How To Shop At Discount Grocery Stores

how to shop at discount grocery stores

how to shop at discount grocery storesThe key to maximizing grocery savings is to split your shopping amongst different stores, depending on who has the best sales that week and best prices for certain items. If there is one in your area, a key part of that strategy is shopping at discount grocery stores.

Discount grocery stores specialize in items that ordinary supermarkets can’t sell, such as items with damaged packaging or near the end of their shelf life. If you live in Northern Colorado, Esh’s Discount Grocery is on 34 west of Loveland. My favorite such store, for the simple fact of its name, is Bent & Dent near my sister’s house in central Pennsylvania. It doesn’t get more explicit about what you are going to find inside than that.

Of course, discount grocery stores cover much more ground than the damaged goods store. Some food manufacturers will operate their own outlet stores that sell items at wholesale prices.

How To Shop At Discount Grocery Stores

Planning What To Buy

The problem with discount stores is that you never know what you are going to find. A lot of people talk about the “thrill of the find” for finding great bargains on unexpected items. But I’m a firm believer that if you weren’t already planning on buying it, then it is not a great deal at all. Instead, you are spending more money.

So how do you plan what you are going to buy there when you don’t know what will be in stock? The short answer: you don’t.

Wait, didn’t I just say that unplanned buys are a waste of money? Yes, I did. But there is a difference between planning what to buy and planning what to buy at a specific location. What you will be doing instead is making a list as you would normally and make the discount store your first stop.

If something on your list is there, buy it there. If it’s not on your list, don’t buy it. This way, you are saving money on items you were going to buy anyway, and not spending extra money on items you didn’t think you needed before you left your house.

Buying Items Near Their Expiration

I hate wasting food. I hate it with a passion. Throwing away food that has gone bad is like throwing money directly in the trash. That’s why, while I buy non-perishable and frozen foods monthly, perishable items I buy weekly or even as needed.

But a lot of food available at discount grocery stores is going to be near the end of its shelf life. If you’re not careful, you could be wasting money on items that will go bad before you use them. Always check the sell by date on items!

When you pick up an item, ask yourself: will I use this before it expires? If the date is next week and you know that you will use up that amount in that time, go ahead. If it expires tomorrow, but plan on using it tonight, you are good to go.

Some items can be frozen to extend their life. My wife and I go to the Bimbo Bakeries outlet to buy bread. We will buy an entire month’s worth of bread at a time and put it in the freezer. As we need another loaf, we will pull it out. Bread thaws in a couple hours, so a loaf pulled out in the morning is ready when I get home from work.

Expiration Arbitrage

Now I’m going to throw my advice on sell by dates right out the window with this next tip. Sometimes it will be okay to buy an item you won’t use before it expires and you can throw away the spoilage guilt free with something I call expiration arbitrage.

Expiration arbitrage is the idea that if something is cheaper than the fraction you use would be at full price, you are saving money. This might not be the exact definition of arbitrage, but it’s close enough and I can’t think of a better name for it.

Here’s a real life example from last week. I was at Esh’s and there was a package of wonton wrappers available for $0.49. At the local supermarket they are $3.99. For a package of 50, that works out to about eight cents each. If I bought the wrappers at Esh’s (which I did), and used at least 7 of them, I would be getting a better price than at the store. 7 is pretty easy; I make more pot stickers than that for dinner. If I were to only use ten before the rest go bad, I have still saved money over buying them at the supermarket.

Do you shop at discount grocery stores? Are there any tips that I missed?

Stocking Up For The Money Drought

money drought

money droughtYou’ve met those people who are truly surprised when Christmas, Easter, or another holiday comes. It’s like they weren’t expecting the pattern of commercialism to repeat itself. How about those who just didn’t seem prepared for the fact that it gets cold in the north and unpredictable in the south? Those people also show surprise when there’s a money drought at the end of the month (usually a few days before the paycheck). Here are a few ways to prepare for the impending money drought.

3 Ways To Overcome Money Drought

1. Budget For The Lean Times

Getting paid monthly really sucks. At the end of the month, the cupboards are running bare and many are drawn to the merits of that lowly jar of pickles which has been resting in the back of the fridge. Even if the plan is ‘I will spend X per day and nothing more,’ there’s still a plan in place, and it will help spread out the cash until the next paycheck. [Read more…]

7 Reasons To Love Canning

canning

canningI’ve made a deal with my guy. He works in the garden and brings in the tomatoes, cucumbers, and leafy greens – and I find ways to preserve them, whether it be through canning, freezing, drying, or other means. He loves to play in the dirt (using the garden as a test bed for construction techniques) and I get to have plenty of fresh, organic food.

Why Canning?

It’s Cheaper

No, I mean significantly cheaper. For the price of your time, you’re getting the vegetables, herbs, and fruits that you want preserved for a longer time than a few days. Look at it this way: A big ol’ jar of pickles will run you $3. Five cukes, some vinegar, and some spices will run you around $1.50. Your investment is in the jars, and they’re reusable.

No Additives

Commercial canned foods usually have a full complement of additives that are meant to preserve the food longer. Now, I don’t know about you, but I like to be able to pronounce the things which are in my food. I want to know that the greens that I’m getting are just greens and a little bit of salt rather than a bunch of salt and a bunch of stuff meant to preserve on top of the salt.

Lower Salt

The salt that goes into the pickling process or in your average can of beans is less when you’re canning it at home than when you’re purchasing it in the store. Salt is an enhancer, but overdoses of salt have been proven to have negative effects on the body. Salt bloating is not very enjoyable, and it can easily be done with a lot of the commercial products.

Ingredient Control

When you’re canning, you know what you’re putting into the cans themselves. You know how many beans, how many cukes, how much soup, how much whatever is being put into the mix. You might have a favorite mix of beans, but they have this single thing that you don’t like — with canning your own food, you don’t have to put that single thing in there.

Increased Creativity

Just because you haven’t heard of blackberry jalapeno jelly in stores (it might be at those exotic stores, of course) doesn’t mean that it’s not good. Since canning is so easy, you don’t need to have a real reason to exercise your creativity, you can make something that you’re craving and experiment with the results. If you’re making it in batches of eight (the number of jars that usually come in a flat) then you’re not losing much if you don’t like it.

Takes Advantage Of The Season

Every fruit and vegetable has its ‘sweet spot’ for growing and canning. You’ll see the roadside stands have sales on tomatoes when they’re in season, have sales on cukes when they’re around, and other vegetables. When you can it, you can buy in bulk, can the goods and have tasty nibbles all year round – protecting yourself when the prices go up out of season.

Saving Money

Canning saves you money in the long run. Your initial investment is going to be in the mason jars, the tools, and possibly a pressure canner. That, granted, is around $75, but that price will be made up with all of the other benefits. For tomatoes and pickles, all you really need is a big pot, a towel, some grabby tools, and boiling water.

While you do have an initial investment in canning, the overall benefits to it far outweigh the up-front costs. Your pressure canner, when maintained, will last a very long time – and it can be used for pressure cooking beans, soups, and other items. When you combine this with other money saving techniques, you’re not only helping out your family, but your pocketbook.

Monthly Budget Update – October

50/30/20 budgetSo I decided to start a new budget feature here on Penny Thots. This is the first crack at it and I am sure that over the months it will grow and evolve into something new. I haven’t thought it through very much, just have the urge to share some budget details to help stay accountable and to help readers as well.

With that said, I am only going to track a few spending and saving categories at first. I don’t have the urge to track fixed monthly expenses, just the few variable ones that end up costing us the most over the long-term. These will include:

  • Groceries
  • Gas
  • Dining Out

These are fairly straight-forward and I don’t think I really need to go into detail as to what these mean.

When it comes to saving, I am just going to track 3 categories:

  • Mortgage Paydown
  • Rental Down Payment
  • Rebuild Emergency Fund

The mortgage paydown is additional money I am putting towards our mortgage on our house. The rental down payment money is money I am saving up to buy another rental property. As for the emergency fund, it has dropped over the past few months due to a variety of things. So, I am working now to rebuild it back to a respectable level. I figure I need $4,500 to get it back to where I want it to be. So with that said, here are my goal amounts for October:

  • Groceries -> $300
  • Gas -> $150
  • Dining Out -> $200
  • Mortgage Paydown -> $100
  • Rental Down Payment -> $100
  • Rebuild Emergency Fund -> $150

So there you have it. The goal is to move the money left over from the spending categories into these saving categories, assuming there is money left over. The catch is that I am not going to count this addition as part of my savings.

In other words, if I save $50 in my emergency fund and then add in $50 because I only spent $250 on groceries, I am looking at the savings amount as just the $50, not the $100. The money left over from spending less will be treated like a bonus.

Come the beginning of November, I will be updating my results in a new post as well as setting up some goals for next month as well.

Readers, what are the parts of your budget that cause you the most headaches? Any savings goals going forward?

Do You Grocery Shop Online?

grocery shop online

grocery shop onlineRecently the grocery store where my wife and I shop has started to offer us to grocery shop online. But the way they go about it is a little different than the other grocery store in the area.

This new version of grocery shopping online is to order your groceries online and then drive to the store in 15-20 minutes. You pull into a designated parking spot and use the call box to let the store know you are there. An employee comes out with your groceries, loads your car and you are on your way. (The question is, do you tip them for this?)

The older version offered by the competing store in the area is to grocery shop online, then have your groceries delivered to your door, at a time that is convenient for you.

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to grocery shopping online. Below I look at the pro’s and con’s of grocery shopping online.

Advantages

Saves Time: Obviously, if you don’t have to drive to the grocery store to actually shop, it is going to save you time. From my understanding, when you log into your online account, you have the saved items you order the most on the main screen. So instead of searching for items on the website, you can just click away since most of your items are right there.

Saves Money: You could save money when you grocery shop online. This is because you won’t be tempted to buy food you don’t really need. It’s easy to overspend when at the grocery store, with all of the great looking packaging and the sales signs grabbing your attention. Plus there is the waiting in the checkout line that does many people in. Finally, you have shopping when hungry, which is a big no-no.

When you grocery shop online, you don’t have these temptations. You actually have to search out the products you would be tempted to buy and most won’t do this, thus saving money.

Disadvantages

Costs Money: Getting your groceries online, regardless if you go to pick them up or have them delivered costs money. For the store that we would pick up our groceries from, the fee is $5. For home delivery, the fee depends on the size of your order. When I look at our average order size, we would pay around $15 per order.

Since we grocery shop 4 times a month on average, that is a cost of $20 to $60 for this service.

Makes Us Lazy: Grocery shopping online makes us lazy, plain and simple. For some people, walking around at the grocery store is the only exercise they get. Without doing this, they would sit on the couch even more. Personally, I want to be as active as possible. All of these studies showing how unhealthy sitting for long periods is scares me.

Grocery Shop Online: What’s The Verdict?

So is grocery shopping online worth it? I guess it really depends on your individual situation. For my wife and me, we haven’t tried it out yet. Mainly because we don’t have a need for it and the cost. We have the time to drive to the grocery store and shop.

We shop with a list (and buy things on sale) and very seldom do we stray from that list. Plus, our typical trip to the grocery store costs us between $50-$60. If we were to use the online services, we would see a dramatic increase in our monthly grocery bill.

But with that said, there are times when it would be nice. We grocery shop on Sundays and there are some weekends when we are away and are driving home on Sunday night. The last thing I want to do is go grocery shopping when I get home. In these times, it would be nice to just place an order online and be done with it.

The same might apply to families with little kids. I have two nieces and know you can’t take your eyes off of them for a minute when they are little. Packing them up and going grocery shopping is a chore. Being able to order groceries online and have them delivered would certainly be a benefit.

Final Thots

Overall, there are advantages and disadvantages to grocery shopping online. When asking if it makes sense for you, I cannot say one way or the other. It really comes down to personal needs. Is the added fee worth the time saved? Only you can answer that question.

Readers, do you grocery shop online? Why or why not?

Rhubarb: The Springtime Special

Who wants anything to do with this weedy-looking plant with the scruffy leaves and bright red stalks?

Rhubarb

Well, I do. Rhubarb, officially known as Rheum rhabarbarum. It’s one of the first plants to show growth in the spring, making it popular as a tonic — and one of the first sources of the season for fruit crumbles, crisps and pie. (Although it’s technically a vegetable.) That’s why rhubarb’s other name is “pieplant.” It was first brought into the United States in the 1820s, and popular with the pioneers, especially in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

It’s easily grown – provided you dig a bushel-basket-sized hole, add plenty of manure or compost, and plant the roots (don’t mess with seeds) just below the surface. Once established, it handles drought and neglect with equal indifference — in fact, many former homesteads still have rhubarb clumps and lilac plants growing to mark the spot.

Cut off the stalks (which range from pale green to bright red), but leave a little extra, so the plant can renew itself. (Discard the leaves, which are cathartic, and can cause stomach troubles.)
Wash and chop them roughly, and you’ve got the makings for:

RHUBARB SAUCE

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger root
2 fresh rhubarb stalks, leaves discarded, ends trimmed,
    and stalks cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick
slices, or 2 cups frozen sliced rhubarb, thawed and drained

Mix together. Makes about 2 cups; serve alongside chicken, pork chops or other proteins.

Rhubarb is also tasty, combined with strawberries — the colors and flavors both complement each other

RHUBARB-STRAWBERRY PIE

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c Sugar
1/8 ts Salt
1/3 c Flour
2 c Fresh strawberries
2 c Fresh rhubarb, cut in 1" pieces
2 T Butter or margarine
1 T Sugar
1 Pastry for 2-crust pie

Combine 1 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and flour. Arrange half the strawberries and rhubarb in a pastry-lined pie pan. Sprinkle with half the sugar mixture. Repeat with remaining fruit and sugar mixture. Dot with butter. Install top crust and flute edges to make high-standing rim. Brush top of pie with cold water and sprinkle on 1 tablespoon sugar. Cut steam vents in top crust. Bake in hot oven (425 F) 40 to 50 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and crust is browned.

(More recipes are here, including jams, cobblers and a recipe for ‘Star Trek Rhubarb:’ Klingon bread.)

Rhubarb’s crisp, clean, slightly acid flavor….it’s a wake-up call for your taste buds.

Rhubarb

Dandelions & Other Greens – A Spring Tonic

Dandelion

DandelionWinter’s dreary days and slushy landscape doesn’t last forever, fortunately. When it finally lets up, Spring gives one of her best presents: tender green growth. These aren’t just pretty to look at; their vitamin-packed freshness makes them an excellent source of nutrients, as well.

Obviously, you don’t want to pick greens from an area that’s gotten pesticides, like the average lawn. (Yet another reason to convert to natural fertilizers and weedkillers.) Look for a clean spot with sun, and bring along a sharp knife and a basket. You’ll want to keep your eyes open for:

Dandelions

These ‘weeds’ have been used as ornamentals, but their specialty has been their edibility for generations. Every part of the dandelion is edible, from its bloom (for wine) to its roots (dried and used as a coffee substitute). My grandma served these cooked as a “tonic,” garnished with bacon and hard-boiled eggs. Their only drawback: the older leaves can be bitter. Solve this by cooking the leaves in water, then drain and add more water. Check for taste; drain and simmer again in fresh water, if needed. Young buds and blanched leaves are delicious raw in a salad.

Watercress

Streamsides are the best place to look for this spicy green; it snaps the flavor of salads and sandwiches. Just make sure the stream area is clean and unpolluted. (While you’re at it, look around for the edible bright red berries and minty leaves of wintergreen; they’re often nearby.)

Pokeweed

If you’re thinking about poke salad (or “sallet”), or even Poke Salad Annie (gator got your granny), you’re on the right track. But this green takes some care. As Wikipedia points out, “The leaves of young plants are sometimes collected as a spring green potherb and eaten after repeated blanchings. [The same treatment earlier mentioned for dandelion greens, by the way.] Shoots are also blanched with several changes of water and eaten as a substitute for asparagus.” However, the leaves become “cathartic” and cause severe stomach trouble as they get older. (The root is poisonous, and shouldn’t be eaten.)  Many consider this the quintessential spring green.

Asparagus

This popular perennial grew wild in the drainage ditches, and by the side of the road, where I grew up in Michigan. Mom would send us out with baskets to snap off the shoots, taking care to leave the plant intact for more harvests. I buy my asparagus in the grocery store today, but it still grows wild – it’s known to flourish at the Boulder, Colorado cemetery, for example. (You might check your local cemetery, as well.) Try it stir-fried, boiled, or roasted – but make the cooking time brief, to maximize its nutrients. Serve with a cream sauce - Hollandaise is a favorite – or just a smooth pat of butter.

Enjoy. Welcome, Spring!

Roast Your Veggies

roasted vegetables

roasted vegetablesSpringtime gives us access to fresh, crunchy veggies that demand tender care. Take maximum advantage of their delicate flavors by roasting them for a few minutes. The results: crunchy, aromatic vegetables, and  low-calorie, as well. (They’re delicious with baked ham, fish, chicken or roast beef, too.)

Roasted Vegetables For Spring

  • Your choice of vegetables — washed, with the moisture left on, and cut thinly, if they’re thicker (I’ve tried brussels sprouts, carrots, onions, zucchini, kale and others. The hands-down favorite: asparagus. Allow 1/4 pound per person.)
  • good-quality olive oil
  • a spice mix, including ground pepper and your favorite herbs

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. (Or if you’re cooking a protein, use that temperature, and put the veggies in to cook the last 20 minutes.) Rub a cookie sheet or small pan with olive oil, put the veggies in. Drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with the spices, plus salt and a good grinding of pepper. Bake for 15 min (up to 25-30 min. for more substantial veggies like turnips and potatoes).; serve hot. Yummmm….