Frugal NationFrugal Nation

Warehouse shopping without the fees

Here's how to supersize your groceries without joining a club.

By Donna_Freedman Apr 10, 2012 12:06PM
Image: Groceries (© Tetra Images/Corbis)I'm not likely to want a No. 10 can of chili. It holds almost 7 pounds of the spicy stew -- way too much for single me.

But if I change my mind, I can get the chili for $5.58 -- and without paying a single warehouse-club fee.

Where can you get that kind of deal?

At a restaurant supply store, that's where. Although these emporiums specialize (obviously) in the restaurant trade, many will sell to members of the public as well.

The grub isn't limited to canned goods, either. How about a 5-pound box of frozen sole fillets for $14.90, 2.5 pounds of cheese ravioli for $6.87 or 10 pounds of ground beef for $16.60? (Post continues after video.)
At my local restaurant supply store, Cash&Carry, I also found bargains like these:
  • Boneless top sirloin, $3.76 per pound; boneless brisket, $2.43 per pound; sliced pastrami, 2 pounds for $12.29.
  • Bananas, 39 cents a pound (any quantity -- not pre-bagged).
  • Salsa, $10.87 for an 8.5-pound jug.
  • Cauliflower, $1.06 per head; 3 pounds of broccoli florets, $3.80.
  • 5 pounds of shredded cheese, $9.98; 5 pounds of ricotta, $8.09.
  • 25 pounds of carrots, $7.89; 10 pounds of potatoes, $2.33; 50 pounds of potatoes, $11.65.
Big-batch shopping is a natural choice if you're hosting a family reunion or a Boy Scout jamboree. But just as with a warehouse store, it's also a good way to save money on foods you eat often. The difference is that you don't have to pay an annual fee.

Bonus: You won't go home with an impulse-buy trampoline.

Know what things cost

Yes, you have to buy the meat in big slabs, and yes, even a large family might be overwhelmed by that many carrots. But you could freeze some or split an order with frugal friends. How much are you paying for ground beef or potatoes at the supermarket?

Not every item is a money saver. For example, kosher salt costs $2.69 a pound at the Cash&Carry. I buy mine for a buck at a dollar store right across the street.

Whole fryers are 97 cents a pound, a price I've seen equaled or beaten at ordinary markets. A 24-pack of ramen cost $7.18, or about 30 cents per package. This item is a frequent loss leader at supermarkets, drugstores and ethnic markets.
But these are everyday prices. You don't have to wait for the noodles or the chicken to go on sale.

You'll see a lot of brand-name items: Chicken of the Sea, Swiss Miss, Dinty Moore, La Victoria, McCormick. Some labels aren't recognizable to us civilians, but you can be pretty sure that restaurateurs are choosy about what they buy. Would you spend your dining-out dollars at a place that served subpar produce or chewy meat?

While I'm not in the market for whole okra (2 pounds, $2.47) or 50 pounds of sugar ($29.97), there's plenty here that I can use at some very attractive prices. I'm hooked.

Search online or in the Yellow Pages for one of these stores in your area, call to make sure it's open to the public, and start shopping and saving.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.