Monday, July 6, 2009

Frugal tip of the day: Get outta town!

So I went for a little ride the other day, to visit a local wholesale restaurant supplier, and the new Aldi in my area. I wanted to do some price-checking to see if it would ever make sense to make the trek to either location- it was a good 30 minutes to the restaurant supplier, and another ten minutes down the road to Aldi.

Well, I was disappointed in the first stop- the restaurant supplier didn't have good prices on anything except for cheese (about $2/lb for shredded cheese.) It cost about the same per pound for a 50 lb. sack of no-name brand flour as I can normally buy King Arthur or Gold Medal flour on sale. Some things were much more expensive. I sometimes wonder if wholesale/warehouse type food retailers try to confuse consumers with bulk packaging- they hope that people won't do the math and realize they are paying too much. On the bright side, milk was 1.99 a gallon, but I am not going to drive thirty minutes out of my way to buy milk. I'm glad I took the trip though- now I know that I don't need to go to there ever again!

Aldi was about what I expected. Their prices are much better than most store brands, so if you needed something and it wasn't on sale, Aldi would be a good choice. The produce prices were great and the quality seemed pretty good (although that doesn't sound like it's the case in all Aldi stores, everywhere). The prices on milk and cheese were also good, although I wonder how the cheese tastes*. I was tempted by some of the packages of meat (hamburger patties marked down to $1/lb!), but I was a little leery. As far as being a source for baking ingredients, Aldi's selection was rather limited (only white flour, white rice, etc.) and, again, their price for no-name flour was the same as I could get on sale. I ended up buying some canned beans and chilis that were .29 a can, some nonstick cooking spray that was about 1.29, and strawberries for 1.50. I meant to get a big canister of old-fashioned oatmeal that was 1.49 or so, but I was too lazy to deposit a quarter to get a cart... so I was concentrating so hard on not dropping stuff and I totally forgot to get the oatmeal. Darn it!

(*Note: I did a little Googling of Aldi and the quality of their products... I read a post from a driver who works for Aldi, and he said that he makes stops at the Sargento factory to pick up cheese, etc. I also read that their frozen fish, including wild salmon (!!) is very good, and people overall seem to be happy with their products. I think I will have to go back and pick up that oatmeal.)

Anyway, while I was out and about in this unfamiliar area, I noticed gas prices were about 15 cents cheaper than in my town, so I topped off my tank. I passed by a Super Walmart and wondered if their prices might be cheaper, too. I had items on my list for Walmart anyway, so it was worth a trip.

For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised! My local Walmart carries King Arthur whole wheat flour for $4.55 for 5 lbs (91 cents a pound!) , which is quite a bit cheaper than the supermarket. This Walmart had whole wheat flour for $3.22, or 64 cents a pound! As I walked through the aisles and glanced at other things, I noticed prices averaged a few cents to a dollar lower than my local store.

It occurred to me that for a lot of people, it might make sense to see if there's a nearby area (whether it's lower-income, more rural, or more urban) that tends to have lower prices than the stores in your own town. Some instances where I can see this being useful include:

  • combining every day low prices with coupons. Every week, fellow bloggers publish lists of deals to be had at places like Walmart and Target. Unfortunately, my local stores usually have higher retail prices than most of the deals listed. For example, a while back there were $1/1 Muir Glen coupons that people were using on cans of tomatoes at Walmart, and getting the tomatoes for a few cents. At my Walmart, the cans of Muir Glen tomatoes were over two dollars a can.
  • percent or dollar off sales. For example, if a store is advertising a sale like "50% off all women's footwear," the total cost will be cheaper if the retail price is lower. Or if the sale is $xx off the retail price-- the same rule applies.
  • major planned purchases. If you needed to buy a lot of building supplies to remodel your bathroom or something, it might be worth it to look at the prices at Lowe's or Home Depot in a different area- you are buying so much stuff, the savings might be very significant. Or if you are planning on buying furniture, electronics, or even a car, it might make sense to check prices in a different area.
I wouldn't necessarily make a trip to this other town all the time, but if I happened to be going that way, it would be worth it to stop and pick up some necessities. If I made a special trip, I would probably plan a pretty comprehensive shopping excursion and hit several stores to make the time and gas expenditure worth it. And I will definitely fill up my gas tank while I am there.

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