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Monday, September 30, 2013

How Low Can You Go: The First Week

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Usually when I shop, I go armed with a list, a bunch of cloth shopping bags, and I don't look at the flyers. I have long bought what I wanted when I wanted just because, using debit here and there and not being too concerned about the end result because it was generally the same. About once every two months, we go to Costco and load up on basics like flour, sugar, laundry detergent, shampoo, and more.

#howlowcanyougo is different, though. Remember when I talked about hunger? There are a lot of people who don't have that wiggle room. Maybe those groceries are going on Visa. Maybe their partner lost his job and their savings have been used up. Maybe they are a single mom on welfare. They can't go spend a bunch at Costco, because a 2 kg container of peanut butter and 10 lb bag of rice isn't what they need for a week. Maybe they don't even have a car to get there. #howlowcanyou go isn't a housewife with a lot of financial wiggle room just trying to get a deal. It's exploring what it might be like for someone on a limited income trying to buy food to survive. Don't forget, if you have limited income you may not have a car, or if you do you may be watching how much gas you're using, and a trip to Costco often just isn't practical. We haven't been to Costco in about 3 months and things are getting low or have already run out, so we're even closer to being realistic that I planned.

This week my method of shopping was totally different. Five crisp $20 bills in my wallet, I had a list already with an outline of where the best deals were. With an array of stores to choose from, I was ready to score the best deals no matter what because I had already checked all the flyers online. Price matching could be an option sometime, but the items I needed weren't available at other stores so that didn't really help. No matter, I was ready to go.

Shopping with limited funds at this time of year seems to be okay-with Thanksgiving coming there are lots of sales on things like big bags of potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery. I loaded up on a bag of each so that I can turn them into soups and add them to chicken broth. The bulk bins make it easier to get bits of things like baking powder without springing for a whole container, and often they are cheaper than buying the packaged versions. I found tomatoes and beans for a good price, along with other basics like oil, eggs, and butter.

There were some things that I really began to notice:

1. Baking is expensive. Sure, if you already have the funds to stock up on sugar, flour, etc it can be cheaper but the initial amount is a lot. I usually bake with butter and thought I'd switch to margarine to make things cheaper but.. surprise! It's made with soybean oil. Butter it is. However, once my vanilla runs out, I may just leave it out altogether rather than spring $10 for a bottle of the real stuff. Chocolate chips are the one thing I won't skimp on. Maybe I'll use less, but I won't switch to a cheaper version. Period.

2. Everything that was cheap or on sale, including cooking oil, contained soy. Well, most things. Those crackers on for $1.68? Soy. The oil that was half the cost of the others? Soy. When people talk about soy being a subsidized crop, they aren't kidding. I decided to make my own crackers and found sunflower oil instead.

3. I gravitated towards what was cheap and not necessarily local or the best quality. Normally, I go for the low salt version of beans but the no name, salty version was half the cost. Sure, dried would be better overall, but initially spending $.89 or $3.89? I went for the can. Next week I'll try the bulk foods section.

4. Dairy was the first thing to go.  This was a no brainer, really. Kevin doesn't eat a lot of dairy anyway. I am the one who eats yogurt, drinks a decent amount of milk, and loves cheese. For me to just not buy it is fairly easy.

5. Changing engrained family habits is hard.  Sometimes, a burning passion for a particular brand of something dies hard and in this house, I have some pretty passionate people when it comes to coffee. We have been been die hard Nabob drinkers for 20 years. In that time, coffee prices have gone from about $8 for a large can of coffee to about $17 for the same sized can. With three coffee fans in the house, we go through a large can about every 2 weeks or so. While there are a lot of other kinds of coffee in our cupboard, for some, any kind other than Nabob wouldn't do. To keep everyone happy I bought a small bag of coffee for them, and I'll be drinking the other coffee.

In the end, I spent $106. There were a few factors that contributed to going a bit over-mainly that I could have saved the $6 if I had been able to get flour and honey at Superstore where it was on sale, but they were out of stock and I couldn't wait until Monday to go back. Sometimes, convenience wins over price a bit. Does that mean I have only $94 next week? I guess it does.
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