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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

I finally did some in-person grocery shopping this past week

It had been a month since I set foot into a store. Then we ran out of milk. So it was time to do another grocery shopping.

In the last two years, there have been many times that I timed my shopping trip in efforts to avoid large groups of people. This week, I timed my shopping to hopefully score some markdowns. What I've learned with our local Fred Meyer is that if I shop too early in the day, the workers haven't had the opportunity to mark down items. And if I shop too late in the morning, approaching noon, all of the markdowns have been scooped up. Although I was up very early, I waited until I thought I might just be in the Goldlilocks time range. Almost 10 AM exactly I grabbed my list, phone, and purse and hopped into the car. At about 10:02 AM exactly, I turned around and got the shopping bags that I'd left on the counter. At 8 cents per bag, I hate to have to buy new bags because I forgot to bring my own.

In through the double doors at FM, I grabbed myself a mini-cart and raced to the milk coolers. Okay, so maybe I wasn't racing so fast I knocked anyone down, but I didn't waste any time on my way to check for milk markdowns. Milk has gotten expensive. If I can find some short-dated containers, I can save a bundle of money. My family doesn't mind if I freeze the milk. So this can be a terrific way for me to shave a little off the final shopping total. I got to the coolers and SCORE! I found four 1% gallons marked down to $1.69 each. I needed five gallons of drinking milk for my family and one gallon of whole milk for yogurt. I bought the 4 marked down milks and added 1 regular priced 2% and 1 regular priced whole milk. I prefer 2% milk for my family, but I know they're not picky and will drink skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk. Often when I'm looking for marked down milk, it's the skim or 1% that's marked down, practically never the 2% or whole milk.

My next urgent stop at Fred Meyer was the clearance aisle. They've moved their clearance section to a set of shelves in the beauty care aisles. Go figure. And they have much less in the clearance section than ever before. But I check anyway, as I have found some great deals on dented cans of vegetables and some boxes of tissues. This week, I found a single 8-ct box of granola bars for 49cents. My family would be happy to have something commercially quasi-junky. I grabbed the box then headed to the egg section. Yes, I could've just walked straight down the path from the milk cooler to the egg fridge. But I might miss the clearance deals by being so logical. I zig and zag all around the grocery store so I can check all of the clearance spots right away. The egg section does sometimes have repackaged eggs marked down quite a lot. These are eggs that previously belonged to other cartons, ones where an egg or two or three have broken and made a yolk-y mess. So eggs from several different cartons are put together in a new carton. But by law they have to be marked as repackaged, and in doing so, the store realizes they have to mark it down to get customers interested in buying those cartons. But these egg deals are few and far between these days. Hence I prioritized the main clearance aisle over the eggs. The website had the price listed all wrong on the eggs, which benefitted me greatly. instead of 5-dozen cases costing in the neighborhood of $10, they were $7.89. I picked a box and added it to my cart. next stop the produce markdown shelf. on my way, I spotted a sale on 64-oz jugs of orange and orange-pineapple juice for 99 cents. I bought 2 of those. I made it to the produce section and found absolutely nothing on the marked down shelf. I bought 14 bananas at the regular price of 59 cents/lb.

Backtracking a bit, I next hit the meat department. The markdowns were items like steak originally priced at $13/lb now marked down to $10/lb. No thank you. They also had some marked down pre-seasoned chicken breast for $5/lb. Again, a big no thank you. I didn't buy any meat. But we're still stocked in that area. After the meat section I decided to check the cheese. We've been down to just a block of mozzarella cheese that I save for our Friday pizza nights. I knew my family would love to have some cheddar for lunches, etc. As luck would have it, store brand cheese had a digital coupon available, bringing the price of cheddar and mozzarella down to $4.99 for a 2-lb package ($2.50/lb). The digital coupon could be used up to 5 times in a single transaction, so I bought 3 blocks of cheddar and 2 bags of shredded mozzarella.

My last stop was to buy a couple more bags of potting soil for my winter indoor greens garden. While I'd been quite lucky on this shopping trip in other areas, with the potting soil my luck had run out. They were completely sold out of the bargain brand of potting soil and only had the pricier brands in small bags left. Oh well. I'll have to check some place else for this item.

At this point, my mini-cart was full. So I headed to the check out. I used my shopping bags, so no extra charges there. My total came to $51.55. I know that sounds very low considering I haven't grocery shopped in-person in a month. However, I've been ordering groceries online for the pantry to be shipped over the past month, stocking up on coffee, peanut butter, vegetable oil, peanuts, cocoa powder, vinegar, and all-purpose flour. Our pantry is quite full of dry goods, and our freezers are full of meat, vegetables, butter, and now berries. With all of that plus a garden in full production, we've only been needing eggs, milk, and cheese. When I go for those basic three items, I also check for other markdowns and pick up some bananas for smoothies.

I've grown accustomed to not shopping as often. Yes, I miss out on some deals. But I like using my time to do other things, such as grow food so I don't have to shop as often or spend as much money. Still, I'm spending far more than I used to. That's part price increases. But also, I've been buying some foods that were rare treats previously (like whole peanuts or almonds). My family appreciates these treats and that makes the expense worth it. 

How about you? Has your shopping changed in the last two years? When you're on the hunt for markdowns, do you zig zag all over the store to hit markdown territory first, or do you shop in an orderly fashion and wait to find markdowns as you come to them?


  1. We do the same thing you do, Lili and that is to time our shopping to hopefully hit the markdowns. Save-A-Lot often has meat marked down but you have to get there when the staff puts those out. We have noticed less meat therefore less to mark down. Boo. We also used to hit Horrock's but their mark down meat always looks really brown and not too appetizing. But they often have milk marked down except lately, we rarely see that anymore. Now we go to Big Top Market that has a produce discount rack that is often very full and the variety is quite good. They have meat mark down but the prices are still quite high. We have stopped going to Horrock's for now only because it's the farthest away and continue the other two. We stay away from Meijer because though they have good fresh fruits and veggies, the prices there are very high. Finally, I do get a few fruits and veggies at Aldi but not too many, mostly bananas and I don't buy meat there because it's a bit on the expensive side and what we have bought we didn't really like. Fortunately, the stores are close enough that we can run around to each one and not feel like we're wasting gas. OH, and I'm not opposed to spend a little extra to buy fruits from the local orchard. It keeps that small business going and the flavor of fresh fruits is worth the expense. Same with a local greenhouse, they have good flowers and veggies later in the summer that are home grown and can't be beat for flavor.


    1. Hi Alice,
      It sounds like you're doing well even with the price increases. I'm glad you have so many options for grocery shopping that are near one another. Saving on gas matters, too. And that's awesome that a greenhouse sells flowers and veggies.

  2. Maybe I'm not at the stores at the right times (I have no set time to go), but I have never seen marked down milk or eggs. Maybe we have different regulations about that here. And the mark down sections are small and usually filled with products that we don't use and not particularly a bargain. Years ago, I found a lot of things there. I do tend to zig-zag over the store, but it's more for exercise than bargain hunting. I find an out of the way place for the cart that won't be in the way, and park it. Then, I go all over the store shopping and bringing things back to put in. That's one way I work more exercise into my day. Of course, sometimes I'm on a tight schedule and it's just in and out.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      When I've paid attention to the step counter on my phone, I've noticed that I put in a lot of steps/distance grocery shopping. It doesn't feel like a lot of walking because I'm focused on shopping. Your strategy to add steps is a good one.
      Many years ago I found a lot of marked down items. It definitely slim pickings these days. And I agree, there are often a whole bunch of items on clearance that we would never buy, even at a good price.

  3. We shop like you at Fred Meyer. Typically we check produce first, then meat, then dairy, and then the clearance section, which is near the lightbulbs in idaho Falls. Time allowing, we then go down the rest of the aisle one by one, because we find clearance in them too. It’s like a treasure hunt lol. My stores here, Safeway and WM, really don’t have markdowns like FM does. WM donates a lot to the food bank and rescue mission. They markdown bakery and meats, and that’s about it. I stumble across a good deal now and then at WM, but rarely Safeway.


    1. Hi Diane,
      I'm going to have to start doing what you do and go down all of the aisle checking for markdowns. Thank you for that tip!
      Our Walmart Neighborhood market used to have a pretty good clearance aisle. But that has completely changed. I wonder if they're donating a lot of stuff to a food bank, which is also a good thing.

  4. I am shopping the loss leaders and watching for mark downs also. Mark downs seem to be sparse though. I have a well stocked pantry, freezer and home canned goods. But garden is very prolific right now. So, eating as much possible from it. I have intended to buy numerous things but after seeing the price just plain declined it.

    1. Hi Linda,
      we used to have more competition in grocery stores in my area, so the loss leaders were pretty good. Then Kroger bought up a couple of the local chains, Safeway and Albertsons merged, and one local chain went completely out of business. I miss those days when I could just shop the loss leaders, save a whole boatload of money, and still have a lot of variety to feed my family. But I am watching for markdowns and watching the online store ads for the basics to go on sale. This past week it was cheese. I've noticed our Kroger affiliates put their store brand cheese on sale about once every couple of months. I stock up at that point and just wait it out to buy more.
      I'm so glad your garden is doing so well for you. I am doing the same with ours -- using as much as I can everyday from the garden in all of our meals.
      I've done the same thing with planning to buy a specific item, only to find the cost way to high for my comfort. So I just skip it altogether.

  5. I've mentioned before that I live in a resort area. As a result of that, not only do we not have mark downs (people often tend to pay what the market will bear on vacation) we often don't have the product! Last week I was looking for hot dog buns. (I have made them one time, but don't on a regular basis like you, Lili). I was looking for the cheap, generic hot dog buns. I went to THREE different stores and there were no buns to be found! I skipped on the expensive ones and figured I'd check back later. I may have to make them out of necessity! I've never seen markdowns here on milk or eggs either. Our "sale" price this week on eggs is 1.99, compared to the .97 I paid a few months ago. :( I did find corn at a great price for us (.25/ear), peaches for .99# and bought a 10# package of chicken leg quarters @.59#. I've gotten out of the habit of buying this large amount for just the two of us, but my daughter was in town, and I wanted to make chicken salad for her and for her to take some back to my son in law. I used about half and now need to deal with the remaining 5#. I usually make it with dark and white meat, but there were also no chicken breasts in stock either! I usually walk myself silly in the store, not by design, but because I always tend to overlook something on my list that I need to retrieve, usually on the other side of the store so zig and zag it is for me.

    Our garden has been so disappointing this year. Two of our tomato plants just didn't bear (never had that happen before) and on the heirloom Cherokee purple, the fruit rotted on the vine before they ripened. Don't know what kind of disease it had. Our temps are a bit lower and our peppers are starting to produce again and a bit larger than earlier when it was in the low to mid 90s. But the wax beans and green beans just cooked in that heat.
    Our blueberries are doing well, though not a prolific as my mother's bushes. I'm glad they don't seem to mind the heat.

    I am thankful for the sales that have been available, but even at Aldi (I shop here when I visit my mother), the wide pan bread that used to be 1.25 is now 2.05. I may need to resume bread making! I am also relieved that I do have many shelf stable items that I bought on sale, as well as proteins in the freezer. For so many, I'm sure these prices are very anxiety producing.

    My husband and I visited Costco and Sam's when out of town recently. We aren't members of either of these, but a relative is so we went. All I bought were 2 bags of nuts. I was SO struck by all of the convenience, processed (and expensive!) foods that were loaded in other shoppers' carts. If one is buying those types of food, then your bill is really, really high! That is not to say that I don't have a few kinds of convenience foods tucked away in my pantry, but those large carts full...I'm glad I can prepare my own foods.

    We will all just keep plugging along, finding sales when we can. Hope everyone is having a good week. Lynn

    1. Hi Lynn,
      Wow, no hot dog buns. That must have been frustrating. But being a. vacation spot, I guess a lot of tourists plan BBQs for meals, hot dogs probably way up there for choice, as they're simple to do when not cooking in your own kitchen. At least you've found good deals on peaches, corn and chicken leg quarters.
      I'm sorry your garden isn't doing very well this summer, especially with the problem with your tomatoes.
      I almost find it a sort of entertainment to look into the shopping carts of others. And like what you saw at Costco and Sam's, I am shocked by the amount of processed food in many of the carts. I can hardly imagine what a shopping cart at Costco loaded up with processed stuff would cost. I know Costco is also a great place for buying non-processed items, like produce and meat, so I'm not knocking Costco, just the types of foods some folks buy on a regular basis. I know some people may have a need to buy convenience foods, like illness or having an extremely demanding job or work project. I think trying to cook from scratch has really helped keep our own grocery bill low. So I'm grateful I've been able to make this contribution to our household finances. And as it turns out, I now prefer my own cooking over convenience or fast food.
      Have a great weekend, Lynn!

  6. I live in PA and our dairy prices are regulated. No deals on milk, eggs, or cheese. We just bought a 1/4 cow again and while $3.89 lb might seem high. Just plain ground round at our local store is $4.39 lb so a savings there. I got t-bones, sirlion, cube steaks, ground beef, a nice rump roast. We joined our local csa again because if I gardened we would eat only tomatoes for our veggie.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      Now that's a bummer on the dairy price regulations. Is the regulation they can't be marked down for clearance or they can't go on sale ever?
      Your price on beef sounds excellent for the quality of cuts you got. I've been shopping around for a rancher from whom to buy beef. So far, the price per pound sounds much higher than what you've got. I'll keep looking around though.
      Good plan on the CSA!

  7. That’s a great price for beef right now. We are either getting a 1/4 or a 1/2 this fall and I expect to pay about $5 a lb, maybe even more. Honestly we buy it not to save money, but because it tastes so much better. I’m down to just a few steaks from what we bought last year. I did buy 25 lbs of ground beef from a different rancher a few months ago. I paid $105 for 25 lbs, but since he has never cashed my check I guess it was free lol. He’s a client of my dil’s and she thinks that’s his way of thanking her for helping him. She can’t accept a large gift from him, so she thinks that’s why he did it.

    1. That is a nice thank you. When we ran out of ground beef around a month ago I bought a package at our Costco. Made a meatloaf with it and not a bad taste but not like the meat I get from the butcher. I used it in tacos and sloppy Joes to mask the taste.

    2. I know what you mean. The beef we get direct from the ranchers almost has a rich buttery flavor. I’m saving what I have left for burgers, and using grocery store stuff for things that don’t matter lol. I think I have 6 lbs left is all.

    3. Hi friend,
      Now you have me wanting to taste some better beef! Even at $5/lb, that sounds reasonable.
      I'm very glad for your good fortune with the last rancher you bought the beef from.

    4. I also noticed that Costco and Sam's shoppers buy lots of convenience food, too. We rarely indulge in those foods because they are expensive and not healthy, but I make an exception when they are on clearance. That way it is more a treat than a staple. To get the clearance deals we shop early when the warehouse door opens at 10 am. Our shopping cart looks very uninteresting compared to others, and no one reads ingredients and calculates price points like I do. It's definitely a shopping spree atmosphere there.

      Have a great weekend,

    5. Hi Laura,
      Good thoughts. There seems to be a line of thinking that says if it came from Costco or Sam's, then it must be a bargain. But what a lot of folks tend to miss is that the packages are so large they may end up throwing out some of the "bargain" if its produce or other highly perishable products. They also miss that some convenience foods are not that much simpler than their scratch counterparts, yet are much, much more expensive. And I agree, many convenience foods have stuff in them that are unhealthy or replace higher quality ingredients. We treat those foods as occasional treats, too.
      Have a great weekend, yourself, Laura!


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