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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Look for Markdowns

New here? Be sure to read the first posts in the 31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget.

One way we save up to $25 per week is by buying marked-down groceries. I often receive the question, “How do you find out when a store marks down groceries?”

Each Store is Different

I wish I had some super-secret answer to tell you so that you could just magically find markdowns at your store. However, each store is different and often the policies vary widely even in the same store chain in the same town. Sometimes, a store doesn’t even have policies for markdowns and it is based upon whatever mood the produce manager is in as to what kind of deals you’ll find.

Talk to the Produce Manager

Some store chains have a policy against marking items down. The best way to find out is to just ask. Usually, the produce manager is the person to start with.

Inquire what they do with produce that is going bad or milk that is almost to its expiration date and see if they have a policy on marking these items down. If they don’t, ask if you could get a discount if you found a gallon of milk which was expiring in a few days or produce which was going bad.

Plan Your Shopping Trips Around Markdowns

Some stores routinely mark items down on specific days or at specific times. If so, plan your shopping trips around those times.

For instance, our local health food store usually marks the produce and dairy items down every day between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. So I try to play my shopping outings so I’ll be at this store around lunchtime. If I don’t have a chance to shop around lunchtime, it’s usually not worth stopping by because the markdowns have already been snatched up.

Look For Markdowns First When Shopping

The very first thing I do when I walk into a grocery store is to go around the perimeter of the store and look for the orange markdown stickers on items. I hit the produce section first. Then the meat, dairy and bread items.

By starting with looking for markdowns, I then can rework my grocery list if I hit on a great deal. For example, if I was planning to buy carrots and cucumbers to use as raw veggies during the week, but I found a big bag of marked-down colored peppers and a marked-down head of cauliflower, if they were less expensive than the carrots and cucumbers I was planning to buy, I’d likely swap them and save a dollar or two.

My favorite thing about buying markdowns is that they add some variety to our menu. While I might not pay full price for a roast or salmon, I’ll snatch it up if it’s marked down by 50%.

It Never Hurts to Ask

Just because an item isn’t marked down doesn’t mean you can’t get it discounted. Unless your store has a strict policy against marking down items, don’t hesitate to ask if the store will reduce that past-its-prime bag of apples or that expiring-in-three-days jug of milk.

I’ve rarely been turned down when asking if a store will mark down an obviously-close-to-expiring item. And on a few occasions, they’ve even just given it to me for free!

Don’t Buy Something Just Because It’s Marked Down

Like I often say, “If you don’t need something, it’s not a good deal — no matter how inexpensive it is!” If you don’t like squash, don’t get suckered into buying five big bags of squash marked down to $1 each. Save your $5 and use it on something you’ll actually eat.

Before I will put a marked down item in my cart, I always make sure I can fit it into our grocery budget and also that I have a plan for how I’m going to use it. Oftentimes, upon careful consideration, I’ll end up passing up some of the markdowns just because I’m not entirely sure we’ll use them before they go bad.

What are your best tips for finding marked-down groceries? Share them in the comments.

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  • Laura says:

    Great post, Crystal! Our natural foods store handles their discounts in a similar way. I stop at the produce area first, where everything is $.59/lb. I’ve learned to ask if there is any available if the cart is not out yet. Often I’m the first person to peruse the cart of discounted produce. Organic strawberries and many other things are a steal at $.59/lb, but I’ve had my doozies too. I learned that we don’t like fresh artichokes. But it is better to try exotic produce at a discount than never at all. I usually shop on days when I don’t have dinner planned (not that that happens to anyone else! smile) so I can serve what I buy that evening. Or I make sure I have time to wash and freeze it right away. You don’t save money if it goes bad before you can eat it. And yes, there is a difference between what I consider bad and what the store does. I don’t mind tossing out a few strawberries out of a container but know that I wouldn’t be as forgiving if I had just paid $4/lb for them.

    My natural foods store and my Safeway regularly have yogurt and diary items on clearance. I am appreciative of these deals. We are eating a healthier, more varied diet for less.

  • Melinda C. says:

    At most grocery stores I have shopped at there is usually some sort of free standing rack that is put towards the back section of a store that has a variety of marked down items. I have found very inexpensive cerals, candy bars, gum, crackers, canned foods and other snack items and sometimes I even have a coupon that goes with one of the clearanced item so always be sure to bring all of your coupons along you never know what you may find.

  • heather says:

    I just got 5 lbs of carrots for 75 cents, marked down at our local winn dixie!!! Needless to say, we’ve been eating carrots everynight!!

  • Debbie says:

    Next week our family will only have $300 a month for groceries and one night of pizza or Chinese. I’m planning a weekly menu and purchasing only what we need. My challenge is to spend less of the allotted amount because any surplus will be moved to the vacation fund envelope. Wish me luck! Thanks for the tips!

  • This is a wonderful post! Often, my secret to finding marked down items is to go mid-week when less people are shopping. I am in South Carolina, and it never fails. If I shop on a Wednesday or Thursday, there is SO much more to chose from! 🙂

  • Heather says:

    I’ll get marked down meat (and put it right in the freezer or use that day), but I don’t do marked down produce as often. I worry that it has lost too many of its nutrients by being so old.

    • Jenna says:

      @Heather, Yes! I got marked down ground beef today at Kroger for $1.12/lb. I’ve been completely out in my freezer for weeks, so I picked up A LOT, will divide into and freeze in the morning. Such a money saver!!!!

  • Dorothy says:

    Just up the street from me, we have what is referred to locally as The Dented Can Store. Often times there is absolutely nothing wrong with the items they stock, they’re just approaching their Best By date, or there’s a smudge on the packaging – but most things go for 1/2 what they do in the “real” grocery store. They carry fresh, usually local produce, local dairy, but no meat. AND they take coupons! I head there first to see what they have (it’s like the TJ Maxx of groceries) before heading to Shaws to fill in the rest of my list. At the “real” store, I check the produce markdowns (rare – the produce at my local store is AWFUL even when it’s brand new), then check the cheese case for good deals on fancy cheese that I wouldn’t buy otherwise. Then meat mark downs, then the bottom of the milk cooler for close to date yogurt, sour cream, orange juice or cottage cheese. All of them last a week or more past the sell by date as long as they aren’t opened. Only then do I hit the aisles. (And when at all possible, I leave all the kids at home. It’s cheaper that way.

  • tamika says:

    i bought perfectly good potatoes marked down to 49 cents and 99 cents for a 10# bag. i only had to throw away two potatoes total 🙂 if you buy bakery or deli items, shop when those sections close for the night. i have gotten some outrageous deals in those departments! it also helps if you have connections, my mom works for publix in the health and beauty section. they are marking down like crazy because new product is coming in, stores are being reset…and you can still use your coupons on the products 🙂
    but, you do have to use whatever you buy, or you are not really saving money.

  • Doretta says:

    Good points! I may need to be more diligent in looking for markdowns. Just a word of caution though – If something is discounted 50% or less and half of what you buy must be thrown out, it really is no savings at all. Not to mention the fact that what good is left will spoil long before fresh items will. On the flip side I really enjoy shopping at a local “bent n’ dent” store where many of the items are outdated. But canned items & vacuum sealed cereal, etc. really don’t spoil even if the quality maybe compromised slightly. Thanks for all the useful info, MSM!

  • Sarah says:

    Here in PA there’s a state minimum for milk, so it’s NEVER discounted, much less on sale. I’ve never seen produce marked down here either. I have seen meats upon occasion, and random boxed/canned goods.

  • Melanie says:

    My suggestion is that if you have a bread store to get your bread there. We get bread for $.79 per loaf when at the store it is $2.50 per loaf. We usually buy 3 to 4 loaves at a time. We usually get bagels and snacks too all for under $10.00. I love a good bargain!

    • Laura says:

      I loved our bread store too and was broken-hearted when it went out of business. I could buy my husband’s favorite $3 bread for $1.

  • jan says:

    the grocery store I shop marks down meat but you have to get there early- also some packaged items and often organic items- but never ever produce or milk

  • Charity says:

    Prayer! God promises to meet our needs, and He always has! Our grocery budget for our family of 5 is $30 a week, which is challenging, but I am always able to find things we need marked down! God is so good!! 🙂

  • Melissa says:

    I have found a local store that prices meat down to .99 a pound or less on the day or a few days before it is set to expire. This is how I buy almost all of our meat now. It is such a good deal I worry that the store will go out of business!

  • Carrie says:

    It’s not always on edibles, but I find CVS is great for markdowns too. I love that they have a regular cycle for discounting clearance items, first a warning with 0 discount, then 25%, then 50%, then 75%, then 90%. I like to snag me some 75% off chocolate after a hard day with the kids.

  • CJ says:

    Unless I need a lot or something really exotic, I don’t drive the 30-45 mins to the larger stores. I shop in our small town grocery store where they still bag and carry my groceries out to my car for me. Like Crystal, I also browse the bins before I begin my shopping trip. I try to pick the days that I’ve noticed that they will set the items out, although I should ask to be sure, I think I have it figured out.

    I’ve learned that my store marks down their products (produce, dairy, boxed goods, etc) in anticipation of unloading the weekly truck. The truck comes on Wednesdays so I try to get to the store to check the mark-down bins on Tuesday afternoons. Sometimes when they are unboxing, they find more items to mark down too so that day is a good 2nd choice if I couldn’t make it in on Tuesday. School lets out at 2:15 pm and that’s when many of the mommies like to combine trips and go to the grocery store so I try to get there before then so I can browse the deals first. The closer it gets to dinnertime, the less likely I am to find the markdowns b/c people looking for last minute dinner ideas will settle for the marked down produce or meat since they know it won’t go bad before they cook it that night.

    I’ve also noticed that my small town grocery store doesn’t open the meat dept on the weekends so when the worker comes in on Monday morning, he goes through the coolers to see what is needing restocked (and marked down.) I hate to pay more than $2 a pound for meat so I often buy all that is marked down and then set it up in my deepfreeze.

  • Courtney says:

    I’ve never seen produce marked down at any stores in our area. Organic milk and organic chicken are the two items I buy on markdown, but the availability is very random.

  • Kim says:

    I rarely see markdowns in my stores in the north TX area. I’ve shopped at various stores and various times and there is just hardly ever anything reduced because it is going bad. The stores in my area are very high volume, so I think they sell everything quickly enough that markdowns aren’t necessary.

    • Crystal says:

      Have you asked them about mark downs or checked the dates on items to see if dairy/meat is expiring soon? Sometimes, they don’t mark stuff down but will give you a discount if you find something expiring soon.

      • Kim says:

        I very rarely see items nearing the expiration date. I’ve asked about markdowns at a couple of stores, but haven’t found the employees to be helpful.

        I was at Target late one evening and there was a produce employee throwing away pounds and pounds of produce into a giant garbage can. It didn’t even look like it was going bad. I asked if I could buy some things at a discount rather than it all be thrown away. He said it was against their policy to sell it. I asked if they had considered donating it to a food shelter or something. He didn’t know why they didn’t do that. It was so sad to see so much food being thrown out needlessly!

  • I haven’t had much luck on finding markdowns, but I do look. One store I go to has big shelves of them, but they never seem to be rock-bottom prices. I have bought marked-down milk before . . . only to throw it out because it had a “whang.”

    When I do find great mark-downs, it’s when I’m not rushed, and am able to peruse more thoroughly.

  • Laura says:

    I have often wished that we had the option of dairy markdowns. It isn’t allowed here…anybody know why that is? Why is it OK to markdown meat but not dairy?? Anyway – I have found that of the 4 stores I regularly shop, one has good bread markdowns, one has random produce markdowns, and one marks down meat regularly. One doesn’t mark down anything. Once I asked about bakery bread being packed up into a cart and the employee told me that once it was in that buggy it could not be sold. If I had been 3 seconds ahead of the worker, it would have been sold to me for full price. I wish I knew what they did with it all…

    I suppose this sounds like I’m whining a bit. I don’t mean to! Shopping markdowns is a great tool! I’m just envious of your fabulous markdowns 🙂

  • irma says:

    I usually go to HEB produce area and ask if they have reduce bananas. Sometimes I can get 10 lbs of bananas for $.99 . If there are some ripped
    they go right into the freeze for banana bread or smoothies.

  • Cricket says:

    When I check at Walmart to see if any chicken is marked down, I make note of the expiration dates on the packages- they’re usually all the same, so I’ll know to try to stop back by a couple of mornings before the expiration. Usually if there is a markdown, there will be lots of them because they sell in such volume.

  • You wrote: “If you don’t need something, it’s not a good deal — no matter how inexpensive it is!”

    Which reminds me of the only known quote of my grandfather Durling who passed away when I was but three years old: “It ain’t cheap if you don’t need it.”

  • Jennifer says:

    Mr Kroger seems to always have great markdowns. I have gotten meat, hotdogs, bacon, yogurt, milk, organic eggs, canned foods. I have never seen fruit or veggies marked down, but I will be on the look out. They also have a table over to the side that is full of non food and non perishable stuff on clearance. If I hit it at the right time I can get some super great deals!

  • tracie says:

    When I was at my moms last week in AZ I was able to get baby formula at 50% off. They don’t expire till next summer so they will be long gone before than. All I can find marked down around me is meat and sometimes produce. But never dairy items.

  • Baleboosteh says:

    Here in the UK where coupons are a rarity, buying marked down items is one of the few ways of getting a really good bargain. We seldom find things marked down below half price – but everything helps! Almost all of the meat we buy is marked down for quick sale (usually it is the day before the sell by date) and we often find organic dairy produce at very good discounts. Fresh fish too, because the turnover has to be so fast. Our nearest supermarket is a sort of mid-price one (Sainsburys) but oddly we have found that some of the best mark downs are in the more expensive food stores (like Waitrose) or specialist grocery stores that we only we only get to shop at when we are visiting or travelling away from home.

  • Heather says:

    Once I saw Preemie Pampers on clearance for $2, but I didn’t know anyone with a preemie at the time. Almost bought them anyway, but I restrained myself.

  • Rachel says:

    I can usually find great markdowns on toiletries and health products (usually in a big shopping cart or bin in the middle of an aisle). Paired with coupons they make great deals–and they won’t really expire! Recently I got 4 bottles of Pantene shampoos for $.50/ea., a box of 3 pregnancy tests for $5 (marked down from $12), and a splurge (because it’s unnecessary): a Febreze Flameless Luminary for $3 (marked down from $14). Harris Teeter has the most selection in that department.

  • Lana says:

    I make a ‘vat’ of banana pudding for the homeless shelter none day a month and I rely on the bags of marked down bananas. Once when I went to get them there were none and I asked the produce guy if he had any. He said to hang on and he would bag me some up. He filled a bag with the ripest bananas they had and handed it to me. They didn’t even have brown spots. It does pay to ask.

  • Jen says:

    I like to peruse the meat department at Target. When they do mark down meat, it’s at a good rate. For example, I bought a package of boneless pork chops yesterday – 1.31 pounds originally $4.54 – $2.00 mark down – $1.00 MC (Target carries Hormel Always Tender) = $1.54. Based on the mark down and the MC – I paid $1.18/pound for Hormel pork. Yeah!

    Until the 28th, this works well with their Sutton & Dodge angus beef coupon too!

    I freeze the meat I get on markdown and use it as I need it.

  • Lindsey says:

    Thanks so much for the amazing tips that I can always find here! I discovered your blog about a month ago and am loving all the info i can find everyday! Its just me and my DH so far and we are trying to save every penny we can until kids come along some day (while still trying to enjoy a temporarily peaceful existence with no responsbility besides each other). we are very blessed right now that i am working a full-time job and we can save that income, but i have been realizing lately that we can be saving so much more! thank you!

  • Jennifer says:

    The best markdowns are right after a holiday–especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. The 1st or 2nd week of January, our Kroger marks down nuts, cranberries, baking supplies, etc. to unbelieveable prices.

  • Emily says:

    I have had too many bad experiences with marked-down meat. I think you have to be really careful doing that as you may end up with meat that is either spoiled or on the verge of being spoiled. I have stopped at least at one local store even getting those.

  • Julia says:

    Our nearest Target does not have produce, but they frequently mark down refrigerated items that are expiring soon. I’ve scored premium orange juice and eggs for under $1 (each) during the last month. So now, even if I’m not shopping for groceries, I take a quick stroll down the refrigerated wall to see if I can spot more bargains!

  • Stephanie says:

    I have gotten to know the meat produce and dairy managers at 2 of the 3 grocery stores and at walmart. I rarely shop at walmart I think I am better off at the regular stores the quality is better the coupons are doubled and the managers are more visible. I like knowing the mgrs. because they will often approach me, in the early am this is when our stores markdown, and offer something saying I haven’t but this out yet do you think you’d be interested. Talking to them about what to do with a particular cut of meat and the best way to prepare it is a great ice breaker and they want to sell the items in thier dept. Also in produce our store will sell reduced bags of things but after a couple hours if it isn’t gone it goes in the back to wait for the food bank. If you aske they will bring out stuff for you to purchase and usually you can eat it that day our bake or freeze things.

  • Sarah says:

    So, Crystal, who do you ask regarding discounts on items that are close to expiring (like the milk or apples you mentioned)? I rarely see the managers out on the floor (even during the day) and I didn’t know if the cashiers have that kind of power. Do you go up to the customer service desk and just ask there? Thanks! 🙂

    • Crystal says:

      You can go up to the customer service desk and ask for a manager or just ask any employee if you can speak to the produce manager. At Aldi, I’ll often just ask when I’m checking out.

  • Danni says:

    I always find great deals on Manager’s Special at my local Kroger affiliate (King Sooper). My first stop is the dairy case and then the bread rack. I often find organic milk marked down anywhere from 50-75%. Just this week I got 2 half gallons of organic whole milk for $1.39 each (normal is about $4.99 for the gallon size, I’m not sure what the 1/2 gallons usually go for because the gallon size is usually a better deal.) I also find 2 pints of organic heavy cream for $1.59 each. My hubby and 6 year old are very excited for homemade ice cream. The best part is that everything I bought still had 4 days left on the expiration date and I find dairy products usually last several days past that.

    I also usually do really well on the rack of marked down bread. I often find the gourmet breads marked down at least 50% and they usually have at least a day or two left. I fnd if you throw the bread straight in the freezer it keeps great.

  • Rochelle says:

    Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts on items that are already on clearance. Today at my Ingles, I found organic whole chickens on clearance for 50% off. I noticed that they had 8 with a sell by date of today. I asked the manager if he would slash the price in half again if I purchased them all. I got over $90 worth of organic chicken for under $27 dollars!! I put them straight in the freezer. I will cook them off 2 at a time and have a ton of chicken for make ahead meals and enough broth for lots of batches of soup!

  • Emily says:

    None of the grocery stores around me do markdowns very often – at least not that I can ever find! We are very rural here, so it wouldn’t be frugal of me to go at a specific day and time each week “just to look” – that would mean one or one-and-a-half hours of driving!

    On the other hand, I found a “salvage” grocery store today in Central Wisconsin and snagged some great bargains! I’m learning that I have to take what I can get in a rural area – and pay more if I need it desperately!

  • Jenna says:

    Just got marked down meat at Kroger today. There were 3 lbs tubes of ground beef that came out to be $1.12/lb! I have been completely out for weeks and got A LOT and will divide into 1 lb portions in the morning and freeze. I should be set on beef for months!

    Also once I was looking at the marked down load of french bread at WalMart and this lady and her child walked by. The child ran over to look at the rack and the mother said ‘oh no honey we don’t want any of THAT stuff it’s all old and spoiled’. I wanted to to tell that the $0.88 loaf of frend bread still had a day or two on the sell by date and I will take it home, cut it into 3 loaves since it’s so large, spread homemade garlic butter on it, wrap them in foil and freeze them unti I’m ready to bake them for 3 different dinners! But go ahead and spend $4 on a ‘new’ loaf and bake the entire thing and waste some of it I’m sure. People who look down on frugal people are just wasting their money!

  • Rachel K says:

    Our Kroger always has so many bakery items on markdown! I like getting the French bread for .79! I once made a dinner from it that cost me under $2 and could have served 4 (French Bread Pizzas)! We also have some meat and produce markdowns, but those are not too often. I think I have a lot of thrifty people in my town! 🙂

  • Tabatha says:

    Every Thursday my Giant Eagle starts their sales (weird I know) and some of their hot items are always meats. By the following Monday they start marking down their meats significantly, so I always wait to take advantage of their meat sales because I know by Monday I will be able to get an even better deal. I’ve save up near 60% on meat just by doing that.

  • Amanda says:

    I’ve learned to navigate Target by the wall-side aisles, where mark-downs tend to be put on end-caps, and to check the natural sections of Bashas’ and Fry’s before doing the rest of my shopping — most markdowns seem to show up there. CVS’s markdown section is great; I found a bunch of 90% off food there once, that had apparently been ordered for Easter, but apparently, no one had thought to do their grocery shopping there. Don’t forget to check non-grocery stores for groceries.

    If you have one, Fresh & Easy does great markdowns, though you’ll need to go mid-day, if not later. There should be a dedicated refrigerated section, and there may be sections by the produce, in the freezer section, on an end cap, and occasionally mixed with the normal products. I’ve had employees there offer to tag items they were bringing out, so I didn’t have to wait, or suggest food my toddler would like. Their service has always been excellent. They’ll also order in fresh turkeys for holidays, so go the day before Christmas or Thanksgiving.

  • I have been in Walmart and spied a Markdown rack. I loved it when I found it, just to see if something I could use right up and was different was there. Sometimes it caused me to abort the mission for one thing and actually try something that I HAVE been waiting on for better prices. This would make the original mission be placed onto a back burner for next time And I’d have something else that IS more exciting.

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