Friday, September 24, 2010

And They Say the Economy is Better?

Unless you have been under a rock lately you will know that the claims that are being made about inflation being nonexistent are pretty bogus. I don't know what food prices have been doing in your area of the country, but here in Southern Cal I have been tracking prices over the last year and prices are up nearly 26% at my local grocery.

One has to ask if it these numbers are truly accurate when inflation is calculated. In fact these are the official food inflation estimates. It all seems relatively tame until you realize that in my state unemployment is still hovering around 12% and nationally the number is around 9.2%, which does not even take into consideration the number of underemployed or those forced to replace good paying jobs with service based jobs at minimum wage. Joblessness seems to be the new norm even if the recession is "officially dead," we are still living with the repercussions.

Well, if things are getting better, like the official reports would have you believe, then why are retail giants like Walmart going this route?

Walmart, love them or hate them, is run so efficiently that there is not an ounce of fat or waste in the company. Execs share rooms as they travel, their main office is a converted building which is stark and industrial to say the least. They pay barely over minimum wage to employees, offer health care, but at a fairly a pretty high share of cost to employees. What the heck, it is better than the 51 million Americans that currently don't even have the option. The point is that Walmart does not make mistakes when it comes to marketing. They are just stone cold efficient. They know what consumers need everyday to live and deliver a reasonable quality product at a lower than average price.

Case in point, we have all seen those displays that have the shopping carts lined up with the same items purchased at different retailers to prove who has the lowest everyday price right? What they don't tell you is that items in those carts are generally not selected randomly. Someone does a price comparison to find the items that work to manipulate the results of the totals. As a consumer, we all shop a little differently. Whoever has the lowest total depends on how you shop.

We FINALLY just got our local Walmarts remodeled to carry a full grocery. When I did my own comparison my total, without coupons was a whopping savings of 42% when shopping at Walmart. With coupons I ended up at 62% less than my local retailer, even when using the same coupons doubled. My take was that Walmarts everyday prices were the equivalent of the sale price at my grocery store. They may not have the lowest price you will ever get if you shop for sales and use double coupons, but you will come within 5% give or take without the time and effort. Their prices are fair to cheap everyday on most products you will buy regularly.

Those of you who have followed my blog regularly know that I am a heavy coupon shopper. The truth of the matter is I am a heavy dollar store shopper as well and know a good dollar store value when I see one. I search for the deal, get a great kick out of finding one, and try very hard not to spend more than a buck for anything.

My take: Shop at the dollar store first for some spectacular savings. You need to be willing to pick and choose, but it can be worth it when you find a deal. Once you do, be willing to buy in bulk. Work your way up to the food sections of discount stores like Walmart and Target. The rates they pay for labor are a lot less than the grocery unions demand, so their prices are less. Again pick and choose for savings. Work your way up to either the sale items with heavy coupons at your local retailer. This would depend on what you need to buy for the week to round out your groceries. Your other option is to take a wad of coupons to Walmart and buy what you need.

What to avoid: Club stores like Costco. The prices are fair, but the quntities are huge and not everything is well priced. Again, the prices are fair, but not that great. Full priced anything at a supermarket. Way, way expensive. Stick to loss leader sales and heavy coupons, preferable double coupons at regular grocers.

The key to savings
. Coupons, coupons and more coupons. Adding a cents-off coupon to an already low price can save you an additional 15-50% off what you will spend. The discount retailers like Walmart and Target accept coupons at face value. Don't miss out, printable coupons are available online just about everywhere.

I can hear those just waiting to make the comment about the club stores, "you have to check the unit price." Yes, you do. The thing most people forget is that when you waste you loose all of your savings by purchasing a large quantity. If you are a single person, or just a little of something you rarely use, quite often the higher unit priced,smaller package is the better bargain. Money management is often a matter of knowing thy self as a consumer.