Supermarket Shopping Techniques
Techniques for Grocery Shopping
Over time, I've collected a number of "techniques" for grocery shopping. I usually shop at the biggest chain store in California — Ralphs. For you easterners, that's a subsidiary of Kroger’s. I’m guessing people who shop all the time will know many of these techniques, but maybe you’ll find some new ones that are useful to you.
Check the fridge and pantry before you leave the house to see what you need. Note how much space is available in the fridge, and don’t buy so much that you will crowd it with items. Don’t buy items in bulk if you don’t have the room to store them, or if they’ll expire before they’re likely to be used. Obviously, you want to go when the store is not crowded, but that can be difficult for someone who must shop right after work. You’ll hear it said that you shouldn’t go when you’re hungry — you’ll buy too many goodies. I just buy two goodies, because I know I’ll eat one in the parking lot! I don't join the scramble to see who can park closest to the entrance. Instead, I park where I can do a "pull through" to the next aisle so that my car ends up pointing out from the parking slot, although that can be tricky with a herringbone parking lot pattern. It makes it easier to pull out when I leave, without running down a pedestrian.
Clean the Shopping Cart Handle
When I get a cart, I always use the cleaning wipes (provided near the store entrance) on the handle. (Incidentally, I also a few years ago started cleaning my hands with that waterless soap after pumping gas, and similar measures. I used to get a cold or the flu every winter, now I rarely do.) If I’m going to buy something on sale from the weekly sale flyer, I toss the flyer in my cart. If the price of a sale item isn’t rung up right, I have my proof of the correct price.
I take a list with me, but as I get what’s on the list, I also look for items that I’ll eventually buy that are on sale. Sometimes stores have things on sale that aren’t advertised in their weekly flyers.
Cents-off coupons used to be a great money saver, but now I rarely bother with them because there are fewer, and for relatively less money off. I sometimes look at online coupons, but it often seems not worth it, as frequently they want your e-mail so they can send you spam, or worse, even sell your e-mail address to other marketers.
Shop in Mid-Morning
I try to shop in mid-morning if possible, because that's before people have picked over (or even trashed) the fruits and vegetables. I've pretty well memorized what the things I buy cost, and don't get fooled by fake sales, like when they raise the regular cost by 50 cents and then have a "sale" with 25 cents off the raised price. Stores will play a lot of games with prices to see if you're paying attention — for example, making the smaller size a better deal than the larger size.
Read the Ingredients
When I buy something new to me, I read the ingredients to see if there's anything I don't want, and also the nutritional breakdown, particularly for trans fats. I also check the expiration date for perishable foods. Usually grocery stores will "rotate stock" — put the older stuff in front or the top of a stack. Of course, I get one in the back or near the bottom. I mentally compute the approximate per pound cost. Sometimes convenience foods cost a surprising amount. If it’s $15 a pound, I usually don’t want it.
Park Your Cart Near the End of the Aisle
I park my cart near the end of an aisle, and then just walk down it to get what I want. This makes it easier and faster to maneuver around the klutzes who block the aisle. But you also have to keep an eye on your cart, lest another type of klutz takes your cart thinking it's theirs. If a sale item has been wiped out on the shelf, I'll walk back into the stockroom and see if I can find another one. It’s usually not worth your time getting a rain check for sale items that are gone — it seems to be a lot of waiting around while someone gets the manager, he finds the rain checks, and then asks you for your name, street address, phone number, e-mail address, blood type, dental records, etc. etc. etc.
I carefully examine fruits and vegetables that I buy. If you have to pare off half of it when you use it, you’ve just doubled the per pound cost.
These days, I buy a lot of the generic versions of name brands. The generics are a lot better than they used to be, and if I can get something as good, or 90% as good, for 40% less cost, why not buy it? Usually, they put the generics at the lowest level on the shelves, and the expensive name brands at eye level.
The Fine Art of Checking Out
First, it's OK to use the "15 items or less" aisle if you have 17 items. If the checker gives you an argument, tell them I said it's OK. (Don't get in that line with 50 items — okay? Sheesh!) Look at their name tag and say "Hi, Tammy — how's it going today?" I do that all the time anyway — I don't like to treat retail employees as just mindless robots. (Now if they work at the Department of Motor Vehicles, that's a different story.)
If you shop in the store all the time, you’ll recognize who are the fast efficient checkout clerks and who are the ones who are comatose. Other things being equal, you can get in the fast checker’s line. It's definitely OK to race someone to the short line - hey, it's a competitive world. Sometimes a line is longer only because five people in a group are buying one case of beer — don't be fooled. Don't get in a line where a foreigner is trying to pay with a check on the Bank of Outer Mongolia — the clerk will call the head cashier for approval, who will call the manager for approval, who will call the company chief financial officer, who will call the chairman of the board of directors...
Don't get in line behind confused old people. I've got nothing against old people, and hope to be one someday — don't bite my head off! Likewise, mothers who are hassling with small children — cobwebs will be growing on you before you get through the checkout line.
Try to get your stuff up on the conveyor belt before the checker is done with the current customer, then watch as the items are rung up to make sure the price is right. I have caught checkers making mistakes before. Likewise, it helps if you can keep an eye on the bagger, so he doesn’t put a heavy bottle on top of your bananas.
Good luck, and keep eating! Well, don’t get carried away — I don’t want you to get fat or anything…
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