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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Grocery shopping venues that can save you money

My fav produce stand and more . . .

Most of us know the usual ways to save money on groceries -- coupons and rebates, shopping weekly sales,  and bulk-buying at membership warehouse stores, to name a few.  There are 3 additional shopping venues that could save you big bucks.

First, there's the produce stand.  Now that warmer weather is upon us, the produce stands are beginning to reappear after their winter hiatus.  I'm not talking about farmer's markets, but the free-standing, independently owned produce stand.  I find these places on busy highways, usually with hand-lettered signs displaying the day's specials, and tent coverings for shelter.  Some will take credit/debit cards, but many are cash only.  The "deals" vary from day to day, depending on the price the stand paid and how eager they are to unload fast ripening produce.  One day last summer we found bananas for 29 cents a pound.  We stopped in about bought about 20 pounds of bananas, freezing most of them for banana bread later on.  One stand near us has a mark-down bin, where they put everything that has just a day or two left.  From the bin, I've bought peppers, papaya, eggplant, avocados and melons for about 1/4 of what I'd spend at the supermarket.  One day while shopping, I casually asked an employee what time they usually fill the mark-down bin and he told me about midday.  So now I know that for the best selection of the mark-down produce, I need to make this an early afternoon stop.  Overall, I have found that the produce stand will save me 1/3 to 1/2 over buying from the grocery store.

The second not-so-known place to shop for groceries is the wholesaler/restaurant supply.  Many sell to the public.  Go through the yellow pages and give one near you a call.  In our area we have a chain of cash and carry places, formerly known as United Cash and Carry, now just going by the name Cash and Carry.  They are a lot like Business Costco, primarily stocking items that would meet the needs of a restaurant, mini-mart or caterer.  Their prices often meet or beat Business Costco.  But you do need to know your prices, and bring a calculator.  These stores rarely have unit pricing, so you need to figure your cost per ounce/pint/whatever on your own.  Buying in bulk is no secret to the savvy grocery shopper.  Here is a place that not only allows you to buy large quantities (grocery stores now put limits on many of their good deals), but by their selection this is often the only way you can buy.  I use the wholesaler for pantry staples mostly.  I buy flour, sugar, beans, rice, popcorn and oats in 25 to 50 pound sacks.  I buy vinegar, honey, molasses, soy sauce, mustard, cooking oil and vanilla extract by the gallon.  (Once opened, the mustard and oil are stored in the fridge.  The other are shelf-stable in the pantry.)  I buy tomato paste, canned tomatoes and ketchup in the large 7 pound 3 ounce cans.  (After opening, the contents are transfered to jars and large plastic containers, and frozen, or, in the case of the ketchup, stored in our spare fridge.)  I buy pasta and peanut butter in large commercial-size cases.  And I buy baking powder and yeast in large bags.  Some items are not a good buy at a cash and carry.  Coffee and salt, for instance, are often on sale at the grocery store for much less than the wholesaler.  So, if you know your prices, and you bake/cook from scratch a lot, wholesale/restaurant supply can be a big money saver.

The third money-saving venue is the dollar store.  At first, shopping for food at the dollar store had too big of an eeew factor for me.  Then I began noticing that our dollar store was carrying more and more of the name-brand items we eat.  And this is one of those everything's-a-dollar dollar stores.  So if I find it there I know it's only a buck.  Again, it's important to know your prices, what you would spend at the grocery store for the same item.  Also, check for expiration dates.  Most of the time the food is well within it's sell-by date, but I have seen one or two items that were past.  It's not that they are deliberately selling "old" food, but more like they don't have the staff to regularly check all the inventory for their dates.  I now buy lasagna noodles, soy milk, graham crackers, and dishwasher detergent regularly at the dollar store.  We also occasionally buy chips, granola bars, marshmallows, chocolate and soda there.  This last weekend we made s'mores with dollar store finds -- graham crackers, marshmallows and marked-down Easter chocolate candy.

Shopping at alternate grocery venues saves me 50% off or more what I'd spend at the supermarket.  And that adds up to big bucks.  This allows us to eat well, while keeping within our budget.

If you're in the Seattle area--

United Cash and Carry--several in the Seattle area, I use the one just off Highway 99 in Lynnwood.  It's fairly large, has helpful staff if you just ask (I've needed items brought down from top shelves and they were happy to help, I just had to ask).
Best deals can be had on large commercial-sized packages.
They will special order items for you.
Lines for checkout can get long (good times to go, around 8 AM, then again around 2 PM)
They accept credit and debit cards.  You do not need to have a business to shop here.  But if you do and have a tax exempt number, you'll save in that regard.
There is no membership fee.
If you live in the Seattle area, it might be worth your time to check one out to see if it would suit your needs,

Country Farms produce stand--my favorite produce stand in the Seattle area, on Highway 99 around 228th SW,  Edmonds.
They accept cash and credit, but no debit.
Good selection and good prices (oranges currently $4.99/ 10 lb. bag, bananas for 50 cents/ lb, onions 25 cents/ lb).
They also sell plants in the spring.
Mark-down bin is close to the checkout, and is usually filled by noon or 1 PM.
Open from late March through the end of October.  The 1st of November they mark down all their produce to clear--some very good deals at this time on things like apples, garlic, onions, squash, all things that'll keep well in a cool, dry place for a month or two.

Dollar Tree is the dollar store chain I use most.  They are an everything is a dollar or less store.  In addition to groceries, they can also be a great place for hair accessories, paper goods, party supplies and greeting cards.  They sell greeting cards for 50 cents.  Where else have you seen greeting cards for that price?!

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