Na Na pinches her pennies

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Costs, shortages, and a warning

The rising costs on just about everything is forcing shoppers to look at ways to cut spending.  I’ve long been a fan of using grocery store discount bin items.  Shopping discount bins is one way to save money.  Maybe.  Maybe not anymore.  If you are a person who regularly looks for discount bin items to save money I have a warning for you.  Some stores are putting a discount looking sticker on items but the price is not actually lower.  Its just made to appear discounted so you’ll buy it.  The sticker price is the same normal shelf price.

Walmart and Kroger both do this trick for sure.  The first time I noticed this trick was a year or so ago when I was looking through items on a discount display at Walmart.  A can of tomato juice with a dent had the bright markdown sticker but it didn’t say how much the discount.  I don’t usually buy tomato juice but if the discount was large enough I’d find a use for it.  Out of curiosity I walked to the isle where the tomato juice was located.  Uh, the exact same price.  I thought I was wrong so I found one of those price checker machines.  Yup, the same price.  I checked a couple other items from the display.  Only one was actual discounted and it showed the difference in cost right on the sticker.

At Kroger a couple months ago I noticed the discount sticker price for a pack of pork chops was higher per pound than the regular priced chops.  Kroger puts discounted produce into a red mesh bag indicating its a 99 cent special price.  I found bags containing 3 sweet potatoes with a couple small bad spots on them.  Out of curiosity to see how much I would be saving I weighed the potatoes and it was exactly one pound.  Sweet potatoes were on sale .99 a pound that week.  So why would anyone want one pound of sweet potatoes with bad spots when they can pick out one pound of really good ones for the same price?   But, how many people actually take the time to verify a bargain price?  Yep, I’m being much more cautious about the discounted items now days.  I wish I had had my camera with me that day.

Since we are on the subject of food prices and scarcity; here is something else to ponder.  This is a special display rack in the center of an isle at Kroger.  Do you believe this sale price is a bargain for freeze dried strawberries?  Is it something you would buy because its on sale?  Well let me ask you this.

Would these packages of strawberries still seem like a bargain if I told you that sale price figures out to be $47.84 per pound at $2.99 an ounce?   If you figure it at the non-sale price of $3.49 per ounce it comes to $55.84 per pound.  Apparently Kroger is trying to cut out the prepper food middle man.  Um, I sure hope its not a sign of something more dire.

What do I personally think is causing the food shortages?  Tariffs—labor shortage—and retiring truck drivers.  Tariffs on steel means the cost of making cans for the food is much higher.  The processing plants are searching for alternative containers and is probably the reason you are seeing more plastic bags containing veggies on shelves.

I used to think the single serve cans of veggies was because of more single people these days.  I’m not so sure about that anymore.  It could also be a result of the food shortages or maybe cutting back on use of steel.  The USA has a very poor recycle program.

The farm labor force has been supplemented with migrant Mexican and South American people for decades.  The new border policies and very limited number of guest worker visas is preventing migrant farm workers from getting to the farms where they are desperately needed.  Now that most are being detained and deported back home there is a major shortage of farm labor for the back breaking task of harvesting food.  Meaning lots of produce is not being picked and can’t be sent to processing plants or stores.  The produce is rotting in fields and orchards.  Here is a link to an article I found on the web.  Food shortages.  I found dozens of articles by searching “empty store shelves.”

Even when the produce gets sent to the processor plants there aren’t enough truck drivers to transport it to the stores.  Truck drivers get paid by the mile, not by the hour.  If a truck is stuck all day waiting to be loaded or setting for hours in a traffic jam on the interstate he/she isn’t earning any money.  There is also a law saying the driver can only be behind the wheel for a limited number of hours at a time.  Its a good law but it does have faults too.  If the driver is doing nothing but sit waiting its still considered as part of the hours behind the wheel.  I’ve heard many truck drivers are not getting loads to haul because there isn’t any product to be hauled so they are leaving for better paying jobs.

Ok, I’ve gone through what I believe are the reasons behind the empty shelves at the stores.  Now its your turn but here is one more idea or perhaps it could be considered a conspiracy theory or something.  What if the empty shelving is done deliberately in order to create an illusion of a food shortage?  What better way to jack up costs than to make the public believe we should get what we can, while we still can, at any price? Think about it.  You walk up to a shelf where dozens of cans of green beans normally sit.  Its empty except for only three over priced cans next to a sign saying there is a shortage and it may be awhile before the product is available.  Would you grab those three cans?  Well maybe not you but surely many others would grab those cans and hide them from other shoppers.  I’m the kind of person who would take the cans because I’m curious what would happen next.  I’d be sure to go back to the same spot some time later just to see if a few more cans appear in their place.

28 comments on “Costs, shortages, and a warning

  1. Selena
    August 22, 2019

    I think food/commodities are used as “weapons”/leverage over certain demographic/geographic areas.

    A grocer controls what is on the shelf. Then based on customer response, use the artificial shortage to lower their purchase cost from the supplier(s).

    We’ve seen humanitarian aid not allowed into a country (Venezuelan government) or to displaced people (terrorist/hostile groups). Hunger can and is used to control people.

    We all should stock-up whatever we need however/whenever/wherever we are able.

    Prescription medication presents a challenge. Some meds do not have a long shelf life. Insurance or other coverage may only allow refills at certain times. Some meds come in stronger doses – would not hurt to ask your physician if a stronger dose can be prescribed so you could split the pill (not all pills are “splittable”, I know).

    For most of us, this will not be our first recession (I have lived thru five as I distinctly remember one from my childhood). What has changed since year 2000 is less full time employment (part time workers can’t collect unemployment) and the ever (IMHO) vindictive cuts to food assistance programs. Housing costs are more costly as well. It is not uncommon for some to pay up to 50% of their earnings for housing.

    I watch what is happening in the real world. I see decisions/changes that my employer makes. I hear what is happening to friends and family (employment, retirement/medical struggles). While I am not in bad shape financially today, I will never assume that the future will be the same. I’ve always lived below my means. Yes I am still affected when things are bad. But unlike some from the last recession (which hit a good number of white collar jobs), I won’t have to “discover” frugality.

    Like

    • Anita
      August 23, 2019

      I’m one of those who pays over half my income for housing. That’s not counting the taxes and insurance and upkeep. If it were not for the food banks I’m not sure what I’d do.

      I believe a recession is nothing more than a span of time when people stop buying so much STUFF at increasingly higher costs. Saving money by not buying so much never hurts one’s own pocket book. It hurts the top 10% who depend on the lower 90% spending and spending and spending to line their pockets. A recession usually lasts only a few months to maybe a year and yes there will be lost jobs because that top 10% doesn’t want to give up their profits. My worry is more about world wide food shortages lasting several years.

      Like

      • Selena
        August 23, 2019

        I think the stop buying so much stuff is only partly the cause these days. The middle class is but a shadow of its former self. And the first to tighten their belts (IMHO) are the top 10% because as you say, they don’t want to give up their bloated salaries, comp packages, and bonuses. But that also cascades down to business equipment/supplies. Too many companies have too few customers – once they lose one customer, the business struggles to survive.

        And belt tightening does affect food supply to a certain extent. A farmer may not be able to get a loan and this could decrease what and how much s/he raises. Mother Nature is also doing a number and not just in the US.

        One almost has to have a price book these days if one wants to keep best price on all goods purchased. And sizes change all the time! I may have to start ordering TP from Amazon as they are the only vendor who sells the brand I buy that is NOT in mega rolls (4 or more regular rolls in a single roll).

        Another “sales” gimmick is the going out of business sale. Not always a good price, sometimes the store opens under a new name the next day (same stuff), OR it “reopens” after “reorganization”.

        Like

        • Anita
          August 23, 2019

          When I kept a price book I used the “unit” price so the package size didn’t affect the comparison. I found that the large economy sizes were often more expensive per unit than smaller sizes. We were paying for the convenience of more in one package instead of several smaller packages.

          In my area I find more of the regular size t-paper rolls at Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Dollar Store. They keep the individual rolls smaller so the price per package remains low. That would be short sizing at its best. NOT Dollar Tree.

          Like

  2. J
    August 22, 2019

    I come from a grocery store family, or I did, before we were basically put out of business by Walmart and other big chains. We knew most of our customers and wanted the best for them in terms of prices and quality. We worked hard to make a living and to be good community members, including donating lots of products and money in our area. We rang up by hand until the last few years and would purposefully lower prices for seniors where we could.
    This sure isn’t the case any more. I shop like most of you, at discount groceries, but try to support the small family shops when I can. There are a few great “ethnic” produce stores.

    Like

    • Anita
      August 23, 2019

      I also shop the little stores when possible. I wish more of them were on this side of town.

      Like

  3. craftytadpole
    August 21, 2019

    I can confirm that the shelves at our little grocery store are frequently bare. A lot of that has to do with our usual summer rush (tourist town) but really, tourism is down this year so…

    All too often we cannot get product, or our orders get shorted, or the product we get has changed in some way (smaller, poorer quality).

    In addition to labour shortages and tariffs, in British Columbia we have the extra burden on paying carbon tax, which affects the cost of everything. Apparently we can tax the climate into submission and save the world.

    Good post.

    Like

    • Anita
      August 23, 2019

      Oh my! Apparently the tax is not working because Mother Nature is all bent out of shape. Fires, floods, droughts, melting glaciers, record heat & cold, major storms, and lots of weird weather in places we’d never think of before now.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. captnmike
    August 20, 2019

    Fake on sale been around all my life – mom showed me the trick of looking under the sale sticker for the regular price when I was a kid – last year at my Fred Meyer – big sign on candy bars – SALE 2 for $3.00 and yes you guessed it regular $1.50 each.

    Like

    • Anita
      August 23, 2019

      Hey, I remember my Grandma Mama teaching me that same trick. 🙂

      Like

  5. Margie from Toronto
    August 20, 2019

    My brother and SIL just retired from owning a large grocery store (they owned it but it fell under one of the big Cdn. companies’ umbrella) and one of the reasons they had had enough was the warehouse ordering system they had been forced into. Instead of being allowed to order what they knew they needed for their customer base they were forced to go along with what the computer said they needed – and no new items could be ordered so there were often artificial shortages which drove them crazy because of course their customers complained to them!
    And yes, there is a lot of misleading signage in a supermarket – items at their regular price will be placed next to sale items with the same sort of label/sign so people assume it is also a sale price! It is deliberately misleading but people have to pay attention. It’s the same with those giant signs proclaiming something to be “Gluten Free” – well guess what – that item has never, ever contained gluten – it’s a marketing ploy and we have to be aware – or pay the price!
    Prices have remained the same but the size of a can or bottle will have changed so you get less for the same price – just do a comparison in your pantry if you have items bought a year or so ago and see the difference!
    There may be some shortages due to this year’s flooding in the US but this shouldn’t be a factor until later this year – although some things may be being held back in anticipation.
    Grocery stores normally only have a 3 day supply on hand at any given time so if weather or a strike (or driver shortages) come up then shelves can be emptied fairly quickly – it’s not new – just the way it’s always been – but perhaps some of the factors you listed have come into play more so we are now noticing it.
    As an aside – up here the complaints around shortages have mostly been about our Govt. run liquor stores – there are many gaps on the shelves and it’s to do with their new warehouse computer ordering system!

    Like

    • Anita
      August 23, 2019

      Thank you Margie, you’re right, the little stores suffer a lot. Its not often but when I’m near a small grocery I will buy a few things just to help them combat the mega stores. I usually pay more but its nice to know friendly grocers. I just wish the small stores were not so far away.

      Like

  6. Tracy
    August 20, 2019

    Kroger has been doing that high discount pricing by me for a while, and I don’t know what happens to the stuff because there’s a dedicated group of true bargain-hunters who pick it over and only take genuine bargains! We talk to each other and tell each other if there’s anything super-good buy.

    I don’t buy even genuine bargains any more unless it’s something I totally want- right now- or it’s a luxury item so reduced I feel like it justifies a special treat.

    One thing I had noticed about canning- I was delighted when all the cans switched to the tab-pull lift-off lids. It’s so much easier when my arthritis is bad. But now none of my regular purchases have the easy-open lids, in fact almost no cans do. I have been unable to ascertain why. I keep asking in stores but have had no answer yet.

    Any thoughts?

    Like

    • Anita
      August 23, 2019

      Tracy I believe I remember an article saying that food processing plants order from more than one can manufacturing company. Each with their own design. Often you will find a mix of pop top cans among the regular kind within the same shipping container. Start looking for them among all the cans on the shelf.

      OR do an internet search for “can openers for arthritic hands”. I did a search on Amazon this morning but something is very screwy going on at Amazon. When I looked at customer reviews and questions answered of the can openers they were not for the product shown but for odd things like citric acid and for plastic bags and for coffee filters. Very strange.

      Like

      • KAYTHEGARDENER
        August 31, 2019

        A consumer awareness site said that when reviews for unrelated items are a large part of the site, it is to puff up their ratings. Probably since the ratings on their regular products were so low!!
        GIGO rules!!

        Like

        • Anita
          August 31, 2019

          Yeah, that makes sense.

          Like

  7. Helen
    August 20, 2019

    I have also read that this time of year Walmart and other stores are negotiating their prices for their private label food goods and letting their stocks get low on purpose until they have new contracts. Thank you for this article. I will look more carefully at sales and discounted merchandise. I hope the false sales are more from clerks not paying attention when they are marking things and not deliberate fraud on the part of the stores. That would be truly disappointing.

    Like

  8. Di
    August 20, 2019

    Perhaps it’s a local issue, or something going on with Kroger. I live in an area very similar to yours in terms of size, population and layout and we have 3 major grocery chains, 2 regional chains, many local family-owned stores plus Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and two other ‘natural’ food chains. We shop at most of them over the course of a month. The shelves are always full, even on big loss-leader sales (butter was $2 a pound and they had tons).
    I agree one has to watch pricing, be it ‘sale’ prices or just comparing sizes since bigger isn’t always the best deal. Retailers do have a lot of strategies to get you to buy what they’re selling and it pays to be vigilant. My favorite is a sale on a national brand that’s still more expensive than the store brand right next to it on the shelf.
    Keeping a price book is a good idea, especially for families. I don’t do it any more, I just have my target price in my head since we only buy loss leaders for staples and shop the ads for perishable items. Grocery margins are razor thin and they have to stay in business, I get that, but they can make their profit on the ones who don’t take the time and effort to get the best deal.

    Like

    • Anita
      August 20, 2019

      You’re right it could be regional. I’ve been doing more research and the empty shelves seems to be world wide. More so in some places than others.
      I used to keep a price book too. I stopped when I started getting most of my food from the food bank. I do keep up with prices for a few non-food items. T-tissue, laundry soap, bar soap, vitamins, etc. Bigger isn’t always better. So true. We do pay for convenience many times.

      Like

      • Tracy
        August 20, 2019

        Houston is now America’s third largest city, no shortages here, I say- but I am guessing the same ‘food desert’ observations you’ve made before will apply in less affluent or run-down areas, places I don’t go to on the whole.

        Dollar Tree seems to have significantly lowered quality on so many items I go there less and less, and there’s another version ‘Family Dollar’ which if you know prices in general- very few things are a bargain.

        Like

  9. Leslie Saunders
    August 20, 2019

    Anita, we having huge surpluses of tomatoes here in southern AZ. Our schools,churches,and distribution centers can’t give them away fast enough. Is this some glitch from Mexico? No one seems to know.

    Like

    • Anita
      August 20, 2019

      Aw gee, I sure wish some of those tomatoes could be shipped to our food banks here in KY. Leslie are you canning any of them? Isn’t it strange how one place is seeing shortages while other places are seeing surplus?

      Like

  10. Silver
    August 20, 2019

    I have seen a similar thing in our stores, where shops try to pass things off as ‘bargains’ when they aren’t bargains at all. Particularly for Black Friday. I do check the reduced section though, as you never know what you might find there. Managed to get two lovely 12-packs of free range eggs, a few days left on them, reduced from £1.67 a pack to £0.66 a pack last week ^_^

    Like

    • Anita
      August 20, 2019

      That was a really good bargain you got. 🙂 Wish I could find it here too.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Mary Braun
    August 20, 2019

    Wow! You have given me a LOT to think about here. As an older, retired woman living alone, the economy worries me…that, and the ones in charge of it! Need I say more?

    Like

    • Anita
      August 20, 2019

      Mary you are not alone here. We are all worried and helping each other with ideas.

      Like

  12. Lynda
    August 20, 2019

    ” What if the empty shelving is done deliberately in order to create an illusion of a food shortage?”

    BINGO!

    We are not suffering from empty shelves here. I think it is a political move… And that’s all I’m going to say.

    Like

    • Anita
      August 20, 2019

      At first I thought the same thing but not anymore. I’ve done some more research. The empty shelves are showing up world wide. Not just in the USA so it can’t be just political. It has to be something more. According to the United Nations council there are 53 countries seeing food shortages. What’s happening to the food? I guess its vanishing right next to the world water shortages.

      Like

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