Friday, February 27, 2009

Shopping Experiment

I have a confession. I don’t cook very often. Everyone in my family cooks really well. For me? It’s a swing and a miss. I decided recently (as I’ve done before) that I want to start cooking. Not all the time. But I definitely want to contribute to my family’s meal experience. By doing this I’ve learned many things.

#1: I’m about to be banned from the kitchen. It’s quite funny how bad I am at it. Rather than learning how to cook, I’m actually learning what I can pull off and what to stay away from.
#2: The crock pot and I don’t always get along.
#3: My son loves to help me cook so I can get in QT with him
#4 My husband will eat anything….God bless him.
#5: It really takes strategic planning……….or shopping rather.

My typical shopping consists of a minimum of 3 weekly trips to the grocery store to buy items of need, as they come up. (this is in theory of course because I rarely do the shopping) That’s a lot of wasted time when you think about it. Each trip is a minimum of 30 minutes. 30 minutes x 3 times per week= 6 hours per month. Not to mention the cost of gas and impacting the environment with the trips. For people who are so pressed for time these days, 2 hours is a lot. That’s enough time for a monthly massage and a trip to the park. I remember my mother and grandmother taking weekly grocery trips. In which they would buy massive amounts of food, usually hitting sales. Sales were their thing. It was a sport for them. I remember them discussing what needs to be done (what meat to take out of the freezer) the night before, planning dinner for the next day. Everything was already there. I never remember them starting a dinner and then realizing that they were out of something. Well, I didn’t pick up this lifestyle. For New Year’s Day while cooking for friends/family, I sent my poor husband four, that’s right FOUR, times to the store. So I decided now I want to have more of plan like the women before me.

I have a tight nit group of friends whom I talk to about everything. A friend of mine told me her secret. Which, now I know, is not a secret at all, lots of people do this. She takes the weekly sales papers that come in the mail (I usually throw it directly in the recycle box, without even glancing) and brings it to Wal-Mart where she normally does her shopping and they match any sales price. I’m thinking that sounds like a lot of work. I want to minimize my time not add to it. But she claims it really saves money. So I decided to conduct a little experiment, because I was not convinced.

Next time the sales papers came in, I started looking at them. I found things we normally buy and started circling all these great prices. My husband saw me and wanted to know what I was doing. I told him and he pointed out that most of the items I circled are what Wal-Mart usually charges. This is when it hit me. I have no earthly idea how price of things. How is this possible? My hobby is planning and budgeting for crying out loud! I can tell you right now how much we spend per month, how much we save, how much we donate, how much we invest, etc but I can’t tell you how much individual items are such as gas, food, etc. It really hit me hard when I realized that a gallon of milk isn’t $2.16. I really thought I was close too. It’s embarrassing. I started surveying people to see if they knew the price of things and most of them did. It took me a week to get over this.

And the sale papers came once again. So my experiment began…again. This time, I circled everything we normally buy. I typed up a grocery list with the items, the sale price and which paper it’s from. I did this because I’m used of shopping with a list and didn’t want to dig in each sale paper for each item. I dragged my husband with me to Wal-Mart for help. He totally thought I was nuts trying to save a few cents here and there. But it was for research!
I had to find each item and compare. Wal-Mart was already cheaper than half of items on my list. As for the other half, I saved a grand total of $12.73. That was actually a lot more than I expected. The discount on each item varied from $.06 to $4.84. Still, I’m thinking that the time spent circling the items, typing the list, having to point out each discounted item to the cashier and holding up the line of growing disgruntled shoppers at the register isn’t worth the savings.

On the other hand, let’s look at the big picture. Let’s say that $12.73 would be the average savings per week. $12.73 x 52 weeks= $661.96 per year. A huge chunk of Americans don’t have a nest egg (savings account). Let’s say you take those savings and put it in a savings account that earns 4% interest. How much do you think it’ll grow? Yep, you guessed it, I researched that too.

Current Savings:
Years to Enrollment:
10 years
Interest Rate on Savings:
Contribution Frequency:
Amount Saved Per Period:
Total Contributions:
Number of Contributions:
Total Interest Earnings:
Interest Earnings Percentage:
Total Projected Savings:

This could help you in a number of ways 10 years from now. This is nothing but money you would have normally spent on food. Even if you’re not looking that far ahead, couldn’t you use an extra $661.96 per year? You can use it towards Christmas gifts, pay an extra mortgage/car payment, buy yourself something nice. Don’t care about having that extra money? Don’t need it? There are people in this world who greatly need it. You can donate it to the ones that do need it. Most people don’t donate money because they don’t have disposable income. Saving money that you normally spend on food can create disposable income to be able to give back.

Even in a recession, Americans are still very fortunate in comparison to the rest of the world. Yet we take our luxury for granted.

It’s not only about saving a buck. Most of us are fortunate enough not to worry about each nickel and dime. But I think it’s time for us to start thinking about how our actions affect us, our family and the world around us. Any small alteration to our lifestyle could greatly impact us, our family and others.

Will I continue to search for the sales? Maybe. Maybe not. But the research on this was fun and definitely a learning experience. I’m curious to hear your feedback.

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