Coffee Talk ThursdayI would love to interview Caroline Ingalls (of Little House on the Prairie) about the way she shopped. Whenever I watch episodes of Little House, I see her stretching what she has on hand, and only buying the bare necessities—the staples if you will—from Olsen’s mercantile (granted she grew most of their food and Mr. Ingalls hunted for the meat). I can’t see her getting sucked into any clever specials: buy 5 pounds of sugar, get one pound free. Maybe she would take advantage of the deal if she needed the item and had the money to buy it, but maybe she would say she only needed one pound of sugar and that was that.
Several months ago, I started wondering if I spend more in the long run by paying close attention to the sale ads (and coupons available online) and shopping by them when I see things at great values. Sure I save lots of money, but would I save more if I paid little attention to the ads and coupons and just bought only what I absolutely need at the time and paid the going price for it (or buying it, and only it, when it’s on sale)? The grocery stores are brilliant at devising clever marketing schemes that get you in the door for a loss-leader item that you often have to purchase several of (or mix and match) to get the savings. These smart campaigns get you to pay more upfront under the guise of saving. You are saving, but you are also spending more than you would have originally.
For example, the Smiths (Kroger) mega deals where you have to buy a combination of 10 items always suck me in. Buy 10, save 50-cents more off the price. Combine that price with a coupon, and you save even more. I can buy Nature Valley Granola bars and cereal for about .50/box. The other day I bought canned tomatoes for .50 each, and evaporated milk for .24 cents a can, which I know were great deals. But I also bought 10 cans of tomatoes, 6 cans of evaporated milk and 4 other participating items to get the deal. I will use, but did not need at the time, 10 cans of tomatoes, 6 cans of milk and the other items—so essentially I spent more than I would have if I was only shopping based on current need.
Another example—Safeway had pineapple on sale for 1.99. I had three .75 off- coupons, which Safeway will double up to $1. So I was able to buy three pineapples for .99 each. A great deal on pineapple, right? But I still spent $3 (plus more on other “great values” in the store that we will use), when I could have passed it all up and spent $0.
To weigh in on this, I asked Brandy of The Prudent Homemaker to lend her thoughts and experience. For those of you not familiar with her story, she has gone months without going to the grocery store—and in case you’re wondering what her family eats, take a look at her menus: they’re quite gourmet!
When I stopped looking at the ads and stopped going to the store completely, it didn't matter if there were good deals out there. I didn't have the money to spend. It's not a good deal if you have to put your groceries on a credit card--and then can't pay the credit card, either. Our income stopped completely, and the savings that we had ran out. I used what savings we did have to pay the mortgage, electric, water, gas, etc. By not buying food, that money went further. When that was gone, that was gone, and then there was nothing left for the utility bills or the mortgage, let alone for groceries.
When you come to that point, it's not a matter of saving money; it's a matter of not spending.
Now, we lived out of our pantry and from our garden for almost 2 years. After 8 months of no income, my husband [in real estate] starting having sales again, but they were far and few between, and our income came in a little at a time. Gradually, it became more regular, but since house prices dropped, my husband's commissions dropped, too. His salary was half what it had been before. We continued living on what we had, what we grew, what others gave us (see my story about Living on our food storage ). Sometimes I could spare $20. I didn't know how long that would last us, so I bought the most I could with it, which usually meant buying potatoes…
I need to make the money I do have to spend go as far as possible. So, how do I do that?
I need to buy things when they are at rock-bottom prices. When you're first building up a stockpile, you may not be able to get as many as you would like, because you need to spend some of your money on other food for the week/month. Buy as many as you can. My goal is to never spend more than the lowest price for things. By doing this, I can buy more food.
Now, your question:
“Smith's has diced tomatoes on their mega sale this week for .50/can. But while I'm there, I'm sure I will pick up a "few other things" that are also on "such a great sale" with my coupons too. But do I really need tomatoes? No. So would it be better to ignore this advertised deal and stay home? That would mean when I do need tomatoes again, I will have to buy them at their full price (perhaps), which means spending more later even though I am saving money now by not going to the store.”If I were you, and I needed tomatoes, AND I coupons for them too, then I would get them…Maybe you can only get 5 cans. So, get those 5. It's a start, and a good stewardship of your money.
If you need tomatoes again, then you buy them only when they're really low. Refuse to pay more than the lowest price. Eat another meal that doesn't require tomatoes, if need be. Try Walmart for the next-lowest price if you really need some.
However, if it's going to cost you more in gas, then it might not be worth going this time. I don't think it's worth spending $2 in gas to save $1.. I try to make as few trips as possible, and I live close to the stores!
When Smith's has case-lot sales, that's where I spend the bulk of my money for the month. I buy shelf-stable items and we eat from those, and from what we already have...You can spend your month's food budget in one shopping trip at one store in one day, come home with a car FULL of food, and not need to go to the store for the rest of the month.
As far as picking up a few other "good deals" when you're there--that's a matter of self-discipline. Can your budget afford it? Can you afford 2 loaves of bread while you're there, or do you need to make homemade bread this week because the money you're spending on tomatoes is the last of your budget for the month/week? Don't spend more than you have. Find a way to make it work within your budget.
Maybe you want to do the Welch's grape juice deal at Smith's [$2.49 plus $1/off coupon], but, your budget is too tight for that. You COULD go, and use coupons, and spend $1.49 for the juice, but maybe you need to spend that $1.49 on something else. You could drink water (because juice really is NOT a need, but a luxury) and wait to spend that $1.49 on 15 pounds of potatoes this month. The potatoes could feed your family for 3 meals. Which is a better use of your money? Obviously, the potatoes.
If you really feel that you have more than you need, then consider taking a month off of shopping, and eat from your pantry. Put the money you would have used towards debt, in savings, to buy something your family has been needing, or take the whole thing and give it to a charity that can help feed others. You can also use it to purchase some bulk food (say, wheat and a wheat grinder, for example).
Thanks Brandy! Another excellent point about stocking up at rock-bottom prices and then using what’s in your pantry is, as Brandy says, “I can make some well-balanced meals from what I have without going to the store if we can't. We'll have food to eat, and a roof over our heads…And [depending on where you live] I wouldn't have to worry about being stuck inside during storms, or needing to go to the store for milk when there's snow that hasn't been cleared, or when there's an ice storm, etc.”
Tomorrow I’ll share more of my online conversation with Brandy. She has some great advice on how to stock up at rock-bottom prices during this holiday season.
So since it’s Coffee Talk Thursday, let’s have a cup and talk about what you think is the most prudent way to approach grocery shopping. Go by the ads (and coupons too if you coupon)? Or cut costs by cooking from scratch, buying frugal ingredients, and sticking to the bare minimum at the store--avoiding all those advertising lures, unless they’re a deal that’s too great to pass up?
Visit Frugal Fridays for more frugal ideas and inspiration!