Cheap Thrills: Lost in the Supermarket
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Cheap Thrills: Lost in the Supermarket

Cheap Thrills is a new bi-weekly column filling you in on fresh ways to get your kicks in the city and on the cheap.
Photo by lucianvenutian.
Whether you’re a certified foodie subsisting on caviar and champagne, or a slob scraping by on a modest regimen of ramen noodles, groceries are an essential part of living. Shopping for foodstuffs covers two of the basic necessities of life―and without food and water, shelter is out of the question. And though it is an unavoidable, sometimes time-consuming chore (unless you live off McD’s, which is seriously disgusting), there are always better ways to do it. And thus, we’ve (personally) shopped around to find the best ways for you to bring the bacon home.

20080921cheapthrills.JPGLet’s take a look at the supermarket. It takes an expert to navigate the array of aisles, to discern between the deal-or-no-deals; it proposes a challenge to super soccer (er, hockey) moms and bachelor dudes alike. And lo and behold, there actuallyis a career expert on the very topic―Phil Lempert, the “Supermarket Guru”, is NBC’s food trends correspondent, with an eye for consumer trends and a knack for shrewd shopping. If you’re ever curious about a new cereal, but wary of dropping the dollars, Lempert’s probably already reviewed it for you. He assures us that grocery saving starts way before you trek to the store, with the oft-forgotten grocery list. And as much work as it is to take a pen and paper, and actually plan the whole darned thing out, Lempert’s not kidding around―according to his highly qualified research, consumers spend an average 40 per cent more at the store without one. Anyone want to take out a pen and paper now and calculate that spending for a year? Phew. So first off, make a master list, and stick it to the store by sticking to your plan.
Here’s a little-known fact―supermarkets are set up to trap you. Everything from the racetrack layout starting with the vibrant, eye-catching produce, to the most expensive products conveniently located at eye-level, is placed to entice unnecessary purchases and therefore maximize profit. Even the end-caps (the massively-advertised displays on the end of the aisles) are, according to Lempert, only true bargains 60 per cent of the time. And if you need to know your cheapest option for certain, the most surefire way to find out is the unit price. Sure, the Oreos may be on sale, but the house brand is probably still cheaper per 100g―you’ve just got to read the fine print. Best part is, it’s likely that you won’t be sacrificing the flavour in favour of your wallet. After all, house brands take the brand-name formula and improve upon it. So where do they save the money? By avoiding expensive packaging and advertising. Chalk one up for President’s Choice.
It really won’t kill you to take a tip from Grandma and clip out some coupons. If the whole newspaper-and-scissors process truly terrifies you, there are coupons online a-plenty.
Now, a little, er, food for thought. Sure, you will save the world by shopping at Whole Foods with your fair-trade, natural, organic, free-run, grain-fed happy chickens, but you sure as hell won’t be saving your wallet. And if that’s your (eco-friendly) bag, so be it. But if you check out Price Chopper, No Frills, Food Basics, or basically anywhere on Spadina and are selective you can probably pick up four ordinary breasts for the price of one. Or better yet, hit up our own favourite―the farmers’ market. Sure, we’re no country bumpkins, but the farmers bring the field indoors, downtown, uptown, and to the suburbs. The seasonal fare is by far the freshest, by far the cheapest, and best of all, you’re helping out your neighbours. Doesn’t that just make you feel tingly all over?
Photo by ninjapoodles.