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How to Get Free Moving Boxes at the Grocery Store

Whether it’s the local grocer, state liquor store, or a national chain of big-box stores, luck plays its part. Yet, when it comes to grocery stores in particular, there are three things you can do to improve your odds:

1. Avoid the Crowds. This is the golden rule when it comes to visiting the grocery store in search of free moving boxes. This typically means avoiding weekends and weeknights after work. Wednesdays may be especially crowded because many grocery stores offer new weekly sales and/or double coupon incentives. It’s also the day of the week in which many Social Security and other monthly income payment checks arrive.

The ideal scenario is that you pick a weekday morning and arrive to find some number of employees stocking the shelves. Now, maybe you can grab newly created empty boxes right off the floor, but it’s not guaranteed. Many foodstuffs arrive in cardboard trays wrapped in plastic—not exactly the best choice of box for the average mover. Likewise, many boxes may be damp or otherwise degraded by the commercial shipping and storage process required to preserve the food itself.

Still, the grocery store is full of different departments and a large back-of-house area. The store may very well have spare boxes in great condition waiting to be saved from the bailer. We even had one employee offer to switch what he was stocking on the floor to get us some decent boxes, if we were willing to hang around for 15-20 minutes. Now, you don’t specifically have to ask someone who’s stocking the shelves, but the one thing you don’t want to do is ask a cashier or bagger who’s actively helping a customer at the checkout line. This is another big reason why you’re likely to get the best result if you can avoid the crowds.

2. Head to the Produce Department First. It’s a little counter-intuitive, we know, especially after what we just said about damp and degrading boxes. Here’s the thing: Perhaps the very best example of a free moving box is found at many local grocery stores. And that’s apple boxes. These wooden boxes are especially valuable for protecting your fragile items, but it almost doesn’t matter what your moving project entails. If they’re available, pick some up. Apples boxes are also a great opening for popping the question to the employee….I’m in the middle of a move and I’m looking for wooden apple boxes especially, but really any free boxes you may have lying around….With any luck, be prepared to tell them how many boxes you’re looking for.

You can always look for someone on your way in. Maybe the customer service desk isn’t busy, but once you find yourself walking back into the store, you’re also most likely to find employees stocking shelves in the produce department. That’s because perishables, naturally, need to be restocked on a regular basis.

Much like the produce department is very hit-or-miss with their fresh fruits and vegetables, grocery stores themselves can be very hit-or-miss for moving boxes. Don’t forget about natural and specialty food stores. They typically loathe throwing things away. Plus, they’re just as likely to have wooden apples boxes, whether they’re used for apples or a specialty fruit. Overall, if your moving box needs are basic, you’ll probably do just as well, if not better, at the liquor store or big-box retail store. But if you’re still in the planning stages of a move and looking to hit pay dirt with free boxes, the grocery store is a great place to start.

3. Call Ahead and/or Visit Target-Rich Locations. Get the intelligence you’re looking for, but don’t try to berate a store employee into pretending they have more authority than they do. We like to say something along the lines of, “I was wondering when you get new shipments and stock your shelves. I know you can’t make any promises, but I’m looking around for moving boxes.” Often times, the employee will also reveal something of the store’s general policy and attitude.

Other people aren’t good on the phone or else they’re looking to cast a wide net as part of a larger moving project. In this case, the best plan may be to visit a part of your city or neighborhood where you can find several grocery stores and other retail shops in close proximity. Most people don’t have to travel too far to find these types of commercial districts. A lot of it, too, depends on your schedule and moving strategy. If you’re like most people, you start preparing for the move at least a week or two before you’re in the thick of things. It doesn’t take any time at all, in other words, if you’re going to the grocery store anyway. This is also a good time to start thinking about how you’re going to whittle down the contents of your refrigerator and freezer before the move.