Thursday, April 12, 2012

Getting Full on Less Dough: the Hungry Preacher's Guide to Savvy Shopping, PART 1

When not preaching for food, I sometimes acquire food for myself and my family the old fashioned way: the surrendering of legal currency to vendors of food. Over the years, I have practiced various tips and tricks to reduce the amount of money I need to spend on these regular food purchases.

I know there are other hungry preachers out there--some literal, some figurative--and while I cannot "give them a fish," perhaps I can "teach them to fish." Or, if I dare to balance the line between literal and metaphorical language (and you know I do!), I can "teach them to get the best possible price for fish from people who already know how to fish and successfully do so." So if you put on your listening ears, I'll put on my Yoda ears, and we'll have ourselves a good-old-fashioned paying forward of wisdom and experience, all in convenient blog form.

Let me quickly note that I realize that some people have the NEED to save money, and some people have the DESIRE to save money. Sometimes, those are the same people. Sometimes, they are not.

If you are someone with the need AND the desire to save money, I hope that my thoughts are helpful and my tone is compassionate. If you have the need and NOT the desire--well, I hope that some of what I write has the effect of "tough love"; it may be time to step up. In other words, I would like the very same words to seem simultaneously compassionate and confrontational, each in measures appropriate to the needs of the individual reader. Easy, right?

Today, I'll start off with some simple but foundational rules to embroid onto your reusable shopping bags. In the days that follow, I'll get into specifics regarding things like couponing and where to find the cheapest of certain products.

Shopping bootcamp starts now:

1. See Shopping as a Part-time Job. Let's say you added an extra 15 hours a month to the time that you spend planning and shopping. That probably seems like a lot. But I would guess that the average shopper for a family of 4 can turn that 15 hours of work into about $100 saved. That's actually not a bad return, if you figure it as a tax-free, hourly salary, with very flexible and multi-taskable hours. Such a perspective can help with motivation.

2. Shop Anywhere. If you practice "one stop shopping," you will pay more than you would if you strategically shop around. Of course, if it's worth it to you to take some of your food money each month and use it to buy time, convenience, or atmosphere (the things you gain by "one stop shopping")--by all means, have at it. Just make sure you realize that you ARE paying for those things, and that you are OK with making that purchase, so to speak.

3. Chuck Brand Loyalty. Sometimes brands matter, and we all have our name-brand splurges. I buy Crisco cooking spray because the capless spray-top is just to-die-for. Suggestion: Give yourself 5 products that you get to pick your brand on, and maybe another 10 that have brands that you WON'T buy. If money is tight each month, and yet there 37 items that you just HAVE to have in a certain brand... well, there's a disconnect. You've got to either adjust how much money you make or adjust your tastes. It took me a while to realize that I don't have a RIGHT, say, to buy only French's mustard or to never shop at Aldi. If I don't have money, I don't get to make those choices.

4. Establish Price Ceilings. A price ceiling is the low but reasonable dollar value you know you can regularly buy something for with sales and/or coupons. For example, my price ceiling on 12-packs of soda is $3. Without too much effort, I know I can usually get a 12-pack for this figure. Know the price ceiling. Commit to the price ceiling. If an item is on sale AND you have a coupon--BUT the final price is STILL above your price ceiling, then run away! Yell, "Go away, you filthy tempters! I am committed to the price ceiling!" Also, remember that the price ceiling is, in fact, a ceiling--if you stock up and practice patience, you can usually pay less than the price ceiling for an item (for example, 12-packs can often be had for $2.50 or even $2.00).

5. Look at Ads. The drugstores and the big supermarkets put out ads early in the week. Monday or Tuesday, I flip through them, and circle any items that are on sale for an amount at or below my price ceiling. (For circling, I've found that black ink stands out better than red or blue.) If I suspect I may have coupons for an item, I'll circle it even if it's a little above my price ceiling. Then I grab a pad of paper, flip back through the ads, and list out the items I've circled in each ad in a centralized manner. I end up with something like this, which helps me to see at a glance if it is worth making it to a particular store any given week.

Checkmarks mean I may have a coupon for that item

These are 5 foundational rules to get you started. In the next few posts, I'll elaborate on some of these, as well offer some specifics in other areas. But if you can follow these 5, you are well on your way to being a slightly-less-hungry preacher.



  1. Hey, Rob! I found your blog after seeing Beth link to it on facebook earlier this week. I see shopping as a job, too, in our little household that wants/needs to save money. I have lots of little strategies of my own, and I'm very interested to read your suggestions.

    -Erika Sterup

    1. Hey, Erika--Good to hear from you. Yes, Beth is my biggest fan, for sure. :) Next post is due out tomorrow--feel free to supplement or even critique any of my suggestions with insight of your own.