Monday, May 19, 2008

Grocery Store Survival Tactics


Have you ever noticed that no matter the season, the grocery stores are very chilly places? I always have to take a jacket for my two year old when I go shopping. You’d think with energy prices being what they are, stores would lay off on the air conditioning. But there is a reason for this! First, keeping the store cool keeps bacteria counts down. Think about it: hundreds of people walking through the store every day, touching everything, coughing, sneezing, whatever. So it makes sense (when I think of it that way, wrapped produce suddenly holds more appeal!).

But here is the sneaky bit: Cold temperatures also make you hungry. Ever notice that in winter you crave comfort foods, and eat more? Your body is trying to stay warm by adding extra calories it can burn. So a cold grocery store triggers this physiological reaction in your body, no matter what season it is.

Don’t think grocery stores aren’t aware of this! The temperature of a store is calculated to cause you to want to buy more. But don’t blame them. You and the store just happen to be on opposite sides of an equation: Their job is to get your money, while your job is to hang on to some. Both sides need each other- grocery stores typically have profit margin of 1-2%- that’s a nano-profit! So even the score by eating before you shop. And always take a list. And maybe a sweater?

Did I mention the list???

ALWAYS have a list with you, and stick to it. When I was going through some very tough times financially, I even went so far as to create a spreadsheet for my nearby superstore... dare I say it? I'm gonna... I shop at Walmart, among other stores. I used my receipts from previous visits, and estimated where I didn't have information. I knew what I was going to spend, +/- $10, before I ever walked into the store. I'm working out how to make this function available to you- if you know of an online list that has local prices based on store location, let me know. Ahem... Walmart, are you listening?

End caps and checkout stands:

The end cap is the end of every aisle. This is where you find new items, “specials,” and sale items. This is where, in short, the store manager puts items he or she wants you to buy. These items, more often than not, spell profit for the store, and loss for you. Stick to your list. If you see an item for sale on an end cap, take the time to look in the section where the item is usually kept. Odds are, you will find it cheaper. And did I mention the list?

Toddler Treats:

We’ve all done it at least once if we have a toddler: Opened a box of crackers or cookies right in the store and handed one to our screaming child. I think this is one of those gray areas in life and as long as it gets paid for the stores usually look past it. However, if you bring along your own treat, you can be sure it is something you approve of, not an impulse item to save your sanity. Keep a juice cup handy, and some toys if you can. See if you can find a hook or lanyard you can clip on the toy and the cart to avoid losing them.

Buying in Bulk:

This is a tricky area. I do buy some things in bulk, but very few. This is because even if the end result is that I'm saving money, if I'm buying more than I'm going to use in 1-3 months, I don't do it. Why? Because even if I'm saving in the end, the money's still gone. So I reserve bulk purchases for things that get used up quickly. And I pay attention to the unit price. It doesn't matter what the brand name is as long as it's a quality product, and it's the least expensive. Just ask yourself this question: Are you really going to use up 9 pounds of oatmeal in a month? If not, would you rather see a movie, or get the tapenade? It all depends on what's important to you.

Frozen Vegetables and Canned Goods:

Well, I prefer fresh, but I always have lots of frozen and canned products. They are cheaper, if it's the off-season (more about this later), because they have a longer shelf-life. Spoiled food is an expense that stores have to plan for by increasing the price of perishable foods.

Also, frozen vegetables and canned goods are ready when you need them, and already cut up for you. When you are in a hurry, they are perfect. Personally, I prefer frozen vegetables to canned, with the exception of tomato products and some root vegetables like carrots. And I really think it's all in the way you cook them.

Farmer's Markets and Buying in Season:
Always buy produce that's in season and locally grown if at all possible. One exception is bananas, which are an import with low to no pesticide residue that is a great staple to have.
I love supporting local farmers, and like to buy crates of vegetables and can them. If you do this, you may not have to buy vegetables at all in the winter, and you'll know what's in those beautiful Ball jars lined up on your shelves. Even better: Grow your own!

I'm sure there's more, and welcome posts with other ways to shop successfully in the supermarket.

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