Before I go to the supermarkets every Saturday morning, Betsy and I go over the items on sale and try to match them with coupons she’s clipped. It’s a game we call “competitive shopping,” a ritual of rooting out bargains.
But it’s not that simple. Coupons are come-ons, after all, and sometimes the savings are illusions. And we’re buying less food at supermarkets and more at high-price locations (Whole Foods, farmers markets, All Things Local) and the low-price Aldi’s.
Recently at CVS I bought some cheap mouthwash, which I use on the mouth guard I wear at night. I paid $6.68 and thought I was saving money by not choosing the better-tasting name brand. Betsy returned it and, using several coupons, bought three name-brand bottles for $10.75. I lost that round of competitive shopping!
At the supermarkets, we look for store coupons that double manufacturers’ coupons. If the items are also on sale, that’s usually a winner, but often the prices are too high to make coupons worth using. And those “buy one get one free” sales, though often worthwhile with coupons, can mean the store has almost doubled the price.
We get bananas at 44 cents a pound at Aldi’s, and also buy graham crackers, sugar, butter, tuna and sardines there. We go to Whole Foods for oil, chicken, bulk seeds and spices and cereal. I would like to buy a local brand of milk there, but Betsy prefers to buy it at All Things Local, even though it costs more there, because she wants to support this 18-month-old enterprise. We buy local meat there and at farmers markets, where we also buy vegetables we don’t grow ourselves.
For non-perishable items such as split peas, dry beans, rice, oats and raisins, we buy organic at a discount through a food-buying club. Betsy likes the security of having large supplies of these items in the basement. We buy organic potatoes and non-organic onions in bulk.
Whatever we spend, the receipts go into a folder, along with slips of paper listing cash expenditures. Betsy periodically totals up these expenses and divides them into categories such as food, medical, household, charity, utilities, taxes and insurance. She’s done this by hand for over 20 years and enjoys the task, finding it no more time-consuming than on a computer. Recently our car battery died and she was able to find the receipt for it, enabling us to get a new one for free. Great record-keeping, Betsy!
Although we are generally practitioners of radical frugality, we believe that sometimes it makes sense to pay more, especially to avoid industrialized and chemical-laden food. So competitive shopping doesn’t just mean saving money but also deciding when to pay extra for quality or for local and organic food.