Saturday, March 5, 2016

52 Weeks to a Simpler Life – Tip #24 – Make Food Shopping Simpler

Audio Version available - see player below

This week's tip addresses one of life's more mundane tasks. In another time, long, long ago, this chore involved spears, bows & arrows, snares, nets and other hunting and fishing paraphanalia. It also involved hand made sacks, bags and jugs to gather fruits, nuts, berries, other edible vegetation and water or milk, typically from cows and goats. This “food shopping” process was very time consuming, required a lot of effort and there were potential risks involved (like you becoming the food).

Our world is different, today. We climb in a sleek “horseless carriage” in a variety of sizes and colors. We park our steed in a huge coral full of similar conveyances, we go into the “jungle” we now call supermarkets (probably better to call them super food mall jungles) and we do our hunting with a wheeled cart through rows and rows of some 40,000 to 50,000 items. We fill the cart, take it to a counter (not necessarily manned or womaned by a human any longer) exchange some colored paper or slide a piece of plastic through a slot (or, rapidly becoming more common, insert the card into a smaller slot). Push our cart to our horseless carriage in the huge coral, load our food and drive back to our house of any of numerous sizes and descriptions. The risk is a potential encounter with another horseless carriage that runs a stop sign, a traffic light or possibly a huge, whale sized horseless carriage with 18 wheels that loses control (or we do, while trying to answer a call on our modern day wireless smoke signal communication device).

Listen to the Audio Version: 

Okay, so I had some fun with the shopping process. But, really, doesn't that about describe it? Just as it was necessary to hunt and gather thousands of years ago to provide the required sustenance to maintain life, it is necessary today. We have just modified the process.

The Hated Shopping Process

Maybe I am being a bit strong by saying the shopping process is hated. I'm sure there are a few people who actually enjoy it. There may even be some women and men who shower, shave, do make-up, make sure their hair is perfect, put on some of their most attractive clothing before hitting the supermarket. It's a social event where one may encounter friends, colleagues, members of various social and religious organizations and so on. I'm sure there are some people who even have the shopping event timed perfectly to have these regular encounters. “Hi Jack. How are you? I just got these great new tires for the ATV. You'll need to check them out.” Hey Megan. I love your nail polish. I just bought these gorgeous shoes at _________ Department Store. They were on sale for half price.”

But, I dare say, in the busy lives of most people today, at least in the U.S., shopping is a drag and a time suck. It has to be done or you or you and the family don't eat. Of course, there is always fast food restaurants, family style restaurants, carry outs and pizza (and now other foods) delivery options. But, these are also time consuming, expensive and, often, not the most nutritious option.

When we do shop, some people actually have a shopping list. Others do it from memory, which is not really a great idea because with all the things going through our minds in this modern society, CRS disease seems to be more prevalent, even at younger ages. CRS? You don't know what that is? It's a fairly common memory problem formally known as “Can't Remember S**t.”

So, you're mission, now that you've chosen to accept it (it's inevitable, if you want to eat), is to navigate this super food mall jungle with 40,000 to 50,000 items to pass through and choose from. This is going to be more like an action adventure, then a simple chore. Indiana Jones will be proud of you as will the Mission Impossible Team.

We get to the store. Perhaps it's during rush hour or a busy shopping time. It's crowded. There are skinny people, fat people, young people, old people, people with good hygiene, people with not so good hygiene, young children running around taking things off the shelves and putting them in the parent's shopping cart, parents putting them back on any handy shelf, things getting knocked off the shelves, in some cases becoming “We have a Spill in Aisle 5! Spill in Aisle 5!” And then there's the long check out lines where you can read the headlines on all the tabloids you'd never actually buy, but it's something to pass the time.

You're running through those aisles playing “dodge 'em carts” with the other shoppers. But, then you're waiting impatiently while someone is reading all the labels on one side of the aisle while someone else is doing the same thing on the other side of the aisle – in precisely the same geographic location in the aisle, making it impassable. Or, worse yet, two old friends met in the aisle, going the same way with their backs to you and decide to catch up on family, work and some gossip about other friends, totally oblivious to you and the 13 other people who would like to get through the aisle and grab the desired items on the way. And don't forget the family with a mother and her five kids ranging from 3 to 10 years old discussing what cereals they will get this week.

It's like being on a toll road and you select the row of cars with the shortest line. But the car two cars ahead drops the money and it rolls under the car. So, the driver puts the car in park, gets out and proceeds to retrieve the money. Meanwhile, you can't back up because there are now 13 cars behind you. You can't go right or left because those lines are both busy. Then you watch the car that was on the longest line whe you pulled up, 15 cars long, go through the toll gate while the driver two cars in front of you still can't find the flipping nickle. This is what this super food mall jungle aisle is like.

You need to select what you want from one of 8 brands including the store brand (for most items) and 12 available sizes. And don't forget, there are fat free, sugar free, gluten free, Kosher, and multiple flavors of those baked beans (and most other things).You have to get past the numerous obstacles and road blocks to finally reach the check out counters. Finally, you get through that gauntlet, pay for your treasures, have it in bags and it's all in your cart.

Your adventure is almost complete. But, now you have to maneuver your way through the parking coral to your horseless carriage. Of course, you must dodge a constant flow of moving horseless conveyances of all sizes and shape as they zip up and down the rows of parked carriages. They are hunting for the absolute closest parking space to the door of the super food mall jungle. They don't even mind waiting for ten minutes for the mother with the five children to load 250 pounds of groceries in 45 plastic bags into the car and then securing the children in their legally required safety seats. God forbid, anyone would have to walk 20 or 30 extra feet.

Are you laughing (or, at least chuckling), yet? Does this all sound familiar? Sure, I may be exaggerating a bit, but people make a lot of money writing TV sitcoms about these day to day life experiences. Maybe your experiences aren't as bad as the scenario I just described, but I'll put a ten dollar bill on the table if there is anyone who hasn't encountered at least one or more of these situations while shopping. And, of course, there are others. I won't belabor you with them

There Is A Solution

Simplify your shopping! Yes! That's the solution. You aren't going to avoid going to the shopping food mall jungle. It's where the food is. But, there are ways to simplify and minimize the experience. It doesn't have to be a “Raiders of the Lost Shopping Cart” adventure every time you shop. Here are some thoughts.

First, create a list on your computer. I know you have one, or at least a smart phone or tablet, you're reading this article. Carefully think about everything you normally eat and enjoy eating. Go through your pantry, cabinets, refrigerator and freezer (if you have a stand alone freezer) and evaluate every item. Guess what? You're going to find things you bought on impulse because it looked good at the time or it was on sale, 5 for $5.00 or a twofer, buy one and get one free (duh, that means the real price of the item is 50% of the price on the shelf).

Only list things you WILL eat during the next week (or two weeks if you only want to shop once every two weeks). Once you have the list, go to your regular super food mall jungle and locate each of the items on your list and put the aisle number and approximate location in the aisle – front (of store), back (of store), middle (of store), meat section, deli section, dairy section, produce section and bakery section. When you get home, move your items on the list so that they are in the order of the store aisles or locations. Then designate the aisle number plus F(front), M(middle), B(back), MT for meat, DE for deli, DA for dairy, P for produce and B for bakery. Now, print out a number of copies of the list and locate them on the inside of one of your pantry doors.

Second, during the week, as you use something, mark it on the upcoming week's shopping list to replenish it in your pantry. Before you leave to shop, go over the list and look through your pantry, etc. to make sure you have everything marked on the list you need to replenish. You won't need everything every week.

Third, find out when your super food mall jungle is the least busy. I'm sure you're aware some of these places are open 24 hours. Select one of the times that's least busy and also convenient for you.

Fourth, NEVER go shopping on an empty stomach. Bad timing. You are far more likely to buy extra things on pure impulse when you're hungry.

Fifth, when you arrive at the store, follow your list. It will take you through the store in the most efficient and time effective manner possible. If you use coupons have them in the order of the items you're purchasing. Get everything you need for the week in that one trip. Most produce will last at least a week with proper refrigeration or storage.

Sixth, put blinders on. There are 40,000 to 50,000 items for you to get through. All of them are trying to allure you into putting them in your shopping cart. If they are not on your list, you don't want them. Watch out for the “end caps” and free standing displays in the middle of the aisles and the large aisles around the perimeter of the store. Those are “traps.” They are there for one reason and you know what it is. Entice you to buy stuff you don't need and probably isn't healthy, anyway.

This process should get you in and out of the super food mall jungle in about half the time you have been spending. You'll spend less money, because you'll only be buying what you need. You'll always have what you need during each week, so you won't have to make those “quick trips” to the store for a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk or other items (that will all last at least a week, eggs don't even need refrigeration, necessarily).

But, What If . . .

But, what if you want some variety? What if you shop for certain things at two or three different stores? Neither of these is a problem.

First, variety is the spice of life. So, at the bottom of each category/aisle include a couple blank lines for write-ins. Yes! That's certainly allowed. Maybe as a treat for one or two meals this week you'd like to enjoy some steamed shrimp. Maybe a special treat would be some strawberry swirl cheese cake. Why not? I'm not suggesting your food regimen be like a military regimentation. You can enjoy anything you choose to. But, you probably wouldn't do steamed shrimp or cheese cake every week. So, those and any other special things you'd enjoy from time to time become your write-ins. Go for it!

Second, many people shop for certain things at certain stores. Use both sides of your list and create shorter lists for each store with only the items you shop for there. You can also create codes for one main list. For example, if you buy certain items at Kroegers, place a K in front of the item on your shopping list when you create it on your computer. If you get some items at a Walmart Supercenter, use a W or WM. If you have a store like Save A Lot, or you shop at an Aldi store, use an S and/or an A.

The aisles/locations in the various stores may not coincide with one another, so in this case, having separate short lists for each store allows you to map your shopping for each store.

Here is an important note. DO NOT shop for one item at a certain store because it will cost you a nickle or a dime less, even if you're going to save a dollar on that item when you buy ten of them. You will use more money in burning gasoline, and more of your priceless time, for one or two items than the savings is worth. This is one of those “use your head” moments. Being frugal and cost effective if smart, but not if it costs you more, ultimately, from indirect expenses.

One other thing to keep in mind. Because we are fortunate to live in a society with so many choices (of everything) our tastes will change from time to time. Great! Nothing has to remain the same for ever. Change is the only constant there is. So, as you begin eating less or none of certain foods and replace those with others, simply modify your shopping list. This plan to simplify shopping is NOT A DIET. It's simply a way to save you some of that priceless commodity called time and, at the same time save you some money and some space in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. It might even help you to eat healthier. What a concept.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is – Tip #24 – simplify food shopping and cut your shopping time, at least, in half. This tip is not difficult to implement and the results are immediate. Anytime you can save time and money by implementing a tip as simple as this, your life is going to be improved and hopefully encourage you to implement more of the 52 Weeks to a Simpler Life tips.

Live free and be happy. EH


Anonymous said...

The best time for me to go to the food jungle is on Sunday morning somewhere between 07:00 am - 10:00 am, large % of the population is in church or sleeping from the wild party on Saturday night. Thus, is easy to park, easy & fast to shop, no lines at the cashiers, fast & easy way out to the parking-lot & fast & easy drive home; SUNDAY MORNINGS ARE THE VERY BEST !!!

Andrea Reynolds said...

You do realize, Ed, you've become a home economist. :-)
This is the kind of information I taught my Grade 7 to Grade 9 kids.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Sounds like you have found your winning time. Once upon a time, many states had "blue laws" that required certain kinds of retail businesses to be closed on Sunday. Thankfully, that's past tense.


Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

True enough, Andrea . . .

The "Home Economics" major was right next door to my "Industrial Arts" major in college. And, sure, I dated some of the Home Ec gals. But, that was then (and I won't say how long ago, then was, we both know that answer) and this is now. Back then supermarkets typically had 7,000 to 8,000 items and were 1/4 to 1/3 the size they are now. The family structure was different as was shopping - and they actually taught Home Ec and IA in schools. Times have changed. Everything about life is exponentially more complicated - as you know, all to well and we've been discussing. So, I'm sure this kind of info will help some people simplify life a bit and hopefully assist in recovering some of their valuable lives. Any input you want to add, I'm sure will be, gratefully received.


Richard Rosen said...

Much enjoyed listening Ed. Nice addition, and a soothing voice.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Thanks, Richard. Great feedback. I hope others enjoy listening, too.