I just returned from the grocery store with my house brands and sale item chicken but the thrill is starting to dim. An exercise that used to make me puff my chest out and haphazardly leave the grocery receipt within eyesight of the Countess now is becoming just another chore. I’m a big fan of the stores that calculate how much you ‘saved’ using their products and they print the number in bold type right on the receipt. Three or four years ago, thanks to the Great Recession and my early retirement, I found myself working from home and voluntarily doing the marketing. What a rush!
As a lifelong corporate type, I made my living squeezing percentage points from vendor invoices and delivering / receiving good service without paying retail for just about anything. Of course, the travel and lodging universe is ripe with legit scams to score first class upgrades and half price rooms so there were almost daily opportunities to convince oneself that we were saving corporate dollars while enjoying a major uptick in personal luxury. I was a Zen Master of corporate travel.
Suddenly, going serious grocery shopping became my new project. I made friends with the butcher and deli mistress, learning their secrets of special cuts and daily specials. I bought mixed cases of cheap wine in an effort to identify the lowest price point that would not make my wife pour out the swill.
I actually succeeded in developing her palate to accept a California blend that is cheaper than beer and has a label that’s sorta pretty. Store brands are my best friends. I frequently read the unit prices on mundane items like crackers or orange juice to decide where the real value lies. I got push back at home on certain items like generic peanut butter and unscented store brand laundry detergent, but, darn it, I was good. I am good.
But how low can I go? Recently, the floor seems to have been reached and I’m finding almost no way to make a significant dent in my habitual list. It makes me think that if there’s another really bad financial shock, I’ve got nowhere to save more money as I hunt and gather. I’ve heard stories of concrete floored discount grocers in the suburbs that sell dented cans and day old bread. (Image of shuttering middle-aged man inserted here).
And of course, the Clubs, where the unit pricing is truly minute but for a now-small family of empty nesters there’s just a chance I won’t get around to using 17 pounds of green peppers before something goes bad. And besides, I’d have to amortize the cost of the membership resulting in very modest savings for my very modest panty.
My current plan is for Uber Couponing should Armageddon strike. I’ve got acquaintances that basically get the store to pay them to shop. Now that’s crazy seductive of course, but I feel like I’ll be joining a sub culture I may not fit into. Even today you can see 'em in the stores, pushing two or more carts and giving seemingly jealous nods to competitors who may be going lower than themselves. These are mostly women with an inner tiger I may not possess.
But I’m ready. I’m practiced in the art of convincing my wife that her favorite brand was ‘not available’ and that this label you are cursing only appears to represent a second quality product. Bargain-centric grocery shopping for your domesticated Count Raoul doesn’t stop at self check-out (always!). It permeates the mind and affects the marriage. It’s what I do now.