Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Stocking Up on Savings (or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the rain check)

How many items do you buy when you "stock up" on good sale items at the grocery store? I always find myself in the aisle, pondering: How often will I use this? (How often should I use this?) How long will it stay good? When will it go on sale again? How heavy will it be to carry home? Do I have room for this in my fridge/freezer/cabinets/under the table/in some corner?

These are all very good questions. But instead of weighing them and coming up with a logical answer, I usually end up going with the "compromise" solution of picking a more-or-less random number "in the middle" of my options (often 4, 5, or 6). And it usually turns out in the end that I picked a number that was too low-- I run out before it goes on sale again, and have to buy it at a higher price or go without.

There are a number of reasons for this, none of them particularly good ones. Partly it's my illogical desire to keep my grocery bill low (even though it saves money in the long run, and I have way more than enough room in my budget to cover it). Part is not wanting to carry too much home on my 10-minute walk. Part is the thought that "Oh, it's on sale through next Wednesday, I'll come back and get more later," which of course I rarely do. And sometimes it's the slim pickings as far as variety during a sale. ("Hmmm, I thought I wanted to get ten cans of soup, but there's only two of the lentil soup which I love, so do I really want eight of minestrone? Nah, but maybe four? And maybe a can or two of broccoli cheese, even though I've still got two at home unopened?")

But recently, I've realized that I can make an end-run around all these problems when I use a raincheck. I have a little piece of paper, marked out with the maximum items I can get, which feels almost like a prescription, my personal permission to buy a dozen of whatever-it-is. Instead of on-the-spot decision-making, I can walk into the store knowing exactly how many I want, so I already know how many other things I can comfortably carry back, if any (yes, I could also do that during the original sale if I just planned ahead-- shush!). Plus, instead of the sparse shelves during the sale's normal term, I can usually select just as many items of any variety as I want. So I am a convert to the raincheck.

Rainchecks have other benefits, too. Beyond their basic purpose-- letting you get the sale price even if the store's out of stock when you visit-- they can be especially useful when the sale's timing isn't good for you (the items are perishable and you'll be out of town soon; you want to purchase the items right before a party or big event; you're low on cash right now). You can even try to time your visit right (at the end of the sale's term) so you purposely find they're out of the desired item. (Just be careful it's not a "while supplies last"/"quantities are limited" thing-- then you lose your legal right to a raincheck.) Plus, you can save your raincheck to match it up with some great coupons if you're a couponer (I'm not).

How about you? How many items do you buy when you "stock up" on a good price? Do you ever find yourself buying less than you should? And do you often use rainchecks?

(By the way, did you know that the term "rain check" comes from baseball? Back in the late 1800s, if a baseball game was rained out, everyone and their mother would claim they'd been there, trying to get into the make-up game for free. Since they gave up their original ticket when they entered the park, there was no proof one way or the other. So teams started attaching a "rain check"-- a tear-off stub-- that fans could use to gain entry to the rescheduled game. So we got both the invention of the ticket stub, and a handy new phrase!)

6 comments:

Then Things said...

I think you forgot an important piece of info- how to get a raincheck! Do you have to find a manager?

Tiredbuthappy said...

I love the idea, but I'm pretty sure at my neighborhood Acme I'd have to go to Customer Service--and wait in line behind e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e in the whole store who wanted to cash a check, or worse, buy lottery tickets. It drives me crazy when I have to wait in that line for anything. I think they put the competent employees at the cash registers and all the people who are slow and dull at the Customer Service counter. Last time I almost yelled, "can you type those numbers any slower?" at the poor woman.

My best bet is usually to scour the store until I spot the store manager--I know him by sight. Maybe if I grab him and don't let him escape until he gives me a rain check...hmm...I'll have to try it.

bluntmoney said...

It's funny that you mentioned the 4-6 number as the amount you usually go with when "stocking up". I'm the same way. Mostly, I think, because after loading 6 jars of spaghetti sauce into my cart I start to feel a little silly. Which of course is even sillier than not buying more anyway.

Penny Nickel said...

Sorry, then things! That's what happens when I make assumptions...

I think it depends from store to store. At some places you can just get one from any cashier on your way out, so that's worth a try-- they may be able to do it themselves, or they may call a manager over. Customer Service is a safe bet, too (although yes, lines can be long!)

Blunt Money-- yes, exactly! I look down at my 4 or 5 whatevers in my cart, and I feel silly enough, and I can't imagine taking double that amount, so I just stop. At least I'm not alone...

Anonymous said...

I've always asked the cashier. It never took more than a moment!

bargainquest said...

I struggle with exactly the same thing! ( Entry lamenting the issue) Hadn't thought of the rain check solution, I'll have to give that a try