hechsher.)
- Any retail package of raisins with a year-round OU is acceptable without KLP certification.
- Ground coffees that are unflavored and not decaffeinated or instant, and are hechshered for year round use do not require a special KLP. (Instant coffees are another story.)
- All OU certified inedibles (aluminium foil and pans, candles, cleansers, detergents, paper and plastic goods, polishes, and scouring pads), as well as frozen fish, unprocessed raw meat or poultry (including ground), non-iodized salt, granulated white sugar, unflavored regular tea bags (not decaffeinated) do not require a special KLP hechsher.
- Most non-food kitchen items that are used for cooking, as well as most toiletries, do not require a special KLP hechsher. This includes soap, shampoo, detergent, dishwashing detergent (yes!), cosmetics (except lipsticks or lip balms), water filters, etc. Last year’s list is here.
It is crucial to know what you are doing and not just assume that you need to replace all your regular food with special KLP brands. Put the Va’ad on speed-dial on your cellphone! When you are shopping, if you’re unsure about a product, give them a quick call. Solid knowledge of halacha is not just inherently good to have, but it can save you money.
4. Pesach shopping starts now. Actually, yesterday.
Go down your list. Separate out the items that don’t require a special KLP hechsher (or routinely have a KLP hechsher year-round) and keep an eye out for sales and coupons.
Clear a corner in your basement, put a large box there and start accumulating non-perishables, so that you are not faced with a $1000 shopping list two weeks before Pesach. For perishables, while you can’t start stockpiling weeks in advance, you can set aside some coupons with long expiration dates.
You know all those egg coupons that have been popping up recently? Remember how many dozens of eggs you bought last year before Pesach?
You can also start collecting coupons for some special, pricey KLP items as well. Make sure you print these Osem coupons and send away for these A&B gefilte fish coupons now. Keep checking those “heimishe” company websites, like Manischewitz.com, and keep an eye peeled for matzah coupons, which usually come out about three weeks right before Pesach.
There are always fantastic sales immediately after Pesach, with stores trying to unload all of the KLP food that they didn’t sell. As long as you have a basic understanding of what you can and cannot stockpile from year to year, and which items will keep, you can make out like a bandit at these sales.
RealSimple magazine recently published a great article on stockpiling and expiration dates. You might be surprised what you can keep year to year.
As far as kitchen/household items you’ll need for Pesach, shop all year-round for those, too. If I know that my Pesach crock pot is on its last legs, I make a note and keep an eye out for crock pot sales, which usually happen in the summer time (last summer I snagged three huge stainless steel crockpots for $10 each at Target). Do the same with glasses, dishes, pots, flatware, gadgets, and paper goods. This past Sukkot, I got a great bulk deal on Reflections plastic silverware (the kind that looks just like metal) at a dollar store, and I stockpiled it with Pesach in mind.
Bottom line: If you do most of your shopping out of season, you will be more relaxed and less rushed come April.
Susie Sharf is a web designer and frugal blogger who hones her money-saving skills in Denver, Colorado. You can profit from her experience by visiting her blog, Cheapskate.
Stay tuned next week for three more money-saving tips from Susie. Are you interested in writing a guest post about Pesach? Send me an email with your idea!
Have you started shopping yet for Passover … or are you still focused on Purim? And I’m curious to know if you also keep a master list like Susie does (I need to start doing that)!