09 May 2008

Frugal Friday: Scheister Edition

The early evening news last night had a segment about saving money at the grocery store. The anchor met with two women, armed with coupons and magical lists. They spoke of rock bottom prices and stockpiling. I was stoked, for a split second, to see someone validating the adventure that is frugality.

And then I got annoyed ...

Apparently, the only way to be frugal and save money on groceries, is to enroll in one of the unfortunately popular online ad/savings services, and PAY THEM to tell you what to buy or not buy at the grocery store. The program that was most highlighted in the segment runs $19.95 for a month of database and list access. The other runs $10 for 8 weeks for one store, an additional $5 for every store after that.

Now, on face, I can see how these services could seem appealing. It's awesomely easy and brainless to just print off lists and buy what you're told. The time saving factor is probably the biggest draw. Americans like to talk about not having enough time on a regular basis, though I'll be slow to agree with the reality of their assertions while the average amount of TV hours per week is still so astronomical. We probably all have an hour somewhere in our week to take care of grocery saving business, and that's all it takes once you get the hang of it.

I also understand that deal finding can initially be a contrary way of thinking about shopping. What do you mean I only buy one can of soup? or 32 boxes of pasta?! It would make sense to pay for the training or knowledge of deal finding if you wanted to get started. There are tons of free resources on the internet, though, and neither of these services actually teach you to figure these things out yourself in the future. You're beholden to their databases and lists and color codes forever, and since it keeps you writing a check, they like it that way.

I am all for responsible consumerism, deal finding, stockpiling, and paying the lowest possible price or scoring goods for free (even better!). I am not, however, at all a fan of people capitalizing on that endeavor through 'communities' of dutiful check writers. It's entirely contrary and makes my heart hurt a little. Like ... if someone would just show them, they'd save so much more money. Creating a pricebook is probably the best way to get started, and all it takes is a spiral notebook and a pile of receipts.

I suppose scheisters and con-men exist in every arena. They will until people stop paying them to. Don't help them out. Don't pay for advice that it otherwise provided free in the same medium, and is almost always better advice in the first place. Find a free community online. I suggest http://www.hotcouponworld.com/ for starters. Lurk there awhile, learn something.



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