Fiscal Food Responsibility

by Melody Kettle

I’m a pork-curing, cheese-loving foodie who for too long justified grocery bills in excess of $1,200 a month as an occupational hazard.  It was high time for fiscal food responsibility.  Encouraged by my husband demanding that I immediately surrender platinum plastic power, I took the bull by the horns and tried something new.

The days of daily junkets to Kings, Whole Foods, cheese shops, and random markets were over.  For as long as I could remember, my Grandma has done her food shopping on a monthly cash “allowance” of $400.  Growing up, there were three good meals every day; dinner always had meat or fish, accompanied by a salad, a vegetable and a starch.  I even had prosciutto sandwiches for lunch, and there was always home baked dessert or ice cream.

Clearly, I was doing something indulgently wrong.  Notably, Grandma shopped once a week.  She got the ShopRite circular from the Bergen Record, made a list, cut the coupons, and most importantly stuck to the list! She was and is responsible. Me? Not so much. I prefer smaller shopping venues, which generally means much larger bills.  I avoid ShopRite largely because of the parking, the size, and the crowds – it’s just too much for me. 

A neighbor suggested that I attempt to lower my monthly food bills by shopping from home. At first, I wasn’t uncertain, “No way!” I said,  “What self-respecting foodie shops from home?  What would people say?” But really, who cares? In the end, shopping from home has saved me, on average, approximately $600 per month. 

There are additional costs to shopping from home.  For the shopping service, ShopRite From Home charges a fee of  $10 for a personal shopper.  There is an additional and optional delivery fee of $5.95 to have the groceries delivered to your door. 

When an on-line shopping order is placed and a timeslot is reserved, you could write specific notes to your personal shopper and indicate whether to allow substitutions.  If your personal shopper is uncertain about an item, they will call you to ask you what your preferences are.  If you forgot to add an item to your list, you could call and tell them that too, and they’ve always been accommodating.

Do the costs outweigh the benefits? I asked a few of my friends how they feel about shop from home services.  Moms, who are flanked by multiple young kids love it, since it saves time and frustration. They could do their shopping on the computer in the evening or during naptime.   This holds true for me as well, as I’m a bit of a sucker for my children, and tend to give in to wants that aren’t really needs.  Therefore, parental privacy while shopping works wonders for my bottom line. 

But not everyone would be compelled to shop from home. Montclair’s beloved gastro-mechanic, Lou Palma, says, “As long as I can walk I will always select my own groceries, without fear of my privacy being invaded.”  According to Lou, “Big charges for deliveries! I would not be happy as I am very cost conscious with any food that I purchase.  $15.95 is absurd, for example I can buy 50 lbs of flour for that and make a lot of bread.”

What about time efficiency?  Michael Mahle, a friend and major foodie, says that while it would be efficient, and worth it during the holidays, “it would take away one of the things I actually enjoy.”

According to Montclair resident, Tracy Herrick, she would not be compelled to shop from home because she likes to “read labels, see what’s new, and as for fresh produce, especially with it being so expensive, I like to see it and feel it for myself.”  But, she adds that “it might be more efficient, if I were to have a change in jobs and available time. I would consider doing it to help out short term, or occasionally.”  And if Tracy did, she would definitely opt for home delivery because “heck, the most annoying part about shopping is loading up the car and getting into the house, in my opinion!”

Here are a few of the other factors I think contributed to my fiscal food success when shopping from home. When I sign in, my price plus membership is automatically entered so I get the benefit of the in-store sale items. I could also shop the weekly sale circular strictly.  Of course, if there’s a specific product I need that’s not on sale, I’ll add it to the cart, but “circular shopping” is something my Grandmother has been telling me about for years, and as I find it – she was right. Finally, seeing the “cart” list at the end of the on-line shopping makes it easier for me to stick to the budget by weeding out and removing the things I really do not need. 

I’ve also heard a lot about Peapod by Stop and Shop and Fresh Direct, but haven’t tried these outlets yet.  Have you? If so, what was your experience?