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The Miracle of the Nickel Bratwurst

Those who, like me, are not part of the Trump salary boom but are in the economic situation which is gently referred to as “fixed income” learn to be always on the alert for the bargain, for the scrimp, for the save.  Be it a penny or be it a pound we know to a fair thee well the ancient McCawbrish recipe for happiness: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” 

My mother was a genius at this art since she had, at 104, outlived her money by a good decade or so. I learned many life skills from her but could have learned much more. Still, she did in her closing years teach me the fine art of couponing right down to the neat little coupon wallet she used that kept coupons in nice and tidy sections to be whipped out at the cashier. When I was a child she was big into Green Stamps and would put my brother and me to work from time to time licking the piles of loose Green Stamps (in blocks and in ones and twos) and slapping them into the handy Green Stamp redemption books. Our reward for this chore would be three each of her much loved oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Mom passed down the recipe for her cookies and she also passed down a few of her saving money chops. Chief among these was to be alert for the almost expired “Sell By” markdown. This markdown is something I always look for whether flush or skint. She hardcoded it into my shopping DNA. She trained me to expect it and stalk it.

Stalking the sell-bys is one of my shopping habbits and it has been successful. But in all my stalking I would never expect a Sell-By miracle. And yet, there it was today gleaming in Raley’s markdown meats; a bratwurst as big as all outdoors — three days before its sell-by date — for a nickel:

The phenomenon of getting a sausage for a price that would have been cheap in 1920 was so exhilarating to me that I promptly skipped off through the rest of the supermarket and spent at least twenty dollars more on groceries than I had planned, including a fresh-baked sausage roll at fifty cents — or ten times the price of the sausage itself.

When checking out the cashier scanned the package, mumbled: “That can’t be right.” I stood there as she looked down at the package and back up at me.

“It’s Raley’s finest hour,” I said. “It returns the American hot dog to its proper price of a Nickel. When’s the last time you saw anything that sold for a nickel? We don’t even notice the nickel since the dollar became the new dime.”

“How did you manage to get this?” she asked.

“My sainted grey-haired mother taught me.”

“She taught you well.”

“You have no idea. You’re not still giving out Green Stamps, are you?”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • ghostsniper February 13, 2020, 7:02 PM

    We got a slow cooker with stamps back about 1985.
    Still have it, don’t use it much any more.

  • Geoff C. The Saltine February 13, 2020, 7:27 PM

    I shop like that all the time. The wife checks can dates and throws them out if the are 1 day over.
    If you eat it soon who cares.
    Just bought 4 jars or imported pasta sauce for 1 dollar each marked down from 7 to 9 dollars each.
    Throw in your brat and we would have a fine meal.
    Day old bread still good.
    Over date milk out it goes,nothing like lumpy milk at 3AM.
    Take care Mr. V. All the best.

  • Auntie Analogue February 13, 2020, 7:57 PM

    Just goes to show that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

    Oh. Wait. Perhaps I oughtn’t have said that since this post’s photo featured a sausage.

    Label expiration dates? Heh. Get a load of this guy’s series of videos! . . . : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjZicBu_2Y4


  • Jewel February 13, 2020, 8:17 PM

    When my husband and I eloped in 1983, we had no rings to exchange before the lisping JP in Cody Wyoming. We had washers, and I wore mine with pride. We saved Green Stamps for our rings, which we bought at the Green Stamp store. We saved for a couple of years, and paid a small amount of extra cash because they were being discontinued. We wound up losing them. And once more, my paltry cashier’s job went to buying new, real 18k engraved gold bands just in time for our 15th anniversary. We still have those. I bought a lot of electronics with S&H. A shortwave radio. A Chinon camera. Both proved to be crap, but still. Making all those green stamps pay out. And stickered meat is best meat. We load up our freezer with stickered meats. Who turns up a nose at paying 2.00 for 4 chicken leg quarters? I have a thousand and one recipes for leg quarters. Same with chuck roast. And endless amounts of sausages. Yeah. But WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Enter Aldi! How I love Aldi. And the damaged goods store. Yes. I will save a lot of cabbage buying cabbage for pennies on the dollar. Shopping equals hunting. You need bacon? Don’t mind if it’s frozen and expired by last week? Not a problem. Only 2.50 for a pound of really fatty ugly bacon ends. Ah, the joys of small box stores.

  • JoeDaddy February 14, 2020, 3:09 AM

    Best to walk away from any ‘deal’ that includes CANOLA oil. Organic shmorganic. Rape seed oil. Developed as an airplane lubricant . Detrimental to your cardiac function. Very sticky at higher temps. Beware. Read all ingredient labels.

  • RattlerGator February 14, 2020, 6:13 AM

    So pleased to see you still up and running, my man.

    When I was still drinking milk, whether whole or 2%, I didn’t give a damn about the expiration date. I’d unscrew the cap, and take a sniff. This test never failed me, never caused an issue. People go absolutely crazy over these sell by dates. And their refusal to place bananas, when they spot, in the refrigerator. The meat of the fruit lasts for days as the skin browns.

  • mmack February 14, 2020, 7:32 AM

    Gerard, my mother would be proud of you. She could stretch a dime to make a dollar 💵 to feed and clothe a family of four children. Once when I was out on my own in the cold, cruel, uncaring world I went grocery shopping and my available cash fell short of the rung up total. I took some items off the order, paid for the rest, drove home, unloaded the groceries, and called my mother. After complaining about the cost of groceries at “Da Jewels” (this was Chicagoland after all), I asked her “How the heck did you afford to shop at Jewel all those years?”

    Without missing a beat she said “I used coupons” in a tone that implied “Dear God, I raised you and you didn’t learn a DAMNED THING from me, did you?”

    And Aldi is a phenomenal way to stretch your dollar for groceries.👍🏻

  • jd February 14, 2020, 8:15 AM

    Great bargain. Not Bratwurst though. Bratwurst’s made with veal. Take
    it from a half-Swiss.

    Love your writing, Gerard.

  • Gordon Scott February 14, 2020, 8:23 AM

    One of the benefits of my job is that I am in a lot of grocery stores. I learn where they keep the markdown stuff, and always stroll by. Superpremium uncured bratwurst marked down to 4 for a buck? I bought 60 packages. I live in a vibrant neighborhood, and the Aldi has trouble moving the more exotic things like garlic butter pizza and lamb chops. I get them for half off or better, and let me tell you, that garlic butter pizza with a bit of chicken on top is a fine, fine meal.

    Aldi’s breakfast sausage–the one pound chub–is the very best you can buy, and also the least expensive. I’d tell you my wife’s secret for turning that and a bit of flour into a magnificent feast of sausage gravy, but then she’d have to kill me.

    I served that gravy at a festival near KC, and one rather southern gal came up and said, “Don’t tell my me-maw, but your sausage gravy is way better than hers, and hers is the best….”

  • Bob Dwyer February 14, 2020, 9:24 AM

    Been doing this forever. Think of it as sport shopping. One of my favorites is local markets with a good deli/butcher counter. They usually package their short cuts (leftover end pieces from slicing) and dirt cheap prices, often a couple of different types in a small package. A bargain variety pack!

  • BJM February 14, 2020, 2:06 PM

    BOGO at the meat counter is another big saving if you have freezer space. Our local supermarket chain runs $5 jumbo packs of popular cuts of beef & pork on Mondays.

    My absolute best find was rib eye steaks for $0…someone didn’t punch in the dollar per lb amount when they ran the labels. There they were, a whole tray of them for nada. I called the meat counter guy over and pointed out the mislabeling and asked if they needed to re-labeled or what. “It’s your lucky day cos we can’t relabel meat for any reason.” I scooped up the lot. The cashier couldn’t believe it either.

  • H February 14, 2020, 5:59 PM

    Mrs. and I both took to heart the lessons our parents learned the hard way during the Great Depression, some of which have already been shared above, and others as well. Granted we stumbled around for a while financially, but when we got sick and tired of being sick and tired, the prodigals returned home with a vengeance and went at it like we were killing snakes, which in a way, we were. As a result, we have lived debt free for several decades now and don’t have to ask any smarmy little banker S.O.B. for permission to do a damn thing. Keep on clipping those coupons and looking for nickel brats because living well is the best revenge, not to mention the tastiest.

  • Jeff Brokaw February 15, 2020, 5:59 AM

    What is that saying… “only a sucker pays retail”?

  • Marica February 15, 2020, 7:30 AM

    “… living well is the best revenge, not to mention the tastiest.”
    Preach it.
    Nothing to add but an amusing story. Our fancy kitchen trash can does not accommodate ordinary bags very well, but custom sized bags are available! I was grumbling about this, and hubby– who is quite frugal– asked why I didn’t order the custom bags, and commented that we can afford them. Ah! The reason we can afford custom bags is that we don’t waste money on custom bags.
    Lots of things give us joy, as the kids say. But few more than mis-marked meat. It’s a good life.

  • Daniel February 16, 2020, 7:19 AM

    Since you mentioned your mother’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies: thank you for the term “the Holy Cookie” that we have been happily applying to our own version of the OCC Cookie ever since we read your account. Bless you, sir!

  • Christina Manning February 19, 2020, 6:01 AM

    It’s a trap! That’s always my first thought when I see a too-good-to-be-true offer like that. It’s the bratwurst they found that had fallen down between the coolers. And yes, what the other poster said about canola oil. Why the heck add any plant oil to bratwurst at all?

  • Vanderleun February 19, 2020, 9:33 AM

    And it is Manning for the WIN!