Hot Mess: Bargain Bin
College students are awesome at thrift store shopping. When you’re still six days away from payday and realize you only have twenty dollars in your wallet, it can take a little creativity to make it through. If you’re living on your own, you have probably come to realization that food is ridiculously expensive. Just shopping for the week may cost you 50 to 60 dollars and when money is tight, you certainly don’t want to starve yourself until payday. Places like Salvation Army and Goodwill are great for cheap clothes, but what if you’re looking for cheap food?
Of course you can shop the sales and clip coupons, but if you’re really looking for a bargain, look no further than the discount food bins. Depending on the store, these discounted items may be all in one place or in different areas around the store. These items include damaged packaged goods, such as dented cans of tomatoes or ripped boxes of cereal, as well as day-old or slightly stale bakery items, overripe produce, and soon-to-be-expired dairy products. As strange as it sounds, this is my favorite part of any grocery store (besides the liquor aisle, that is.) It’s full of cheap foods that are discounted to a fraction of their original price.
You have to be careful of course. You don’t want to buy 20 discounted yogurts only to realize that they should all be eaten within the next couple days. Any produce you buy should probably be used that day or the next at the latest. And you should always check the damaged packaging to make sure that they have not been opened. (Grocery stores are pretty good about looking out for this, but it never hurts to be cautious.) The most important thing to remember is that all these items are discounted because the store is trying to get rid of them. It’s like a thrift store. It may be all be sold at a great price, but you have look through everything to find what you can actually use.
Another important thing to consider is that it’s perfectly okay to buy something at a discounted price and not use all of it. This food is going to be thrown out anyway if no one buys it, so if you buy a day-old chocolate cake for 99-cents, it’s okay to just eat a slice or two and throw the rest away. Sure you probably could think of some other cool ways of using the rest of the cake, but even if you don’t or can’t, you just paid a dollar for a slice of cake. Not too bad if you think about it.
This whole rant about discount food was inspired by my recent trip to the local farmer’s market. They had pints of homegrown strawberries marked down to 99-cents a carton. I bought two and a container of overripe nectarines for $1.17. When it comes to produce, not only should you use it right away, but you should consider what you want to do with it. The fruit I bought, though too bruised and overripened to be eaten as is, was perfect for a fruit smoothie. Overripe fruits are best for smoothies, jams, or pies, because of the intensity of the flavor. Sure they’re not the prettiest, but once they’re all mashed up, no one cares.
The strawberries and nectarines were, as promised, not perfect. I cut out all the bad spots and threw out the pieces that were beyond help. Then throw it all in a blender with a little sugar.
Because I had so much fruit I put half of the blended fruit in the refrigerator for later and added ice to the rest. The smoothie came out great and the next day all I had to do was add ice to the leftover puree and I had another fresh and tasty smoothie in less than five minutes. Bonus!
Shopping bargains is a challenge. It can be time-consuming and a little inconvenient, but it’s also surprisingly fun and crazy addicting. It’s amazing what you can buy and how much you can buy when you take the time to dig through the things that no one else seems to want. Plus, if you really want to learn to cook, bringing home a grab bag of discounted items and figuring out how to make something delicious out of it all is one of the best ways to practice. You really can’t go wrong. You save tons of money and can brag to your friends about the amazing cake pops you made using stale cake and a dented can of frosting. Who wouldn’t be impressed?