Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grocery cart voyeur

Sometimes there's nothing to do in the grocery store line but gaze into the cart ahead.  When the line is long, and the magazines dull (or objectionable), it's the only way to pass the time.   So last week I found myself staring into a heavily-laden Walmart cart the other day, marveling at the contents.

The cart was full of boxes.  Nearly overflowing with packaged and  frozen meals, heavily sweetened dry cereal, boxed seasoned rice mixes and other things I can't remember.  The only "real" food I saw was a carton of eggs.  Maybe there was a carton of milk in there.  Or maybe it was nondairy creamer.

Then I saw the stack of coupons.  There must have been 50 of them!  The cashier just scanned and scanned.  The customer started laughing and exclaiming over her savings.    She was really happy and pleased to be saving a lot of money on her purchase.  I started paying attention to her chatter with the cashier because by now I was wondering if this was her normal grocery shopping.  I couldn't believe the lack of ingredients for cooking in that cart and wondered if she was buying for a food bank or something.  But it sounded like it was her stuff.

After she left I couldn't help wondering if her grocery bill wouldn't have been cheaper if she'd skipped the coupons and bought real food instead.  A bag of plain rice and some spices would be cheaper than boxed mixes.  Throw in a bag of noodles and she could skip the Hamburger and Tuna Helpers.  A box of oatmeal or even Cheerios (or the store brand which are almost as good, at least to my family's taste) would be cheaper and a better breakfast than Cap'n Crunch. (Oh, I do miss Cap'n Crunch.  It was my favorite cereal growing up.  Someday I'm going to buy a box to eat like candy.  But not for breakfast.) 

I don't want to sound like I run a pure, processed-food-free kitchen.  I use canned beans more often than dry; commercial chicken broth more often than homemade stock.   I try to make most of our bread and cookies, but not all.  Cheez-its are not health food, but they often find their way into my cart.

What is my point?  I don't know exactly.  I don't have some great insight to end this post, except maybe to say now I see why I don't use coupons much. I don't see the savings if the coupons are all for packaged foods.  Peering into that woman's cart shook me up a little.  It made me want to find more ways to cut processed convenience food out of our lives, for our health and our food budget.

Yet I know a lot of people use coupons and claim to save a lot of money.  Do you?  I'd love to know your philosophy on groceries and coupons.   I'm not being snarky.  Educate me.  Because I don't get it.

6 comments:

Sheryl said...

I, also, am a "grocery cart voyeur", and have been appalled at what I often see (as much as by what used to go in my own cart, as what I see in other people's.) It's no wonder I struggled with my weight and with health issues for years.

One of the saddest, and most frightening, things that I've seen recently was an extremely obese woman in one of those electric riding carts with the basket attached. She was in the candy aisle at Kroger, throwing multiple bags of candy into the basket (it was keeping company with the ice cream, chips, and other processed foods that were already in there.) I found myself getting angry, and then I just wanted to cry for her. I prayed for that woman all the way home (and for myself and my family, that we never go back to the processed food route...)

And no...no coupons here, either. Even when I did buy processed foods, I bought the store brand (cheaper, and just as good. Or bad, depending on your pov.)

Sandy said...

I almost never use coupons. I hate dealing with them and they always seem to be for foods we shouldn't eat anyway. It's usually cheaper for me to buy ingredients and cook almost-from-scratch.

Crystal Jeffers said...

I personally do not use coupons. I make my own laundry soap, dish soap and don't see the need to spend money there. I use vinegar and lemons to do most of my cleaning because I am allergic to chemicals. I shop for ingredients and cook 90% of our food from fresh whole foods. I am shocked when I see a cart full of so much processed foods. I am honestly appalled because people do not seem to understand what that crap does to your body. I wish to educate people but honestly most do not want to hear it because they are looking for quick meals that they do not have to think about.

SmallWorld at Home said...

I go through the coupons in Sunday's paper, but I only clip ones for products that I actually really do use. I usually end up with one or two coupons each week. Then I only use them at Kroger, which doubles coupons. This really only pans out for toothpaste and stuff like that. Usually, I end up seeing that the generic form of a product is less expensive even with the doubled coupon.

Jana said...

Yeah, there is definitely something to be said for using coupons for health and beauty. I admire folks who shampoo with baking soda, but I like my conditioner ;)

There are coupons for whole foods as well, you just need to flip through to find them. I only harvest 6 - 10 coupons from each circular, but they're usually for worthwhile items I would buy anyway.

wayside wanderer said...

I save a ton of money using coupons, but the biggest savings is in health/beauty and household goods. For food it is better to shop grocery ads.

For a large family I have to say we go through a lot of shampoo/conditioner, feminine products, even keeping soap and toilet paper is challenge. I save a lot on makeup, too. Right now I have a stock pile of razors and probably could shave everyone in my neighborhood nice and smooth! :) I have sent a good many of them overseas to the troops.

The best food coupons are for things like tortillas, soups, cheese and meat (usually these come in the mail directly from Kroger), yogurt (I like the expensive Greek kind and sometimes can get this for free) and quality candy.

One of my best ever deals was on Girradelli candy bars that I gave to our co-op teachers for Christmas. I came away with something like 30 candy bars AND an overage. Target paid me to take them and they were not expired.

This week bought some nice candy bars at Walgreens for my kids stockings.