Grocery shopping isn’t always fun. Frankly, it can be a chore. Not just the shopping and choosing and buying and loading and unloading the car…and hopefully putting everything away before the cucumbers get lost and sit in a plastic bag with the box of Velveeta you are supposed to use on Sunday for the church potluck and then they rot and leak and the Velveeta gets ruined…oh, sorry, got off track there for a minute.
Grocery shopping isn’t always fun. Frankly, it can be a chore. One whopper of a chore. It’s not just about choosing food off the shelves, but EFFECTIVELY choosing food off the shelves and combining those ingredients to make a meal (or more). But, even before we choose the food off the shelves, there is work to be done.
My eight-year old son, Kaden, has been working for the past year to save some of his birthday, Christmas and allowance money to go towards the purchase of food for the hungry. Not only has he saved his own money, he’s inspired others to cough up some of their money to help him reach his $1100 goal. He’s $18 shy of his goal and has his “Food Bank Yard Sale Fundraiser” this weekend–with a goal of $300 for the yard sale itself. That’s a total of $1400 this kid wants to come up with to feed others. What? Huh? He’s a kick–he spoke to my mentor, his honorary grandfather, a couple of weeks ago, when he found out he’d just crested the $1000 mark. “Nothing’s going to stop me now,” he excitedly exclaimed. He’s ready, willing, and able…and is putting in a lot of hard work too.
This past weekend we took 5 very, very long hours to go comparison shopping. We went to the commissary (love Army benefits, especially this one), Publix, Kroger, and WalMart. We had lunch about halfway through the trip and we spoke a little bit about his thoughts.
I asked him, “What do you think about this comparison shopping thing?”
“It’s great because I like walking around,” was his reply. Okay, clearly I need to work harder to draw some usable quotes from this kid. I reminded him that I was going to use this for my blog and we agreed to revisit the topic a little bit later when he’d had more time to think.
We finished our shopping trip and had completed comparison shopping on products commonly found on the “wish lists” for food pantries, especially for this time of year when they are getting ready to compile holiday food boxes. Spaghetti, canned sauce, canned meats, green beans, corn, sweet potatoes, stuffing, boxed mashed potatoes, gravy, soups, rice, corn muffin mix, boxed cake mixes, cranberry sauce, dried beans, even salad dressing. By far, as Kaden says, “the commissary WINS”– in terms of the best prices for the most items.
Publix and Kroger were within pennies of one another on most items. WalMart had some items that beat out Kroger and Publix by more than a few pennies. We recognized just how fortunate we are to have the commissary as a benefit. Kaden determined, “It costs more for them (civilians) to shop for groceries.” Yes, my son, yes it does. We talked about the difference between store brands and name brands and making sure that when we did the comparison shopping that we compared “apples to apples” i.e. same net weight to same net weight, same brand to same brand. He even thought to put the weight in ounces on a few of our items so that we priced the same size throughout the day.
We talked about the difference between buying for our family and buying for a food pantry where they will give the food to others. He took great care in looking at the price per item, the price per unit, and how many families we could feed if we bought two of the smaller boxes as opposed to one of the bigger boxes of cereal, pasta, etc. For our family we would buy the big box (lower price per unit/ounce). One large box of cereal may stretch farther within our family and be a better price per unit/ounce, but if two smaller boxes, even if more per unit/ounce, adds up to about the same in terms of overall cost, we’ve just fed two families instead of just one. We put on our “shopping by price tag” glasses, rather than our “shopping per unit/ounce for the family” glasses.
There were some items he wanted to compare store brand against brand name. Overall, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that…many times, as I explained, you can get more for your money and get a good quality by going with the store brand. However, I explained, there are some store brand things that just don’t taste the same, so you have to decide where you’re willing to take a taste difference to save on cost. This was brought up when comparing the blue box mac and cheese to the store brand…I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. (In these cases, we wrote down the cost of both so that we could determine if a store brand beat out the price at the commissary for the name brand item. Sometimes the store brand beat out the commissary price, sometimes it didn’t.) For the record, there are things that I will only buy name brand because of taste and overall product (Reynolds foil is one prime example…I have yet to find a store foil that is not completely inferior to Reynolds. We only buy Tyson chicken nuggets and Stove Top stuffing…there are a few tastes I just will not sacrifice. We’re fortunate that we can, for the most part, shop with our taste buds not just our pocketbooks.)
As we went into the different stores he looked for coupons, “Look, Mom! Coupons!” At one store they had coupons for refrigerated items, this did not thrill the boy, as they are unusable for his project.
At the end of our very long day I asked Kaden, again, what he thought about this comparison shopping trip.
“I’m going around seeing what the prices are and where I should spend. The prices tell me where to shop because if I shop at the commissary then I get a big bang for my buck, but if I shop somewhere else, I’d have to pay more,” he replied.
“What if you didn’t have the commissary to shop at? What if we were a civilian family like most of the rest of the people?”
“Then I’d have to spend more money to buy groceries.”
I’m working on dragging longer, more extensive, critical thinking quotes…but he’s 8…and I’m awfully damn proud of him for staying awake and excited through the whole process. 🙂
Grocery shopping CAN be a chore. Embrace the walking around. Embrace the opportunity to teach your children about effective shopping habits and how to get the best “bang for your buck”! Embrace the love that a child can have for feeding others.
I’d love to hear your about your effective grocery shopping trips–what best serves you, what advice do you have for others?
*If you’d like to help Kaden feed families in the Augusta, GA area, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/KadensFoodBank to make a donation.*