Saturday, December 27, 2008

Grocery Outlet Score

On the way to the store where I most commonly grocery shop is a grocery outlet store. I stop there regularly, because it's on my way to my main shopping destination. But I rarely buy anything. There's never any telling what I'll find there, but by and large it's full of low-quality foodstuffs, most of which are at or past their sell-by date, or have damaged packaging. I stop there regulary though because every once in a great while I've come across organic dairy products. I once bought 12 pounds of organic butter there at $2 each. Having a chest freezer means I can take advantage of such rare deals.

Recently I lucked onto what is probably my best find yet. Fourteen bags of Organic Valley non-fat powdered milk. For $1.39 per bag. I cleaned out the store. Now, I had looked at buying these bags in the past. Once upon a time it was possible to use powdered milk for a substantial savings. But at least when it comes to organic powdered milk at regular prices, there's no savings to be had. A regularly priced bag is $6.99, and it makes 13 cups of reconstituted non-fat milk. That works out to 54 cents per cup, or $4.30 per half gallon, much more than I pay for fresh organic whole milk.

I have scored a few bags of this powdered milk before as a free handout from someone who had paid good money for them but hadn't used them. I used the powdered up bit by bit, adding about one cup to each half gallon of whole milk I bought. One cup of reconstituted non-fat milk becomes indistinguishable when diluted in a quart of more of whole milk, at least to us.

By stocking up on this powdered milk at such a great price, I've laid in a fantastic resource in terms of emergency preparedness. And I'll be cutting the cost of our organic milk for at least a year to come. By adding just one cup of the reconstituted milk, I've effectively lowered the price per half gallon from $3.69 to $3.37. If I add two cups per half gallon, the price per half gallon falls to $3.11. I also just like having powdered milk around for occasions when I want to bake something that calls for milk, without using up all the fresh milk I have on hand. It has certainly saved me a few grocery trips in the past.

I'm going to harangue you just a bit now about a frugal practice that many people dread. It's the price comparison book. This is just a little notebook in which you record the current prices for the foods you happen to shop for, at all of the places you shop at regularly, even if "regularly" means only once per year. While it is a chore to assemble this information, once you've done it, you hold in the palm of your hand an amazing wealth of hard facts and power. No one else can tell you where to find the best prices for the things you buy on a regular basis among the stores that are local to you. Plenty of people can speak in generalities about the consumer price index and regional prices, but you need information specific to you and your area to make the best shopping decisions.

Because I knew that these bags of powdered milk normally sell for $7 in my area, and because I knew how much I normally pay for fresh whole milk, it was completely obvious to me that $1.39 per bag was a steal. It's what gave me the confidence to buy up all fourteen bags on the shelf. If I'd had no idea how much this product normally costs, I might have bought only a bag or two, or none at all. The information in my price comparison book, collected for almost no cost at all, just allowed me a significant ongoing savings.

Non-fat powdered milk will keep for a very long time if it is stored in an airtight container, and in a dark and cool area. Fortunately, the powdered milk I purchased comes in a tightly sealed bag. Even better, I have room for them in my chest freezer, which will prolong their shelf life. I could keep them in the basement though if I didn't have room. Once the packages are opened, the powdered milk will begin to deteriorate, so I will try to use it up fairly quickly. Given the amount of baking I do and diluting our fresh milk with the powdered, I don't think we'll see any spoilage.

Have a look around in your area for grocery outlets. And if you don't see anything of interest there the first time you shop, give it another try about a month later. You may surprise yourself with what you can find there!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Kate! You scored big time! Yes, a price book really helps you know what the good deals are. Back when the Tightwad Gazette newsletter was being published I kept a price book, but haven't used one in many years. I started it up again last week and already I'm more aware of prices. There's something about seeing those items listed individually and prices you pay each time that makes it all hit home.

Kate said...

Jeri, it was the Tightwad Gazette that spurred me to start keeping my price comparison book. I need to start a new one, as I misplaced mine for quite a long time. By the time it turned up again food prices had risen so much across the board that the data really wasn't much use anymore.

The Country Experience said...

I'm just getting started with the price comparison book but I've already been amazed at some of the price differences I've seen.

What an awesome find the powdered organic milk was!