Today was no exception, but along the way I got a review lesson in the marketing tactics of grocery stores and a reminder that you often have to look a bit around the store to locate the lowest priced product available.
The stores sometimes don't make it easy for you to find, and in fact quite deliberately lay out the displays to steer you to the more expensive purchase.
Fruit was the very first item right at the top of the list. It’s the height of summer, and we thoroughly enjoy the peaches, nectarines, plums, and watermelon that are in their prime right now, and we go through them pretty quickly.
However, being the Frugal Fanny that I am, I will not pay more than a certain amount for any fruit, regardless of how much we love it.
If it costs more than 50¢ a serving, I will find a less expensive substitute. Even that price is stretching it by my standards, but sometimes a little indulgence is okay. The key is that I am more than prepared to walk away from any purchase that will knock my budget out of whack.
It’s an attitude I recommend for everyone wishing to gain control over their finances.
I began my shopping in the produce section as I always do. A large display of peaches greeted me front and center right by the entry door. They looked quite perfect, although they seemed a bit hard, a sure sign that they were probably trucked some distance.
They were also very big. Which meant that, at $1.99 per pound, the price was more than the absolute highest cost I allow myself, since each pound would yield only about 3 pieces or portions.
Now, I know could get more portions out of the fruit if I cut each over-sized piece into serving size slices or chunks, something I would definitely do if I had small children, but at this stage of my life I’m not looking for extra work, and I also know that my family prefers to eat the fruit whole.
So I turned away and continued my shopping.
I found a 12-pound watermelon for $4.99 and placed that in my cart, and proceeded through the vegetables, adding what I needed.
They contained peaches -- lovely, perfectly ripe ones, somewhat smaller than the ones at the front of the store, a perfect portion size. They still had their natural “peach fuzz” and were less uniformly round in shape, but I know from experience that an idealized appearance is no indication of taste when it comes to produce.
All too often fruits, in particular, are bred for ease of transport, rather than for flavor.
Still, I will only very rarely spend more than my allotted budget for fruit or otherwise, so I looked around for a price to see if this was a good buy. Only then did I discover the small, hand-written sign identifying them as locally grown and $1.69 per pound.
This was more like it. Not as cheap as I’ve seen peaches on sale this season – sometimes they’ve been priced as low as 99¢ per pound - but still much better than the ones in the prominent display at the front of the store.
And I know that locally grown peaches typically offer a taste sensation that the trucked peaches just cannot begin to match. So, undeterred by their less than picture-perfect appearance, I happily put them in my cart. And I have to say that we enjoy every bite of their juicy sweetness. They are delicious.
I’m relating this experience to emphasize the point that a prominently displayed item in a grocery store is often not the best buy in the store for that product.
Grocery stores are in the business of making money, and they will try to separate you from more of yours if they can.
Be an educated consumer and keep your eye out for similar circumstances. Get to know your store lay-out so you know where to look for the lower-priced products.
And always look for locally grown produce in your stores. Many times it will save you money, and it almost certainly will be a vastly improved taste experience.
I have found that most of the stores in our area now carry it during the growing season, but if you don’t see any, ask the management about it.