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Sunday, April 18, 2021

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Stop Apologizing and Start Saving!

It’s a well-established joke that there are plenty of “Karens” out there who, in an effort to get what they want, are nasty and high-maintenance to businesses, employees, clerks and cashiers. I’m not really a fan of using this title, but we can all agree that there are indeed lots of individuals who expect too much from an establishment and fail to ask for assistance the right way. But does this mean that the rest of us should always remain mousy and complacent even if we need more service? 

It’s important to remember asking for assistance or taking full advantage of services shouldn’t automatically equate with being demanding or expecting too much. Sometimes one can risk being too self-conscious about coming across the wrong way. In the end, remaining silent doesn’t help your budget. 

When it comes to grocery shopping in particular, there are plenty of opportunities to save money and avoid spending unnecessarily by reminding ourselves that it’s OK to ask for help. Here are some grocery store scenarios I feel it’s time to not only stop feeling guilty about, but are also examples of ways to cut back on avoidable spending:

Asking For Fresher Produce. You planned a nice meal and head to the produce section of the store only to find that the baby bok choy and fresh ginger at the center of your stir-fry are not there. It’s OK to ask the produce employees if there are any in the back, as long as you ask nicely. I find that I have to do this pretty much every time I shop for groceries. Don’t feel badly about this. 

You also have every right to ask if there are fresher or newer fruits/vegetables in the back, if you find there are only two sad-looking potatoes or a handful of shriveled-up mushrooms in the bin. There are usually more waiting to be unpacked. 

Asking nicely can save time and money. Settling on a package of pre-cut broccoli instead of a whole head because you feel shy will only double the price. If you wait and try again later in the week, or go to another store, you’re increasing the likelihood that you’ll spend more on other impulse items. Save yourself and just ask kindly! 

Using Coupons. Figuring out how to enter in coupons is part of a cashier’s job responsibilities. I’ve certainly had my fair share of employees who aren’t afraid to show their stress about entering coupons when I hand them over, but I’ve learned over the years to not feel guilty about it. Manufacturers and stores are giving out coupons in order to get your business. In other words, you have every right to use coupons, even if the cashier has to call over a manager to figure something out. Be friendly, stay organized, keep the coupons neat, and follow the rules. Beyond that, stand back and relax–you’re saving money, and that’s nothing to feel ashamed about. 

Checking Your Receipt. I have learned the hard way to check my receipt before leaving the grocery store. It’s not intentional, but sometimes an item will scan twice or you’ll be charged the wrong amount. Not checking for this will add up big time. Once, a ball of fresh cheese that was supposed to be $5.32 was entered in as $53.20, and this didn’t register with me until I got home. I had to go all the way back to the store and explain the error. Avoid this unfortunate true story by quickly scanning your receipt for anything that looks incorrect. If you do spot something, just head to the customer service desk and nicely explain the situation. They’ll be quick to refund your money and not ask any questions. Trust me! 

Asking for Your Items to be Bagged a Certain Way. How can bagging items lead to wasteful spending? Sometimes after you’ve carefully picked out the exact groceries you want, improper bagging will crush that bag of chips, or your container of raspberries will spill all over. 

As long as you’re asking nicely, it’s OK to remind the cashier of how you prefer your groceries bagged. You can help out by loading up the conveyor belt properly. Place the heaviest items such as cans and jars first and taper the weight off until your delicate eggs and hot dog buns are last. The cashier will appreciate your organization. 

Asking Questions at the Bakery or Deli Counter. A lot of times, the bakery will have fresh baked goods that are still in the process of being packaged, which they’ll sell to you, if you ask. If you need a loaf of Italian bread but don’t see it out, just ask if some just came out of the oven. And ditto at the deli. Sometimes I’ll need a rotisserie chicken for that night’s dinner, but if none are out on display, an employer will be able to estimate when the next batch will be done. This will allow me to keep shopping and swing by the deli when I’m done shopping. Asking a question nicely will save you time and money. 

Finally, Don’t Hesitate to Return an Item for Any Rational Reason, and Don’t Feel Badly About It. Employees at the customer service desk are dealing with demanding and/or strange circumstances all day long, so a simple return is no big deal to them. 

A lot of folks don’t think it’s worth their time to return a $2 box of the slightly-incorrect macaroni and cheese because it’s so inexpensive. But if no one in your house ever gets around to eating it, you’ve just thrown that money in the garbage. 

The same goes for perishable items that may smell foul or seem rotten when you return home. If that package of meat you opened seems bad after the fact, it’s OK to go back for a refund. It’s also important for the butcher to know about the issue in case there is a larger problem with the product. As such, they actually appreciate returns like this. Remember, as long as you’re friendly, modest and easy-going, you’re entitled to speak up and advocate for yourself at the grocery store. 

Besides your mortgage, you’re going to spend the majority of your home expenses on food. You might as well be smart about it, save a bit when you can, and stop feeling guilty about doing so. 

Debra Caffrey
Debra Caffrey is the writer/editor of the Education and Infant & Pregnancy e-newsletters for Fredericksburg Parent and Family. She also writes the monthly Practical Pantry column, sharing her recipes and tips on being a home cook, grocery shopping, and smart meal planning. Debra is the proud mother of an almost-teenage son. When she's not writing, cooking, or parenting, Debra enjoys working out, yoga, running, hiking, traveling, and reading.

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