Slash Your Grocery Bill With This One Tip

I hunt for clearance items like a bloodhound, visiting stores any time I’m in the area.

I try to limit my shopping to within a 30 mile range. The closest store to me is a Walmart about 20 miles away. I go there in a pinch, but I prefer Kroger or Aldi. I like Costco too, but fresh food is bundled in too big a package for just the two of us.

All stores have different policies and setups, but they do have similarities. Take a day to stroll the aisles, preferably without kids or spouses because you want to study the labels without distraction.

At my Kroger, I look for store closeout tags. They’re small white tags with red and black type. Whenever they decide to discontinue an item, it goes on closeout which is usually considerably cheaper. It’s not expired or damaged in any way. They’re items that could be seasonal, or older stock that needs to be moved to make way for new stock. Discounts vary, but I’ve picked up items for as low as 75% off. It all depends how quickly they want to make room on their shelves.

Many times non-grocery items are slashed too. The items aren’t always cheaper than big box stores, but the quality is usually a bit better. They usually don’t mark them down as low, though sometimes you get lucky.

For fruits and vegetables, look for out-of-the-way end caps, near doorways or at the entrance of the produce section. Kroger likes to bundle produce in mesh bags and mark them down to 99 cents. These are perishable so they want to move them as quickly as possible. Think about soups and stews. You can build a meal for next to nothing.

Note: For the cheapest (non-discounted) produce, Aldi is still the best choice. They don’t have the broadest variety, but what they do carry is priced well below their competitors. This has not gone unnoticed by retail giant, Walmart, who is trying out a program similar to Aldi’s in several key locations. Whether they roll it out in other cities will depend on how well their customers respond (ie: how much money they make).

Meat and dairy have their own little refrigerated sections. I generally don’t find meat priced low enough at Kroger, but Walmart marks down meat to move fast. Pork roasts, briskets, and ribs are exceptional buys here. Aldi, too, can mark down meat and dairy at giveaway prices. For dairy and refrigerated items, Kroger has Walmart beat.

Price setting seems to come down to the manager’s discretion. They also decide the ultimate fate of products; whether they’re marked down, resold, or trashed.

For example, I rarely see cans and non-perishables marked down at Walmart. My guess is Walmart resells these items to a middleman who then resells them to grocery auctions, or grocery outlet stores. Kroger, on the other hand, has a special section in each store that is usually brimming with dented cans or less than perfect packaging. Make an active search for these clearance shelves and get to know the person who stocks it.

There was one young man who stocked our local Kroger like clockwork. I could always count on him to have everything out by 11am. Sadly, he’s moved on. The person who’s taken over is not nearly as diligent, so it’s been hit or miss on knowing when these shelves are restocked.

If something is damaged on a regular shelf, don’t be shy about asking the manager for a markdown. It’s almost always granted. If a shelf with a closeout tag looks empty, take a deeper look. Many times there are still cans/packages hiding in the back or pushed to one side.

There are weeks when I’ve stocked my pantry solely on markdowns. Always examine the package carefully before purchasing. Even though the mark-downed items have long expiry dates, I try to use them first just in case the can/package is more impinged than what I can see with the naked eye.

Do you ever buy items on clearance? What are the major grocery chains in your area? Are they far from where you live?

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13 Comments

  1. I have figured out when my closest grocery store marks down meat that is getting close to expiration. I stock up on hamburger mostly. I take it home and cook it right away and then portion it and freeze it. Then I have it ready to make have with pasta, chili or any other dish I want.

  2. I’m a ‘store tart’ easily bought by money-off vouchers, usually for online shopping. In Monmouth itself there are three stores in the town’s main street. Iceland for cheapness and Marks and Spencers competing with Waitrose at the high end. Waitrose though offer you a free paper and coffee for a £10. Monmouth doesn’t have an Aldi but it does have its equivalent – Lidl. Unfortunately it’s on the other side of the tracks, in this case the River Wye and involves an extra mile walk. Such is life in Monmouth 🙂

    • Mike:
      re: store tart, eh? This explains a lot. 😀

      I think instead of a lot of monuments I might like to check out local stores. That’s where the real color is.

      I still can’t get over that you walk everywhere. It’s 3 miles to the nearest bit of commercial civilization where I live–and that’s not much.

  3. There’s an Aldi’s less than a mile south from my house. Kroger is south 2.6 miles away (I know the exact mileage because I get gas there regularly and that’s what my trip meter reads after I reset it!). Walmart is north 1.5 miles. When I have a lot of shopping, I go to the commissary, which is about 10 miles away. Oh yes, there’s also a Meijer’s, which is north about 2 miles away. I guess I’m surrounded by grocery stores!!!

    I love buying sale and clearance items. That’s when I stock up.

  4. We have a couple of discount grocery stores here where I mostly shop, and I will buy things like detergent and cleaners at Wal-Mart because they’re a bit cheaper, but lately they’ve been going up in price, too. The national grocery chains are a twenty to forty minute drive for me, so I don’t often shop at them.

    I’ll buy clearance items if they’re 50% off or more and I can freeze them if the expiration date is sooner than later. We just don’t eat that much food to justify buying in bulk, and power here is always something we simply don’t take for granted. I lost three full refrigerators of food in the 2004 hurricane season — after that we bought the genny. 🙂

    Leaving in farm country means lots of farmers markets, which I do recommend for the freshest produce. There is nothing like corn on the cob that was picked the morning you buy it. Farmers are generally cheaper than the markets, too.

  5. Lynn: You might want to consider making your own cleaners. A box of Borax, vinegar and washing soda and that might be all you need for most cleaning needs.

    Walmart is definitely not as cheap as it used to be.

    re: farmer’s markets
    This is where I show how spoiled I am. We grow a lot of our produce in the spring/summer, but the rest of the time, I will pay extra even if it’s not seasonal. I need my lettuce and avocado fix.

  6. I remember growing up, my mom was diligent to make it to the grocery store to get the mark downs on meat, bakery items, etc. I’m hit and miss. I do look for the mark downs at WalMart where we usually shop, but we shop in the afternoons now and most of them have already been scooped up by other savvy shoppers. We literally have a grocery store on every corner (not quite, but close to it, but when there are 6.5 million people in the valley here, it takes a lot of food to feed all) (and a subject of a blog post down the road). The Wal-Mart we shop at is about 3-5 miles away. Fry’s,a store in association with Kroger, is about 1/2 mile from us. They allow you to earn points for gas based on what you buy at the store. We do visit them occasionally and lately have been buying gift cards for restaurants we are going to on Friday nights where we’ll get double the fuel points (did I mention this already?) We have Safeway and Albertson’s here too, but not in close proximity and they are a bit pricier than WalMart and Fry’s.

    betty

    • Betty: re: 6.5 million people in the valley…

      That’s a good point! The city where we shop is tiny by comparison. It makes a difference on whether you find any good clearance items. I tend to shop mid day because that coincides with doctor appointments and other errands. It’d be a different story if I went in the evenings.

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