Single Mom Meets Budget: Where You Shop Matters

By Jessica Pegis

smmbudget5Does It Matter Where You Shop? (yes, but not in the way you think). We check out how to save money shopping.

Have you ever had a conversation like this? I swear, most single moms have. To this day, I can still remember the wretched argument over the price of cat food.

Nosy friend: Why do you shop for cat food at the grocery store? Why don’t you go to Cheapie Pet Mart? You just waste your money. (Translation: You’re lazy and clueless.)

Me: Because I have a two-year-old and no car and it’s February and cat food’s a fine price at the grocery store–one measly block from my home.

In fact, the exchange made me so mad that one afternoon, I compared labels and prices and discovered that the nutritional formula was identical and that I was actually paying about 5 cents less per can by not going to Cheapie.

So much for platitudes about where you shop. Let’s forget about the platitudes and myths and zero in on the real money-savers.

Comparison shopping :  Though few consumers actually do it, it works, and you don’t have to do it on a large scale. In fact, you need only do it a couple of times a year or when you are buying a specialty item. Comparison shopping can help you figure out which store brands and generic products are worth buying and exactly what merchandise is generally the cheapest at which store. At the sixth-month mark, check any new stores that open in your area.

I did my first comparison shopping this fall by writing down every single thing we needed on a daily basis for a month in categories like food, hardware, toiletries, pet supplies, and so on. Then I listed all the stores in our area that stocked those items and did a walk-about. So now there’s only one drugstore we go to for toiletries, including generic headache and cold meds, and I divide my food shopping among three grocery stories. Yes, we’re saving $$. And I am not a coupon clipper. (No time; no inclination.)

Convenience and deli: Did you think these stories were always expensive? Me too, but I was astonished to learn that one of our local convenience stores stocked some of the cheapest grocery items (it all depends on their suppliers). At the in-store deli, I get stuff for Simone’s lunches that’s cheaper than the comparable packaged food (especially when it goes on sale), and I can buy just four slices of something. When you’re a single mom of one child, this really zaps the waste factor. On the other hand, cat food is an atrocious price at the convenience store, so we don’t buy it there.

Stores with loyalty cards: Accumulate points toward the purchase of items or have 10% shaved off your bill at stores with a loyalty card. Turns out my favorite drugstore has one, and we’ll be applying for it. These cards have just gotten bigger and better since they were first introduced. If you regularly buy from that store, you will save.

Dollar Stores : I became nervous about dollar stores a few years ago, when there was a scare over lead in cheap jewelery and toys. So I don’t buy much there. But what I do buy (scotch tape, wrapping supplies, stationery for Simone), I save on big-time. Cruise your local dollar store for the stuff you need day in and day out that you feel safe buying. Here’s one expert’s list of what not to buy at a dollar store.

Big-box always cheaper? Actually, no. However, consumers perceive big-box as the ultimate money saver and sometimes don’t bother to research the independents. According to a September 2005 Consumer Report survey of 6000 readers, none of the big-boxers visited could out-price the independents on large appliances, plus the local stores scored better on service. Always, always case your independent stores for bigger-ticket items like appliances and electronics before you plop down all that cash.

Also, beware of ultra-cheap big-box products that carry a brand name you trust. Sometimes the manufacturer has had to substitute standard parts with cheaper or thinner materials just to get the price down at that store. You can read all about it in the eye-opening Big Box Swindle by Stacy Mitchell.

We all know someone who takes hours to get the very best price and you probably don’t have that kind of time. Nor do I. Luckily, we don’t need hours. . .just a few guidelines to keep us saving day in and day out.

Next month: The top money-saving websites for single moms

Other Single Mom articles
Single Mom Meets Budget: Dumping the Phone Company
Single Mom Meets Budget: Clean up Your Finances and Fridge
The 10 Best Things You can Say to Your Kids About Money