20 unusual ways to save money: Buy Groceries at TJ Maxx

When most people think of TJ Maxx, Ross, Marshall's, AJ Wright, or other discount retailers, the first thing that comes to mind is cheap, name-brand clothing. This is quickly followed by visions of home decor, kitchen necessities, and the occasional framed print. However, the greatest bargains offered by these stores sometimes lie in their food sections. From top-notch olive oil to premium shortbread, discount retail stores often stock great ingredients at outstanding prices.

For me, the TJ Maxx food epiphany occurred when I was living in southwest Virginia. I like to cook, but found that it was hard to get reasonably-priced, high quality olive oil, chocolate, and balsamic vinegar. While my local gourmet grocery store stocked these items, I wasn't really inclined to pay $20 for a quart of extra virgin olive oil or $40 for a bottle of balsamic. On the other hand, my local grocery store carried Pompeiian and Goya olive oil, but wasn't really very much use if I was looking for something with a little more flavor.

My wife's was a huge fan of TJ Maxx, and would often drag me there to wander aimlessly while she perused the winter coats, purses or shoes. Admittedly, I enjoyed looking at the horrifying framed prints and scary mass-produced sculptures, but these delights quickly paled when I found the food section. There, on a top rack, the store had a nice selection of cheap, first-rate oils from Greece, Turkey, and Italy. Some of these were priced in the $11 range, but most were around $7. Meanwhile, a few steps away, there were gourmet mustards, balsamic vinegars, exotic chocolates, and a veritable cornucopia of reasonably-priced goodies. While some of these were from companies that I had never heard of, several were the same brands as my local gourmet grocery stocked; the only thing that was different was the price.

Until I left southwest Virginia, a year and a half ago, I visited TJ Maxx at least once a month, in search of cheap necessities and the occasional fun, experimental treat. I currently live in an urban neighborhood and, with only a short walk, I can find an almost endless array of culinary delicacies, often at very low prices. However, I still make the occasional pilgrimage to AJ Wright or another discount retailer. The only difference is that I now buy the exotic foods that I used to take for granted when I was in southwest Virginia. Barbecue rub, here I come!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. On his last discount store visit, he picked up a mid-1980's film, a winter coat, and a bottle of organic grilling sauce.

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