Seek out expired food. Yes, it sounds kind of disgusting, but a recent study by Harvard Law School and the Natural Resources Defense Council found that consumers widely misunderstand expiration dates printed on packaged foods. And you don't need to be told that expired foods are cheaper.
"For most foods, the expiration date is the sell-by date rather than the safe-to-eat date," says Shel Horowitz, a New York City-based author and marketing consultant. "If something is past the [expiration] date, look at how long it's been, how much it's been discounted and what the item is."
Of course, everyone has a tolerance for how fresh they want their food to be, and certainly stay away if an item seems rotten or spoiled. But use common sense. "I have Indian pickles that are years out of date and are still fine," Horowitz says. "For cheese, I'll go up to a week or two, and for dry goods like cereal and crackers, maybe three months."
He draws the line at purchasing or consuming expired milk or yogurt (yes, you'll sometimes find those on the shelves of some stores.)
In fact, Horowitz says consumers can get very good deals at deep-discount grocers. "We have a local one here called Deals and Steals," he says.
Quite a few stores specialize in selling safe-to-eat but expired food. In Dorchester, Mass., The Daily Table is opening its doors in early 2014. For decades, Dirty Don's Bargain Center, in Raytown, Mo., has been selling expired groceries. The Dented Can, a longtime presence in Goshen, Ind., has a name that says it all. Scattered throughout the country are hundreds of similar stores, known as salvage grocery stores, that sell food considered unsellable due to damaged packaging or expired dates.
Of course, doing everything you can to save money at the grocery store takes time, and time, of course, is money. In the end, it may come down to what you value more: the minutes on the clock or the numbers in your bank account. Apps and technology, coupons and know-how help, but for now, you still have to invest time to save on thyme.