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...


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