A Plain Advantage

Down-priced food

A friend recently admitted to me that she didn’t like to be seen buying deep-discounted things, and would never ask for a mark-down, even on a damaged item. She was afraid people would think her cheap. Her self-image, and her projected public image, were of a woman who didn’t need to pinch pennies.

Being Plain, people would wonder if I had lost my mind if I passed up a possible bargain. No one looks at me sorting through the dented and dated bin at the back of the market and says to herself, “Well, I never expected that! Maybe they aren’t making much money…” Anyone who has seen my snaggle-toothed truck or my husband’s spliced bootlaces knows that we aren’t making much money, and maybe we don’t care to, either.

Nicholas jokes whenever I serve lentils that we mustn’t let the neighbours know, “Or they will think we are poor.” My answer is always, “They might as well think it, because it is true.”

The prayer kapp, apron and sensible footwear really must say, “Here’s someone who isn’t wasting money on clothes – or much else.” I quite peacefully rummage the bargain bin, pick up the half-price items, and ask the manager for a discount on an item I want that is shopworn. If I loaded my grocery buggy with caviar, t-bone steaks and premium ice cream, the neighbours would think I truly had lost my mind – or won the lottery! (Which I never play; Anglicans in this diocese are prohibited from gambling. I wouldn’t anyway, since a dollar spent on a lottery ticket ensures one has almost no chance – just about a zero chance – of winning. Whereas not buying a lottery ticket guarantees I still have the dollar, which I will spend on Reese’s peanut butter cups, which guarantees I have a delicious snack.)

This is what I bought today on discount: macaroni, cornmeal, canned tomatoes, canned beans, yogurt starter, two heads of cabbage, dark rye bread, a pound of mushrooms, apples and tangerines. Toupie hams were half-price,  a lot of meat for $6. The pharmacy gave me a $10 gift card for groceries when I picked up my husband’s prescription, as well as a coupon for 50 cents off another purchase. Even toilet paper was on sale, 30 rolls for $12. I didn’t pay full price for anything today, not even the scrumptious, irresistable Reese’s cups.

half-price fresh food

What is worrisome is that the large supermarkets seem to always have food marked down, especially fresh produce and bread. Some items never sell for full price, it seems. It used to be that we only found the bargains on Monday morning, when beef, fish, and specialty fresh items that didn’t sell on the weekend would be discounted. Now, I can go to the supermarket anytime and find even apples, lettuce and tangerines marked to half-price. Meat is regularly re-priced at 30% off.  New specialty gourmet items – Starbucks instant coffee, which was about $8 for the packet of little coffee tubes- are already on the half-off table, and no one is buying. If the public can’t afford apples and lettuce, they surely can’t afford Starbucks indulgent single serving instant coffee. This supermarket now has a half-aisle shelf of marked-down cosmetics, soaps and shampoos. More items are having to be marked down just to get them to a price people can afford.


17 thoughts on “A Plain Advantage

  1. Same – today I bought a warm jacket at 75% discount, most of the veggies I got were either on offer or the special ‘basics’ line for small or imperfectly shaped produce, and the store own-brand tins of food that are at a much lower rate than the big brands. Only thing I got for more than I could have found it elsewhere was some cat food, and that was an intentional choice to buy at a small family business where the numbers don’t add up for them to offer big discounts.
    I don’t buy everything cheap every time, but far from being ashamed to look for bargains, I’d be ashamed not to. I’m the steward of the money for my family and for my Lord and, though I apply a sliding scale of complex priorities when I go shopping, frugality is one of those right at the top. Which is not to say I don’t enjoy shopping; I do. But I can do more shopping if I’m frugal :0D

    • I don’t like shopping. I enjoy choosing some things – books, fabric – but shopping itself has always been annoying and exhausting. I guess I don’t particularly like acquiring new things – and looking back, I never did. But that is a personal taste rather than a virtue!

      Shoes – I have a pair of boots – $10; a pair of tennies (black Ked style yet) – $4; slippers $2; barn boots – free. I still have a pair of workout gym shoes that I got half-price three years ago – $40. $56 – less than I’ve paid for designer knockoff heels at the mall! I honestly would make and grow everything and never shop again if I could.

  2. My economics professor once said that the full retail price is the maximum value a store tries to extract from a customer and that their cost structure is set up so they can take multiple markdowns and still make a sale. It’s why I never, ever pay retail for anything in a brick and mortar store. For instance, big box craft stores always have 40% off coupons available, so I consider the true value of an item from one to be at least 40% less than it’s MSRP sticker price. The grocery stores mark up the prices high not because they know they won’t have to mark down and not because they haven’t planned to all along. They mark up so that people who value convenience over planning or who need something urgently will pay full retail. They would never stay in business selling full retail and fully expect to have to discount.

    • The profit margins in grocery used to be quite small; the stores were smaller too! So things had to move fast and food rarely got discounted because it was pretty much only what that community could use. Now they have learned from larger big-box retailers, and carry quite a few imported, low-cost items which are a better profit maker. The problem with some of the chain stores is that they have to carry items dictated by corporate headquarters, and the local market has no need or desire for them. I mentioned the Starbucks single serve packets; there isn’t a Starbucks for about a hundred miles, so many people here have never been to a Starbucks location. For the same full retail price as the single serve multi-pack, I can buy almost a kilo of ground coffee.

  3. I’m right with you there! I rarely buy anything at full price. I try to make everything I wear. Hubby doesn’t want for to make shirts for him. Afraid I’m going to make him look like Howdy Doody or something like that. I told him I can sew any style shirt he wants and it’ll look professional. But no.

    I have bargained on a price of an item if I find a flaw.

    I did have a friend who liked to rummage through the scratch and dent cart at the supermarket and his friend couldn’t understand why he did it. Every time he picked up a can that was priced good, he’d look at his friend, before placing in his cart and say, “Ka ching!” and they same with the next and the next. It was a hoot to watch his friend’s reaction.

    • I try not to buy a lot of any one item, since I might not be able to use it in time, nor buy something that is still overpriced at half-off. When a roommate brought home every single box of 99 cent licorice tea, I asked her what she was planning to do with it (I forget how much – at least 10 boxes) – because it was going to take a year to drink all of that at the rate of a cup a day. “So?” she asked. (She didn’t like licorice tea; she wasn’t replacing her coffee with it. She bought for the rest of us, although we rarely drank it.) I explained to her that licorice oil is volatile; it has a short shelf life even in foil. Sure enough, the tea tasted as if we had made it out of hickory bark and twice-used tea bags. She bundled it up for me when I moved, and I threw it out at the first rest stop!

  4. We buy our clothing at the Goodwill, we make a trip once or twice a year, usually on 50% off day, to see what we can find. We are so used to thrift store prices, and garage sale prices, that I cannot get over the sticker shock of new items. And, it is an adventure to shop at Goodwill, and very satisfying when you find something that you really like and it is in the $4 range 🙂 We mainly purchase produce, milk, and cheese at the grocery, we are still eating a steer we had butchered last summer, and still eating our way through our home canned tomatoes and green beans, most everything else we grew last year we have eaten. I too have noticed that the produce departments seem to have a lot of clearance items, drastically reduced for quick sale, and oftentimes good deals can be found.
    When we were buying meat at the store I would always scan for marked for quick sale items and if it was something we eat I would purchase all that they had available and stock up the freezer.
    I cannot imagine not being frugal, I see other people at the grocery store and their carts are overflowing with frozen convenience foods, soda, sugary cereal, bags of chips, frozen pizzas etc. and I think not only are they spending a lot of money for a weeks worth of food, it is food that is so bad for them, high salt, high fat, high sugar, high carb, and very little nutrition – they are not only wasting money they are wasting their health too.

    • I hope to buy a pressure canner and more jars this summer. Then I can really take advantage of buying meat or produce in quantity; I do hope our garden does well this year so I won’t have to buy much at all. I don’t have a freezer and have decided not to get one. I also see people buying packages of meat when on sale, loading the freezer(s) and then never using it because it became freezer burned and dehydrated before they got to it. The Salvation Army store in Moncton had a 50% night once a week, and I would shop then for things such as pajama pants for my husband, or skirts and jumpers for me. But I would also find myself with my little buggy of six items, three or four times a year, and be stuck behind someone who had two carts and was buying 150 items! We don’t own that much clothing between the two of us! They shopped there often enough (probably every week) to be known by name to the clerks. I wanted to say something like “Thrift store prices aren’t an excuse to hoard,” but you never know – maybe they have large families or, judging by the flashy, sequined style of clothing they bought, they might be nightclub singers buying costumes or dealers reselling on ebay to vintage collectors. Well, it could be.

  5. We try to feed our son high quality meat due to his illnesses and yet I feel kind of one of the snooty ones when I approach the meat counter at Marsh and ask for high cost items only a few buy. Today I bought 2 free range chicken on sale at Marsh for $1.79 a pound. I got 2 good sized chickens (total $13) and roasted them. We ate most of one for dinner, but there is still some picking to do on it. Patrick will get the drumsticks of the remaining chicken and we will pull the meat off and make a meal of chicken, lima beans, and cornbread. Then we will probably make a soup or another casserole and at least enough chicken salad for lunches with the rest. We will make stock with the bones and use half for the dishes we make and half we freeze. I do feel that we spend what others spend on less healthful things, so I try not to feel bad. I stretch meat as far as I can. I don’t eat much meat at all, but my men need some. I do pretty well just trying to stick to meat, veggies, fruit, and a bit of rice or quinoa. I run into trouble and expense when I try to recreate desserts and special dishes in some healthful way for our son and us to have. But a bit of that leads all our tastebuds astray very quickly.


    • That is as good price on chicken! I pay that for just ordinary fryers here. When my late husband was recovering from his first bout with cancer, and had lost a lot of weight, I had to do the same. He needed high-quality, lean protein with easily digestible fat. so that was chicken breasts and lamb chops. I also bought very choice vegetables for him, as it took a while to get him accustomed to a healthy amount of fibre. Still, it wasn’t premium ice cream and high-end canned gourmet items! He did gain back enough weight to spend another summer sailing, but the cancer returned; he died in 1990.

  6. I remember awhile ago you were predicting that food prices would rise rapidly. Now you are noticing them being marked down. Do you think in general food prices are on their way up or down?

    • I think you may have misread what I wrote, or I didn’t make it quite clear enough. The full retail price is way up, but because it doesn’t sell, it gets marked down. Note the big pink 50% off stickers. If you shop at Loblaw’s you will see them.

      Yes, overall, food prices have gone up another 10% in the maritimes as fuel prices rose (Right now, gasoline is “down” to 1.24/litre from 1.34/litre.) My observation is that fewer people here are able to buy at full retail, and basic foods are being discounted before they spoil. I think this is an indication that the price people can afford has peaked; either chains like Loblaw’s will have to reconsider their pricing or what they can offer. They went into an upscale promotion binge over the last five years with higher quality, gourmet presentations in their “President’s Choice” line, but that is the stuff languishing even when it is marked half-price. You may not notice the huge ups and downs we do where you are, because of the longer growing season.

      • Also add in the Mississippi flooding of lots & lots of farmland, thus putting the 2011 crop at risk or wiping it out altogether. Does not bode well for food/grain prices in the coming year. I’m planting extra garden stuff and continuing to stock up on flour.

      • I don’t do a lot of food price observation “on the ground,” as it were. We don’t buy anything from regular grocery stores. I mostly observe it through the inflation index (not the regular one, which doesn’t include food). You’re right that produce can be have very inexpensively in Vancouver (apples range from fifty cents a pound to a dollar-fifty a pound depending on where and when you are shopping; strawberries from a dollar a pound to two dollars a pound).

        If I’m reading you correctly, your feeling is that stores are going to go towards generics rather than upscale branded products? I think that’s entirely possible, but I really don’t think we’re anywhere near what the market can bear for food. As recently as 1950 it was expected that a third of the household budget would be spent on food, whereas by 2010 it was closer to 10%.

        I think the largest market to get hit would be the organic/free trade. That’s probably the biggest single source of “luxury” food shopping.

      • It never caught on here, probably because it was so expensive, and we can get organic or mostly organically grown vegetables from gardens or the farmer’s market – but only for about four months. If you mean that prepared organic food – that mimics convential prepared food – I can’t imagine anyone wh pays $5 for a small box of chocolate chip cookies (made with organically grown cocoa and cane sugar) is going to continue to do so if the price jumps to $7/unit. That kind of luxury organic food is just ego-stroking anyway. Makes you feel like you are doing the right thing whilst you toss your money at the retailer.

  7. I have no problem buying things that are cheap if they are of good quality which some are and some are not. Sometimes the expensive one is the best one and the best value for money. I like when they have 1/2 prize for meat with a short date. It is often excellent and I do use it after putting it in the freezer. If meat would get freezer burns I often just cut the outer layer off, I have never had any problems doing so with the rare cuts that are forgotten long enough to get them.

    If buying reduced prize you really need to know the normal prize so that you are not tricked, I accidentally bought broccoli which was reduced 0.80 crowns which is well, nothing. However, I eat a lot of broccoli and would have bought it at full prize anyway.

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