Sunday, March 13, 2011

Making a Mental List Goes a Long Way

A few years ago, while I was on break from college, I went grocery shopping with my parents. It wasn't a particularly exciting event (duh!), but I still remember it well. The reason is because I was surprised and extremely impressed by my parents' ability to spot overpriced items. They seem to have a mental database full of prices, which is completely different than the way I shopped for groceries back then.

When we walked down the produce isle to look at peaches, my mom immediate told me that it was too expensive and cited the price at another grocery store. Then, it was the lettuce, the ground pork, and the fish. They look at each product and pointed out whether it was worth buying at that particular store or not. My mom specialized in the vegetables and seafood while my dad knew the prices for meats and fruits. They'd say things like, “wait until the shrimps go on sale. They'll be almost as much as half off sometimes.” They should be hired by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to take data for the consumer price index (CPI)…and no computer spreadsheets necessary!

Back then, I lived on campus without a car, so my options were very limited, especially during the winter. I bought whatever food was cheap and simple to make. Now that I have more grocery stores to price compare, I learned that I can feed myself better without having to compromise too much on price. That’s as long as I’m aware of what things should “normally” cost.

I take 10 minutes or so to read local grocery store ads every week and try to remember the prices of the items that I purchase most often. I also note of how much cheaper they can get when they're on sale. On actual shopping trips, I do the same. It makes grocery runs a little bit longer at first, but when I started to be able to make quick mental comparison like my parents, it’s worth it.

Nowadays, there are cell phone apps that you can use to find a "best buy." But I always find it kind of annoying to have to pull out my phone and stand there while it takes me 3 tries to scan the item. Save that for bigger items like electronics, appliances, or clothing, although it’s also good to have a mental index of those products too.

Of course, don't get too hung up on this. If it'll only save you 30 cents total, it's probably not worth it to make an extra trip to another store to buy an item, especially with the high gas prices. The most important thing is to pay closer attention in your day-to-day life so you can plan out shopping trips and have a strategy before going anywhere.


Post a Comment