Monday, April 02, 2007

Shop smart

It used to take me about one hour to do my weekly grocery shopping. Lately, it has taken me two. No wonder no one in my family wants to go grocery shopping with me, not even with a treat for a bribe!

Actually, even I wouldn't go shopping with myself if only I had a choice. But I don't, so I might as well make peace with myself and make the most of these shopping sorties.

Shopping used to be much simpler for me. I hardly made list, I just walked aisle to aisle, picked out items I thought we needed or might need, browsed through a mag at the checkout counter, paid and left. Nowadays, not so.

Since I attended a budgeting seminar at our church and acquired more information on nutrition and wellness, I became more budget-conscious and health-conscious than ever. I now bring a shopping list based on a weekly menu, I compare brands and prices, I read nutrition facts, and consider various factors - taste, look, expiry date, discounts and family preferences. Ahhhhh, how more complicated could shopping get?

That's why I take too long to shop. I haven't even gotten around to the bigger issues like which products came from where, or which manufacturer supported what cause. No, I haven't gotten that far…or maybe I have, but to a much lesser degree. I know I have avoided certain brands because I got piqued with the manufacturer…

Yesterday, I was at Canadian Superstore which has become my supermarket of choice, all factors considered. I visit other places for specific needs, but I find that the Superstore meets most of my shopping requirements. So there I was, with my list and all. I decided I will be even more finicky with my purchases this time. I scrutinized everything and discovered a few things.

For instance, bulk items don't always mean cheaper price per unit. For example, you would expect that if you bought a pack of 12 rolls of paper towels, you would save a few cents per roll than if you bought a pack of 6. Not necessarily. I computed a 12-pack and a 6-pack of the same brand, and the 6-pack yielded a cheaper unit price, even if it's just by a few cents. Where is the wisdom of bulk-buying here? This is true for other items as well, so be smart. Larger is not always cheaper.

Toilet paper prices took me harder to compare. I checked the number of plies, 2-ply, 3-ply, the number of sheets per roll and the number of rolls. $.0012/sheet vs. $.0024/sheet…Then after all the computations were done, I wondered, which feels better on the…(I don't have to say that out loud.) That needs to be considered or my family will complain.

Another thing, and I think this is true not only for Superstore but for other places as well. The bulk section, where you bag your own items from large bins, does not necessarily mean cheaper buys. Brown sugar at the bulk section turned out to be slightly more expensive than the packaged one you can just get from the shelf. It's the same with rice and elbow macaroni. I computed the price per 100 g to find this out for sure.

I learned from my seminar that brands on the eye-level shelves are more expensive because manufacturers pay more to get that location. So when shopping, look high and look low, we were taught. Me, I look all over, in front, behind, just in case...

Also, house brands are supposedly usually cheaper. Superstore carries President's Choice and No Name brands, I believe. Pricesmart and Save-On have Western Family, Costco has Kirkland... These are the first brands I look for depending on where I am shopping at the moment.

My latest thing is the nutritive value. Previously, I hardly ever noticed the nutrition box on the labels. Now I check for sodium content and trans fat, on one hand, and all the good nutrients, on the other. Is it worth to have a little more sodium, slightly less fat, with a high protein content?... This one has lots of iron and potassium, but more fat, but less sodium…For a few more cents, this gives more fibre, vitamin A…blah blah blah… You can just imagine the discussions going on in my head.

With a limited shopping budget, I find it very challenging to find the best compromise between cost, quality, health, taste… But I keep working at it. I wish I could choose all organic or natural or free range, all the time, but the reality is something has to give sometimes. I have to be realistic with the budget that I have.

After I have made a thorough evaluation of different brands, I stick to that brand. I have my usual flax bread, orange juice, bag of lemons, margarine, cooking oil, frozen shrimps… I hope to eventually do this for most of the products that I regularly buy. Then shopping will be easier.

One other tip, at the checkout counter, watch the cash register as the cashier scans or punches in your items. They can make mistakes too especially for items that don't have bar codes. Fresh produce, for instance. Yesterday I was watching this young guy manually punch in vegetable codes. The register read "coriander". "That's parsley," I said. Then "rutabaga". "That's turnip," I corrected him again. One time, my small watermelon was entered as large. It was good I caught it soon. Saved me almost $2.

As I was heading to the checkout counter, I was so tempted to reach out for a choco bar. I've been shopping so hard, I deserve a treat. Caution: This is what those items are there for--to get you at your weakest, after you have exhausted yourself crazy trying to buy wisely. That area triggers impulse buying. Fortunately, I was able to resist the choco bar knowing that its calorie content is equivalent to 20 minutes of running on the elliptical trainer. I would not have been able to resist it though had there beens nuts there instead.

From now on, I will write all my shopping discoveries in a notebook to make my life at the supermarket simpler. Then maybe I will enjoy shopping with myself!!

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