By Vanessa Greaves

The trick is to know when to shop and what to look for.

Shopping for groceries at a big box store can mean enormous parking lots, crammed aisles, and long check-out lines. (Think Costco, Sam's Club, etc.) But the bargains are worth it, if you know how to work it.

I turned to our trusted Allrecipes home cooks for their real life advice on big-box shopping, and they generously shared their top tips for getting the best bargains on groceries and common kitchen items, plus how they organize and store their haul.

Bonus: You'll also find out the best time to shop if you want to avoid the crowds.

How to Shop Smart and Save Money at Big Box Stores

Photo by Yvan DubA/Getty Images

Q: What are the best grocery bargains you usually find at big box stores?

Yoly says meat is one of the best bargains, and adds that the quality is outstanding. Baking Nana agrees about the meat, and recommends putting bread, milk, butter, sour cream, and cheese on your money-saving shopping list, too.

To all that, LazyFoodieGirl adds bacon, liquor, coffee, and eggs. She also says you can't beat Costco's price on holiday prime rib.

Bibi suggests even more money-saving buys, including pecans and walnuts for baking (she freezes them until she needs them), plus organic frozen fruit, frozen green beans, and frozen seafood such as scallops and shrimp. She also recommends the organic sliced deli turkey as an excellent buy.

the daily gourmet saves money on multi-packs of yogurt and protein shakes.

Q: Do you shop from a list or roam the aisles?

Baking Nana says she makes a list and avoids roaming the center section because there are too many impulse buys there.

Yoly takes her Costco Savings booklet and writes what she needs to buy right on it. She adds that she shops for her son's family, too, and saves them from splurging on spur-of-the-moment "needs."

bd.weld, however, roams the aisles so he can graze on the free samples. (And who can blame him?) Besides, KGora says she's found things she wouldn't normally have bought before by doing this.

Q: When's the best time to shop if you want to avoid the crowds?

lutzflcat says she's an early riser, so she typically goes right when the store opens. Baking Nana and Bibi both narrow it down to Monday mornings as soon as the store opens.

If mornings don't work for you, don't despair: Sunny Rash says her best time to shop at her local Costco is Wednesday to Friday around 6-8 pm.

Q: When's the worst time to shop?

Sunny cautions that the first shopping day for coupon offers is "insane."

Baking Nana adds the Wednesday before Thanksgiving to the "insane" list. She says, "Everyone and their brother is there picking up their pumpkin pies. They should have a pumpkin pie express lane." (Brilliant!)

As for weekends, Kim absolutely avoids them (if she can).

Q: What other money-saving buys do you recommend?

Baking Nana: TP, paper towels, laundry soap, white vinegar for laundry, shampoo, conditioner, prescriptions, vitamins, and gasoline.

the daily gourmet: Trash bags! (She says she hasn't had to restock for years.)

LazyFoodieGirl: Meal prep containers, razors. blankets, pillows, sheets, and towels.

Q: What do you NOT recommend buying in bulk?

the daily gourmet: Dried herbs and spices. She adds, "Unless you're cooking for a crowd regularly, the spices/herbs will lose their potency in a year's time."

Go ahead and buy vanilla extract, though. When stored in a cool, dark cupboard, pure vanilla extract should keep its potency for years.

Q: How do you deal with storing those huge bulk packages?

Baking Nana repacks and freezes fresh meats, bread, and buns; and the daily gourmet shreds and freezes blocks of cheese.

As for those famous rotisserie chickens? Kim's Cooking Now! buys a 2-pack, which her husband breaks down into parts. They make stock out of the carcass and get several meals out of two chickens.

LazyFoodieGirl gives this money-saving method a big thumbs up, saying there's nothing like a rotisserie chicken to help stretch the budget.

Q: What other storage solutions work for you?

Yoly: "I store all my extra dry goods, soap, detergent, paper towels, toilet paper, Kleenex, etc on shelves in my garage alongside my Harley."

Baking Nana: "The mega pack of TP is stored in our closet and distributed throughout the house. Paper towels go in a laundry room cabinet plus one in the kitchen and each bathroom. Extra laundry stuff bleach, vinegar, etc. go in the garage near the laundry room."

Sunny: "January is a good time to stock up on storage containers. We use our cereal storage containers for cereal but also a lot of bulk items like couscous, dried beans, etc. Every time I go on an organizing binge I always see what storage containers we already own and figure out how I can make them work for my needs. Organizing is about being creative and making the space and what you already own work for you. My storage containers in my pantry don't clash but aren't matching either. But my pantry is organized and I can find what I need. I organize my pantry by smaller baking items like vanilla etc., bulk baking items like flour etc., dried beans and similar items, canned foods and condiments and etc."

the daily gourmet: "I live in an apartment so I got creative and put a 6-foot-tall storage shelf in my walk-in closet to store non-perishables."

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