Is Bargain Shopping Worthwhile? Part 3: Mitigating Circumstances

Parts 1 and 2 of this series, “The Cost in Gas” and “The Cost in Time,” have been focused on calculating two critical but overlooked expenses in any bargain-shopping trip.  The assumption in the examples provided was that a cheaper sticker price on an item was the only reason for shopping at multiple stores, because everything you need to buy is available at one place.

Reality, though, says there could be several reasons you shop at more than one store.  Let’s look at the most obvious reasons and see if they will make any difference in our findings.

One Store Does NOT Have Everything I Need

Maybe a bit drastic, but it illustrates my point.    Photo by TheRealMichaelMoore on / CC BY-NC-ND

Anyone with special dietary needs can confirm the validity of this reason for shopping at multiple stores.  I personally know this to be true for celiac sufferers, so this will be the example here.

For some strange reason the gluten-free (GF) diet has been popular lately, even with those who don’t suffer.  So, fortunately for those of us who require a GF diet, many stores and major brands are providing a variety of GF products.

Unfortunately, these stores are not stocking everything.  Store A carries items A and B but not Y or Z.  Store B does sell items Y and Z but not A or B!  And Store C is the only place offering item K, an essential ingredient!  Ugh.

Consequently, to have a well-rounded diet, we must figure out how to acquire all these items with the least consumption of time and gas.  We may never get to be a one-store shopper, but I think there are some ways to minimize the extra cost.

If we can’t avoid shopping at multiple stores, then we could almost consider everything in this series as a moot point.  If you’ve got to go to Store C, even though it’s the farthest out, then feel free to take advantage of any sales or cheaper sticker prices they have.

Gonna be a while before this person needs to go shopping again!            Photo by on / CC BY-SA

Notice I said “almost.”  Just because you need to go to Store C doesn’t mean you have to go every time you go shopping.  If Store C’s item has any length in shelf life or can be frozen, then buy enough in one trip to last you until the items’ expiration date.  Instead of spending time and gas going to Store C every time you shop, you can now go less often.  Depending on the item and how fast you use it up, you could avoid going to Store C for months, even a full year!

Okay, so we’ve figured out how to get that critical item with fewer trips.  But what if that store just has some really great prices on other items that are available closer to home but for more money?

This is where you apply the formulas I’ve provided in this series.  If you’ve stockpiled the item that required going to Store C, then is it still worth the trip just to get that cheaper sticker price on other stuff when you’re not buying more of that critical item?  Take advantage when you must go, but otherwise calculate the full cost before you go the extra distance.

“Closely related to this reason for shopping around is the factor of preference.”

Closely related to this reason for shopping around is the factor of preference.  If you/your family just can’t stand the taste/texture of all the closest options, then you may have legitimate reason to go the extra distance.  Throwing cheap food away because nobody eats it is not saving anything!

Just make sure to give the closer and/or cheaper options an honest try.  If you are serious about spending less money overall and/or about getting more of your time back, be sure you’re not just assuming that a store brand is awful.

I Drive by That Store Anyway

Photo by Azrul Aziz on Unsplash

Anyone who works outside of home is likely to pass a store on their commute, and all of us have non-shopping errands take us past stores that aren’t the closest to our homes.  Can we take advantage of the cheaper prices at those stores?

Certainly!  If you’re already going to pass by it or be in the area, then any slight deviations off a direct path home could prove to be well worth it.

The challenge here is to be fully prepared for that shopping side trip.  Make sure you’ve got your shopping list or sales flyer and anything else you need with you when you leave for the destination that’s creating this opportunity.

While the fractions of a mile to pull into the store’s parking lot and then back onto your commuter path are hardly worth the effort to calculate, the time it takes may be significant enough to fully consider.

In Part 2, we only considered the travel time from home to store but not the actual time spent in the store.  I bring it up now lest anyone thinks there’s no extra costs to consider when the extra store visits are just a parking lot off their commuting route.

Perhaps the best way to communicate my point here is through example.  Suppose I spend a full hour in my main store (A) because I am walking up and down every aisle collecting the majority of needed items there.  Store B, which is on my way to the bank, has some lower sticker prices on a couple of items, so I assume it’s worth a quick stop.

I don’t even have to get onto another street to get to Store B, because it is on the same road that takes me straight home.  In fact, it takes me only 5 minutes to pull into the parking lot, get in the store, walk up a couple of aisles, check out and pull back out onto the road.  All done in just 5 minutes!

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Sounds like successful bargain hunting, right?  But wait.  That measly 5 minutes cost me 85 cents worth of my precious time (worth .17/minute).  Was the sticker price 85 cents less than at Store A, where the time to pull the item off the shelf would have been a barely discernible measure of seconds because I was already walking down that aisle anyway?  Hmmm.

I’m not saying that you should never shop at an additional store.  Just be aware of what it’s costing you.

If you’re like me and are desperate to find more time in your day, then considering these facts will be a powerful influence in how you choose to shop.  I know it is affecting me!  Thanks, God, for showing me how to “cut off” what’s sabotaging my efforts to do good!

Thanks for reading!

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