Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Big Deals

Because I am the mother of a large, one-income family and I live in a world where prices are going up like crazy, I am getting to be practically obsessed with frugality. One of the things I was looking forward to about moving to America's Heartland was that I was sure food prices HAD to be lower than where we were living on the west coast, and I was hopeful that they would be substantially lower. Idaho was way lower than the coast, after all. Boy, was I disappointed! The first time I walked into Walmart here I about sat down on the floor and cried. They were pretty much the same prices as I had been paying on the coast. And on the coast, I only bought some things at Walmart because they rarely had the very best price. I would stock up on Safeway's big loss-leader sales. Once a month or so I would drive 100 miles to WinCo where I could buy bulk at substantial savings. And there was a food service supply place in town that had by far the best price on cheese and olive oil and some other random stuff. Oh, and don't even get me started on Trader Joe's.

A couple people here on the prairie had told me that Walmart was about as good as it gets around here for food prices. And there I was looking around and thinking "I can't pay these prices! And this is Walmart!"

Okay, so there wasn't a Safeway here, or a WinCo, or (sniff, sob!) a Trader Joe's. But there HAD to be something. I HAD to be able to get deals and bulk stuff somewhere! Time to get my frugal nose busy sniffing around for screaming deals.

A couple weeks later, I'm feeling a lot better about things. First of all, I discovered a store called Aldi. I wanted to tap-dance down the aisles when I saw their prices. They don't do bulk and their selection isn't extensive, but their prices are as much as 50% lower than even Walmart's. They have some unique ways of cutting their costs, which you can read about on their website. One of them is a 25 cent deposit on carts. Their employees don't have to chase carts all over the parking lot all day because everyone returns their cart so they can get their quarter back. Smart, huh?

A few days ago, I took another look at Sam's Club. In the past, I have never been able to justify a membership at Sam's Club or Costco because I have always been able to find better deals elsewhere (WinCo, my true love!) But after moving here, I decided to once again go neurotically walking up and down every single aisle with a clipboard and a calculator until I was sure I could more than justify the membership fee. That pretty much happened when I hit the dairy case. Dairy prices are out-of-control everywhere these days, but Sam's are at least only semi-out-of-control. Also, Sam's is the only place in town where you can buy big sacks of things like pinto beans and rice. My family eats beans like they're going out of style. So now we're a Sam's Club family and I no longer have insomnia.

Another thing my family devours like rats is oatmeal, and that's something Sam's Club does not sell in bulk. Where was I going to buy the 25 lb sacks of oatmeal we need? Especially since we're almost out? I was starting to bite my nails hard every time I looked at the oatmeal container. Then, in church on Sunday they announced that someone was going to make a run to the nearest Church Cannery and we could turn in orders. I bought 100 lbs of oats on the spot and now I'm sleeping like a baby.

Maybe this all seems crazy and neurotic to you, but when you're pregnant and emotional and on a tight budget, feeling like you can feed your family affordably is a huge sense of security. I keep watching food and gas and utility prices rise much faster than the Badger's salary and so when I find ways to get what I want and need for what I can afford it is such a relief!

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