Grocery shopping -- 09/13/10

I have Yahoo set as the default page when I open a browser. Once upon a time -- and I mean at least a decade ago -- I had some news site as my default page and then they not only redesigned their page, they changed the URL, so I reset it to Yahoo and -- to a large extent due to inertia -- I've kept that ever since. It is handy, because I mostly use Yahoo mail -- and, besides, you need something as your default page. (I suppose I could make my site be the default -- or, even better, make my page of links be my default -- but inertia keeps me at Yahoo.)

One of the things Yahoo does is to provide links to news items or feature stories that they hope will interest or entertain you. Sometimes they guess right (at least for me) and sometimes they guess wrong and sometimes these supposedly useful articles are fairly useless.

One of them Yahoo featured today was 7 Things You Should Always Buy Generic -- which purported to provide useful money-saving tips. (The article was accompanied by a video -- which showed ten items where you should always by generic rather than name brand -- and despite the three extra tips, it was no more useful than the seven tips version.

The article began by explaining that if you saved five dollars a day every day for thirty years and invested it at 10% interest you would have $342,000. Uh huh. Okay, now tell me where I can get 10% interest without market fluctuations. Duh!

So the items on the list include pain relievers and other over-the-counter medications. Well, of course. I always buy the store brand aspirin (and vitamins and so on). Water. Yes. Tap water is cheapest of all but a few gallon bottles are good to have for emergencies (for example, what if there is contamination of the public water supply and your town issues a boil all tap water announcement) and it's handy to have a case or two of the half liter size for trips and such. But do I really need to be told not to waste my money on some highly advertised name brand? This ranks among such helpful tips as "to avoid car theft, do not leave your car unlocked with your keys in the ignition."

Milk. They say why pay $5.45 for name brand milk when you could get store brand for $3.39? I wonder what they are drinking (or smoking) to imagine a difference like that. I have never seen a $2.06 price difference. Forty or fifty cents, sure, maybe even a bit more, but never two bucks. I always buy the cheapest, but that may sometimes be a name brand that's on sale for less than the store brand.

Margarine. They say buy the store brand at $1.19 instead of a name brand at $1.79. Sorry, I am going to check the ingredients and the percentage of various fats. I want a margarine with no trans fat, no cholesterol, low saturated fats, etc. and having omega 3 would be a plus. I'll look at the price after I check the ingredients.

And so it goes...

My theory of shopping is that it is best to buy it at the lowest price. Buy it when it is on sale... and buy enough to last until the next time it goes on sale.

For example, we like good coffee. Before they closed our office on the island, I would purchase coffee beans from Custom House Coffee (where they did their own blending and roasting) but it is possible to find reasonable coffee in a supermarket. I like the New England Coffee brand. A 12 ounce package of their Breakfast Blend costs $5.49 in one supermarket (and $4.99 in another and $5.99 in a third) but the one that charges $5.49 occasionally has a buy one and get one free sale. Naturally we purchase lots of coffee those weeks, more than enough to last us until the next time they have that sale. (And we drink a lot of coffee in this house.)

Nancy says she is surprised that supermarkets allow me in the door. I very often end up paying under one hundred dollars on a hundred and fifty dollars worth of groceries. There have been times when a cashier will look startled when she finishes ringing up my order and realizes that every single item I've purchased has been on sale. Naturally, that isn't true of every item on every shopping trip -- I'm not stocking up on milk or bread or other perishable food -- but I do stock up on a lot of stuff that is on sale.

I picked up this idea at least thirty years ago from a lecture on saving money. The speaker was advising exactly the shopping pattern I have just described. He said he recognized that we might protest that we didn't have space to store extra packages of toilet paper or canned goods, etc. He then said "And suppose I pulled up in front of your house with a pickup truck loaded with groceries and I told you that I had wanted to give them to you for free but I realized that you probably didn't have enough room to store them. So, instead I was asking if you thought one of your neighbors might have room to store some free groceries... Do you suppose you might suddenly be able to find space in your house for my truckload of free groceries?"

Ever since then I have watched the pattern of sales and have been very happy to find room to store what amounts to "free" groceries because I have bought them on sale. (Naturally this does not apply to buying something for which I have no use just because it is on sale. This is buying things we use anyway but stocking up on them when they are on sale.)

So not only do I purchase store brand rather than name brand vitamins and aspirin, I buy them when they are on buy-one-get-one-free sales.

But there are other things for which I have definite name brand preferences, so I buy Bounty paper towels and Charmin toilet paper and Helmann's mayonnaise but I only buy them when they are on sale... so I am buying them for less than the store brands.

And speaking of buying at sale prices... winter squash has been running about $1.49 a pound and although I expect it to be coming down as the autumn harvest hits the markets, I was startled to see one supermarket selling it for fifty-nine cents a pound. So I bought several squash (both butternut and acorn) with thoughts of making soup.

This is the butternut squash soup I made last night.

Recipe? What's a recipe? Take one onion and one stalk of celery and one carrot and chop them up. Peel and cut up two potatoes. Cut up one butternut squash. Toss some butter into a pot, turn on heat, when butter is melted toss in the onion & celery & carrot and sautee them. Add approximately three cups of chicken broth (i.e., that is about how much was left in a 4 cup box of organic low sodium chicken broth in my refrigerator). add the potato and the squash. Cover. Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer for about 40 minutes. Remove from pot and put into blender. Puree. Put back into pot at a low simmer. You may want to add salt -- I did not. I added some ground black pepper and some Old Bay seasoning. I did not measure -- I sprinkled it with what seemed to be the right amount. I added about a quarter cup of half-and-half (dunno if that term exists outside the U.S.; it's a mixture of cream and milk), stirred it; thought it might still be a little bit too thick so I added a quarter cup of skim milk and stirred it and decided it was done.

I expect to make more squash soup over the next couple of weeks and will probably make each of them slightly differently each time.

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