12 Groceries You Should Never Buy at the Last Minute

Online buying and delivery concept


Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Close up of full shopping cart in grocery store
Dan Dalton/istockphoto

Last-Minute Mishaps

We get it — sometimes those last-minute grocery runs are inevitable. Especially if you're whipping up dinner and find yourself missing a key ingredient. However, there are certain grocery items that shouldn't be left to the eleventh hour. Whether it's because they require ample preparation time, pose health risks, or are in limited supply, some products demand a bit more foresight. 

From seafood to seasonal produce, here are 12 grocery items you should never buy at the last minute. 

Butterball Turkey

1. Turkey

(Especially Right Before Thanksgiving or Christmas)

Whole turkeys require a significant amount of time to thaw safely. Buying one at the last minute means you likely won't have enough time for it to properly defrost — increasing the chances of bacterial growth or cross-contamination, according to the USDA, that could get you and your loved ones sick. Moreover, stores often run out of the most popular sizes close to the holiday, or jack up prices to meet soaring demand. 

Our advice? Purchase it in advance and move it from the freezer to the fridge a day or two before cooking. This will ensure safe defrosting and give you plenty of time to prepare your marinade and other ingredients.

Beautiful dessert decorated with geometric print and golden deer statuette.

2. Specialty Cakes or Pastries

Bakeries and pastry shops often require advanced orders for specialty items like birthday cakes. When it comes to these items, we recommend placing your orders beforehand to ensure all the customization and decorations match what you have in mind — especially if you're going for something extravagant or ordering from Costco or another busy bakery. Last-minute purchases can lead to disappointment, and pre-made options might not be as fresh. 

Steamed Lobster Tail

3. Fresh Seafood

Seafood, particularly certain types of fish or shellfish, may not be readily available if you're aiming for freshness. Buying at the last minute could lead to subpar options that have been previously frozen. If you live somewhere with limited access to fresh seafood (hello from landlocked Colorado), consider buying quality canned goods or common seafood substitutes such as chicken, tempeh, or tofu. 

Black truffles on a white background

4. Seasonal Produce

If you're on the market for specific seasonal produce such as morels, truffles, or fresh figs, waiting until the last minute can be a gamble. These items often sell out quickly during their peak seasons, and may not be restocked as frequently due to limited availability or logistical challenges. 

Related: Caviar, Truffle Oil, and Wagyu Beef: 10 Ingredients Redditors Say Are 'Overrated'

Cranberry sauce in ceramic saucepan with ingredients for cooking decorated with fir tree for Christmas or Thanksgiving day on rustic kitchen table. Top view.

5. High-Demand Ingredients

Certain household staples — think cranberry sauce near Thanksgiving or chocolate around Valentine's Day — tend to fly off the shelves during festive seasons. Waiting to snag them might leave you without a key component of your meal or celebration. 

Our advice? Buy them at least a week in advance to avoid the last-minute shopping mayhem. You'll probably end up saving money, too, since grocery stores tend to increase prices right before the holidays. 

For more clever life hacks and money-saving tips, please sign up for our free newsletters.

Organic Raw Soy Tofu

6. Special Dietary Items

For individuals with specific dietary needs or preferences, such as vegan or gluten-free options, procrastinating on shopping can result in your preferred items or brands being unavailable due to high demand, or if they have a loyal following. Planning ahead is therefore crucial to ensure you have everything you need for your meals.

Unripe bananas

7. Green Bananas

For those looking to incorporate bananas into recipes, you may find yourself in a pickle if your grocery store only has green bananas in stock. These bananas will need time to ripen before they're ready to be consumed. 

Pro tip: Place bananas in a paper bag with an apple to help them ripen faster. 

raw Tomahawk steak on wooden background with spices for grilling
Andrei Iakhniuk/istockphoto

8. Custom-Cut Meats

Butchers often need time to prepare specialty cuts such as Tomahawk ribeyes, oxtail, and filet mignon. Walking in close to closing time or during high-demand period can leave you without the specific cuts of meat you were hoping for. 

In search of the perfect cut and have some time to spare? Consider finding a local farmer to source your meat or try one of the many online meat delivery services

Flavored kombucha tea bottles in the kitchen

9. Fermented Drinks

Fermented, probiotic beverages such as kombucha and kefir are becoming increasingly popular due to the gut health benefits they offer. But still, they may not be stocked in as high quantities as other drinks. A last-minute run could leave you kombucha-less if it's during peak shopping time.

Related8 Hard Kombucha Brands to Try Right Now

Female farmer giving free apple samples to clients for food tasting
Dragos Condrea/istockphoto

10. Farmers' Market Specialties

Items sold at local farmers' markets and specialty shops, such as fresh honey, artisanal cheeses, produce, and homemade jams, are often sold in limited quantities. A last-minute visit near the market's closing time can lead to slim pickings. (It appears that the early bird does indeed get the worm, or in this case, all the goodies).

Related: Delicious Casseroles Our Grandmothers Made

Flight of beers ranging in color from light to dark on wood carrier.
Cavan Images/istockphoto

11. Craft Beers or Limited-Edition Wines

Drinks such as craft beers and limited-edition wines — especially if they are new releases or seasonal — can sell out quickly. If you're hoping to pick up a specific bottle or brew, it's best to plan ahead or order online to ensure you won't be left brew-less. 

Related: Top 25 U.S. Cities for Craft Beer

Hand holding medicine capsule pack

12. Medications or Health Supplements

Though not a food item, some over-the-counter medicines or specific health supplements might not be readily stocked at all supermarkets. Waiting until the last moment — especially if you need it urgently — can lead to stress or even potential health risks.

Related: Everything to Know About Costco's Pharmacy