Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Observations while shopping

While shopping late at night at my local supermarket I noticed several traps that even the experienced shopper can fall for. If you consider yourself a novice read up on my shopping 101 tutorial. All you pros out there read on.

Trap #1: Five for $3
Trying to buy one tiny can of tomato paste - to process all these tomatoes from the farm share, I almost fell for this one. I nearly stacked five cans of tomato paste into my cart even though I only needed two. Why do we do this? They tell us to buy five, and we automatically do! I think partially it is guilt - a la - they are giving me a break on this so I will buy as much as they are telling me - and partially it is, that we are secretly afraid the deal is only valid if we buy as many as we are told. This also works in the produce section - Five plantains for a dollar! And we go ahead and buy five even though we only needed one. Very few deals fall apart if you don’t buy as many as you are being told. Usually it has to say - MUST BUY FIVE - but it very rarely does. So let’s pay attention.

Trap #2: The Bigger the Better?
We have been trained to believe that the bigger a package, the better the per ounce deal we should get. This works most of the time.

For some items, however - amaranth in my case - different producers offer vastly different prices per ounce. I always feel inclined to reach for the bigger package, but usually catch myself and whip out my handy calculator to make sure that, in this case at least, the smaller package is the BETTER deal. This is so counterintuitive for me, I actually have to use the calculator every time! Lesson learned - clip one little calculator to your purse and do the math. Those tiny calculators are one dollar and worth their weight in gold. Alternately, your cell phone might have a calculator function - so use it!

Trap #3: The item on sale has to be the cheapest one, right?
I almost stumbled on this one in the cheese section. Brie on sale for $9.99 per pound - not much of sale - but the sign was huge. So I reached for it, when I saw in the corner of my eye mixed in with the imported brie, that was not for sale at $12.99 per pound, the regular domestic brie - not on sale but only $8.99 per pound. Not that much of a difference, but the principle holds. The on sale item is NOT necessarily the cheapest - keep looking and comparing!

Trap #4: I would recommend to you, my advanced shopper to keep a sharpie marker in your purse and write the price of an item on the item, or if you are more timid write it on your shopping list. There will be no more wrong prices and nasty surprises at the checkout. When it is your turn at the checkout - TAKE YOUR TIME. That is why it is good to shop at off hours, or alternatively use the self check out. I like the self check out, because it gives me a chance to double check the price on every single item and reevaluate the purchase. Some times I feel cashiers rush you way too much. While you are bagging, it is impossible to keep an eye on the bill, as the products are rushed through the scanner. I know it is not the cashier’s fault - they have to rush, but the problem is, that once the item is bought and paid for, the likelihood that you would spot a price difference or return that item is getting ever closer to zero.
Ideally don’t bag, and watch the checkout process like a hawk, to spot differences. I still prefer self check out - I often change the language into Spanish and brush up on my language skills as well. I know I am crazy!

Trap #5: Forget sliced or diced.
It is basically impossible to buy fruit or cheese - any other way than whole, because the moment any kind of peeling, slicing or dicing took place the per pound price of the item quadruples. I know that meat eaters know no shame and walk to the deli department to have their lunch meats sliced - I think we should be able to do the same with cheese or bread and not have to buy the pre sliced older stuff only to pay four times the money.

Those were just a few observations on a recent shopping trip. Of course, as always, don’t shop when you are tired or highly caffeinated - you need a calm inner peace to not screw up.


earthmother said...

Okay, I LOVE tip #4 and am going to start using it today...well, the sharpie marker, not the Spanish language skills. ¡Usted es demasiado gracioso!

But, I am never going to be without my sharpie again. I can't tell you the number of times I've been stuck in line because something didn't ring up or it did but at the wrong price, and have had to wait an eternity for either the manager or the bag boy to run and get a price check. ¡Nunca otra vez!

Amy said...

I know this is an older post, but just happened in here today. We've been buying tomato paste in a squeezable metal tube (like toothpaste) instead of the little cans, which we never used all of before it went bad. The tubes are great!! They last forever in the fridge and we can use whatever little squirt is needed in a recipe.

I think I've seen them at chain stores like Meijer but I've also gone in with a friend to get a 12-pack through Amazon.