Saturday, July 14, 2007

Frugal Friday: salvage groceries

(I'm answering a reader question for Biblical Womanhood's Frugal Friday collection of money-saving links.)

Q: I'm new to frugality so please do not be offended by this question... Isn't the quality of the food compromised? If it is in a discount store that means it didn't sell at the regular store so who knows how long it sat there and then who knows how long it has sat at the discount store. Is it really saving money to buy something that isn't as fresh as it should be? This isn't a put down. It is a genuine question. I don't even go into Aldi's because I have this fear of "good food gone bad." Please enlighten me!

A: First, let me reassure you about Aldi's freshness. Aldi is not a salvage grocery or dented can store. Aldi is an international chain of groceries which sells its own line of foods, in the same way that Walmart sells its house brands for less. Amy at Momadvice has the scoop on shopping Aldi here.

Now, you are right to be careful about salvage groceries. They sell food at or near its expiration date--or even after that date, as day-old bread stores do. Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette offers an excellent explanation and strategy for shopping salvage stores. I would recommend anyone who shops salvage to read her advice.

The date on a package is not always absolute, as it may be for milk and eggs. Often, the date stamped is "best by..." (an indicator of peak freshness) or "sell by" (the date by which the store can sell it, not the date by which your family should eat it.) I would rather have Pepperidge Farm bread at its sell-by date than Wonder Bread right off the truck.

Many folks don't have the luxury of shopping elsewhere. Salvage grocers offer a way to get a more balanced diet on a budget. I approach salvage food shopping as an adventure. It's my chance to try gourmet goodies, find expensive sugar-free mixes, and fill my pantry with organic salsas. Sometimes, salvage groceries sell fresh produce from hometown farmers alongside cheese and meat "ends" from local processing plants.

Here are a few "rules of thumb" for shopping salvage:
  • Don't buy a product if you can't find a date stamped on it. Even if I'm willing to try a month-past-freshness box of cookies, I'd like to know what that month would be.
  • Don't buy if the packaging is suspect. Use your own judgment for crumpled boxes or dented cans. I don't mind a mashed box if its inner packaging is intact.
  • Don't pay more for an item than its generic equivalent at Aldi or Walmart.
  • Taste test before buying in bulk. The Tightwad Gazette describes opening a package in the car, only to buy more before leaving the parking lot.

I no longer have a salvage store nearby. I don't search them out on vacation, but if I happen to spot one, my husband usually lets me investigate! Here are a few of our salvage store experiences from the archives:

Salvage Store Centerpiece
$20 in Food From Salvage Store
Georgia Salvage Stop
End of an Era: Turrentine's Salvage
Russell Stover Outlet and Faye's Discount Grocery
Metter Mennonite Market
United Grocery Outlet store directory
SonShine Discount Grocery in Winchester, TN
Salvage Store Pie Crusts
Salvage Store Birdseed
House of Bargains


Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to enlighten me! I will have to check Aldi's out and pay more attention to dollar store food.

Cyndi L.

Amy said...

Thanks for the link, Meredith. This is an excellent post! We do not have any of these types of stores in our area, but if we did I would be checking them out. It sounds like they would have a wealth of deals in there.

A Dusty Frame said...

We have one of these in our town.
I LOVE it.

I buy Starbucks coffee, organic food and beauty products, cat food etc.

I go about once a week because it's always different.

The things are just fine. Sometimes the food is there because a store went out of business.
Perhaps a bottle of oil broke and dribbled oil on the labels of the other bottles--the other bottles are just fine--the label just has some oil on it.

Other times, the company changed the label and wants the other stuff off the shelves.

My best buys at ours are

Iams Cat food--big bag--$2.00
Organic face wash --1.25
Earth's best organic cookies. .25


Anonymous said...

I have looked and looked for an outlet food store in Texas. I have yet to find one. I have seen the stores when we travel and I always check them out, but so far not found one anywhere close to me here in Texas. In all my travels I have yet to see an Aldi store. I really would like to check out one of their stores. Thanks for the blog. As always it is insightful and great reading. Roxie

Ann @TheAssetEdge said...

How do you go about finding salvage grocery stores in new towns? I've always found them via word-of-mouth, but I'm not sure how to find them in my new town.

Carrie J said...

Our salvage store has a money back guarantee. I have never had to use it but once in the almost 20 years we have shopped there.

Kim said...

Our salvage store has weird stuff but it's very inexpensive. They have a lot of things that aren't even expired. I got several packages of White Lily muffin mix in a discontinued flavor for 33 cents and altoids gum for 50 cents. They also have yoplait yogurts for 12 cents but you have to eat them within 3-5 days.

Anonymous said...

Oddly enough some friends and I were just discussing how we find the quality of Aldi foods to be better than name brands. And these are people who can afford to shop anywhere, so it's not just the money.

Our Aldi has the best produce. I think it's probably too ripe for most stores, but since it will move quickly at Aldi they get it.

Anonymous said...

I'm in Texas too and would like to locate a salvage store. It sure would help us .


Anonymous said...

No special acct. or site.
I'm looking for info on Salvage Grocery stores in Phoenix, Az....Could you help me?