Shopping at Scratch and Dent Stores

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– Today’s Frugal Friday Tip is brought to you by Carrie from Springs Bargains

What comes to mind when you think of scratch-and-dent stores? Mom’s stern warnings about never buying dented cans? A bad experience with stale crackers?

Or, the excitment of finding a favorite food that had been discontinued? The thrill of discovering your favorite chocolate candy at 75% off?

Scratch and dent stores can be incredible places to find bargains on all sorts of items, but of course, you’ll want to be savvy about shopping there.

Here are my top five tips for shopping smart at scratch and dent stores:

Know your prices.

While there are some steals to be found at scratch and dent stores, you must know your prices before you go. There’s nothing worse than buying an expired jar of mustard for $2.00, only to find it on sale (and unexpired) at your local grocery store for $1.50 the next week.

Most scratch and dent stores base their prices on regular retail, and usually hit about 50% off the shelf price. However, if you’re an extreme coupon shopper, or even just a smart bargain hunter, you know that you can often get items on sale for less than 50% off. In my experience, the food deals are good; but health and beauty products are often not as good of a deal.

So, make sure you have a good grasp of your grocery store’s prices before you go to a scratch and dent store so you don’t get ripped off.

Know what’s OK to eat expired… and what’s not.

A lot of items at a scratch and dent store are there because they are expired, not necessarily “scratched” and “dented”. There’s an awful lot of food that is just fine expired, but there’s a few things tht are usually better to buy fresh.

I once made a meatloaf using an expired, but unopened box of crackers. Eh, I thought, they’re still sealed – surely they’d be OK in meatloaf, even if they’re a year past their best by date.

The stale cracker meatloaf is one of the two meals my husband has refused to eat in our seven years of marriage. It was bad.

So, when I saw a huge pallet of of Wheat Thins for 99¢ per box at a local scratch and dent store, I nearly started filling my cart before I remembered to check the date. As soon as I saw that they were a year past their best by date, I put them back as quickly as I’d picked them up.

Recently I found an amazing deal on tortillas, but I waffled about whether or not to buy them since some were a month or more past their sell by date. I went ahead about bought several, and while they were a little dry straight out of the package, they were great as long as you warmed them before folding into burritos.

Be wary of anything that gets stale (crackers, cereal) or rancid (oil, salad dressings). Obviously, stay away from anything that tends to mold rather than dry out. In my experience, most scratch and dent stores don’t sell things that mold, but do be careful.

Have a specific purpose for everything you buy.

One of the pitfalls of any kind of bargain shopping is that it’s easy to become infatuated with the amazing discount and lose sight of whether or not you actually need the item. This is super easy to do at a scratch and dent store – if you see tortillas for 79¢, it’s easy to recognize that as an amazing deal and then purchase way more than you could ever use before they truly dry out past the point of no return.

So, before you go crazy buying good deals at a scratch and dent store, make sure you have a specific plan for those items.

Get to know your store.

You’ll want to get familiar with your store: know what they have all the time, and what is truly a must stock up item. No need to purchase dozens of cake mixes at 50¢ each when they have them in stock 365 days a year.

If there’s a specific item you’re looking for, you may be able to talk to the manager and see if they can contact you if and when those products come in. They may also tell you what days they typically get new loads in.

Think creatively and generously.

Scratch and dent stores often carry undamaged, non-expired products that are simply out of season. One of our local scratch and dent stores recently had hundreds of bags of Easter candy. Not a thing wrong with it, except most people think it would be sacriligeous to give out pink and blue Hershey’s Kisses at Christmas time!

So, think creatively! Easter candy typically comes in blue, pink, green, and yellow. All of those colors could easily be re-purposed for a baby shower. Blue and silver is a trendy Christmas color scheme. And, no one ever sees the colors of the Hershey Kiss wrappers for those traditional Peanut Butter Blossoms!

Don’t forget to think of others as well: you may be able to find items such as lip gloss, hair clips, and small trinkets to use in Operation Christmas Child boxes or as stocking stuffers.

What are your best tips for shopping at scratch and dent stores?

Any amazing finds or bargains-gone-wrong experiences?

Carrie Isaac is on a mission to visit all of the scratch and dent stores in Colorado Springs and Denver! She shares money-saving coupons and discounts in Colorado Springs at Springs Bargains and is excited to be launching Denver Bargains in just a few weeks!

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  1. I have mixed feelings about scratch and dent stores. I used to shop at one in my area quite a bit, but the prices have gone up and they aren’t that great any more. It is a distance away also and not worth the gas. I can get better deals on food at my local grocery store. I also would come home with food that I never would have bought had I not thought I was getting a great deal. A lot of it went uneaten. Also, one year, I got a terrible bug infestation in all of my dry goods, like pasta, flour, rice, pretty much anything that bugs can get in. I will never know if it came from food I brought into the house from a scratch and dent, but that had never happened to me before and hasn’t happened since I stopped shopping there.

    1. @Cheryl, a scratch and dent store is kind of like a “grocery outlet” store. They sell damaged, expired, and discontinued goods – a lot of times, buying them straight from the grocery stores.

      They’re usually independently owned, except for “bread outlets” which carry about-to-expire bread that’s been returned from stores. Those are usually owned by the bakery.

      It’s sometimes hard to find them because they tend to be holes in the wall! We have some in Colorado Springs called “Extreme Bargains” and “Bargain Mart”. Maybe try googling your city with “grocery outlet” or “grocery clearance”.

  2. Ack, I messed up my links and posted the wrong one. Sorry for the double linking. (The first one is wrong if you care to delete.)

    Do you know of any scratch-and-dent stores in the KC area? I’m intrigued now! Great point on the pitfalls of bargain shopping. I’ve got shelves filled with “great deals” from garage sales this summer that I was going to makeover a la The Nester. I think Good Will’s gonna get the chance to make them over now.

    1. @jan, I replied to another commentor with a similar question above, but in case you didn’t see it, a scratch and dent store is kind of like a “grocery outlet” store. They sell damaged, expired, and discontinued goods – a lot of times, buying them straight from the grocery stores.

  3. We used to shop the discount section of various grocery stores, but now that we are gluten-free, there’s not much we can use.

    Thanks for hosting.

    Annie Kate

  4. Just shopped at our “scratch and dent yesterday. Bought OJ for 1.49 a gallon, Mozzerella cheese – 2.99 for 2 pound block #10 can of spaghetti sauce – 2.99. – 1.99, 32 oz of Breakstone sour cream- 1.99. I stay away from the crackers too. Always great deals on cereal, gatorade, toilet paper, dog treats, and pork products. Love Sharp Shopper.

  5. I’m with Mara, do you know of any of those places in the KC/OP area? I used to know of one a long time ago and there were some amazing bargains to be had!

  6. My favorite scratch and dent purchase was my my LAPTOP! Dell actually has an online scratch and dent store, so we just decided what features we were looking for and waited for a laptop to be available. I got my laptop for $450 bucks sans software (I just use open source)!

  7. I used to live near a bent and dent store and shopped there all the time. I could get the breath mints my husband loved for .20 a pack. I also got great deals on storage/freezer bags, stain removers, cereals, snacks and more.

  8. I love “DENT AND BENT” stores, as we called them. In fact when I was a teenager, my family ran one and it was a host of fun. I would love to do it with my family but we live in the boonies and no one would even come out here. I second checking the dates, I have eaten way to many stale crackers and cereal to not look. For those of you wondering, they seem to be easier to find in the east. We live in the midwest and there are very few. PA was full of them.

  9. There used to be several scratch and dent stores here in Oklahoma City (also called banana box stores because they get a lot of their stuff in banana boxes). They were called Tightwads, and I loved shopping at them. They all disappeared about 5 years ago, and I can’t seem to find any stores in my area! I know they have to be doing something with all that dented/expired food! lol If anyone knows of any places in OKC, I would appreciate it if you would share.

  10. Yes, we love our “bent & dent” stores too. They are actually quite nice. We have one specialty organic & gluten free one, that has some awesome deals. Jason natural toothpaste & kissmyface lotion for $2.99! Yes, please!

  11. Whenever I visit my parents, I hit the two GREAT discount groceries there and get some great deals. I only wish we had one closer that I could frequent all the time. Wish there was a website for such a thing!

  12. I’ve been able to visit one Bent and Dent store near our new house in WI. There’s another one closer that I haven’t made it to yet.

    My best deal was semi-sweet chocolate chips for .50 a bag! I bought 5…and should have bought more!

    I think you just have to be picky – not everything will be a great deal and worth your money, but you’re bound to find a few great deals.