Monday, June 16, 2014

30 places to look for rock-bottom food prices

So, I realize that I have many more options for buying food than many of you. I get that. I spend way less than many of you, because I have less to spend than many of you. And even I have to get creative in my shopping venues.

When something I regularly buy goes way up in price, or I add something new to our repertoire, I have to search out the lowest price for that item. I begin shopping around at every grocery possibility that I can think of.

This is my list of where to look. I have personally used or checked into every single one of these shopping venues. It's always worth checking, as you never know when you will discover that rock-bottom venue for your favorite item.

Please add any other possibilities as you think of them.

Produce and meat
  • produce boxes (Bountiful Baskets) and CSAs. These can be hit or miss. It's a good idea to read any reviews you can find. I was able to find reviews online for our local Bountiful Baskets.
  • open-air produce stands, not adjacent to a farm
  • local farms, both u-pick and with a stand on the edge of the farm
  • local ranches for meat. If you're in Washington state, check out farmstr.com. They provide a market place for local farmers, for very specific amounts and types of meat. You can also google organic meats, free-range, grass-fed, and the name of your county. I found the ranch where we want to buy grass-fed beef sometime in the future, by doing this sort of online search.
  • farmer's markets (our big, well-known farmer's market is in downtown Seattle, Pike Place Market. It's fun to visit, but not always the best prices.) We also have 2 farmer's markets within a 15 minute drive of my house. They're limited to one day per week, and only run during the summer months. You'll find the best deals in the last hour of the day. You just need to make an offer. Worst case scenario, your offer is declined, and you can decide if you want to make a second offer.
  • buying meat at drop-off locations, through operations such as Zaycon Foods. Check out www.zayconfoods.com for more information, if this interests you. Their refrigerated trucks bring large boxes of meat to a specified drop-off location. You stay in your car, they load your trunk, and you're set with meat for a while.
  • street corner produce vendors. these typically sell one item, like flats of strawberries. They often represent a particular farm in the area, but by selling on the street corner, they sell direct and avoid the middle man. It's always worth rolling down the window to ask their price.
  • gleaner's associations in your town or city. You can search online for "gleaner's associations" "your town's name". Many large cities have associations which function to match up gleaners with spots around town with produce needing to be harvested. 
Markets, big and small
  • small ethnic markets -- you can find some fantastic deals in ethnic markets. I buy tapioca pearls from the local Korean market. A friend of mine finds produce deals at the ethnic market near her. Look around. Do you have any particularly ethnic areas? Check out their local markets.
  • small "health foods" stores. Sometimes these have bulk bins for buying only the amount that you need. We have a specialty "health foods" store offering a variety of grains, spices and cooking dry goods. The packaged foods are expensive, but the bulk section is great. They even sell local honey from a large cask -- bring your own bottle. This may be where I buy some honey this summer. 
  • Amish or Mennonite markets. These stores you need to find by word of mouth. But I understand the prices can be very good on staples.
  • "import" home stores. Our local Cost Plus has a pretty extensive foods section. I've already told you that I get my vanilla beans there. But also, they carry the brand of olive oil that I really like, at a significantly lower price than supermarkets.
  • independent grocery markets, like IGA. We had an independent market nearby that put out a coupon book once per month. Their coupons had some great deals.
  • drug stores. I often find eggs, milk, coffee and bath tissue for less at local drug stores. I don't get their flyers in the mail, but I can go online to see the ads each week. This week, one of them has the bath tissue that I like, for $1.50 less per package. I'll be stocking up!
  • discount retailers, like Target, Walmart and Kmart. More and more of these discounters are adding large food sections. When I was buying vegetable oil in 1 gallon jugs, I found it for less at Target than at the cash and carry wholesaler. Walmart has a few items that are the local lowest prices, as well.
  • traditional chain grocery stores. Everyone knows about checking the store flyers. The front and back page of the ads have most of the deals. But at one particular store, I find good store coupons on the inside pages as well. Also, check the marked down or clearance sections. I've been shopping the clearance section of one particular store for Christmas gift items this month. Some clearance items are all together in a back corner of a supermarket, others (the perishables) are somewhere in their "regular" are, sometimes just in their usual spot, sometimes in a designated "marked down" spot. Try different days of the week and times of the day (earlier in the day is usually better than later in the day, and mid-week is usually better than weekends, for marked downs). And remember, you can freeze almost anything that is nearing it's expiration date. Back in March, I found a bunch of containers of fresh mushrooms on markdown. I cooked them in butter and froze in small containers. We're still using these mushrooms in dishes for the family. Pay attention to particular holiday stock-up opportunities. Thanksgiving gives me the chance to buy several turkeys to freeze, potatoes to store and canned pumpkin to stock up on. Christmas and Easter usually provide the lowest price on hams to freeze. St. Patrick's Day usually sees the lowest price on cabbage for the entire spring and early summer. Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day are great opportunities to stock up on hot dogs and other barbeque items.
  • membership warehouses such as Costco and Sam's Club. You really need to do the math to see if membership would be valuable for you. Costco used to let you shop in their store, but pay a small surcharge. Even with the surcharge, it was still worth it for us to shop there for certain items. Our Costco no longer allows this. If you want to see if their prices would be favorable for you, you could always tag along with a friend and check all the prices out.
  • dollar stores. There are some surprises in local dollar stores. No longer is everything on the food shelves expired or dented stuff. In fact, Dollar Tree says that once something has passed the expiration date, they reduce it to clear. I have gotten some great deals on chips and candies that were marked down to clear. On their regular shelves, this is where I buy lasagna noodles, crackers, soy milk and sometimes peanut butter.
  • discount food stores, like Grocery Outlet. the deals are hot or miss, but I have found a few real deals. My family still remembers the haul of cold cereal I bought there many years ago. I also found deals on large institutional sizes at Grocery Outlet.
  • specialty food stores, like Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's is great for organic items. Many of their "regular' items are organic, such as tofu, and soy milk. They also have a decent organic produce section. I also shop here for bananas (19 cents each), nuts and dried fruit, all under the Trader Joe's label (I'm not paying for advertising and packaging).
  • gas stations and mini markets. Okay, so most of their grocery prices are horrible. But, many have good deals on prepared items like pizzas. When we've been on vacation, we've bought large pizzas for under $7. Compared to eating in any restaurant, that's a steal for a vacation family meal. Our local 7-11 advertises pizzas for $5.55 each. And don't forget, July 11th (7-11), free small Slurpees for all.
  • restaurant, institutional and bakery suppliers. Cash and Carry is our local, sells-to-the-public place. In other areas, there's Smart and Final.
  • single item food distributors. The cheapest place to buy large sacks of non-instant dry milk, in our area, is the Seattle Darigold distributor. Back when we bought dry milk, this is where we purchased it. Non-instant dry milk comes in 55 lb sacks, each pound making 1 gallon of milk.
  • craft and fabric stores. No, not those overpriced candy bars at the check-out! I make the rounds of the craft and fabric stores a week after each holiday, and buy up holiday cake and cookie decorating items and candy-making supplies, for the following year. This past year, I bought up peppermint bark melting white chocolate, for making some peppermint bark this coming year. I also bought a large package of green and red sprinkles for 90% off. Also, when I need food coloring, I use a 40% or 50% off coupon to Jo-Ann's Fabrics (always an online coupon available) and buy one vial of the color I'm low on. Jo-Ann's is hoping you'll use that one coupon for one item, then pile a bunch of other stuff into your cart at regular prices. But if you're careful, and just buy what's either on sale/clearance plus the coupon on the one item, shopping at craft and fabric stores can definitely be frugal.
Online
  • Amazon.com. Amazon has some items at great prices. But you really need to do comparisons, as great prices are not an across-the-board thing with Amazon. I do always check Amazon for unusual or pricey items (some spices and seasonings). If you have a few friends to share out a large package of vanilla beans from Amazon, you can save a bundle on making your extract.
In your neighborhood
  • neighbors who keep hens for eggs. We have a neighbor nearby that occasionally puts a sign out advertising they have eggs again for sale. Some neighborhood hen-keepers will offer a discount, if you trade them your empty egg cartons.
  • neighborhood cooking exchanges. These are easy to start up in your own neighborhood. Simply find 2 or 3 other neighbors with similar eating tastes and family size, and start a meal exchange. One afternoon per month, you make enough of a meal for your family, plus 2 or 3 other families. Then you deliver at an agreed-upon time. 2 or 3 times per month, you get a break on making dinner, as the meal is delivered to your door by another member of your cooking exchange.
  • informal neighborhood food swaps. You have apple trees, your neighbor or friend has pear trees. You swap some of your fruit for some of theirs. Or, you make one variety of jam or pickles, enough for your family and more, and exchange with someone who has made a different variety. Work is simplified by making large batches, and your variety is increased by swapping your excess.
  • neighbors with fruit trees that go unpicked year after year. When we first moved into our house, I noticed that our neighbors across the street weren't picking their apples. We approached them and offered to pick their apples for them for a share, or even a swap for our firewood. The woman told us that her arthritis in her hands was too painful to peel apples any longer, but we could have their apples. So, I baked up a bunch of apple cobbler in disposable tins to take over to their house. She could freeze them to use later. We were both happy. We got some apples and she was able to enjoy some of her apples without having to do the peeling. Last fall, a friend of mine called to say that her old neighbor wanted to know if she wanted his apples. He didn't think they were very good apples. But my friend said "sure". One morning, she brought a bag of apples over and we turned them all into applesauce, adding just a bit of sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon for flavor.
  • at the holidays, the old "cookie exchange". These are fun and a great way to "produce" a variety of holiday cookies for your family. You bake 5 dozen of your family's favorite cookies, and invite 5 or 6 friends over to sample some cookies, drink some tea, and to divide up all the cookies for each person to take home. Even though it's only June, I'm already planning our cookie exchange for this next December. The bonus to hosting a holiday cookie exchange is it sort of takes the place of buying or making gifts for many of the friends that I invite. Its festive, a gesture of hospitality and a great way to kick off the holiday season for us when done in early December.

Are there other places you have thought of, to find rock-bottom prices on grocery items? I really haven't shopped online all that much for food, so I am sure there are more online sources. Please add any that you know of.

Of the places already listed, is there a particular item or two that you've found at its best price? For example, I've found great prices on cocoa powder at Trader Joe's, and I understand that Aldi's is also a great place for cocoa powder. But at Trader Joe's, I wouldn't buy vanilla beans. I can get those cheaper at World Market or Beanilla.com.  

Or are there specific places or organizations that I haven't explicitly mentioned by name. For instance, for drop-off meat companies, I knew of Zaycon foods. But I don't know of any others. Do any of you?

Does anyone here fish or hunt, or is married to someone who fishes or hunts? Have you ever swapped fish or game with a friend for some of their garden produce? We had a neighbor, once, who gifted us with some venison after we gave him some fresh-picked plums.

Does anyone here keep a goat or cow for the purpose of milking? Or stock a pond with trout? Or keep hens? Some of these ideas seem really out-there. But under the right circumstances, even the out-there ideas might be helpful.

When you're traveling, does anyone here make plans to buy regional food items to bring home? Last September, when we drove to and from California, I wanted to stop and buy California olive oil. I couldn't sell this to my family, though. If I were traveling to a place like Georgia, I'd be checking out places off the beaten track that sold pecans, and do a stock-up purchase.


25 comments:

  1. Lots of good ideas there. Some we have, some we don't. I think I've scoped out most possibilites in our area (and continue to, as they change). We use several of them ourselves. Our family keeps a dozen hens (maximum allowed here in town by city ordinance). Though it doesn't save money compared with buying grocery store eggs, it is fun and brings satisfaction in being able to produce a source of protein.

    We used to have a grocery outlet store (not a chain), affectionately nicknamed "the bent can store". Scored great deals there in the day. They closed, though. :(

    Bountiful Baskets also has occasional chicken drop-off events. They are not the lowest in price (came out to around $2.40 a lb for boneless/skinless) but are in nice-sized portion as opposed to the huge crazy-sized breasts sold some places. I ordered them once...may sometime again when our commissary privileges expire in January.

    We get our beef by the side and sometimes our whole chickens from a local rancher. In fact, we have 22 eggs in our incubator right now being hatched while said rancher is out of town for a wedding. After hatching, we'll take them to her farm/ranch and she'll raise them for us, and then my husband and I will go out and help butcher them when the time comes. We will pay her for the raising but get a small discount for helping with the butchering. It's a skill we want to keep up for when we have our own land, so we do it for that reason.

    Other than that, I currently order from Azure Standard, buy pet food from Tractor Supply, and shop at the commissary, a local grocery store for a few items, Frontier Co-op for a few items (great prices on spices), the farmer's market for very limited vegetable items, health food store, Bountiful Baskets for some produce, and occasionally Target. Oh, and let's not forget Amazon for the odd item here and there. When we visit another city, usually Dallas or OKC, we go to stores there both for fun and for items we can't find here in our smaller city.

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    1. Hi Cat,
      All great suggestions for groceries!

      Helping with the butchering of the chickens is a like paid training, as you get a discount on your chicken that way. I think that's great. And while keeping hens may have its costs, you control what you feed to your hens, so your eggs may be of higher quality than commercial, mass-produced eggs. That's the one big selling point to me, for keeping hens -- better eggs. But we're not there, yet.

      I will check out Azure Standard. It's new to me.

      I'm guessing Tractor Supply is a feed store? What kind of pet food can you buy there?

      Thanks for sharing where you shop! This is helpful.

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    2. Tractor Supply has their own brand, 4Health, rated very highly on independent sites for quality. And it's reasonably-priced. We have 2 50-60 lb dogs and five cats to feed so this helps our budget. We went to more wet food some time ago for health issues and they also have this.

      Azure Standard is where I get bulk grains and legumes in particular, as well as our chicken feed.

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    3. Thanks, Cat! I had no idea that you could buy pet food at feed stores. That's good to know, and also about the high ratings for quality on the brand your Tractor Supply carries as their house brand.
      So, I very quickly searched Azure Standard's site (azurestandard.com), and discovered they carry organic and specialty products, items that would be very expensive in a traditional supermarket. I found peanut oil for much less than I'd pay locally, as well as a bunch of non-wheat flours. I'll have to do a price comparison with our local health food bulk store and Azure on individual items, but it does look like some things would be a good deal for me.

      For other readers, they carry well-known name brands, like Bob's Red Mill and Amy's, as well as have their own house brand. You can download their catalog or use the search box for headings like "flours", "grains", "oils". If you've got a few minutes, it's worth a check.

      Thanks, again, Cat.

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  2. What a great post, Lili. Very well researched and well thought. It provides ideas for all your readers, regardless of where they live.

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    1. Thank you, Jayne! You didn't share this, but I will for you. I know you shop a particular store that has a once per month % off coupon (15% off, I think), good on your entire order. This is a great way to buy those items that rarely go on sale.
      I've never asked, but do you have to clip a coupon for this, or does everyone who shops at that store get the % off deal? And what's the name of the store?

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  3. Wow, you are so thorough. Because of you, I check out places like Dollar Stores more. I haven't checked in-depth on pricing at Menards, but I know they have a grocery section and from time to time, they may have good deals as well.

    Being that I'm married to a fisheries biologist and we live close to Lake Michigan, we do get fish periodically. My husband takes my children fishing regularly. Of course, you have to factor in the price of owning a (modest!) boat, gas, upkeep, etc., so I tend to think of that as a hobby which occasionally produces meals for us. Fishing from a dock or ice fishing is probably more cost-effective. My hubby knows lots of fishermen so we do benefit from freebies from time to time (I have never purchased salmon--we use what is caught and given to us). My husband has been deer hunting a few times but has only shot one deer--but if anyone gets one, he processes it and the bounty is shared. I find, with venison, that how good it is depends greatly on how it is processed. If you take it to a commercial processor, you can't be completely sure you are getting "your" deer--you may get some cuts from another deer. When my husband does it, he takes great care in what he does and removes as much fat as possible, as that is part of what gives it the "gamey" taste (there are other factors such as diet, age, gender, that affect the taste). At the risk of having your readers think I'm completely backwoods, I know people who hunt and eat all sorts of game.

    Our favorite regional food item is sorghum. My in-laws get in when they are in Iowa and they bring us some. Around here, local maple syrup is available, but I've never found it for a better price than at Aldi so I don't buy it.

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    1. Hi Kris,
      That's amazing that you get salmon for free! I'm sure you realize how expensive it is in the stores. Even here, where we have access to Alaskan salmon, the price per pound is way out of reach for us, sometimes as much as $10 per pound.

      That's great info on venison, both in what a processing place might do/substitute, and in removing as much fat to reduce the gamey taste. I've had moose twice. Both times it was ground and used mixed with bread crumbs, egg, and seasonings. Once was in meatballs, the other time was meatloaf. And honestly, because it was seasoned, and mixed with crumbs and egg, I could not tell it was moose. I thought it was beef.

      If we had to, we'd consider small game. I sometimes think Americans are too fussy about some things. Afterall, its considered completely "normal" to fish and eat your catch. In the right circumstances, hunting and eating small game could be the right thing.

      I have never tried sorghum, but I've read it's a good substitute for molasses.

      Great information, Kris. Thanks for sharing!

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    2. This trick doesn't work with ground meat, but with larger pieces of venison, I soak it for at least 1/2 hour and sometimes up to 4 hours in a vinegar/water bath (1:1 ratio). This helps reduce the gamey flavor and I think it tenderizes it as well. I've read that you can also use buttermilk but I haven't tried that.

      Venison is fairly well accepted where I live, but small game, not so much. My husband hunted and ate squirrel before we met--I used to frown on this, but really, is it so awful? Duck, goose, and turkey hunting is also popular (although I dislike duck!). I find that acceptance of game varies regionally in the midwest--it's pretty common in the more rural areas and frowned upon in places where there are more supermarkets than open land. I think there is a "you must be a hick/redneck/weirdo" association with hunting. You are right, fishing is considered completely normal. Maybe because fish aren't furry and endearing?

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    3. My Ex was from Wisconsin and he was WAY into fishing. He took me with him once and I caught a big beautiful rainbow trout. But then he made me kill it... it was horrible! He kept shouting, "Hit it's head on the rock!" I finally made myself do it, and he tossed it in the cooler. But apparently all I'd done was stun it because as we were driving home it came back to life and started flopping around in the cooler. I sobbed the entire ride home! He, of course, thought it was hilarious, and kept referring to it as "The tell tale trout."

      I dunno... I'm not morally opposed to eating animals on principle, and especially given my food allergies it's pretty much a necessity for me. But the reality of it is really, really hard for me.

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    4. So much for my furry and endearing theory. :) I grew up with people hunting/fishing, so for me, it isn't weird. I like my meat neatly packaged at the grocery store ... but ... when I think about it, hunting and fishing allow creatures to live in their natural habitat. And they aren't pumped full of who-knows-what. My friends/family members also have never pushed me to participate in the sport so I don't have traumatic memories like you do.

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    5. Oh Cat, that sounds like a horrible experience, and would kill any desire for me to fish, too! However, I have a non-squeamish husband who would do the fishing, clean the fish, and even cook it for me.

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  4. Lili, I'm glad you checked out Azure standard.

    I know someone who has a pond with three kinds of fish. They have enough that they let friends come fish in their pond.

    My mom said salmon was $17 a pound when she was in Oregon two weeks ago.

    As for us, we are adding more and more fruit to our garden, and I am figuring out how to grow more in the space that we have. I just found some currant bushes that are supposed to grow in our hot climate, and they like a bit of shade (and like to be under trees) which gives me a place to grow them!

    We are also able to eliminate buying several spices, now that we are growing them, including bay leaves, basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, peppermint, spearmint, and sage.

    Another place I shop is the LDS cannery. I buy beans there in 25 pound bags for .65 a pound. I used to buy oats there, too, but Winco has them for about .90 less per 25 pound bag and they're even a bit closer. (We go through about 75 pounds of oats a year).

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    1. Hi Brandy,
      yes, I'm going to do some price comparisons with Azure Standard and some of my local places. At least with the peanut oil, I am sure they will beat my local price.

      Year's ago, I saw a woman who raised fish in a galvanized tub on her back porch.. That certainly could be a possibility for folks. In our area, we'd need to make a mesh cover to keep local herons and raccoons out, but otherwise, it would be totally feasible.

      Ack! $17 a pound for salmon! I haven't bought fresh salmon in several years. We are fortunate to have family members who send us smoked salmon every Christmas (I cut up the package and freeze in portions for making smoked salmon spread), and they've had us for dinner for baked salmon on a couple of occasions. Buying it here is priced out of my league.

      I have both red and black currants here, and even in our cooler climate, they prefer a partially shady spot. I had some of the currants in full sun and they never did well, until I moved them to more shade. I use mine for jelly and making a currant cordial syrup (to mix with water or sparkling water). The syrup can be high in vitamin C, if not cooked too long. And the black currant leaves make a nice tea.

      I didn't realize there was an LDS cannery. I googled it and apparently there are many of them across the country, and some will allow non-LDS members to purchase from them. Correct me if I'm wrong, Brandy, but its my understanding that the LDS cannery's purpose is to help folks build a reserve of supplies in one's home. If there is someone reading, who would like to use these facilities, but is not of the LDS faith, it would be respectful to phone, explain your circumstances and ask if you may shop there, as well. From what you've said, Brandy, it's helpful to know your prices.

      Thanks for your input, Brandy.

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  5. That's a pretty impressive list! I'm not the grocery shopping warrior that you are, but one of the best places to get rock bottom prices around here is at the salvage grocery store. They're only open on Fridays and Saturdays, and my dad goes every week! It's totally hit or miss, but you can find some pretty incredible deals there. Some of it is stuff that's at or just past the expiration date, but sometimes it's just stuff that they changed the packaging on or something like that. One time they had giant chunks of Parmesan cheese in the freezer for $4 a pound! My dad bought it all! Anyhow, this is a small family run operation, but I'm sure there are similar establishments in other cities.

    The other thing I've done was something called "Share" that was run by Catholic charities. I don't know if the program still exists, I think it depends on whether the local Catholic charities have decided to participate or not. Anyhow, this was back in the early 1990's and at the time the way it worked was that you had to do 2 hours or community service - which could be either volunteering at any non-profit or going down to their warehouse and helping to package food. Then for $10 you got an entire box full of food that included all sorts of staples, even frozen meat. I don't think I would have survived my first few years after college graduation without that program!

    There are, of course, more radical approaches like freeganism, but I haven't been willing to "go there" as of yet. However, back when I worked at the music school I always volunteered for kitchen duty whenever we had a big event, and usually came home with enough leftovers to feed myself for several weeks. I had a friend who worked at a pizza parlor once, and she came home every night with several pizzas worth of untouched slices that people left at their tables. There was so much that she couldn't possibly eat it all so she took to delivering a big box of pizza to a group of homeless people every night.

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    1. Hi Cat,
      From what I understand, some states prohibit salvage stores (go figure as to why). But it's worth looking to find out. I have this really odd sense of fun on a vacation, and luckily, my kids all seem to enjoy it as well -- it's checking out local thrift and discount stores. In any town we go, I'm always on the prowl for the local Goodwill or other thrift. Now, I can add salvage stores to my list. If ever I'm in Denver on a Friday or Saturday, I'll be sure to check your local salvage store for "souvenirs"!

      I remember hearing about Share a while ago. I just googled them, and they still exist in PA, DE, NJ, MD and metro NY. If anyone is interested in finding out more about Share, I found info at sharefoodprogram.org

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  6. The only other thing I might offer is partnering with others to split up the large containers of things you can get at a discount. Sometimes if you're single or just a couple, it's hard to take advantage of stock ups or discounts on large sizes.

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    1. Hi live and learn,
      that's a really great suggestion. I could see this working for people who shop at Costco or Sam's. And not just singles or couples, but also for people who have limited storage space. Not every kitchen has room for 50 lb sacks. I have always imagined forming some sort of co-op amongst friends, when we become empty-nesters.
      Great suggestion!

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  7. I'm enjoying the list and the answers. We make periodic runs to one of the salvage stores in our area. (Most of them are a couple of hours away ... usually makes a good road trip.) Good place to stock up on basics. Some of them carry damaged/dented packages; others specialize in overstocks.

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    1. Hi DW,
      Salvage stores sound like they have a lot of good deals. I've been searching our area for a salvage grocery store. So far, the nearest one is 2 hours away (in good traffic). It may not be possible for me to go there on a regular basis, but I am thinking that we could make a quick stop on our next road trip vacation that takes us south and back.
      What are some of the better buys you have found at salvage grocery stores?

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    2. Have you tried this site? http://www.extremebargains.net/discount-grocery-store-directory/ It's reasonably accurate ... though we've run into a couple of closed stores.

      My best finds ... the 10 pound bag of ziti for $3.90. Once picked up a case of canned tomatoes for 19 cents a can. (One problem, the only label was on the box. I was holding my breath when I opened the first can, LOL!)

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    3. Thanks, DW. I used a similar site, but not this one. That's funny about the unlabeled cans. "could be canned tomatoes, could be dog food" Tightwad Gazette mentioned mystery can nights for making dinner as a source of entertainment. Opening a bunch of unlabeled cans and then making them into a meal became a game of sorts for their family.

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  8. I buy almost all my produce at local ethic markets year round, primarily Asian ones. I usually find that their produce sections have the all around best prices anywhere. Saturday mornings, I always swing by my favorite local organic farmer's market here in Pittsburgh, which sets up shop in a parking lot right next to a Chinese grocery store. So anything I can't find from the farmer's market, I stop by the Chinese grocery store for afterwards. Last weekend, I set out to buy ingredients to ferment some salsa, since it's getting to be tomato season here. I picked up my (expensive as Hades) organic heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market, then went next door and picked up a bunch of cilantro, 6 jalapenos, and 2 limes for under 2 dollars. It's standard pricing for whole heads/bunches of cabbage and other greens to be a dollar or so, peppers and tomatoes for a dollar per pound, etc., etc. Everything comes in plain plastic bags or unbagged in large bins, so I'm not paying for advertising or branding, and there is quick turnover so the produce is very fresh. You just normally have to wash it a bit more strictly--it's not packaged prettily like at a traditional grocery--, and you won't find more "European" produce like fennel or escarole, but cabbages, all different types of Asian brassicas (broccoli, mustard), items in the bok choy family, peppers, and tons of different herbs are abundant, just to name a few. And often, fresh tofu made in-house! Of course, they are shelves full of packaged foods for good packages too (if you can wade through the foreign characters to find what you want), but I go every week for the produce alone. Oh, and you can't the prices on seafood and meat either.
    For anything else, I go to Trader Joe's or a local farmer's co-op to fill the holes in my shopping list.
    Anyway, I spent a summer in the Seattle area in college, and I know it's abundant with Asian groceries. I see you already go to Korean markets for tapioca, but you should definitely check out the produce pricing!

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    1. Hi Alice,
      we do have an abundance of ethnic markets, here. I have another one I want to check out for produce, in October/November, when I can't get as much out of my garden. It's right around the corner from the main bus transit center, where we load my daughters' bus passes, monthly.
      I buy so little produce in traditional supermarkets, now. Their prices astound me at how high they can be. Our farmer's markets tend to be pricy, so we just go for the entertainment of being there. But I do have a favorite farm stand out in the rural area near us, with great prices and u-pick corn. We go out there once in early fall, and enjoy the pumpkin patches, fresh crisp air, a picnic snack and drink and the fun of picking our own corn.

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  9. I need to check out the u-pick farms around me! (I'm new to my area.) It's almost prime-time apple season!

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