Deal or No Deal

A consummate bargain shopper, I almost always buy off-brand items at the grocery store, often to my husband’s chagrin.

Once, I came home after work with the fixin’s to make an extra special revved-up version of Ro-Tel cheese dip, but everything I had was store brand, and I thought my husband was going to throw up in the sink as he chopped “Nice-N-Cheesy” into cubes instead of real Velveeta. Of course, I didn’t buy real “Ro-Tel” either, and he was convinced the whole thing was an exercise in nastiness. It turned out fabulous, of course. One day, if you’re nice, I’ll tell you how to make it.

I am trying to learn to coupon shop, but to be honest, I just can’t get myself to take to it. You have to be the kind of shopper who makes a long list once a week or so, and really gets organized about the shopping. Also, it seems you have to be willing to stockpile items, and I am neither an organized shopper nor a stockpiler. I don’t have the time or space for those kinds of things. I’m still working on it, but it overwhelms me and makes my palms sweat when I start thumbing through coupons. “Do I need Swiffer refills? I don’t even have a Swiffer. Should I get one so I can use this coupon?” And, “Do I like Del Monte Tropical Fruit Cocktail? I hate fruit cocktail and I think I just threw up a little in my mouth, but this is TROPICAL, and I HAVE A COUPON…”

You can see how this becomes a problem. And let’s not even mention the expiration date mess, and the storage issue. Ya, coupons, it seems, are not really for me, unless they are for pizza and they come in the mail.

I have found that the Walgreen’s and Target circulars are worth perusing, and they can be found online with minimal effort. I got $20 in Target gift cards for transferring two prescriptions to them, totaling $8 a month in price. So that was worth it. I’ll probably transfer them back to Walgreen’s soon, to get their transfer bonus, when it comes up again. I can play that game forever, and get a little thrill out of it. That is a TOTAL deal.

But by and large, the bulk of my savvy shopping is done at Checker’s, or Dillon’s. There are a few simple ground rules.

1) If you are at Dillon’s, you only buy things that have a yellow tag for a “shopper discount”. 2) Grab a circular when you walk in the door; it often has in-store deals that are not really marked on the shelves. This is how I usually buy fruit. Apples are stupid expensive. 3) Checkers has far and away the best prices on produce in town. Drive an extra mile or two if you have to. It’s worth it.

4) Buy off-brand products. There are very few instances wherein I can tell a noticeable difference.

If I am buying boxed mac and cheese, I want the cheapest brand possible. I actually like the metallic tang of fake cheese. The faker, the better. Deal. Otherwise, I’ll make it from scratch.

Store brand frozen veggies are significantly cheaper than name brand, and I can’t tell a difference at all. Deal.

Buy cheap frozen pizzas, and doctor them up if you must. I buy Tony’s. The Four Cheese has a spicy sauce I think is divine. Deal.

Off brand pizza rolls in a bag are almost as good as the name brand ones in the box at the grocery store. Deal.

(Caveat: I bought some in a box for a buck at Walgreen’s last week, oh-so-proud of my bargain abilities, and they were, in a word, freaking gross. No deal.)

Cheap/generic sandwich bread is, by and large, far less nutritional than its more expensive counterpart, so for my money, I want that whole grainy goodness. No deal.

Toilet paper and paper towels are also an area where I cannot skimp. Cheap paper towels are not only gross to touch, they don’t do anything. No deal.

Store brand cheeses are always fine, unless you really want “real” cheese, which you should buy from a deli anyway. Deal.

Neufchatel instead of Philly. Deal.

Frozen, store brand juice instead of juice in the plastic jug. Deal for the pocketbook and the environment. Deal.

Frozen bread dough, off brand or not, is a good deal. The loaves are cheap and can be made into bread, cinnamon rolls, pull apart bread, calzones, pizza crust. Deal. Frozen, premade cinnamon rolls, on the other hand? No deal. Delish, but no deal.

Frozen meatballs. Tasty? Yes. Time saving? Yes. Economical? NO. Go the extra mile and make your own. They are better anyway. No deal.

Store brand baking mixes are a real savings – much cheaper than “real” Bisquick or cake mixes, and frankly, I can’t tell a whit of difference. Deal.

Everyone knows this, but it bears repeating just in case. Always, always, check the “manager’s specials” in the meat department. I do it every time, and usually buy whatever it is that’s in there, because I can freeze it right away and there’s nothing wrong with it. This is my one exception to my “no stockpiling” rule. DEAL.

These are just a few of my rules of thumb, and I thought they bore sharing. At dinner with some girlfriends the other night we realized we are really old and might be in danger of becoming Stepfords, because we sat at dinner discussing the ways we were saving money these days. Next we’ll be arguing over the relative merits of Tide with Bleach Alternative! versus Era Plus Fresh Mountain Scent!!!

I’m going out to get a new tattoo immediately, to cancel out the fact that I’m a person who talks about such things on cheap beer night at the FSB.


Moxie 13 years, 11 months ago

I have to admit, I was a little scared of Checkers at first, but after shopping there for awhile, I don't think there is anything cheaper in town! And speaking of cheap beer night at Free State---totally a Deal!

chocolata37 13 years, 11 months ago

I am an aspiring coupon user, but am still quite bad about it. I am getting ready to go to the grocery store and went to the Dillon's website and they have some pretty cool features to use. You can view the weekly circular, circle what you want to buy and it adds it to your shopping list. Here is the link! Thanks for the tips Meggy :)

amyglester 13 years, 11 months ago

Store brand cereals. My kids actually prefer them to the real thing. Deal. Store brand pasta is a no-brainer. Deal. Store brand ketchup. No deal.

Megan Green Stuke 13 years, 11 months ago

Total agreement on the ketchup. It has to be Heinz. Not even Hunts will do.

that_will_do_pig 13 years, 11 months ago

I am a bit obsessed with Target's Archer Farms brand. You have to be careful because their products can be more expensive than name brands, but not always, and Target is great about running killer Archer Farms specials.

I want to disagree about the boxed mac & cheese, but the truth is I've become addicted to Annie's, and there's no going back now, not even to Kraft.

I think a REAL bargain is in store brand spices. As much as I love pretty glass jars, the cheap little red plastic things will work just fine. Or even better, buy in bulk and put them in your own glass jars as I do, and get the OCD pleasure of labeling them yourself.

Marcy McGuffie 13 years, 11 months ago

Checkers is awesome, but you must try Aldi! Their thin crust Mama Cozzi's pizza is a true bargain at $2.49 (and it tastes better than Tony's). Those are my two stores...I used to be a snob about grocery stores, but now I realize I was just stupid!

ilovelucy 13 years, 11 months ago

But remember, Aldi's doesn't take checks. They like cash.

alm77 13 years, 11 months ago

I used to make a weekly MENU for the family, then make my shopping list, then go to Aldi and then to Checkers and that was it. Once a week and I was done. However, I started leaning more toward organics and started shopping at the Merc. There are very little price breaks when you're trying to give up chemicals... :( We'll probably be back on the old routine once I get us back on a good budget, but I don't know.

Marcy McGuffie 13 years, 11 months ago

But Aldi's does take debit cards if you enter your pin!

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