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February 04, 2008


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When I was a kid, I worked in a produce specialty market and the store would plastic wrap all the half-gone fruits & veggies and put them on a reduced rack. Then we'd watch all the "buzzards" swarm the rack looking for deals. It was mostly older men & women living on a fixed income. It's a great idea, that more stores should just do as a courtesy.

Personally, I wouldn't make it a habit to ask store personnel for discounts on such stuff. Honestly, I'm a bit squeemish about food, so I'd probably never use it IF I bought it.

I believe is paying a little more for quality fresh fruits & veggies, so I buy from the stores in my area that I know purchase from local growers. When the mood strikes me and I want to save a little money, I go to the farmer's market.

I realize this isn't a luxury for everyone, but I'm lucky enough to live in an area where it is pretty common.

This just seems to cross the line of frugal vs cheap. If you want to ask for a discount, go right ahead. But you risk becoming 'that guy.' And store employees always know who 'that guy' is -- he's the pain in the rear who feels entitled to his own set of prices. You're not special and the grocery store isn't a bazaar, pay the posted prices and don't haggle. If you want to save money clip coupons.

That's actually one of my life mantras: never become 'that guy.' If there's every a situation where your might become 'that guy,' consider a change of course.

I have to wholeheartedly agree with Dan on this one. People who haggle over fruit in a grocery store are the same people who harass you into buying junk for their kid's fundraiser, complain until they get a discount every time you're in a restaurant with them, and constantly call you about their newest pyramid scheme. The few dollars you save are not worth the uncomfortable moments you create.

Most grocery stores do keep an area for their "discounted" non-perishables, and you can also watch the meats for when they knock down the price. Usually they mark it down on the sell-by date.

Granted, if you buy it you should use/freeze it right away.

Myself, I don't waste energy on these things...I just stick to buying according to what's on special that I'll use. For example, yesterday my favorite brand of chicken was 50% off so I loaded up with as much as my freezer could hold. I figure I just bought my meat for the next two months at half price, and all the stuff was well within its freshness window.

I used to have a reduced-price produce rack game-- a broke person's Iron Chef. I'd grab the 2 or 3 most interesting things on the rack and challenge myself to come up with a recipe that used them together.

This is a lot more fun in the spring and summer. This time of year, the rack's full of Yukon gold potatoes and white potatoes. Combine them and you have...potatoes!

If you're in search of a bargain, become a night owl or early bird! I've always found it advantageous to do my grocery shopping either late at night or early in the morning. Not only does it fit well into my schedule to shop while the kids are asleep, but I can get to the store in a couple of minutes as the normally heavy traffic on the roads in my area is nil.

I only recently discovered that if I'm there in the last hour or so before store closing, the red labels start going onto the short-dated meats and bakery items so that they're in place when the store opens the next morning. I've never seen them when I'm there in daylight hours, as the early birds have already picked through them.

You mentioned day old meat and dairy products in your post. Though I do browse the discounted meat and only take packages that show no signs of color change, I don't see the point in taking chances with produce or dairy that is about to expire. You can't particularly freeze all produce and dairy like you can meat and to buy food that is about to expire means that you won't be able to do much in the way of leftovers. To me, even for a few cents saved, it's being lost in what you can't salvage in the end.

For those that have small children(ages 5 and under) and under a certain income, there is a gov't program called WIC. I have a strong aversion to gov't assistance when I can hold my own, but when my kids were small, there were times when WIC was my lifesaver. On average, I saved between $50-$85/month on eggs, cheese, milk, carrots, tuna, baby formula, cereal, etc.!

Worth of caution re: equating color of meat with its freshness.

You can wind up with rancid meat that's bright red in color, or perfectly good meat that has lost some color.

Even better if you are REALLY good friends with the staff is you get a lot of freebies (5 finger discount!)


I didn't read all of Ellie Kay's article, but I think you can still save money by making connections at the grocery store without becoming "that guy". In a grocery store, to haggle is bad, but to BEFRIEND is good. Simply get to know some of the workers at the store, learn their names, take a genuine interest in their lives, and say hello to them when you come in, the same way you would try to get to know your doctor or your kid's teacher.

In a standard grocery store (e.g. not a farmer's market or produce co-op), consider prices fixed, as marked. If anything in the store is flexible, it's produce, but I'm still wary of that. If you're making a bulk order of a particular item or buying food for a fundraiser or church pantry, that's an exception, and it's okay to haggle as you would in any business transaction -- just remember that the store is doing your organization a favor and may even be selling at-cost or below cost, forfeiting profit for charity's sake. In that case, you'll be talking to a manager. More power to you if you're buddies with the him or her and they cut you a better deal than they would for the average guy.

Beyond price cuts, there are myriad ways to get things for cheap or free at the grocery store. Stockers can give you tips about upcoming weekly sale items and promotional offers. Sometimes they'll know if there's a significant backstock of a particular item, which will trigger a temporary price cut to liquidate stock.

Some products are stocked by outside merchandisers (like Pepsi, Frito Lay, and 7-Up). When product becomes outdated, the merchandiser leaves it in the break room for employees to have. You wouldn't want to get bread or cheese this way, but if you're talking about dried slices of potatoes or beef jerky, the stuff probably is fine and tastes no different.

When I was a stocker (for six years in high school and college), I gave free cardboard boxes to people I knew. Sometimes managers would ask us if we wanted to take home old display racks. A wood produce rack can be look great in your pantry or kitchen, and a giant Yoda cardboard cutout from the movie promo can be a cheap way to decorate a dorm room.

Be friendly and use your connections to your advantage, but remember you're in a grocery store, not a used car lot. In a grocery store, it's less about haggling over prices and more about being favored as an insider. With genuine friendship, you won't even have to ask for deals; instead, your friends will come to you with information.

Also, keep in mind that some types of freebies may be unethical (such as disclosing next week's sale items or giving away outdated product), depending on the store's policies. Because these differ based on the company, I did not refrain from discussing any options; it's up to the conscience of the worker and customer to know what's right based on local laws and store policies.

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