You can save massive money on groceries by using markdown items from your local supermar as the backbone of your weekly menu. I save, literally, thousands of dollars a year by knowing when, where, and how to shop the markdown section at my local supermarket.
I recently purchased everything in this photo for just $16.06 (including tax.)
First, let’s talk about some common questions and misconceptions about markdown merchandise.
What are markdowns?
Most grocery stores discount items which are close to the “sell-by” date. Markdowns can also, however, include closeouts or overstocks. These items are generally found in a specific section of the store.
You may see carts with a large sign attached to the side saying, “Clearance” or “Markdowns”.
At other times, these items will have large, colorful stickers on them, boasting a discounted price.
When looking to pay less for food, begin by perusing the markdown shelves at your local grocer. Kroger discounts items which are within forty-eight hours of their “sell by” date. You’ll find them offered between 50 and 75% off of the regular shelf price.
If you look about 7-10 days after major holidays, most retail establishments will have items marked down to between 75-50% off the original price.
How do you find markdowns?
You need to know where to look. In the case of a supermarket, simply stop an employee and say, “Can you tell me what time of day you do your markdowns and could you show me where they are kept?”
Be sure to ask someone from that department. For instance, if that employee regularly works in produce, the meat and dairy departments may have a different markdown schedule.
Don’t ask for this information at the courtesy desk. Although they can help you with rain checks or price adjustments, these employees may not be aware of the time of day that markdowns are conducted in every department at their location. This is especially true if the store is a large one.
After you have the markdown schedule, try to plan your shopping trip as close to that time as you can. This way, you’ll be able to get “first pick” of the markdowns and find a wider variety of them.
Do all stores have markdowns?
No. There are grocers in my area who simply do not do markdowns. At some stores, they select certain departments where they never mark down merchandise.
For instance, my local Schnuck’s never discounts produce. It’s store policy.
I’m vegan and the vast majority of my shopping consists of fruits and vegetables. So, although Schnuck’s discounts items every other department, I don’t shop there at all – unless their sales flyer is advertising a great price on an item that I regularly buy. I choose to focus my attention on establishments where I have a greater possibility of saving money on the items that I want and need.
Is markdown food spoiled?
Markdowns are merely close to the “sell-by” date. By law, establishments cannot legally sell you an item which is past its expiration date – even if it is perfectly edible. So, it makes sense for them to take 50% – or even more – off of the price and sell it to you.
It’s the amazing bargain prices that make it possible for you to drop your grocery budget like a rock!
Menu Preparation Tips
Here are seven strategies that I use every week to make the most of my weekly grocery markdown hauls.
1. Know what you have on hand
Before making a menu plan, it is vital that you begin with listing all fresh ingredients. In my case, this is the produce in my fridge and on my countertop.
Food waste in America Is around 40%, with individual households throwing out about $1600 in produce each year.
In order to insure that you aren’t a part of this startling statistic, you must know what you have on hand before you go to the store to buy even more.
2. Count ingredients
For instance, before I shop or start menu planning, it’s important that I know that I currently have four cups of fresh broccoli, five pounds of potatoes, and six cloves of garlic.
When your goal is to reduce waste (and lower your food budget), counting ingredients can ensure that you don’t get half way through a recipe and need to either improvise or run to the store when you run out of something critical.
Counting ingredients becomes especially vital if you are bulk cooking.
3. Use ingredients with a shorter shelf life, first
When you are working with items which are fresh, there is a fairly certain shelf lifespan.
Before creating your menu plan, look at your list of ingredients and make a prioritized list of each ingredient according to when it needs to be used. Items with a shorter shelf life, go at the top of the list.
For instance, whole romaine lettuce will last longer than washed baby spinach or spring mix. In the same way, bananas will rot long before whole apples.
This prioritized list allows you to serve the freshest food and avoid throwing out food that has rotted.
4. Don’t waste anything
You’ll save money every week simply by using every part of each ingredient. For instance, most recipes for portobello mushrooms involve removing the gills and stem. Rather than discard these, I chop them finely, add them to black beans, and create a batch of decadent portobello black bean burgers.
Here are some more no-waste examples
Save scraps for broth.
Vegetable scraps can be used to make vegetable broth. Although it’s easy to do in a pressure cooker, I’ve also made it on the stovetop. After making broth, some of the leftover scraps can be pulsed in the food processor and used in making garden herb crackers, fritters, biscuits, or for thickening soups. Use your discretion with this. Things like onion skins and thick, tough stems aren’t appropriate for this use. However, many other items can, indeed, be used one more time. Now, that’s close to zero waste!
Regrow leafy plants and herbs.
Many plants will regrow when placed in water in a sunny place. Alternately, you can also plant the root end in your garden for regrowth. For romaine lettuce, cut it down to about an inch of the bottom, stick this stem into a shallow bowl of water, and change the water once a day. It needs to get some sunlight. Yes, in the winter, a window will work. In a few days, you’ll see new growth. When the leaves are a few inches long, harvest them and then, let it regrow again. This system works for about five times before the plant stops growing new leaves.
The final resting place for vegetable scraps which are truly not appropriate for any other use, is the compost pile. It is so easy to set aside a corner of your yard to compost food scraps and yard waste. As it decomposes, it creates a nutrient rich soil for use in your yard and garden. Not only that, it’s also free!
5. Strategically freeze
In some ways, your mother was right when she told you, “Your eyes are too big for your stomach.” Walking into a store and seeing racks of markdowns can result in a waste of food, if you’re not careful.
That’s where your freezer comes in. Many varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs can be frozen for later use.
This means that those green beans, ignored in the back of the fridge, once destined for the trash bin in four days, are now blanched and in the freezer, ready to be used anytime in the next twelve months.
When menu planning, your freezer can help you avoid the “5pm dinnertime freak out”, when you walk in the door after a long day and don’t have a clue what’s available to feed your family that night.
6. Keep it simple
Don’t overly complicate your menu plans. Focus on one main dish, one side, and a piece of fruit for dessert. That’s really all you need. Most of us tend to overeat when given the opportunity.
Eating more of the right foods – but less quantities – is not only better for our digestive system and our health, it also helps us stay on a budget and spend less on food every month.