Bargain buys = big bucks

I went to the supermarket for a gallon of milk and spent $90.

How does this happen? Why does every trip to the market result in huge expenditures of money and time?

Here's how it went that day: I announced to my family that I was headed to the store for milk. I asked (and here was my first mistake) whether anybody needed anything while I was there.

Everyone shouted at once. They needed ice cream. They needed toiletries. We were out of the favorite brand of sugary cereal. We had syrup, but no waffles. Mom needed items (olive oil!) that Dad never remembers.

It was too much too fast. I had to make a list. But I sternly kept it short. This wasn't the weekly shopping trip that always results in an overflowing shopping cart and exultant cheers from the checkout clerks. No, this was a quickie store run. Just milk. And a few other items. But mostly milk.

One look at the list told me I'd need a shopping cart (my second mistake). Soon I was rolling up and down the aisles, searching for the items on the list.

Which is exactly what the supermarkets want us to do. Go up and down each aisle. Take our time. Browse. See something omitted from the list. Spot a special on strawberries. Discover that a favorite brand of coffee is on sale.

Pretty soon, my cart was full. Not piled-up full, not so full that I'm leaving a trail of dropped Pop-Tarts in my wake. But pretty danged full. Ninety dollars full.

All because we were running out of milk.

What is it about supermarkets that cause this behavior? The impulse buys. The stockpiling. Something about all that brightly packaged bounty prompts us to spend, spend, spend.

We wouldn’t do other shopping this way. For instance, you wouldn't go out shopping for a new car and bring home a yacht and a Sherman tank. (Picture telling your spouse: "Sure, hon, we don't really need a tank, but they never spoil, and they were on sale.")

When it comes to food, we feel entitled to stock up, particularly if there are teens in the household. It'll all get eaten eventually, we tell ourselves, and you can never have too much microwave popcorn at hand.

This stockpiling mentality is the fuel behind the success of giant warehouse stores like Costco. Buy in bulk, this philosophy goes, and save money. Sure, you've got enough toilet paper to last until 2037, but what the heck, it's on sale.

I refuse to shop at Costco and its imitators. My feeling is: You should never go impulse shopping in a place where there are forklifts. If you find yourself buying a "bargain" that's so large it won't fit in a standard shopping cart, then you should reconsider.

Who's got that kind of storage space? Every Costco shopper I know has stuff stacked to the rafters in their homes. Yes, you can save money by buying 200 rolls of paper towels at once, but if you have to rent a warehouse to hold them, you've reached the point of diminishing returns.

To buy nothing more than a gallon of milk, it might be safest to the take the opposite route -- go to a convenience store. Run in, run out, avoid the temptations of the supermarket.

But have you seen how much they're charging for milk at convenience stores? (Not $90, but too much.) And there's still the problem of impulse buys.

How much beef jerky does one family need?

No comments: