Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How Much You Pay Depends On Where You Shop

Tip #176 - How Much You Pay Depends On Where You Shop. We all know that a house in the middle of Nebraska is a fraction of the cost of a house in the middle of Manhattan. And generally prices in suburbs are cheaper than prices in a big city. But did you know that prices on things such as food, clothing, gas, and other things can be much cheaper just a few miles away from where you live? It’s true.

Gasoline is probably the most obvious one. You might notice that prices on gas are less in a different neighborhood than your own. But is it cheaper to go out of your way to get cheap gas? Of course, it depends on if the price different makes up for the distance and amount of gas you would use to get there. The best solution is to get gas when you are in these neighborhoods that sell that sell them cheaper.

As far as clothing and miscellaneous items go, I have often found that there are certain neighborhoods that do not cater to discount stores or cheaper shops. So, while it may be convenient to shop in your neighborhood, it is not necessarily the least expensive. Your area might consist of independent shops with higher overhead costs, while a different area might sell similar products in big box stores for much less. And while I like to encourage people to buy local as much as possible, and I try to do it myself. Sometimes it’s just not economically feasible to do so.

Since food is a big part of anybody’s budget, it might make financial sense to find a supermarket that might be cheaper than your neighborhood market, and buy the bulk of your food there. This can be done easily by doing one large shopping trip per month, so you are not wasting gas on many smaller trips to a faraway neighborhood. Sometimes, even the same supermarket chain has different prices in different neighborhoods. Or an older store may be cheaper than a new, sparkling one.

My point is, that sometimes you have to look outside your neighborhood to find the bargains or just plain cheaper prices. Once you explore other areas and learn where the good deals are on gas, clothing, food, and other items, you should figure out if it is worth it to drive there, and if so how to best maximize your trips to buy these cheaper products efficiently. Overall, you could save yourself a lot of money on a weekly basis if you do it right.

In Real Life (IRL) – Gas has always been at least 10 cents cheaper where my husband works than where we live. It makes it nice and convenient for us for him to fill up his tank where he works. Since he has a far commute (25 miles each way), it saves us about $1 per week or more. It won’t make us rich, but it’s no extra effort to take advantage of their cheaper gas prices.

As far as clothing and household items, I try to take many things into consideration such as my time, gas to travel there, and whether I have my kids with me or not (I usually do). I am sometimes willing to pay a bit more for things in my local neighborhood rather than travel 10 miles to a largest big box store to get a discount. I’m not a big fan of shopping so when I do travel far, I try to anticipate future needs so I can buy more things that we need at a better price. School supplies come to mind. I can overpay for many things at my local CVS that I can walk to. Or I can drive 10 miles to Wal-Mart and save about $20 for a year’s school supplies. For that big purchase, I would make the drive. However, if I just need a box of tissues because I’ve run out, I’ll head to a neighborhood store. Of course, better planning on our family’s needs would cut down on wasted trips to local, overpriced stores. Then again, it's impossible to anticipate every need, so overpaying for some things is to be expected.

But what I’d really like to point out today is the difference in prices in food stores in different neighborhoods. And not just a ritzy grocery store versus a discount one, but the differences in prices in stores within the same chain. I went into my local Safeway the other day with the circular from my mailbox in hand. I was excited to buy some Ritz Crackers they were advertising for $1.50 per box (2/$3). But when I got to the cracker aisle, I noticed that the crackers were priced at $2.09 per box (Buy one get one free with the price of one being $4.19). I asked at the customer service desk about it, thinking they made a mistake somewhere. But instead, the employee told me I had a circular for a store in McLean, Virginia and not the one for the store in Fairfax, Virginia where I was currently shopping.

My reaction was one of surprise. First, I found it odd that I would even be mailed a circular from the store in McLean because I live much closer to the Fairfax store. But I was even more surprised at the difference in prices because McLean is generally a very expensive area to live, much more so than Fairfax. I would have the expected price differential to be reversed. Well, in any case, I bought the crackers, because it was still a good price and when on my way.

It wasn’t until I got home with both flyers in hand (one from McLean and one from Fairfax) that I studied the front pages of both of them. The ads looked identical! See photo above. but the prices for the Fairfax store were more expensive on many foods! Wine was $2more per bottle in Fairfax than in McLean. Ground beef was 99 cents in each place but in McLean it was for 80% lean beef, while in Fairfax it was for 73% lean beef. Salmon was $5.99 per pound in Fairfax versus $4.99 per pound in McLean. I don’t understand their pricing strategies and why McLean would be cheaper than Fairfax, but I know before I go to Safeway next time, I will look at both stores’ circulars online to see if it’s worth it to me to make the longer trip to McLean to get the better prices. Since I only spent an extra dollar on crackers, and I was in that shopping center for something else anyway, it wasn’t worth the price of gas to make a special trip to McLean. But had I wanted several things on their front page, it probably would be.

So I learned my lesson. It's worth it to look beyond your neighborhood boundaries. It might not be worth it all the time, but you could save yourself a lot of money overall if you find prices consistently cheaper than where you normally shop and plan your trips right.


Chris at said...

Giant does the same thing - different flyers for different areas. Its not always different but sometimes.

The Prudent Homemaker said...

I live near a Coscto, but I drive a bit further to Sam's Club because so much of what I buy is a lot cheaper there!