So you know those closeout stores? Kind of depressing on the outside and make you want to pull out your hand sanitizer as soon as you walk through the doors? Yep, those! They hide some real treasures. I shopped them through my early 20s out of survival (being a kid in college is expensive!), but now I'm a 30-something mom and have a whole new appreciation for those stores. I try to buy organic when I can (although I still have a stash of Lean Pockets in my freezer), and Big Lots has great deals on organic pantry items. In fact, they are often cheaper than what I would pay at my local grocery store during a sale with coupons. Krazy, huh?

My favorite closeout store is Big Lots. It operates by purchasing products that are being discontinued,  getting a packaging facelift or are not selling well at other major stores. This means you can find name brands at bargain-basement prices. They don't accept coupons, but the prices are already very low. Big Lots is my go-to for bargains on organic pantry items and other green products. At the bottom of this article is my haul from this past weekend. I got all of these green products for only $41.40. As you can see, they are all brands you find at Whole Foods. If I'd purchased these same items at my local Whole Foods, I would have paid almost $86. That's a savings of over 50 percent!

Here are some tips for a successful Big Lots shopping trip:

1. Check the discount shelf

All Big Lots stores have a discount shelf or table by the front entrance of the store. These items are normally marked down to pennies on the dollar because they are about to expire or because the packaging is damaged. That's where I found the Kashi granola bars. They were marked down to $1 because the box was crushed. On previous trips, I've found MimicCreme Creamer and West Soy Milk on the discount table for 50 cents each, and Imagine Carrot Soup for 75 cents!

2. Know your "buy" price

Not all items are a steal at Big Lots. This is why it's so important to know what you usually pay for these items. For example, I found Kashi cereal marked $2.50 per box. Thanks to KCL, I know that I can get these boxes for about $1 at Target during a sale, so I opted not to buy any Kashi cereal. The Imagine broth is another example. I know Walmart carries Imagine for about $4 a box, and there has been one $2 coupon released for this brand in 2013. So I know that $2 per box is a "buy" price for me.

3. Throw your list out the window

I said it! Throw your list away and shop with an open mind. Because Big Lots is a closeout store, an item you saw a week ago may never make another in-store appearance. Also, the inventory can vary somewhat between locations. This ever-changing stock makes it impossible to shop with a list. Big Lots is a place to peruse. If you have the time, I recommend walking all the grocery, household and beauty aisles looking for deals. The hunt is what makes it fun!

4. Pay attention to expiration dates

Sometimes too much of a good thing really is too much. Some items at Big Lots have expiration dates within the next two or three months. Be sure to check all expiration dates so that you don't buy more than you can use. The Arrowhead Mills cornbread mix was marked $1, which is phenomenal for 32 ounces—about what I would normally pay for an 8 ounce package at a grocery store. Although I was tempted to get several bags, I know that my family will only use one bag before the November expiration date.

5. Stay away from the seasonal and household aisles

Unless you're specifically on a hunt for a red rooster oven mitt or a glittery pumpkin for your upcoming Halloween soiree, avoid the seasonal and household aisles at all costs! If I veer off track and find myself venturing down these aisles, more than likely I’ll end up with junk I don't need (like the aforementioned glittery pumpkin). Sure those organic cotton sheets might only be $14, but if you already have sheets for all your beds, you may just be wasting your money on something you don't need.

6. Shop the 20% discount day

Another great thing about Big Lots is that two to three times a year they have a special 20 percent discount day, where you automatically get 20 percent off your purchase. This is an easy way to maximize your savings, but get there early for the best selection. If I'd saved this shopping trip for one of those days, I would have paid only $33!

7. Join the BuzzClub

The BuzzClub is Big Lots’ reward program. Joining is free and simple. Fill out the information form at any register, and you'll immediately receive a rewards card. After you make 10 qualifying purchases of $20 or more, you'll receive a coupon good for 20 percent off any shopping trip. It's like creating your own sale!

Even if you're not into the whole organic/green thing, you can still find lots of great prices on the items you use at Big Lots. Their stores carry an incredible selection of grocery and bath items, including lots of popular brand names that pop up regularly on the KCL blog: Velveeta Skillets, Hershey's chocolate, Kettle Chips…I could go on forever. If you haven't been to Big Lots in a while, give it another shot, especially if you want to make the transition to organic pantry items without breaking the bank. I bet you'll be pleased with what you find.

This is a guest post by Melissa from Austin, TX
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How to Save on Organic Products at Big Lots