Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jubilee and Me

NOTE: I wrote the bulk of this post a year ago, but didn't post it.  It's been in blogatory since then, until I dusted it off, made a few revisions, then decided to go ahead and post it.  Enjoy.

My first post on included a list of my best guesses of the tags that would be attached to subsequent posts.   This list was both to prepare you, the reader, and to provide myself with some direction.  Some of the tags have been more used than others, which I expected.  But some have been strikingly (to me) unused.  Here are two of the unused tags and their initial descriptions from that post:

7. God & the Bible. At the time of this writing, I’m not a pastor anymore, but am still a Christian. It’s fair to say I’ve been struggling with God for a few years now. Maybe my relationship with God mirrors my relationship with writing in some ways; both connecting with God and writing take time, focus, and are easy to put off for another day.

8. Church & Ministry. Not sure what I’ll be saying about this yet.

Many of the readers of WPFF know that I was an associate pastor for 4 years at a fairly new, gen-X-ish church in my hometown.  It took me about 2 years to get the hang of the job, and another 2 years to dramatically burn out and quit under the weight of escalating, poorly-understood, poorly-communicated, and poorly-addressed conflicts between me and some of the leaders at my church.  This weight was in addition to typical ministry stress, and I felt that my walk with God was being overwhelmed by conflict-born waves of frustration and disillusionment.

The church—comprised of my closest friends—was also suffering.  So was my family.  With the goal of preserving most of the things that mattered most to me, I walked away.

Initially, things were OK.  I could breathe again, and I could spend time with my wife and daughters without feeling like half my heart was battered beyond repair, and that the half that was still alive was looking over my shoulder, bracing for the next round of conflict.

While I was waiting for my walk with God and my passion for ministry to resurrect, I instead found myself looking back at how everything related to my departure transpired, and I grew sadder and more confused.

I also felt more and more “set up” by God.  An old friend of mine was once backing out of his garage on his way to school.  The problem was that he forgot to open the garage door before doing so.  And the jaw-dropping aspect of the event was that his sister was in the car with him, and knew that the garage was still closed—and didn’t say anything!

As I looked back, I increasingly felt like I had spent 4 years backing out of a garage with the garage door still closed, and that God was in the car the whole time and didn’t say anything.  Or at least not loud and clear enough for me to hear Him.

Without trying, I have retrospectively come to view most of the characteristics of myself (e.g., easy-going nature, desiring to connect with the marginalized, giftedness at writing)—that I had once valued as uniquely God-given strengths—instead as flaws that kept me from seeing the garage door.  Disillusionment and embarrassment have grown.  My walk with God has not.

Starting this blog was a huge step for me to tread into the waters of making use of my strengths again.  And when I wrote the first post, I thought that within a month, I would have fresh and exciting things to say related to the tags that I copied and pasted above.

I’m not there yet.  I still don’t know what I would, could, or should say.

Today, as I was thinking about underused tags in the WPFF archive, I thought about forcing the issue a little bit.  What could I possibly write about that could be tagged either “God & the Bible” or “Church & Ministry”?

I thought about our new church, Jubilee Church.  I still feel funny calling it “our church.”  I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable calling a church that again.  But it’s the church that we’ve been attending for 2 1/2 years.

I thought that a safe, harmless, and edifying post—but one that could move me towards more individually substantial posts in the future—could be “things I like about our new church.”  So, without further ado, here’s some things I like:

1)  The Pastor.  Bryan is down-to-earth, conversational in his messages, and funny.  He actually carries himself a lot like I do, which is a trait I usually find pretty annoying in people, but Bryan pulls it off.  He once even wore a shirt identical to one that I own, and I am nothing if not world-renowned for my fashion sense.

He values people and the grace of God.  He really pushes the grace stuff, which is good.  He has experienced it, and he is eager to share it with others.  He comes across like a drifter who happened to get picked up by God and who is very thankful for it.

2)  The Sunday Morning “Schedule.”  I haven’t checked this lately, but when we started coming to Jubilee, the website gave the ending-time of the Sunday service in the form of a time-range.  When I first met Bryan, I asked him why this was.  His explanation was matter-of-fact and dripping with common sense:  No one at the church knew exactly what the Holy Spirit would be doing any given Sunday, and they figured they should at least give Him some time flexibility on finishing His work.  I loved it.

3)  The Approach to Money.  Money is a huge topic in the Bible.  It’s also a topic that scares a lot of people away from church, never to return.  So what’s a church to do?  At Jubilee, the approach is to talk about money with roughly the same frequency that it is talked about in the Bible, while at the same time making it clear that Jubilee as an organization couldn’t care less about YOUR money.  For example, Jubilee is footing the bill for anyone at the church to attend a regional church conference at the start of June.  Registration is around $100 per person, but Jubilee actually printed a code on their program for anyone to use on the registration website that completely waves the fee.  Jubilee is covering thousands of dollars of fees, trusting that God will take care of the church’s finances as He sees fit.

4)  The Facilities.  A few years ago, Jubilee moved into a building that had been a funeral home.  Turns out, funeral homes make great church buildings.  Big foyer, lots of kids rooms, large meeting room, plenty of parking.

The interior design is contemporary but not showy.  The signage and layout are functional but not sterile.  All very nice.

5)  Worship.  Full band, regularly including a favorite instrument of mine that is surprisingly neglected in some newer churches: the keyboard.  The worship leading is solid across the board.  Songs continue long enough to build momentum, but not so long to seem manipulative.  Typos and technical glitches are rare, and are quickly fixed.

6)  Diversity.  In most churches, anything more than token diversity is fairly difficult to achieve, especially in mid-west cities and towns that are generally fairly segregated.  But several different ethnicities, nationalities, ages, and socio-economic groups are represented at Jubilee, and the level of diversity is one I have seldom experienced in a church.

7)  Prayer.  After service on Sunday morning, attendees are invited to walk down to the front and pray with any of the team of pray-ers that gathers for that purpose.  It’s nothing dramatic or showy.  They’re just there, ready and willing to pray with and for you for whatever reason you’d like.

All in all, Jubilee Church has been a blessing to me and my family for the past many months.  I am grateful, and I am glad to share some of its strengths with you while I continue to sort out and make use of my own.



Friday, May 18, 2012

Signs of My Times

Sometimes it's OK not to break new ground with profound insight.  Sometimes it's OK to be silly.  With that in mind, I freely acknowledge that I am not the first person (or the first blogger) to notice that public signs and product directions are sometimes completely cuckoo.  I hope that more established signage critics can make room for one more humble voice in their club.

In my defense, I've been taking note of signage atrocities since way back before even the five members of Tesla started jamming acoustically.  Do you remember cloth towel dispensers?  Maybe not.  Here's what they look like:

These were once very popular at so-called "scary gas stations".  As a wee lad, I once noticed (probably in Kansas) that the directions affixed to a cloth dryer included the warning: "Caution: Failure to Use Properly May Lead to Serious Injury or Death."

As a reminder, here is an example of what said death machine looks like:

I remember thinking, "How?  No, seriously, how?"  It's been a while, but cloth towel dispensers struck me as one of the least dangerous inventions ever, right up there with calf-length socks and bread (unsliced).  Like, if someone presented one of those how-did-it-happen riddles, and said, "A man is dead in a room.  The room is completely empty except for a cloth towel dispenser.  How did he die?"  I would answer, "He can't really be dead.  There is no way for this situation to exist as you've described."

Is it possible that someone--anyone--truly believed that misusing this product could cause death?  If so, did they believe that a completely non-specific warning could save even a single life?

Of course, "misplaced altruistic passion" doesn't get signs put up all by itself; it needs help from "fear of legal liability."  This begs the question of why didn't the legal team include in their warning other, equally likely ramificantions of misusing this machine?  You know, something like, "Misusing this product could cause serious injury or death.  It could also be misinterpreted as a signal to a distant alien race waiting to hear back from their disguised-as-an-Earthling scout who was left with the directive 'use the cloth towel dispenser properly if they are a people of peace, use it improperly if they are a people of hostility and we should come and probe and/or destroy them.'  Equally likely, it could make hummingbirds grow to the size of blue whales and decide that they like eating humans more than sugar water.  Misuse of this product could also function as the breaking of the first seal, as mentioned in the book of Revelation.  Better dry quick, smart guy, because the four horseman of the apocolypse may be well on their way.  For the record, if any of this happens, it is on you, not us."

So, yes, I've been noticing odd signage for a while.  I can't help it.

In recent days, armed with a phone that takes pictures, I have documented a few more of these peculiar signs, which I dutifully present to you today:

1.  "Good" Use of Quotes.

I can think of about a dozen different ways to use a word processor to highlight a particular word within a sign.  I can only think of ONE way of highlighting a word that actually causes a reader to wonder, "In what way is that NOT what they are wanting to say?"  Of course, if the "new" management is really just the old management having turned over a new leaf, then I retract this entry and tip my cap to the all-too-rare CORRECT use of "quotes for emphasis" within a sign.

2.  Worst.  Advertising Expenditures.  Ever.

 Is it black Friday already?  Target, to their credit, seems to have realized that providing customers the opportunity to exchange forms of currency at an exact 1:1 ratio was not, as they say in the advertising business, "worth mentioning".  Because a few weeks later, there was this:

Nice try, Target, but no dice.  My rule is that if it's not more than .07% off the regular price, I don't even think of it as a sale.

3.  Passing the Buck.

Yes, the directions are a bit circular, but the confidence with which they are given more than makes up for it.

4.  Abbrev Sig.

Directly below the bright orange "FOR SALE" is the word "LAWNMOWER".  Below that, obscured by the shadows, are some other letters.  This ain't perfect, but is a little more clear:


I was about to totally go off on this sign, but in doing some research, I discovered that "The Lamor Sign" actually won several of this year's coveted "Signee Awards."  Here is the complete list of its wins:

MOST OVERSIZED LETTER: "The Lamor Sign" for its use of "A"
MOST NEGLECTED LETTER:  "The Lamor Sign" for its disuse of "W"
MOST UNNECESSARY SIGN: "LAMOR", for being written directly below "LAWNMOWER" and for labeling a piece of machinery that is readily identifiable to anyone who may be interested in buying it.
So hats off, Lamor sign!  Or, "HAOF" (if you know what I mean)!

5.  Consider Us Warned.

My camera crew was hungover when they snapped this, so I had to find another, clearer image from my sister site, Flickr.

Same sign at the one I saw, but on a different truck--BUT, also with
Missouri plates.  Uh, shout out to my home state, I guess.

OK, so I know that we're an obese society with historically poor impulse control.  I get that.  And maybe I'm forgetting that not everyone learned the rule, "If you ever find yourself with the end of a hose stuck in your mouth, about to siphon the contents of an oil tanker into your stomach:  Stop.  Count to ten in Greek.  Then go buy some French fries."  That was a good, helpful rule, and I shouldn't stand in judgment over people whose parents never instilled in them such sound advice.

Maybe the real problem with this sign can be best demonstrated with a Venn diagram:

In other words, this sign needs a picture.  Like this one that I found on the internet:

Do Not Eat

It would have to be tweaked, of course, but I'm just saying there are possibilities.  The message CAN be conveyed, even without words.

6.  I Thought Everyone Knew These Things.

If you gathered a team of school marms and TSA agents and said, "I'd like you to come up with a list of six rules that can govern the refills at the beverage station at McDonald's," I'm pretty sure they'd be like, "Six?  That seems kind of high.  Can we do three?"

Hey, what do you know?  There are six!  And the best news is that I can still cup my hands under soda tap while pressing the "PUSH" button with my forhead and slurp my carbonated nector the way God intended--since it isn't expressly forbidden by the sign.  Whew!

7.  What Do You Think This Is?

Yeah, so this is a travel pillow.  You've seen them.  They look like a cross between a horseshoe and a padded toilet seat.  But don't be fooled.  It's a pillow.  Not an inflatable pillow, mind you.  Just a pillow.  What really makes this pillow different from other pillows is that this one is not a lifesaving device.

If the rest of you can bear with me, I'd like to close out this post by taking a moment to directly address pillow label makers in a constructive manner:

Pillow label makers, I appreciate the heads up that this pillow is not made to be a "lifesaving device" and should generally not be treated as one.  But what would you think of adding, "ON THE OTHER HAND, IF IT EVEN CROSSES YOUR MIND TO USE THIS AS A LIFESAVING DEVICE, YOU'RE PROBABLY IN A PRETTY DIRE SITUATION, AND YOU MAY AS WELL GO FOR IT."

That's just a little thing, though.  What I do take exception to, though, is your characterization of this pillow as a "device"--period.

See, when I say, "Honey, can you hand me that device, or is it in use?" I may be talking about an iPod, or a coffee grinder, or maybe a wheat combine.  But not so much a pillow.  That would be weird.

Also, I'm not sure under what conditions this "device" could be characterized as "in use" in such a way that would cause me to think it would be OK to leave my child unattended.  Don't I put it around my neck?  If I left my child, wouldn't this device leave with me (being around my neck and all)?  Does wearing a travel pillow sometimes instill in people a false sense of confidence in their child's ability to get along without being attended to?

Surely you're not meaning "in use" as "wrapped around a child's neck", right?  Even if that child was attended to?  OK, maybe that is what you're saying.  I mean, if I'm attending to my child, what could go wrong, right?  But--assuming my child is at such an age that he or she needs attending to--isn't that advice about not leaving my child unattended while this device is "in use" a good rule of thumb anyway, even if I haven't just wrapped a pillow around his or her neck?  Maybe you could change the last part to "FINALLY, LET'S FORGET ABOUT THE PILLOW FOR A MOMENT.  JUST DON'T LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN UNATTENDED, OK?  THAT'S A FREEBIE.  YOU'RE WELCOME."

Otherwise, the directions look great.  Good font, good color.  Keep up the good work.

You're welcome.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Stabbing an Evil King

About a week ago, I heard preacher give a talk on a passage out of the book of Judges, chapter 3.  A bad king named Eglon had taken over the Israelites, and the Israelites pleaded with God for relief.  God provided them with a deliverer very much like the Hungry Preacher himself in that he was left-handed.  This guy's name was Ehud, and I'm not making up the left-handed detail--it's actually in there.

In the story, Ehud hides a knife under his clothing and travels with a group of Israelites to give tribute to King Eglon.  They present the tribute.  The narrative is a little vague at this point, but it appears that the party--including Ehud--bids farewell and heads for home.  Upon passing some idols, Lefty Ehud sends his friends their way, while he pulls a 180 and heads back to the king.

This time, he tells the king Eglon that he has a secret message for him.  With assassination prevention tactics still being in their infancy, the king tells his royal court to run along so he can hear this message in private.  Ehud approached the king, then "reached with his left hand, drew the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king's belly.  Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back.  Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it."  Ehud locked the doors then snuck away off the porch.  The king's attendents waited and waited, assuming that the king must be relieving himself (also actually in there).  "They waited to the point of embarrassment" and finally opened the door with a key to find their "lord fallen on the floor, dead" (at which point, we can assume they were doubly embarrassed).

It's a graphic and detailed story, one that--to my knowledge--not a single Vacation Bible School song has been written about.  And it's easy to get hung up on the reality that, in the Old Testament, God was often a bit more, well, "Old Testament" in how he brought justice to his people.

But the preacher had us hone in on the pivotal moment of Ehud's mission, when he pulled the 180 to head back to the king.  He suggested that Ehud was having second thoughts--maybe doubting his calling or his opportunity.  Realize that in the context of the Old Testament, this isn't a crazy man having second-thoughts about assassinating a duly elected leader.  This is a man clearly chosen by God to deliver his oppressed people from a tyrannical king.

Regardless of the details of his interior monologue, Ehud initially left the king alive, then decided to head back and follow through with what he knew God was calling him to do, even without knowing how things would turn out.

The preacher suggested that we all have little callings that we accept, then don't follow through on.  The "evil kings" that we need to slay are, of course, metaphorical.  But Ehud's example of following through should be a model and an inspiration.

Truthfully, I was not consciously thinking about this story 6 days later, this past Thursday morning.  I was running late for a meeting, and was walking briskly through the parking garage to the elevator.  As I approached the glass doors to get to the elevator, the elevator doors opened, and a man began to walk out.

It was an old man, and he walked slowly.  I resisted the urge to spryly slip through the glass door and shimmy around him into the elevator, even though there was a button he could have pressed to open the glass door.  Instead, I held open the door.

For the next 30 seconds, my life moved verrrry slowly as this man walked through the door.  The man was probably around 80, with the top of his head completely bald.  A ring of gray hair circled the sides and back of his head, and it needed a trim.  The man had sunken, brown eyes, and he looked sad.  He was a little overweight, but not obese, and for as slow as he was walking and as old as he was, he was surprisingly upright in his walk.  His eyes looked forward and down, but he held his head up.  He held a cane in his left hand and had a brace of some sort laced over his left ankle.  Each step moved him forward about a foot.

Behind him, there was a woman spotting him.  She was saying things like, "You've got it.  You're doing it."  All the while, she had her hands on his hips like in a conga line.  At first I thought she was his therapist or nurse, but she wasn't wearing any sort of uniform, and there was something deeply personal about her tone and disposition towards the man.  I wondered if she was his daughter.

She briefly thanked me.  I was glad that neither of them took my standing there waiting for them as a prompt to hurry things up.  I was intentionally taking this time out, but I was worried my eyes or body language would look impatient.  I didn't want that.  I wanted them to feel blessed.  I thought about saying to the man, "You're doing great."  But then I had the thought, "You don't actually know how he's doing."  That was true.  I didn't know if he was REALLY trying his best, or if he was just going through the motions to humor his daughter.  I didn't know if he could be doing more and was just taking it easy.  I also didn't want to sound patronizing.  He wasn't a baby.  What if my saying "You're doing great" embarrassed rather than encouraged him?

I didn't say anything.  They shuffled through the door.  I got in the elevator.  From the first floor to the third floor I had only a few seconds--not enough time to form a logical, rational case one way or the other for saying "You're doing great" to a guy I'd never even met.

Instead of forming a case, I gave myself a choice: "This could be a time that you made a sincere effort to bless somebody--even if you didn't know how it would turn out--or it could be just another time you thought about doing something nice, only to spend the rest of your life vaguely wishing you had but feeling somewhat justified because at least you thought about it."

With my left hand, I pressed the "P" button on the elevator.  When the doors opened, I was ready to sprint in front of any moving car if it meant stopping this man and his daughter so I could say "You're doing great."  I plunged through the door.  In the first spot, 5 feet away from me, was the man and the woman.  The man was in the passanger seat.  The woman was standing next to him, with the door open.  She may have been buckling him in.  Her back was to me.  Trying my best not to look like a mugger, I said, "Excuse me!"  The man turned only his head to the right to see me--moving his torso may have been impossible.  The woman turned around to face me straight on.

Her eyes were blue, and her hair was long, wavy, and stringy.  It was probably bright blond when she was a kid, but now it had faded into a weathered-looking shade of light brown.  Her eyes were bright blue, but didn't look very lively.  Really, she just looked sad.

I didn't want to just say, "You're doing great," so I opened my mouth to see if anything else would come out.  What I said was, "Hey, I just wanted to tell you that while I was standing there holding the door I had the thought, 'This guy is working his tail off.'  Then I got to the third floor, and I thought, 'Maybe he'd like to hear that someone noticed that.'  So I came back down.  Anyway, I saw you working your tail off, and I was inspired."  I paused to emphasize each word of my next sentence.  "Seeing you inspired me.  And, since probably not very many people would make it a point to tell you that, it's probably a safe bet that for every one person who actually tells you, there are at least another 100 people who are thinking the same thing."

At that last point, the woman's eyes filled up with tears.  She said, "Thank you so much for telling us that.  He had a stroke a year ago, and he's had to learn to re-learn how to walk."  The man was looking at me, too.  I was glad that, in looking in his eyes, I didn't see any self-pity or excessive pride.  He just looked like a man, a soul, hurting, trying to work through the trials in his life.  His eyes were also filled up.  He said, "Thank you for saying this."  I said, "Thank you, sir."  Then I said, "Blessings," and went on my way, back up to the third floor.

When I got there--now an extra few minutes late to my meeting--that was when I thought about Ehud again, how he appeared to walk away from an opportunity only to think, "I gotta go back.  I gotta do this."  Then he went back.  My 180 wasn't nearly as dramatic as his, but it's where I was at.  On that day, at that moment, I pulled a 180 and "stabbed an evil king." 

I have heard that there are many evil kings in this world, in my life and in yours.  Be watchful.  Be ready.  People are not blessed by what we "thought about doing."  And if you give in to inaction or compromise, don't be afraid to pull a 180.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Getting Full on Less Dough: the Hungry Preacher's Guide to Savvy Shopping, PART 6

Here we are, already in PART 6 of our course.  Here are handy links in case you need to review PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4, or PART 5.  (And here's a bonus link to my shopping exploits last Thanksgiving Day.)  It seems like just a couple of weeks ago, you were wide-eyed freshmen entering the Hungry Preacher's School for Savvy Shopping ("HPSSS" as we're referred to in the BCS standings).  Now, you're ready to graduate.  But even though you're "earning a degree", remember that life is all about "learning in degrees" (see what I did there?).  So take steps to continue your education through your own experience, as well as the mooching off the experience of others.

Believe it or not, many of the lessons I myself have taught you in this course were actually passed on to me from shoppers even savvier than I.

First and foremost, check out, and the sister blogs and  I'm not exactly sure about the direction of influence in shopping and couponing blogs, but I think a lot of them draw from these.  They provide good hints for newbies and seasoned vets alike, as well as sneak peeks at upcoming sales, links to coupons and other sites, and even a copy of Walgreen's coupon policy.

Since I mentioned links to coupons, I should point out the obvious gap in information in this series regarding online coupons.  If I was doing a "PART 7", "Online Coupons" would be the topic.  The biggest reason that I didn't cover that topic is because I'm still sort of figuring it out myself.  If anyone knows a comprehensive and consistently updated database of online coupons, I'd be interested to know it.  The closest thing I've found is, but I get the feeling they're always about a week behind on updates.  Maybe I'm wrong.

Other coupons sites (and there may be some overlap in terms of what is offered) include,,, and

Aside from having to jump around to different sites to find coupons, online coupon clipping is also more of a race than something to leisurely do while you're watching TV; there are often a limited number of prints available for a coupon, so it's a "first come" sort of thing.  Realize some folks swear by it, and I may be just a couple of tips away from having online couponing click for me.  But right now, I'm a dabbler.

If you want more insight into online couponing, or just feel like 6 posts is woefully insufficient to address all you need to know about saving money, check out this 30-post primer on couponing.  The series (and the entire site) is pretty bada--, as couponing websites go.

Finally, here is a sampling of Price Ceilings from yours truly, presented here in appendix-like resource form.  Many of these could be lowered by 15-20% in a pinch:
-pack of gum
-pound of bananas
-single-serve yogurt
-single cartridge for a razor (# per package varies)

-bottle of ketchup
-box of pasta (16 ounce)
-pound of apples
-box of facial tissue
-can of soup
-tube of toothpaste
-energy drink
-can of tuna
-6 pack of boxed raisins

-bag of tortilla chips
-package of hot dogs

-box of 6 granola bars
-box of 10 packets of fruit snacks
-chocolate syrup
-8 ounces bag of shredded cheese
-box of cereal
-household cleaner
-bag of potato chips
-stick of deoderant
-jar of peanuts
-16 ounce flavored coffee creamer

-12-pack of name-brand soda
-4 ounces of beef jerky
-12-pack of string cheese
-12 ounces of ground coffee

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Getting Full on Less Dough: the Hungry Preacher's Guide to Savvy Shopping, PART 5

In PART 1 of this series, I provided a non-exhaustive list of 5 foundational rules that can help savvify your shopping.  Only one of those rules will get its very own "post of elaboration".  That post is today's post, the penultimate of the series.  And that rule, copied from PART 1, is as follows:

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).

Just in case providing it with its very own post wasn't enough, let me say as clearly as I know how that your price ceiling--and nothing else--should determine whether or not you buy an item.  If you spend too much on groceries, it's almost certainly due to not establishing and/or not abiding by price ceilings.  Since I'm tired of typing out "price ceiling" and since "PC" is already taken as an abbreviation, henceforth I will regularly use "PrC" as an abbreviation for "price ceiling".

So here are a few additional thoughts and clarifications:
1.  Coupons and PrC's.  You CAN use a coupon to bring an item under your PrC.  But don't fall into the trap of thinking, "Oh, I have a coupon AND this item is on sale--that must count for something."  If that sale + coupon doesn't bring the item under your PrC, then they do NOT count for something.  I am speaking from experience when I say that it is weird how great the pull of sale + coupon can be, when my brain knows full well that I can STILL get the item for cheaper.  Let me use coffee as an example.  I realize that coffee brand and quality is something that a lot of people feel very strongly about, and I am not without my own preferences.  But in lean times, coffee is coffee, and the cheapest coffee I can find is the 34 ounce bin of either Folgers or Maxwell House.  It's not hard to get one of those for $9 or less.  However, like anyone drawn to things that sparkle, I am always intrigued by those 12 ounce foil bags of coffee.  On average, those run about $8 a bag.  Regularly, they go on really good sales, and maybe get as low as $6 a bag.  Sometimes I have a really good coupon for one of those bags--maybe even $2 off 1.  So if the planets are aligned just right, I can get a 12 ounce bag of coffee for $4.  This is very exciting for me (really!) and I think, "Wow, what a deal!  Must... buy... 12 ounce bag..."  You probably see where this is going.  The bag is STILL less of a value than the bin.  It is easy to forget or ignore this reality.  There's probably something psychological about desiring the sale + coupon foil bag over the old-reliable plastic bin.  But even when our irrational and subjective brains are reaching out for the shiny bag of coffee, let your PrC be your objective, unwavering test.

2.  Specific Stores and PrC's.  Sometimes, you can establish your PrC by knowing what certain items go on sale for.  I mentioned 12-packs of Coke getting as low as $2 per.  Other times, you can establish your PrC by knowing what certain stores ALWAYS sell the item for.  For example, I know that the regular price of a 6-pack of boxed raisins is $1 a Walgreens (it may have just recently jumped a quarter to $1.25).  I don't need to wait for a sale or look for a coupon: $1 is my PrC on raisins.  Dollar stores are often good places to establish your PrC's on certain items, especially if you can let go of your love for name-brands (and ambiance, though some dollar stores are not as bad as you might think).

3.  PrC's Per Ounce.  Or pint, or liter, or litre, or whatever.  The point is, try to pay some attention to how much of something you are getting.  For example, the aforementioned dollar stores sometimes sell jars of peanuts.  Seems like a great deal for just a dollar.  Except that the jars are about half the size of the jars that you can usually get for about $2 at places like Walgreens.  Note the coffee illustration, as well.  However, there are some items whose weight I care less about than others.  For example, my PrC for breakfast cereal is $2.  Some boxes have more cereal weight than others.  But I usually eat one or two bowls of cereal for breakfast, regardless of the density of the cereal.  If the cereal is more airy, the milk I consume with it cereal still makes me full.  Also, I sometimes don't care so much about the weight of individually wrapped items.  I know that I'm going to put a pack of fruit snacks in my girls' lunches.  Neither I nor they will notice if that pack is .9 ounces or .75 ounces.  So don't get duped, but don't spend too much time fretting over an ounce or two here or there.

4.  PrC's of $0.  I was once at Aldi and saw a large bin of regular-sized Kit Kat bars marked for 5 cents a piece.  I knew I was seeing something special.  Another customer actually asked an employee if that was the right price.  She said it was.  I thought about buying every Kit Kat in the bin--there were several hundred--and spending the next several months moonlighting as a "Kit Kat fairy," frolicking around the city, blessing strangers and friend alike with Kit Kats.  No doubt, 5 cents for a Kit Kat was a great deal--for anyone in the market for a Kit Kat.  I had to remind myself that I was not.  I know what me and my family want and need to eat.  Those things have PrC's of a positive dollar value.  Everything else has a PrC of $0.  If I pay more than a PrC for an item, be it a $4 box of cereal or a 5-cent Kit Kat, I am NOT getting a good deal.  I am getting scammed.  I am spending money that I have no business spending.  I have found the "PrC of $0" concept to be a good way of reframing seemingly harmless impulse buys and seeing them for what they are: wasteful expenditures that I have no reason to make.

5.  Tiers of PrC's.  This may seem to go against everything I've said about the objective yardstick that is a PrC.  Maybe this isn't so much a caveat to the objectivity of PrC's as it is an advanced teaching.  Anyway, the reality is that for most items, I have both a "high PrC" and a "low PrC".  I've alluded to this already, like with 12-packs of Coke.  $3 is a high PrC.  If I spend more than that on a 12-pack, I have screwed up either in planning or in assessing my need for Coke.  But I also know that sometimes, Coke goes on sale for less than that.  So if money is especially tight, or my Coke reserves are well stocked, I can impose my low PrC on 12-packs of Coke, which is $2.50 or even $2.  Maybe a good tactic for establishing your PrC's is start a little on the high end, and if you regularly see the item for much less than your PrC, then you can adjust it lower.  But do this at home, while watching a baseball game, and NOT at the store in the heat of battle.

All right, savvy shoppers.  One more post, in which I'll offer something of an appendix of resources and a final send off.  Until then...