How to Shop at a Surplus or Discount Grocery Store

by Merissa on January 10, 2012

in Thrifty Living

Post image for How to Shop at a Surplus or Discount Grocery Store

We shop in a variety of ways. One of my favorite ways to "bargain hunt" is to shop at discount grocery or surplus stores. We've kind of made it our "thing". Every time I go on vacation I first look up all the discount grocery stores that will be in the area we are going to so we can visit them!

The fun thing with discount grocery stores is that you never know what you are going to find! You might come out with nothing or maybe with an entire cart full! Once on a trip not too far from home I scored a case full of Applegate Farms Organic Beef Hot Dogs for only $1.99 a package. We put them in the freezer and are still eating them up!

Before I head to a store I check this list of surplus and discount grocery stores first. (Weird fact, I'm pretty sure I've been to a discount grocery store in every single state I've ever been in!) Locally we have 1 store that's fairly near to us and I like to stop in about every 2 months or so. There is new products every time! I made a trip there the other day and I snapped some pictures to show you along with some tips for shopping and making the most of a surplus grocery store.

1. Know your prices before you shop. Unless you actually know what's a regular price and a sale price for something before you shop at a discount store you might end up paying way more than you should or you might pass up a bargain without even knowing it. In the picture above I found unbleached flour for $1.25 for a 5lb bag or $0.25 per pound. I normally pay $0.50 per pound for unbleached flour so this is a great deal!

2. Again. Know your prices! I can normally get toothpaste for under $0.50. This tube was marked $2.12. Not a good deal!

3. Don't be afraid of a dented box or can. Some people are extremely picky when it comes to a dented can or box. First check to make sure no seals are broken. Make sure there is nothing leaking from the can or any funny colors around the dent or seal. Cans with minor dents aren't a big deal but you do want to stay away from cans with major dents. If somehow a seal has been broken, bacteria could get into the can and make you very sick. Also make sure the can is not bulging in any funny way.

4. Don't think you can only get processed products. Most surplus stores that I've found have a nice selection of organic canned products, crackers, snacks, and more. Plus, most surplus stores have quite a few products that are not even food. Many have everything from over the counter meds to paper towels!

5. Try not to get overwhelmed. Surplus stores aren't always large but the ones I've been in have always been packed with items. Make sure before you go that you will have plenty of time to look around. go down one aisle at a time. Don't stress too much about being able to see everything, even if you come back in the next day the selection will have changed!

6. Don't feel like just because you stopped to shop that you have to buy. In my latest trip we only found these boxes of 15 Power Bars for $3.50. I was tempted to pick up one or 2 more things on my way to the checkout because they were a great deal but I wasn't sure if we'd actually use them so I skipped them.

7. Know when to stock up big time. this refers back to tip #1. As long as you know your prices and you will know what's a "Buy Price" for you, you will know when you can stock up on an item. Just like in my story above. I knew that Applegate Farms Hot Dogs cost at least $5.50 per package so not only was $1.99 a buy price, it was a stock up price!

So that's pretty much it! Take your time, know your prices, and you will be ready to shop! With surplus stores you never know what kind of treasures you might find!

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lana January 10, 2012 at 3:30 pm

All of the stores of that type have closed in our area. It is a fun place to treasure hunt!

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2 Ckay January 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Hey Merissa,
Where here in the RC area is this surplus store that has food items that you mentioned in the article above?
Thanks, CKay K.

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3 Merissa January 10, 2012 at 9:28 pm

In Belle Fourche. The other store I mentioned in this article is in Colorado:) There is also a great little one in Wyoming.

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4 Stacey January 11, 2012 at 6:25 am

How do you find these stores? I’ve never heard of a grocery store like this.

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5 Merissa January 11, 2012 at 8:44 am
6 Connie Barrow January 11, 2012 at 8:54 am

I really miss having a surplus store near by. I used to find all kinds of neat things to cook.

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7 Little House on the Prairie Living January 11, 2012 at 8:59 am

I have noticed alot of them shutting down lately, it’s really sad but they just can’t operate with their prices so low and the cost of products going up. We used to have one about 10 miles from us and now we have to go 60 miles to the nearest one.

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8 Connie Barrow January 11, 2012 at 9:55 am

We have a Save A Lot on my busline. I have found some real good coffee at a great price there!

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9 Julie January 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm

We have an Amish-run place like this near us and the prices are so good. I know it’s a big reason (maybe the biggest) that we can eat mostly organic food on our meager budget. The last trip I made, I found organic PB for $1.65/jar. That is a total stock up price for me! I bought 14 jars. :-)

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10 michelle January 31, 2012 at 10:19 am

luv this! i do the same with Goodwills! People call me crazy or obsessed but I’m like seriously people all stores have different things. That one on our vacation destination just might have those curtains i’ve been looking for! i’m ur newest follower, can’t wait to dig in! Hope u have a second to check mine out!

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11 Rae December 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm

There’s a Save-a-Lot nearby, but I find that the quality of most of the items is so low, they are not worth the savings. Some of the things they sell are absolutely terrible! Their pet food is horrid, and I felt awful when I opened the cans and bags and saw how nasty it looked. Some of the non-perishables are a decent buy, but in general the quality stinks. I could save a decent amount by shopping there but half the stuff would be nearly unusable.

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12 Heather @ My Kansas Life January 24, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I miss Robbs! We don’t have anything like that here…the best I get now is the discount bin at the grocery store :-(

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13 Justine October 3, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Here in Central PA, I am lucky to have one small and two large discount grocery outlets within a 30 mile radius. I typically stop at the closest (12 miles) a couple of times a month.

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14 Marcie October 3, 2013 at 10:31 pm

1. Grocery Outlet (I think it used to be called Canned Good Outlet. can be found in a lot of places in CA, ID, OR, WA, Nevada. Have food, produce, cleaning supplies, gifts, toiletries. I have found some amazing deals on stuff…including health food and gluten free stuff. Watch for expired food – usually in the perishable, BUT for the most part I have not run into this.

2. Used to live in Kansas City and 2 of THE BEST outlet stores are there. Cargo Largo (Independence, MO) and Bargain Factory (Grandview, MO). I think Bargain Factory is also in Leavenworth, KS. these places have food, clothing, books, etc. etc. etc.

3. Aldi’s – german based outlet in US. Some people really like this place. I have found some stuff here – like produce, drinks, crackers, etc…but I usually don’t hit the jackpot in places like these.

ONLINE –

I have used a place called Fat Wallet where they give codes for particular bargains. I found an incredible deal once on a computer and also on a pancake compressor and nail gun for my husband..that was a snafoo discount deal on Amazon where they had a misprint and I got in on the deal before they corrected it. All my husbands contractors friends were SO impressed :)

I also have this bookmarked…it is a list of discount and salvage stores.

http://www.extremebargains.net/store/Independent_Discount_and_Salvage_Grocery_Store_Directory.html

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15 Chris Turner Pasek October 3, 2013 at 11:52 pm

We have Aldi’s here and some of their prices are good and we have a Save A Lot here too but we use to have a real surplus store but they have been gone now for more than 20 yrs. We visit our daughter in SC and the Goodwill by her is AMAZING…I am a larger woman so therefore finding clothing for myself usually doesn’t happen but this Goodwill has lots of new and larger sizes and I have found some really neat things for myself. One of the places we go to shop and they are open all year is our local farmers market….today I got a HUGE head of brocolli for $1. I cleaned it and cut it up so we can use it and it filled two 1 gallon zip lock bags.

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16 Beth October 4, 2013 at 5:51 am

First I would like to say that I love going to my local amish store. They have a deli there as well and they sell “ends” for $1.69 pound and they have the best cheese in the area. I also want to mention that if you come across something that you aren’t sure if you will like it, such as crackers, buy a box and take it to your car. Try them and if you like it and it is a great price go back in and stock up! There is no sense in stocking up on something that you might not like.

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17 Merissa October 4, 2013 at 6:49 am

Good tip!

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18 Gail Armitage October 4, 2013 at 8:30 am

There are 3 that I can think of in my area. I relied heavily on these types of stores when I was a struggling single mama. I was able to make my money stretch a lot further and my kids had cool stuff in their lunches for school. I need to seriously revisit them, been forever since I went to one.

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19 Darla January 17, 2014 at 8:24 pm

I love shopping at many different kinds of stores. Like Walmart, Costco, mom & pop grocery stores, military surplus stores, Save-A-Lot and the Mexican grocery stores. All major canned food labels have a (white or black) label. For instance that means Libby’s and Green Giant brands have food in white or black labels too. You just have to do some research to find out where they are located. If you find a certain can or package of food doesnt tastes good–avoid that one and try a different one. Even I won’t buy some discount items. But if you do the majority of them you will save lots of money. I was able to buy a brand new car 7 years ago because I was able to shop discount foods and feed my family of 5 for way less (for several years)—-than if I was a (brand name) food snob. In these hard times it makes sense to save money where you can. Just try it. It’s fun too. :-)

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