Friday, August 06, 2010

Stretching the Food Dollars: Finding Food Bargains

Good morning friends! This has been a great week for bargains at the store. Not on food, but on school supplies. Even the homeschooling moms are out buying supplies now because this is when stores sell a few items dirt cheap to get you in the door to buy the stuff on the rest of your school supply list. I was probably the customer they hate. I bought the bargains and left, feeling a bit sorry for all those moms with their long required school supply lists. I manged to get a big stack of spiral notebooks and pronged folders for $0.15 each, composition notebooks and Crayola crayons for a quarter. Hopefully, I bought enough to last us through the school year.

But, I am getting sidetracked about what I came here to talk about, stretching your food dollars and finding bargains on food. There are lots more places to shop than grocery stores.

So where can you find bargains on food?

  • Clearance Aisle: I never leave a grocery store without checking out the clearance or reduced for quick sale areas. Some stores have one that is just for produce, or one specifically for bakery goods, as well as an are for general grocery items. Make sure you find them all. When I find a good deal, I snatch it up. The key is checking to make sure the condition of the item is still good and buying only things that you will really use.

    I have gotten baked treats 60% off, red, yellow and orange peppers for only 20 cents each that were still beautiful. One day I found jalapeños for literally pennies each. I bought a bunch, chopped them up fine and put them in ziplocks. I didn't fill the bags too full and pressed them very flat and put them in the freezer. Now whenever I want to give a dish a little kick, I can go into the freezer, break off a hunk of chopped jalapeños and add them in. I have even found big bags of expensive sushi rice half price. I bought several and all ready for our family sushi making that I mentioned the other day.

  • Scratch and Dent Store: Check your local area to see if you have one of these stores. Here, I find, you really need to know your prices, though. Some things are all beat up and the price is no better than the regular store. I have also found things like Starbucks coffee for $3 a pound which is a steal. Just know your prices and check expiration dates.

  • Aldi: I have found that Aldi has the best prices around for canned goods, pasta, and many other pantry staples and you don't have to wait for a sale. Check and see if you have one in your area. I go there every few months to stock my pantry. I buy pretty much all of my canned fruit, canned vegetables, cream soups, noodles, spaghetti, cereal, and tomato sauce. I don't, however buy their spaghetti sauce. That is one of the few things of theirs that I do not like. It is easy shopping because because I just go in and buy a flat (12 or 24 cans) of everything we use. It is, however, heavy shopping. Its nice to have another pair of hands to help, especially when it is time to unload at home because my extra pantry is in the basement. It is very nice to have my own little “store” at home stocked with these items. I don't have to worry about them on my regular grocery trips.

  • Warehouse Store: If you like buying in larger quantities, a warehouse store like Sam's Club is great. It helps to know your prices because not everything is cheaper than the grocery, just bigger. Because of the size of our family, I like buying big containers of things. I buy most of my paper products there as well as fresh fruit, frozen vegetables, baking staples, and dairy. I find on the fruit, especially, that it may not be a whole lot cheaper than the grocery store, but the quality is consistently better. I am not sure how they pull that off, but it is uncommon that I get a bag of bland mealy apples, or package of sour grapes. Actually, out of all the bags of fruit that I have purchased from them (which is A LOT) I think there have been only one or two times that I have been disappointed. Be warned, though, your bill at one of these stores will be high even if it is just for a few items because of the bigger sizes. I rarely, if ever, get out of there for under $100. Still, I am getting good prices.

  • Food Auction: I discovered a few months ago that every couple of weeks at the local auction house, there is a food auction. They sell a whole variety of things. There are canned goods, boxed convenience foods, candy, snack foods, drinks, toiletries, cleaning products, frozen meat and more. Depending on who is there and what their interests are, I have gotten some amazing deals. I have found that many who attend are mostly interested in junk food and convenience foods and don't really bid on the basic cooking staples. I have gotten whole cases of evaporated milk for a quarter a can (they go in the store for over a buck), 20# of potatoes for $1.50, boxes of granola bars for 85 cents, and a 15# ham for $8.00. Some of my best deals are at the end when they throw a bunch of odds and ends into a box. I have gotten a box like that for as low as a quarter! You should check your local auction place and see if they ever do this. Expect to spend an entire afternoon there, but it is a fun adventure bidding and trying to get some good deals. It kind of makes saving money a sport!

  • Angel Food Ministries: This is a program that began local in a town that was suffering economically after several local factories closed down. A couple of pastors began distributing food. Soon, more local churches got involved and eventually it spread throughout the whole United States. Through Angel Food Ministries, anyone can purchase a box of food designed to feed a family of four for about a week for $30. It will include a variety of frozen foods, pantry items, and fresh produce. The boxes are distributed through local churches once a month. We started purchasing Angel Food last year. Since we have 8 in our family, we buy two boxes. We get a lot of food for $60! The quality has been good and this is a great supplement to our groceries. This month there was meatloaf, lasagna, mashed potatoes, a whole chicken, ground beef, cheese-stuffed hamburgers, eggs, milk, cabbage, cinnamon rolls, carrots, cereal, and probably more that I am forgetting. Click the link above and see if you have this in your area. We have many local churches that distribute this in our area.

  • Outlets: Check to see if you have any food outlet stores in your area. I know we have a couple of bakery outlets where you can get loaves of bread and buns for a very good price. I have friends who go there every couple of months, stock up on bread and freeze it. I personally have not done this because my hubby doesn't care for bread that has been frozen and I bake my own most of the time.

  • Off the beaten path: I am always on the look out for off the beaten path places that I can find a good food deal. These are the type of places you hear about through word of mouth and it takes time to discover them. I'll give you some examples of places that I have found.
    There is a local meat processing place that marks things down well once they hit a certain age. It is only a couple of miles from home and I will regularly stop to check for deals.
    I live in Indiana Amish country and there are some great deals to be found at Amish stores. Not only can you buy an authentic bonnet, they have great deals on spices and other items that they buy in bulk and repackage in smaller quantities. There is a huge Amish store about an hour north of us that my parents periodically trek up to. They have tons of items like this. Many of them are hard to find things like dehydrated vegetables and real tapioca for great prices.
    Farmers markets and farm stands are good, too, in the summer. We have several in the area. Even if the prices don't beat the grocery stores, the quality is usually far better and you have the added benefit of supporting your local farmers which is a good thing.

  • Garden: This may not be for everyone because is does require some time and effort. But for the price of a packet of seeds, you can have bushels of vegetables. When you grow your own, you control what gets put on them, too.

So, start thinking outside the box when it comes to finding bargains on food. Hopefully, I got your wheels turning and you are ready to find those great deals.

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