Jun 282008

Continuing my “Thrifty Tips You Can Use” series…

Yesterday my children and I made our semi-annual trip to an Amish community about 50 miles from our home, with the express purpose of shopping at their scratch & dent and bulk foods stores.

Of course, by the time we got there, the kids were hungry and tired of being in the car, so we had a quick bite to eat first:

As you can probably tell, they had a lot of pent-up energy to burn off:

After lunch, we did some serious shopping. We purchased all of these groceries at the scratch & dent:

and a few staples from the bulk grocery:

Amish-operated stores like these can be hard to find. The one I went to today is so unassuming, you could easily sail right past it and not even notice. It doesn’t even have a sign:

However, these stores are worth seeking out. Here is just a sample of the terrific deals I found today:

12-ounce bags of whole bean, dark roast Starbucks coffee. My husband loves to grind his own coffee in our coffee mill, and for him, the darker the roast, the better! Retail cost-$10.45. My price: $2.50

FruitaBu organic, 100% fruit leather from Stretch Island Fruit Co. My kids absolutely love these, but they’re difficult to find, and quite pricey. Our local organic foods market sells them individually for 50 cents apiece, or you can buy them in bulk from Amazon for about $3.80/box. I got 8 boxes for only $1.40 each:

You can usually find great deals on canned goods, like this organic tomato paste for only 20 cents a can. The cheapest generic tomato paste in my area is 38 cents a can, and it’s certainly not organic!

I always make my own spaghetti sauce, so I was excited to find these slightly dented, 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes for only a quarter each:

Other great deals today were Starkist water-packed tuna for 40 cents a can, Secret deodorant for $1.25, and Free and Clear laundry detergent for only $1.95 per 35-load bottle!

Here are just a few pointers for shopping at dent & bent/salvage stores:

1) Not all of these stores are operated by the Amish. In my experience, the ones that aren’t are typically more expensive.

2) Take your price book along! Not everything at these stores is a good deal. For example, school and office supplies, cleaning products, and diapers can usually be purchased at a better price elsewhere. Know your prices so you can buy with confidence.

3) If you have to travel a significant distance to get to your salvage store, as we do, the key to success is volume! As I mentioned, we only shop there twice a year, but we buy A LOT. The back of our van is usually full. Even with gas at $3.73/gallon, we still estimate that we save about half on our grocery bill by shopping at our favorite scratch and dent.

4) When you buy a significant volume of food, you need to be organized. It’s very important to organize stored food by expiration date, so the oldest food always gets eaten first. I’ll write more about food storage next week.

5) Watch expiration dates. These stores basically buy up all of the stock that grocery stores return to their warehouses. These goods are returned for various reasons–dented cans or damaged boxes, salvaged goods from accidents during transport, or just expired products. If there is no date on the product, it’s very difficult to know how long the salvage store has had it, so err on the side of caution.

6) The majority of dented cans are safe to eat from. If you push on the top, bottom, and sides of the can, they should not move, or make a popping sound – this means that the seal has been broken. Also, it’s wise to avoid cans with sharp dents, or dents on the rims. Cans that are bulging, leaking or rusty are NOT safe. Packaged goods with smooshed boxes are generally fine, because the food is typically sealed in an inner plastic bag anyway. However, be extremely wary of boxes that have been taped, look like they may have been damp, or have stains as if something spilled on them. Don’t take unnecessary risks. No amount of savings is worth your family’s health!

7) Don’t buy yeast from salvage stores. It’s usually old or hasn’t been stored properly, and therefore it won’t work.

8. Expect to see some weird things, like giant boxes full of individual applesauce cups or juice boxes. I usually don’t buy stuff like this, because I’m suspicious about where the outer packaging went, and why.

9) Have plenty of cash, especially at Amish-operated stores. They don’t take credit or debit cards, and some don’t even take checks. Also, be ready to box or bag your own stuff. They rarely do this for you.

10) Remember that old-order Amish don’t use electricity, so there will usually be air-powered fans, battery-operated lights, and on sunny days, no lights at all. This can be a little unnerving until you get used to it. Also, drive cautiously and be vigilant, because there are usually horse-drawn buggies meandering along down the road. Watch out for horse poop, especially if you have little kids along, because they will inevitably step in it. My kids, especially Cakesie, seem to be fascinated by horse poop. Actually, just poop in general (KIDS!)

Seriously though…these little quirks are all part of the fun. It’s not just shopping, it’s an adventure!

To find out if there is a discount/salvage grocery store in your area, this web site has a handy directory, organized by state. I realize that some people have a higher squeam factor than me, and therefore this type of shopping will not appeal to everyone. However, food costs have risen significantly, and it’s predicted that they will continue to rise. Salvage¬†stores offer real savings, so if you have one in your area, I urge you to check it out.