Friday, September 30, 2011

THOUGHT FOR FOOD - Grocery Shopping Doesn't Have To Be Gross

Site of the "dreaded deed."
Some people really hate grocery shopping.  They'd sooner get stuck with some other, far more grodie task than push a basket around looking for food bargains.  In fact, I know some people who can honestly claim that the only time they step foot in a supermarket is to pick up beer or for some other dire emergency. 
Disabled cart - my chariot.

Personally I like doing the deed.  I like comparing prices, seeing what's available and to be honest, I like driving those motorized carts around the store.
I walk with a cane or crutches; those ride-around thingies make the process so much easier.  Like the Beach Boys say....Fun ! Fun! Fun! I only wish the baskets were a little bigger.

Don't get me wrong - grocery shopping it is a chore, especially these days when prices are going up almost daily. In fact it's downright maddening to watch as coffee prices, for example, rise from $7.89 to a whopping $15.49 in one seven day span.  I know, I've seen it.  And we shop the "cheap" stores!


An intimidating sea of shelves
It can be downright intimidating....this sea of shelves. So what is one to do?  How does one get in there, get it done and get out of there without going into sticker shock?  Let's be honest....you can't.  But you can take charge of your choices, modify your eating habits when possible to incorporate less expensive items, check the ads for specials and, if need be, shop different stores for the best bargains.  Just remember to include the cost of fuel in your hunting expedition, that's the only way to get an understanding of your savings....if any.

Shop carefully.  Don't be in a hurry when gathering your foodstuff.  This isn't about just schlepping a basket around and grabbing things off shelves. You're in control of the health and well being of yourself, your household...and your wallet!

Realize that lots of stores have set up the shelves to their benefit, not yours. Look around, above and below your normal field of  vision.  Sometimes there's a deal right below or above the more costly item. These stores are literally banking on the fact that you're not paying attention.  As they say, "It's business."  So make it your business not to let them do their business on you!
Go into a store sometime when you're not shopping for the week.  Walk around and you'll see how things are placed. Call it marketing, call it manipulation. It's a real eye-opener!
Some have suggested shopping the perimeter of the store first. That's usually veggies, dairy, meat and breads first. The other items are in the aisles. It's worth considering this "map," as it gets most of the essentials out of the way first. 

Make a list before going to the store.  Categorize the list into sections that make it easier for you to find things.  If you normally start your foraging in the vegetable aisle, start your list with veggies.  Also, distinguish between "essentials," and "wanna gets, " taking care of the former before moving on to the latter. 

It would be good to have menu plans in mind before embarking on your expedition. This can be a little tricky, with prices changing every week.  Look for ads in the paper and online. Plan menus accordingly. Clip...click, print and use...coupons when they really are a bargain.  If you don't normally like or eat snails, why would you want to buy them just because they're on sale?  Impulse buying is bad for a budget!

Have an open mind. Don't be afraid to try store brands.  Sometimes they're pretty good substitutes.  For example Jack likes canned spinach....especially Popeye brand.  I understand. There's nothing like that crusty old sailor's face and name emblazoned on the label to bring back memories of childhood and Saturday morning cartoons.  But at close to $1.79 a can, we're talking a fairly expensive trip down memory lane!

So I bought one can of Popeye brand and one store brand and did a blind taste test.  Truth is, Jack couldn't tell the difference.  I might have noticed that the Popeye version was slightly more salty, but other than that it was fine.  Price comparison - Popeye brand $1.79  Store brand $1.19.  The math speaks for itself.

Chinatown, S.F.
Don't go food shopping on an empty stomach.  If you want to cause a negative impact on your food shopping dollar, going to the store with a mean case of the munchies will do the trick. It's amazing the things you'll bring home under the influence of a growling belly!  On the one hand it can open new vistas, like discovering lychee nuts.....but on the other? I don't even wanna go there!
Local green grocer
Some things are available cheaper at dollar stores.  I buy a lot of my cleaning supplies that way.  Same thing with local farmers' markets or, in my case, the local green grocer. I live near San Francisco's Chinatown, and not too far from the Mission District either, so have bargains practically at my front door! There are also plenty of Farmers' Markets throughout the city.  Talk about location!

Dollar store delights
 If you're fortunate enough to have these valuable resources nearby, take advantage of them!  The difference is astounding!  Just one example: Ginger at the local supermarket is about $2.00 for a tiny scrap.  At the local Chinese green grocer it's $0.75 for a whole hand! (that's what they call a whole ginger....and it kinda looks like a hand, too)

Food display theater
Use your senses. Learn to recognize when food looks old, feels old and smells old.  Don't trust the lighting right at the meat or vegetable counters. Go to the middle of the aisle and look at the thing under "real" lights.  If the bottom of the broccoli looks brownish or woody....if its tops have yellowish or brown patches...consider it too old for rock 'n roll.  Most certainly too old for your table!

Above all else, find ways to enjoy the task.  Don't go shopping when you're too tired.  Of course this can't be helped some times...schedules being what they are.  But when possible, go in a relaxed and unhurried frame of mind.  When possible.  I know.

If you can't do the shopping for yourself, write a detailed list and hope for the best.  If your helper is someone who knows your tastes and budget, you'll probably do fine.  But still, don't assume!  Make sure they know what's important - and if need be what options might be acceptable.  

There are times when I need help; arthritis being what it is there are days when even riding on one of those drive-around grocery carts is not an option. My grocery list for this situation is far more explanatory.  I'll include not only the item but if appropriate the brand (or off brand) name, quantity and even alternate suggestions in case the original item isn't available.

While this sounds like a lot of extra work, it's also one way to avoid the heartbreak of inferior or wrongly purchased products. There's nothing worse than friends at odds over a grocery run.  

In some stores you can save money packing your own groceries,  re-cycling grocery bags or using those cloth sacks.  Check your merchant's policy on this.

We've come a long way from hunting and gathering our food on the open planes, but it all still boils down to the same thing.  Trying to provide for ourselves and our families.   So perhaps we're not that different after all.

If you have any suggestions, comments or what ever please feel free to submit them!
Enjoy!