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posted 25 Mar 2003, 2PM | 15 Comments

I love grocery shopping. I liked it when I was a kid, standing on the cart, stealing grapes and Brach's candies, nagging my mother ailse after aisle begging for Pop-Tarts and Fruit Roll-Ups. When I moved into my first apartment, the thing I looked forward to most was that initial shopping trip; we three roomates shopping, bonding, stocking the shelves of our home. That image really kept me going throughout all my time on the front lines in France... er, well... anyways I was looking forward to it.

I love looking at the colors. I love the process of choosing what I'm going to be cooking and eating. I like free samples. I enjoy grocery-store banter with other customers, usually about hard-to-find (or in my case, hard-to-reach) products, or their antsy children.

I've been making store runs for years, to stock up the cupboards of my parents house, the fridges of countless apartments... but it wasn't until this year that I've really come to understand the challenging art game of grocery-shopping, thanks mostly to my spendthrifty roomate Andrew.

When I have more money to spend, I'll buy all my food at small chains and co-ops, keeping it healthy and organic. I love the friendly folks at Trader Joe's, and all the sexy hipster girls that always seem to be wandering the narrow aisles at Whole Foods. But in the meantime, we do most of our grocery shopping at Ralph's. They make it fun over there. It's a thrilling multi-player game, it is.

First, we clip coupons. Dozens of dozens, pulled from a few weeks of Sunday newspapers. We have a special bound Coupon Organizer book, with sections indexed to corresponding to the aisles of our nearby Ralph's. It even has a velcro strap that hooks onto the handle of a shopping cart. We fill it with all the coupons we think we might ever use, covering a wide range of products. It is indeed a handy tool.

For years I always thought coupons were stupid. $0.25 off of a three dollar product? Who cares. Why go to the trouble of clipping for twenty-five cents? But coupons are different now. The savings is potentially huge. And something's gotta distract you from CNN war-coverage on a Sunday morning, so why not clip coupons? It feels like you're being crafty, the pictures look yummy...

And double coupons change everything.

Secondly, we keep our eyes on the shopping circular. Some people are against using grocery store discount cards, because of the way they track what you buy. And I'm not completely comfortable with it, either. Grocery stores already know too much about us. They know, for example, that fast musak is bad for business, because you'll move more quickly. They know that you will spend an average of two dollars for every additional minute you stay in the store. They know that items shelved just below eye-level are those most likely to be purchased. They know that anything stacked on the outer end of the aisle will sell twice as well, because of the time each customer spends staring at it, as she turns the corner. They know that when alphabetized, soup sales fall exactly 28%. I know that my Ralph's Club Card makes my household a test market, and that's fine, because I also know that it saves me money. Maybe they inflate the regular prices a little, sure. But there needs to be a game. We'll see what the future holds.

Third, all three of us go together. Roomate solidarity. We bring bottle to return, and paper bags to recycle. We cover more ground more quickly, joke a lot, talk over what we buy, and get out of the store before the flourescent lights, our hunger, and the grueling price-shopping drive us crazy. The family that shops together stays together. That's all I'm saying.

It's like a game show, and our triple challenge is this: we need to get out of the store with as much food as possible, spending the least amount of money as possible, and that food needs to be food that can be combined into meals that we all want to eat. And, hopefully, I can manage to get some fruits and vegetables included into the cart somehere.

The secret to the game? It's simple, but requires focused effort and quick-fingered multi-tasking: Buy only the products that are on sale AND that you have a coupon for.. Let me give you some examples: today Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, and Frosted Mini-Wheats were on sale for $2 per box. A remarkable deal in itself, yes? Yes! But with two Kellogg's coupons: one offering $1 off any 2 another offering $1 off any 3, we walked out with five boxes of cereal for $6. Talk about thrifty! We've got shelve space, and it'll keep. If we have to eat cereal for lunch, then so be it. Later this evening, in the frozen section, I realized that we had a similar coupon for Van De Kamps, which turned out to be on sale for half price. And BAM! we walk out of the store carrying 3lbs of Crispy Fish Portions for a mere $4. This kind of thing can be hell on meal-planning; generally we have to piece together meal ideas in-store, based on what's available. But everything included in the coupon spread in the LA Times will eventually go on sale at Ralph's, within a week or too. After years of the game, we eat well.

The real challenge is to wait and not buy things for which we have a coupon until they go on sale., or vice versa. "But Ryan," you ask, "What if the coupon is about to expire?" I know. It can get difficult... already you're seeing just how fine-tuned our strategy needs to be. Sometimes one of our team lets his stomach get the best of him, and compromises our team's stern principles. Pork chops and sardines often seem to be involved here, now that I think about it.

Tonight., with a savings of $83.57, our total dropped to $127.88. About $20 of that came from coupons alone. We left the store with bagels and chicken, two kinds of ice cream, cookie mix, yogurt and milk, bags of salad and pounds of bananas, french bread, Gardenburgers, juice, noodles and sausage, and plenty more. We came home satisfied and made dinner.

But that was nothing. In late February we saved $117.70 on a balance of $135 dollars. We're not effing around, dude.

There are 15 Comments


25 Mar 03 at 06:49AM jonas said:

i just want to make sure you aren't actually buying any frosted products made by kellogg's. that is death by glucose, my friend. i can't even stomach crunchy-nut corn flakes. it is simply a sugar coated ruse. basic four is where it's at.


25 Mar 03 at 07:54AM Bonnie said:

I bought 5 boxes of Kellogs cereal for $10 the other day. This meant bringing home Scooby Doo cereal because I did not want any repeats.


25 Mar 03 at 08:15AM dave said:

you are your father's son, Jonas.

Seriously, why don't you sack up and buy some FROSTED Fruity Pebbles?

Basic 4....



25 Mar 03 at 08:39AM jonas said:

listen, there comes a time in a man's life when you gotta make some choices. this isn't a mattter of becoming my father. we're talking about the sheer nastiness of milk that has soaked up every micro granule of powdered sugar. it is gross. basic 4, on the other hand, has nice natural sweetness from little bits of dried fruit and some delightful slivers of nuts. try it and i swear you'll like it!


25 Mar 03 at 10:00AM alison said:

when i was in london, eating breakfast in the cafeteria (which they called the refectory, and i don't know what that means), i found that if i mixed frosted flakes and corn flakes together in the bowl, it gave the corn flakes just the right amount of sweetness and cut the "death by glucose" down to a survivable epileptic fit. it was the perfect complement to my chocolate-chip muffin with strawberry jam and my tea with honey.

come to think of it, i might have a problem.


25 Mar 03 at 12:10PM Shaun said:

I save coupons from packets of tea.


25 Mar 03 at 12:19PM ryan said:

Nicely done, Shaun. i can no longer shop happily at Walt-Mart, where the high-ceiling, open space, bad lighting and ugly pewople get to me fast and leave me disoriented.

Basic Four is good, but you gotta mix it up, Jonas. The kid in me likes the Frosted Mini-Wheats. If the Lord didn't wat us to mix sugar and milk, HE wouldn't have invented ice cream and yogurt.


25 Mar 03 at 04:03PM lisaann said:

you boys never fail to impress. i think with that money you've saved we should all have cocktails soon. yes?


25 Mar 03 at 04:07PM Sean Gorman said:

Your coupon clipping is wise and economical now, but beware as you approach middle-age, my young apprentice. You may soon find yourself in Home Depot shopping for the shrubbery that you feel works best for the aesthetics of your front yard.

Also, Basic 4 kicks ass.


25 Mar 03 at 04:11PM ryan said:

i agree, lisann. yes, i suggest that because of all the money we saved, you treat us to cocktails this friday! woo!

(spendthrifty... stingy... it's all the same. no friendships will get in the way om MY savings.)


25 Mar 03 at 05:36PM mariah said:

though basic four is nice, it's a little played out. all the cool kids are eating kashi go lean and special K with strawberries now.

special k with strawberries is space shuttles in your cereal bowl. it's really perfect.

and incidentally, combining cereal is the way to go. im personally a fan of grape nuts plus granola. granola is death by sugar and gets soggy too fast, grape nuts is like sawdust (but oh so crunchy). together they are manna from heaven. good friends and go lean crunch is also excellent.


25 Mar 03 at 07:26PM ryan said:

We've got two boxes of Kashi Good Friends in the house, as a matter of fact.

And Gorman... before you buy front yard shrubbery, you need a front yard. So. We're not there yet.


25 Mar 03 at 10:50PM Adam said:

Double coupons are what it's all about. But watch out when they double it above a dollar. Instant ka-ching.


26 Mar 03 at 06:51AM dave said:

Sorry for my boorish links, but they're collected with good intentions:

For next Sunday's coupons, check here:

check out CASPIAN's site if the grocery card thing scares you. Or maybe you shouldn't...:

btw, I highly recommend combining Cookie Crisp with Cinnamon Toast Crunch.


9 Apr 03 at 03:15PM andrew's mom said:

Well, I'm so glad to see that Andrew has learned well. When he shopped with me as a youngster we used 3 or 4 carts and shoppedd for a month at a time. there were about 12-15 boxes of cereal! Our bill was about $400 before coupons and would come down to $225-$300. Back then they hadn't started double coupons!

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