Saturday, November 17, 2007

Question about Thrift: Has anyone done the math on this?....I'd love to hear from you all.

I have a homemaking book that was written in the 70's, the decade when gas prices first skyrocketed least $1.00 a gallon!

"Big deal!" you say.

You have to remember that this was a huge leap from the approximately $0.39 cents that Americans generally paid right before gas prices first skyrocketed in 1973-74. And, we thought the early 1973 price of $0.39 was high compared to the $0.15 to $0.25 of just a few years prior.
In case you're too young to remember all of that, let me just say that in the U.S. in the 1960's and early 1970's, gas was plentiful and cheap. Plus, stations waged "gas wars" in which they tried to under-sell each other, and the competition drove already low prices even lower.

Back in the day, no one dreamed of pumping his or her own gas! All stations were full service. The attendant would not only fill your tank, but would wash your car windows and check your oil and windshield wiper fluid, too. And, he'd give you a little present just for making a purchase! Of course, these gas station gifts were inexpensive promotional items, a few of which were truly useful and many of which went right into the trash. However, my late mother collected a set of "Love is..." glasses from a station that offered a new one each week, and my father still has some of those glasses until this day.

I can't imagine that the cost of driving from store to store or from errand to errand was much of a consideration for the 1960's housewife. I wasn't an adult then, and, therefore, I wasn't responsible for a household budget. So, I can't say that for sure. However, the attitude of the times was, "Have wheels; gas is cheap; will travel!"

There's no doubt that since the 1970's, the cost of gasoline has been a factor in working out how to be frugal. After the initial gas crisis in 73-74, gas prices dropped back down to around $0.50. They bounced up again to around a dollar, and they stayed in the $1.00 to $1.50 range until not that long ago. As we all know, prices have seriously spiked again. We all experienced another round of sticker shock when prices exceeded $3.00 a gallon.

I don't know how to compare the two big 1970's gas crises to the ones we've experienced in the 2,000's. Of course, every dollar that you spent at the pump back then was worth comparatively more than a dollar is worth today. A dollar was also a higher percentage of an average salary. However, some figures do indicate that today's high gas prices, when adjusted for inflation, have an even greater impact on our pocketbooks than the earlier price hikes did.

Anyhow, I personally married and set up housekeeping in 1980 -- before some of you dear readers were even born. The 1970's-based advice in my homemaking book pretty much still applied to my situation.

Here's a scenario that this book presented: You normally shop at Store A, which generally has your area's best prices for groceries, toiletries, and other staples. However, you also watch the weekly fliers from other stores. One week, Store B offers an item -- let's say a ham -- at an incredible price. (I'm assuming this amazing sale on hams would be one of Store B's loss leaders.) Otherwise, your overall grocery ticket at Store A would still be lower than your total ticket at Store B. Is it worth your while to do the bulk of your week's shopping at Store A and drive to Store B in order to buy the ham, too?

The author's conclusion was that -- given the price of gas at the time -- that it was not worth your time and money to drive to Store B to purchase only one item -- no matter how much you might save on that item. The author's rule of thumb was that a trip to Store B would be cost-effective only if Store B offered at least five items at considerable savings to you. These would need to be five items that you planned to buy -- not five things that you put in your shopping cart simply because they were on sale.

Now, I personally find that there are other factors to consider: Would you pass store B on your route to some other errand this week? If you're going to pass it anyway, why not pop in for the incredible ham? Do you have a freezer? Then, why not pick up five hams, provided that the store hasn't set a limit on the number each customer can buy?

On the other hand, if you are pressed for time and you also have four tired and hungry children with you, it might not be worth your while to stop -- even if your travels take you right in front of store B.

Another thing to consider: Do you run a home business or work from home? Do you practice thrift and frugality so that you can afford to stay home -- in which case being frugal is, in a sense, your home business? In scenario #1, you might figure that your time is worth more than the savings of stopping to buy the incredible ham at store B. In scenario #2, you might conclude that stopping at store B is a fantastic use of your time. There is a time to save time over money, and there is a time to save money over time -- not that these two commodities are always mutually exclusive.

In the past, I've seldom driven to a store just to buy one sale item. I'm talking about smaller items here. When it comes to big-ticket items -- such as furniture or appliances -- that's another matter entirely. If my hubby and I are looking at big savings, we can spend more gas money to drive some distance and still come out ahead.

Re groceries and such, I usually look at how I do on average in one store when compared to shopping in another store. I generally patronize the store that offers the most consistently reasonable prices and leave it at that. Let's say, for example, that store A charges more for bananas and bread than store B does, but it generally charges less for peanut butter, milk, and chicken. At store A, my total grocery bill is consistently less than when I shop at Store B. In that case, I will generally patronize Store A, even though store B might have a few particular items that are better deals.

However, I do sometimes alternate where I shop in order to take advantage of each store's best deals. For example, I might load up at Sam's once or twice a month, buying only those things at Sam's that definitely save me money.

And, my week's schedule often takes me hither, thither, and yon, so I have many occasions to pass stores other than where I usually shop. Once in a while, it may be either more timely or more cost-effective for me to stop by another store on my way home from a jaunt to some place across town.

Now that Wal-Mart no longer carries sewing supplies and our local Hancock's has closed :(, I have to drive about twenty minutes or so to get to a fabric store. Now, I enjoy a particular fabric store, and I've always done some of my fabric shopping there. Usually, I have a coupon that I can use at my favorite store. But, I'm wondering if the price of gas eats into my coupon savings. I have other reasons to travel to that area of town, so I try to visit that fabric store when I already have a reason to be there. It doesn't always work out that way, though.

Also, I love trips to the Dollar Store, where I find little gifts, inexpensive cards and wrapping materials, the awesome Awesome Brand cleaner, and useful little items to put in care packages for my adult children. But, if I burn up two bucks driving to the Dollar Store, would I be better off buying items of a little nicer quality and just a little higher price in a store closer to my home? Hmm...

While I basically have the concept in mind that a trip to a store equals the price of an item plus gas plus car maintenance plus time, I have never figured out an exact system for measuring all of those things. I don't even know if the "five items on sale" figure is as reliable a rule of thumb in 2007 as it was in 1980.

What do y'all think? How do you factor in your gas expenses and your time when it comes to visiting various stores to find bargains? Do you think this is important? Or, no? If you do think it's important, how much does this weigh in your daily decisions.

I'd love to see your comments.



Meredith said...

My gas budget is very dear to me, and I've started a lot of inner debates each time I put the key in the ignition. Sometimes I will "let myself" go to Harris-Teeter in the car so long as I pay myself back by walking to Walmart.

I generally don't make a trip just for one item. However, one item that is a huge loss leader (turkey) may make it worth my while. Or, in the case of my last neighborhood grocer, if there are routinely great deals on reduced-for-quick-sale meats and produce, a second trip may be worth the stop.

When I am pinched for time and only have time for one stop only, I shop Aldi. Otherwise, I choose from whichever store(s) have the best sale that week.

I find that shopping the sales loss leaders is such a savings, it outweighs the minimal effort of shopping more than one store.

Anonymous said...

I watch the fliers for what is on special and make my shopping list with my months menu in mind, listed by store. So I might buy some things and freeze for the future. I would not go for just one item though. I also shop according to quality, especially of meat. The shop I drive to for meat is excellent and has some good deals...but I almost never buy fruit or vegetables there. Way too expensive. Having moved to Norway newly married, it took me some years to get accustomed to what the "normal" prices are for everyday groceries, and to carefully check the way shops repackage goods to make them seem cheaper but they are infact just smaller packages! I definitely spend less on groceries now than I did some years ago because I am more aware. (This month the price of butter is nearly twice what it was last November) Our gas prices change according to the day of the week, so I am careful when I fill the car. I am hoping they go down tomorrow or I will be stuck! Over the last few months my weekly gas bill has gone up about 17 dollars (equivalent) because of the price rising generally. Gill.

lp said...

I have not been doing well in my budget at all. I did best when I took the loss leader adds and had them matched at Walmart.
Thankfully my car -Toyota Yaris gets about 30mpg in town. I think having a larger stock in my pantry has seemed to do best. Like you said when it is on sale buy several within reason.