We're saving money by grocery shopping at salvage stores

One of the ways our family is saving money is by shopping at grocery thrift stores. Grocery thrifts (also known as grocery salvage stores) are specialty shops that carry food items and other off-beat groceries that were sent back to the warehouse as overstock inventory or are nearing their expiration date. Since the goal of these stores is to move merchandise quickly, a smart shopper can find food bargains that are 40-75% lower in price than the same items found on the shelf at our neighborhood grocery store.

For example, during a recent trip to our favorite grocery thrift, my daughter and I found a nice selection of Activia yogurt four-packs. These normally retail for $2.12 but we found them priced at $1.29 for a savings of 40%. While the yogurt will hit its expiration date in less than a week, I'm sure they'll be eaten by then. And if they aren't? No biggie. Eating yogurt that's a few days past the expiration date is perfectly fine.

While some people are put off at the very idea of eating food that's nearing -- or even past-- the expiration date, the surprising truth is most processed and canned foods last much longer than what is stamped on the container. These dates are not throw-away dates but rather "Best By" dates which means they are at their peak freshness and flavor until then. Once food passes the "Best By" date, food quality slowly diminishes and the product isn't quite so crispy or fresh tasting any more.

So how long is expired food safe to eat? It really all depends on the type of food you are buying. Cereal manufacturers project the expiration of their products at three months past the date printed on the flap. Boxed mixes such as mac & cheese, Jiffy Mix, cake mixes, and other prefab mixes are usually good for one year after the "Best By" date. Canned goods are generally good for up to two years after the expiration date, though canned tuna and beef stew are good for five years past the date. These are just approximations of course. For more accurate information, call the toll free customer service number listed on the container. You'll learn like I did that processed and canned foods last far longer than we think and in most cases, are perfectly OK to eat as long as the container hasn't been damaged.

Food items aren't the only groceries that can be found at a grocery thrift. Our local grocery thrift also carries items such as laundry soaps, hair care products, paper goods, and other items which never really "expire." Since the inventory rotates from week to week, I've learned to stock up on these grocery items when I find them knowing that the next time I shop, they'll have been replaced with a comparable product.

Shopping at a grocery salvage store is more than just a fun way to spend an afternoon bargain hunting. For a thrifty minded shopper on a tight budget, buying groceries at a salvage store makes it possible to lower our grocery costs without having to sacrifice nutrition.

More by this contributor:

Are old and stale groceries safe to eat?

Safe food handling and grocery shopping.

How to find wild foods for free.