Food: Smart & Final has a surprisingly good selection of just about any food; name brands as well as some smaller regional companies that have equally high quality products but just not enough pull to mass distribute. I found some great frozen ravioli in the freezer section and when I add a bit of pepper, garlic and olive oil it tasted fairly close to what I spent $16 on just 3 nights ago at Buona Vita. This $6.99 item gives me 5-7 portions, that’s a dollar per meal, and if I’m feeling guilty I add fresh mushrooms, tomatoes or spinach on top.
Name brand cleaning supplies and toiletries: The Dollar or 99¢ store. These places get a lot of “rejects” of whatever comes out on the assembly line. All that means is it’s not up to the brands high aesthetic standards or insanely critical taste tests so they place it on the shelves anywhere where these minor flaws won’t affect the buyers willingness to actually purchase it. I doubt an oddly faded logo or bar code slightly askew will ever keep me from buying something.
Medication: I’ve been getting medication monthly from Costco without a membership card. They probably order so much for their current customers that there’s plenty to go around and it’s an excellent way to get perspective customers in the door. Just say you are going to the pharmacy and they will let you through.
Watches: Ross. That cheesy watch display across the aisle right as you walk in is actually full of some really cool stuff. They also have great men’s & women’s fragrances (most designer or well known brands), some decent bathroom decor items and really good quality luggage for dirt cheap.
Casual clothes: The used or vintage clothing store. Here in LA it’s American Vintage, Popkiller and That’s a Wrap, all awesome local gems. In the film industry wardrobe is purchased in excess for background actors and in very specific styles and sizes for the main characters of major studio films and TV shows. Either way when shooting is over typically these items are returned (if it’s low budget, and the tag hasn’t been removed), cast members will take the clothes home (if the producers are in a giving mood), they get put back on the rack for future productions (if the studio is saving money) or it will be sold to a used clothing store. The quality of the garments are usually good to start and some of them are even one-of-a-kind pieces made specifically for one scene or character so you don’t have to worry about seeing 10 people wearing your jeans while enjoying an afternoon in Hollywood. Obviously outside of LA you won’t get that in particular but if it’s vintage it’s probably cooler than what you paid double for last time you went to the mall.
Produce: Farmers markets are the obvious choice. Buying from these small time vendors supports the local economy and the growers are average people who grow food without hormones and pesticides (typically, but do ask if you happen to care). The second choice: produce markets. These storefronts sell fruit, nuts, berries and other agricultural items exclusively. Culturally specific markets, like Hispanic or Asian markets that aren’t big chains are also a great choice. And community gardens…okay, okay at this point you’ve probably gotten the sense that I am much more than just money conscious. I’m also environmentally, ecologically and health conscious. I recycle, use energy saving bulbs, don’t cook with butter or processed salt and am aware of where my stuff is made. I’m not hugely active in this way of life but these are a few habits that I’ve adopted along the way that have had a positive affect on my life. So anyway…community gardens. You put x number of hours in per week or month and you get x number of squash, apples, avocados or whatever happens to be in season. Yes this is time out of your busy schedule but it is a great way to meet your neighbors, find a girlfriend if you want her to see you as sensitive, nurturing and good with your hands or get your kids out of the house more without spending so much of your hard earned cash. Something happens to a person when they are fed literally through the fruits of their labor. It’s a drastically different connection with your food. And heck, all of these taste infinitely better than what you will buy at any grocery store.
Collectables: Estate sales. Buying rare stuff on eBay is convenient but you are also bidding against dozens, if not hundreds, of other people. And in the end the price is determined by a frenzy of competitiveness and a rabid need to consume. Conversely, driving the long way through a neighborhood on your way to wherever you spend your Saturdays can often result in a gentle negotiation with a very pleasant middle aged lady or gentleman. And this is a great place to find gifts for the old grannies and fogies in your life. Don’t know what to get grandma? Some other old lady’s crystal pitcher you bought for 20$ will suffice. She’s happy and so is your wallet.
Home decor: At World Market overstocked shelves and merchandise spilling into the aisles is expected and adds a bit of authenticity to the whole experience. This place is a cross between Pier 1, IKEA and the bizarre in your favorite non-western country. The stuff they sell looks unique but is made in a factory like anything else mass produced and you put a lot of the larger pieces together yourself, so…well…just be forewarned.
Anything in the kitchen: I love Sur la Table but this is NOT the place to buy anything for your kitchen if you are on a budget. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything in there that was for sale. It’s in my top 3 favorite stores to shop in which is exactly why I don’t go. It’s like a museum for cool and useful stuff that makes other deliciously edible stuff. But they are not known for their reasonable prices. Try a restaurant supply store, especially in a Japanese or Chinese populated area. Not the commercialized “Chinatown” but someplace a bit more suburban where the food is more authentic. Here in LA that place is Monterey park. I lived there for 3 years and let’s face it, tons of our stuff is made in these countries so it’s logical that these places would have the least mark up. Items are a dime a dozen but actually pretty good quality.
Mac products: The Mac store. Yes, I said it. The Mac store is the best place to get discounted Mac items. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon it myself but it surprises me that many people don’t know about refurbished units. These are products that were either returned right after being purchased but had to be sent back for repackaging or testing, or were defective in some way that was easily corrected. The units undergo the same testing as a brand new product, are checked for cosmetic issues, have anything that needs to be replaced, replaced and put on sale at 20-50% off, typically hidden somewhere on the manufacturers site. Type in the name brand, “refurbished” and the type of product you’re looking for. The first result should be a link to the refurbished section of the online store. Remember when you actually go to buy the products that it is in fact the manufacturers site you are buying the product from. Refurnished items are sold in a lot of places but only the manufacturers site will guarantee full warranty of the product, extensive inspection to the manufacturers standards and overall quality control.
These are off the top of my head and since I don’t shop much I’ll have to do a bit of research the next time around. Speaking of research I am doing a 30 Day Discount Detox in November so…I’m sure I’ll get lots of material. More on that tomorrow.