Thinking outside the supermarket
You might be surprised where you can find bargain goods.
Want to get a roll of paper towels for 39 cents? Hit the auto supply store. Shocked at how expensive canned fruit has gotten? The drugstore might have an alternative. In the market for deeply discounted coffee, trash bags or toilet paper? Visit an office supply place.
These are some examples of the deals you can get if you stop thinking that foodstuffs and sundries can be purchased only in supermarkets. With the costs of basic foods continuing to rise, it really can pay to break out of the grocery gulag.
Yesterday I noticed long-grain rice on sale for $1.13 a pound at a local supermarket; the dollar store across the street sells 2 pounds for $1. Condensed soup is 99 cents and up at the grocery store, but I've gotten three cans for a buck on sale at Rite Aid. Five pounds of sugar costs $3.49 at Safeway but was $1.99 this week at Walgreens.
The usual caveats apply. If you have to drive far out of your way to go to these places, it's probably not worth the time and/or gas. Ditto if you rely on shank's mare or public transit; the savings might not outweigh the time investment.
But maybe you drive by such places on your way to or from work or other commitments. Or if, like me, you live close to big-box, department, dollar and drug stores, you can find yourself some real savings.
Oh, and don't forget estate and yard sales.
More than car parts and computer paper
Every so often Schuck's Auto Supply runs paper towels as a loss leader in its Sunday ad. I'm fortunate enough to live just a few blocks from a Schuck's, which is convenient when I have to do things like change my car battery. A few months ago I bought a couple of rolls before my daughter's wedding -- we were catering it ourselves in a social hall's kitchen and I wanted plenty of paper towels for prep work and cleanup.
You need the coupon to get the 39-cent deal. However, if you don't get the Sunday paper, you can probably find a stack of ads in the store.
Up the street are several big-box office supply stores, all of which offer a $3 bounty on spent printer ink cartridges. Only Office Depot still offers the $3 credit upfront; both Staples and Office Max now give store credit periodically in the form of a gift certificate. All three stores sell certain household items that are a pretty good deal, especially with multiple credits. My best deal thus far was high-end coffee for 99 cents a pound. But these stores sell non-snooty blends, too (think "office coffee") and I've also "bought" Sweet'n Low and 100% fruit juice this way.
You might also look into their stocks of coffee filters, snacks, tissues, garbage bags, cleaning supplies and paper towels. If you develop a good supply of ink cartridges from your workplace or friends, then you could wind up with free toilet paper or those pretzels with the peanut butter inside. (How do they do that?)
Aspirin and applesauce
Also nearby are a couple of national pharmacy chains, Walgreens and Rite Aid, and a local chain called Bartell Drugs. All offer some pretty cheap loss leaders, such as good-quality spaghetti sauce for 99 cents a jar, bottled spices two for a buck, and boxes of salt and baking soda (both of which make good cleaning agents) for 50 cents.
Rite Aid regularly has excellent sale prices on toilet paper, an item that seems to be getting pricier by the day. Canned mandarin oranges show up at two for a dollar pretty often at Walgreens, and eggs go on sale there for $1.50 a dozen. I've paid as little as $1.39 for a giant jar of unsweetened applesauce at Bartell, or even less when I have coupons for that brand.
Speaking of which: Walgreens will let you combine a manufacturer’s coupon with its own house coupons. For example, Reynolds Wrap was recently 89 cents with a coupon from the Walgreens ad, and I had a 55 cents-off manufacturer’s one; thus I paid 34 cents. Right before my recent vacation, I used this policy to get two large Dove Bars and two bags of dark chocolate M&Ms absolutely free. (Yes, I know chocolate is not good for me. But a little bit of it makes a nice dessert in my brown-bag lunches.)
Rite Aid and Walgreens also both offer single check rebate programs. If you combine a sale price plus a coupon plus the rebate, you may wind up making a buck or so on the deal. (You file the rebates online; no need for an envelope and stamp.) At the very least, you'll save a noticeable amount of money. For example, Walgreens had water-filter cartridges free after rebate for the past two months. If you filter your water, wouldn't you like to get a couple of replacements for free?
Would you take a quarter?
Most people don't think of estate or yard sales as places to shop for food or housewares. They can be, though. For instance, I got two bars of Yardley London English Lavender soap for a nickel apiece. The only downside is that I am now constitutionally incapable of calling it anything except "Yard Sale English Lavender."
A couple of boxes of paraffin cost me 75 cents; I'll use it to seal some of this year's jam the way my grandmother did. Another thing I've seen several times is half-full packages of disposable training pants; I guess once potty training is successful, parents can't wait to get rid of those things.
Estate sales, i.e., "clear out an entire house including the kitchen," may be a particularly good source of groceries and sundries. Naturally it's important to check sell-by dates, to make sure you aren't buying really old cans of beans or boxes of teabags. Personally, I wouldn't buy anything that's already been opened. (Don't laugh -- I've seen a partial bag of flour and a half-empty jar of peanut butter up for grabs.) Among my successes are canned beans, pasta, salt, cake mixes, waxed paper and muffin-tin liners, all of it at a fraction of what I'd pay retail.
Shopping outside the box is a great way to practice stealth stock-up. You can grab deeply discounted sugar and a couple cans of fruit while picking up your prescription, or snare a big package of coffee filters for free with spent ink cartridges while buying your kid some loss-leader school supplies.
Food isn't getting any cheaper, so it's up to us to be more creative about getting the best deals possible. Even if that means checking sell-by dates on soup cans at estate sales.
Published Aug. 6, 2008
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