Math man fights poverty by beating retailers at their own game

Gavin Thompson combats poverty by beating retailers at their own game. Photo: Gavin Thompson

The local food shelf might appreciate it if we were all better at math.

Gavin Thompson is good at math, so the Ottawa mathematician has taken $150 and turned it into $1,500 worth of donations.

Thompson, described as “frugal” by the CBC, accepted a challenge to see how far he could stretch $150. It’s actually less about math and more about working deals.

For a year he’s been buying things for an organization for adolescent mothers and their children, taking advantage of deals and working the “points and rewards” systems in area stores. So two friends gave him the money and said, “see how much you can buy with this.”

He documented the challenge on his Facebook page.

Thompson told CBC Ottawa it’s really not hard to replicate his formula for getting the best deals from major chain stores.

Pharmacies, for instance, are often jammed with merchandise and don’t have much floor space to keep slow-selling products on the shelves, Thompson said. So they mark them down and try to unload them at a deep discount.

He also keeps a mental note of the best-before dates on key items he saw in stores, returning to grab them when they’re at their lowest price.

“A case of baby formula is $27 to $30. When it’s come close to, say, a month left, they’ll sell it to you for $3 sometimes. Three dollars a case? I’ll buy it all. Some charity needs it,” said Thompson.

There are also points programs.

“I’ve had situations before when I’ve walked out of stores with hundreds of dollars worth of chocolate bars,” he said.

“And when you factor the points back into it, they’ve paid me $30 to leave with [those] chocolate bars.”


Thompson says anyone can help out food shelves by doing the same thing, although he acknowledges that retailers might change the programs if enough people try.