Break the Shopping Rules!

by Shelly Burke

Several years ago, I decided to start using all the shopping rules I'd read about in books and magazines. It seemed so easy. I would spend only $50 a week on groceries, and receive rebate checks and free items in the mail every day. But after a few months of diligently studying sale advertisements, saving Universal Product Codes (UPCs), filing Proof of Purchase seals (POPs), filling out forms, clipping coupons, and shopping according to the rules, my shopping time doubled and I always seemed to be one UPC short of that great deal.

I decided to break the shopping rules, or at least bend them, so they'd better suit my life. My shopping immediately became more productive, less time-consuming, and less stressful. Here are shopping rules I love to break or at least bend.

Rule One: Shopping is an educational experience for your kids, so take them along and teach them to comparison shop and use coupons. How to break it: Don't take the kids! You'll save money (no little voices begging for sugary snacks or unnecessary items and distracting you from comparing prices) and your sanity.

Rule Two: Shop during off-hours when the stores are the least busy. How to break it: Shop when a babysitter or your spouse is home to watch the kids (see above). Even if the store is crowded, you'll save time shopping alone.

Rule Three: Arrange your shopping list according to how the store is arranged. How to bend it: Also list the meals you're planning to prepare, so you know which items on your list are critical to the meal, how much you need, and if you can substitute an ingredient. For example, one day I had green peppers on my list and there was only one in the bin. From my meal plan, I could see that the pepper was going into the pot of chili I planned to prepare, and one pepper would be enough. If I had been planning to make stuffed peppers, I would have known to change my meal plan.

Rule Four: Buy only what's on your list. How to bend it: If there's a great unadvertised special on something you can use in a main dish (pork chops, for example), add it to your meal list, or plan to freeze them for future use.

Rule Five: Don't purchase prepared items like cut up lettuce, baby carrots, skinless chicken breasts, and so on. How to break it: Before you automatically pass up these items, remember that they require little or no preparation, and that can be a life saver if the kids desperately need a snack or you have unexpected guests for supper. Prepared items are also a healthy, less expensive alternative to gas station snacks when you're on a trip. To offset the price, buy store brands, use coupons, and watch for specials.

Rule Six: Use as many coupons as possible. How to bend it: Before you buy an item just because you have a coupon, ask yourself if it would be cheaper to make from scratch, if a store brand would be cheaper, or if you really want the item or are purchasing it just because you have a coupon. Some people aren't meant to be coupon queens, and I'm one of them! I find it frustrating to clip coupons for everything, and in a rural area, the selection is limited and brands I have coupons for are not always available. I clip high-value coupons for cereal and soap, and that's all.

Rule Seven: Never clip coupons for snack items, prepared foods, and other expensive items you don't buy. How to bend it: Save high value and buy-one-get-one-free coupons for these convenience items anyway. Occasionally stores will offer the item at a very low price and then you'll be ready to stock up! Consider clipping coupons for new items as they may be promoted with very low introductory prices.

Rule Eight: Save POPs, UPCs, and receipts, and get rebates and free items. How to bend it: Like clipping coupons, I found that for the most part, rebates aren't for me. Despite the time I spent clipping and filing, I could never seem to collect the required number of items before the offer expired. But sometimes the effort is worth it. Last year, I purchased two, 36-roll packages of toilet paper for $5.98 each. I mailed in the required two POPs and the receipt and got a $10 rebate! I got 72 rolls of toilet paper for only $1.96!

Rule Nine: Only shop every two weeks or once a month. How to break it: If you have the willpower to purchase only sale items, shop again if there's a fantastic sale on something your family uses a lot of, like cereal or soda.

Rule Ten: Compare prices and specials and go to several stores, if necessary, to get the best deals. How to break it: Consider the amount of time and gas it takes to drive across town to save 50 cents on coffee. Unless the special is exceptional, you're probably better off shopping at one store where you're familiar with the layout and sale cycle.

Use these rules and other tips and suggestions you gather from books, magazines, and websites, as guidelines. Bend them, break them, or throw them out completely. Make the shopping rules work for you!

Shelly Burke, RN, is the author of What Should I Say? and Home is Where the Mom Is. Home is Where the Mom Is is the most comprehensive resource for all moms, especially at-home moms. The above article is an excerpt from Home is Where the Mom Is. Shelly believes moms need to care for themselves, first, so they can better care for those around them.

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