Cribcage took exception to a comment I posted yesterday. In the further discussion of things your supermarket won’t tell you, I quoted a Digg-user who works at a grocery store:

Since I have started changing prices I have noticed a lot of tricks that Safeway uses. [...] Everything at a grocery store is close to double the price of Walmart or Target.

Aside from the fact that it is pure hyperbole, this statement reveals a particular world view shared by many people. Namely, that the only consideration when purchasing something is price.

Finding low prices is a Good Thing. This is a personal finance weblog — I encourage you to find the best deals and to do what you can to save money. But there are other issues to consider, as well. Cribcage writes:


I’m all about financial acuity, but this is the sort of dangerous conclusion reached by the narrow-minded thinking that often goes hand-in-hand with penny pinching.

My mother used to buy oversized containers of laundry detergent. I’d explain that I understood smaller containers cost more per ounce but that I didn’t feel it was money wasted. “For my extra 14 cents, I’m buying the ability to lift these smaller bottles of detergent without pulling a muscle.” We had the same discussion about a box of 200 trash bags: “For my extra 45 cents, I’m buying a smaller box that fits inside my kitchen drawer. The bigger box is cheaper, but I don’t have anywhere to put it.”

Same principle here. Yes, my local grocery store costs more than Wal-Mart, but that isn’t money wasted. I’m investing in my local economy — but I’m also buying accountability. My local supermarket has fewer customers than the transnational Wal-Mart, so each individual customer’s voice carries more weight. They care what I say.

When my local store decided to stop carrying Hodgson Mill corn meal, for example, I complained and they reversed their decision. Everyone in my neighborhood likes certain candies at Halloween, and I don’t have to worry about my supermarket abandoning those brands because 20,000 customers in Kansas and Missouri stopped buying them.

Learn to distinguish between being aware of how much you spend versus always searching for the lowest price. One is smart. The other is narrow-minded and destructive.

My wife and I noticed something similar when we moved a couple of years ago. Our old grocery store was a locally-owned small town market that was active in the community. If you had a problem, you could call or e-mail the manager. The store was very responsive to customer requests. Now we live in another town, and we do our shopping at a large national chain. No amount of begging is going to get them to stock our favorite brand of scone mix.

Spoonman agrees with Cribcage, and also adds:

The price difference you find at Walmart is lost in the amount of time you spend in line. [...] They never have enough cashiers, prices are always wrong and everyone in line in front of you has to have prices rechecked, and so on and so on. Saving money is great, but only if it doesn’t cost me a more valuable commodity: my time.

When you shop, realize that there is more involved in each transaction than just obtaining the lowest price. You are voting with your dollars. Support those companies that are important to you, but be conscious of the costs. Sometimes Wal-Mart is the best choice. Sometimes it isn’t. Learn to know the difference.