Last Sunday my husband presented me with an interesting challenge. He asked if I could avoid paying the full retail price of anything and everything I purchased, (with the exception of gasoline), for at least thirty days. I accepted the challenge and drove off to the grocery store determined to succeed.
Within a minute of walking into the store I walked over to the banana stand, searched around for a bunch I liked, and placed them into the cart. I got half way down the isle when I realized bananas weren’t on sale. I retraced my steps, pulled the bananas out of my cart, and placed them back on the shelf. It seems that a lot of my shopping behaviors are habitual. I simply like bananas, so I pick them up and place them in my cart every time I go to the grocery store, without ever thinking about their price. I found myself repeating this behavior with other items in the produce section. I picked up a bag of shredded carrots and a tub of mushrooms. I placed them in the cart, walked away, and returned a few seconds later when I realized that the items were not on sale.
After placing the produce back on the shelf I searched around for substitutes.In place of bananas I purchased deeply discounted cherries. Pound for pound bananas may have still been the better deal, but since cherries are available for such a short period of time I jumped at the chance to purchase them at $1.29 a pound. My luck in substituting vegetables was not as easy. I was unable to find worthy substitutes for carrots and mushrooms. Very few vegetables were on sale this week and the ones that were on sale didn’t look particularly tasty. I ultimately decided not to purchase any at all. For the time being I’ll eat from the stash of frozen vegetables I have in my freezer.
The produce section wasn’t the only part of the grocery store that forced me to rethink my purchases. Mid-way through my shopping trip I was confronted by brand loyalty in the laundry isle. After we wash our clothes my husband and I hang them to dry. A few days later I throw them in the dryer with a Bounce softener sheet. As luck would have it Bounce wasn’t on sale and I didn’t have a coupon for it. I looked back through my coupons and found one for the Snuggle brand. I looked at the price of the item and then at the coupon and realized I could save $1 simply by switching brands. Despite the savings I seemed reluctant to make the switch. (I love the smell of Bounce softener sheets.) In the end I purchased the Snuggle sheets, but I was surprised by my compulsion towards a familiar brand.
Although I was willing to substitute many of the items in my cart I was unwilling to substitute milk. This is a problem because milk is nearly impossible to find on sale. Unwilling to substitute or forgo the purchase altogether I ultimately purchased milk at full price. I consoled myself on this purchase with two justifications. First, I used a Giant coupon for $5 off a $40 purchase, so technically I was using a coupon to purchase the milk. Second, at the register I received a coupon for a free gallon of milk. (This is part of Giant’s buy six gallons of milk, get one gallon free program.) So today’s milk enabled me to save money on next week’s milk purchase. (I’ll admit I’m definitely stretching the rules for this one.)
This shopping trip opened my eyes to a number of factors I’ve never considered before.
- I was surprised by how quickly I placed items into the cart without thinking about them. (On any other day I would have purchased those bananas.)
- I was surprised by my own preference for particular brands. (I couldn’t believe my reluctance to substitute Bounce for Snuggle.)
- I realized that some staple items, like milk, almost never go on sale. (This is something I’ve honestly never thought about before.)
- I realized that I am unwilling to substitute some items for others. (I could have substituted milk for soy milk, which was on sale, but in the end I decided I was willing to pay more for the real thing.)
All told, thirteen of the fifteen items I purchased were on sale. I used coupons on seven of the sale items plus one coupon on an item that wasn’t on sale. The only item I purchased at full price was milk. Honestly I was surprised by just how difficult it was to meet the challenge guidelines. After years of grocery shopping, many of my behaviors, are simply a matter of habit.