Friday, February 17, 2012

Supermarket Math

In it really nice to see credit cards coming up with interesting ideas to earn our loyalty and lure us to spend. An unusual  offer came this week from one of the Food Store Credit Card companies.  I can choose 10 products from this food chain (that I shop in regularly) and when paying by this credit card I will always receive a 5% discount on each of these products. No need to stock up the basement or attic, the offer is valid forever. Caviar and alcohol are not included in the list.

My first thought was - diapers - definitely one of the most expensive items in my shopping cart. But then I had my doubts (perhaps organic milk or eggs cost me more over a year, in 3 years I wont need diapers any more) and decided to turn this into a puzzle.
What 10 products would you choose and how?

Your answers are accepted any time until midnight Eastern Time on Sunday, on our Family Puzzle Marathon.

Shopping cart icon by Simon Adriaensen, distributed under CCL.


Kim said...

Guiding principles:

(1) You want to maximize the discount, so you should choose the items that you spend the most on.

(2) You can use this deal to try to shape your own behavior, so perhaps it's best to slant choices to those things you think you SHOULD buy more of (rather than you those you necessary do buy more of).

(3) You need to think long-term - so items you want now and items you'll want ten years from now. Also, items that are available year-round so you don't find yourself unable to take advantage of the deal much of the year.

What do I like, want to buy, and find most expensive:

(1) meat -- if I need to be more specific, grass-fed meat, which is super expensive

(2) fish -- do I need to choose a specific catch? Then I'll pick a sustainable salmon like wild-caught Alaskan salamon (though that isn't year-round, so maybe not an optimum choice...)

(3) free-range chicken

(4) organic milk

(5-8) organic fruits - specifically blueberries, grapes, strawberries and mango

(9) vegetable sushi - can't believe how much we spend on that! (I ought to learn how to make it)

(10) pre-packaged salad mixes

Can I have this deal please?? :-)

Wang said...

If you don't have to choose right away, I would pick the items that you buy the most frequently.

Milk and eggs are probably two items that you buy frequently enough to make it worth it.

Cereal could be another item.

Perhaps toilet paper or paper towels.

What's important is to first analyze what you buy most frequently over a long period of time (say entering in the items into a spreadsheet after you shop) and realize that you will save the most money on the items that you buy the most.

Tom said...

First the easy math part of the puzzle:
If there's a fee for this credit card, don't accept one.
If one will not pay it off in full each month, don't use it and don't accept it.
If prices are higher at this store than the one down the street, don't go there to get a 5% discount on so few products.
I'd be surprised if the store limits the 5% discount to 10 items/products; why not "anything in the store?"
And the deal probably won't last forever, and they can always change the terms. Watch for the termination of this supposed deal; it's bait, not a good deal.

Anyway, as to choosing 10 products on which we would save the most, it depends what we eat and use, duh -- select the 10 items on which we now SPEND the most, by looking around the kitchen and reflecting on your consumption. Alternatively, try to predict which items are most likely to increase in price over the next year or two.

For my family that would include fruit/berries and various veggies, seafood, coffee, breads/tortillas, and some deli things like turkey, potato salad and salsa. Maybe beef, too. We use no frozen foods, no TV dinners, no packaged cereals, and very little dairy.

anne-marie said...

The first one coming to my mind is dog food but I won't include it in my list.

I will choose the basics bread,milk and pasta for an obvious reason.
Then, I choose coffee because I am a coffee drinker and coffee is gold.
And the rest would be fresh vegetables and fruits.
If I have to choose six of them, I will take potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, zucchinis, apples and oranges.
I don't really like cans and unfortunately fresh vegetables are expensive.
Now, if we consider vegetables as a group of food, my list would be bread, milk, pasta, coffee, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits , meat and yaourts.
I am not going to analyze my bills on each items. Yesterday, I heard something about preparing meals for $3 per person so I am going to try to find the information!

anne-marie said...

Ok, it was food chain so my second list is ok.

Jerome said...

The question really is the one stated in your introduction. Do you buy now with your eye on immediate consumption, or do you buy for the future and store in your basement and attic?

I could be classified as one of the lunatic fringe types in saying that I am one of the latter. I buy now because where I live, utilities are really important -- Critical. We have 8 months of cool weather. In the last two years electricity has jumped from 5 cents a kWh to the early teens. My instincts tell me that power can do nothing but go higher. So I will need more of my resources to keep me warm

Also our currency will buy less: 5% now mean more now than later. Here are my items.

Rice: It is still relatively inexpensive. It (for a grain) has good protein in it. It is easily stored and can be stored for a long time. If the container is air tight, summer or winter temperatures do not effect it. We buy brown rice which takes longer to cook but is much better for you. I would welcome a 5% reduction because we buy it in 50 pound bags from Asia (the best kind of brown rice).

Soya Beans: My wife makes her own soy milk. She likes the stuff (I can tell you it is an acquired taste). Store bought soy milk is about 5 dollars a US gallon. She makes hers for about 23 cents (in 18 minutes) for 1/2 gallon. If your store offers bulk, we want the 5%. We'd simply buy more of other items. It would be interesting to ask her how long a five gallon pail lasts her.

Sunflower seeds: My son when he was 11, did a science fair project which took him 3 nights to research. When he was finished he looked at me (I'm the math/science type in our household) and said "Dad if you had to pick one food always to keep in your diet, it should be sunflower seeds." The problem with them is that over long periods of time, they go rancid. We would buy them forever in small quantities.

Garbanzo Beans: (Chick Peas): These store well. Vegetarians when they first become vegetarians have a terrible problem with yens until they learn some nutrition. It seems right around the 6 month mark, a Big Mac becomes an irresistible delicacy. The cure is garbanzo beans (which, by the way, store quite well).

Flour: we have lessened our emphasis on flower. It is still a good choice, but we do not seem to be eating as much bread. White flower stores more easily than whole wheat (which takes up more room). Our next door neighbor bakes a lot and ran out of flower and borrowed some of ours which was over 2 years old. It worked just fine so it can withstand extreme temperatures.

Soup ingredients (mostly beans and grains) same as above.

The toughy is dried fruit. We buy all our fruit fresh and likely will continue to do so. We've tried various driers but they don't work very well. I suppose if you were desperate ...

Canned Soup. You should never use canned soup for anything but emergencies. The salt content is just too high. With blood pressure as common as it is, I don't see why the packaging companies don't smarten up. I have to admit dried soup is a nice treat and it stores well, but we certainly don't use it much.

Pop Corn. The most under rated food in the world especially if you are dieting. No butter, no salt if you please. I am no statistician, but I would guess the secret to thinness (saying there) is pop corn. Many people who are dieting and trying to get their metabolism through the 2 year war on weight use pop corn as a filler. Still cheap and still stores well.

I asked my wife what she would add. "Oatmeal and Tea." Good choices.

We would use our 5% now for everything listed above which is
soy beans
chick peas
other beans
pop corn

Always use the 5%
sunflower and pumpkin seeds
vegetables. (fresh)
the odd chocolate bar and coca cola.

TracyZ said...

For my 10 items, I would choose foods/products:
1) that are relatively expensive compared to the other items in my shopping basket which I buy on a weekly or almost weekly basis.

I would not choose items that i don't buy every 1-2 weeks (for example, I wouldn't choose real maple syrup which I only buy every few months) or those items even with the 5% discount are still more expensive at that grocery store than the discount food stores I also shop at (such as brand name cereals).

I would also check the fine print of the offer to see if my getting the 5% discount would mean that I would still be eligible for sales or coupon discounts on these items as well (hopefully, I would; that could be some big savings). Regardless most of the items I would pick would be those items that are still relatively expensive compared to my other items even if they are on sale.

Here is my list of 10 items:
1) Milk
2) Sliced Cheese
3) High Quality Sliced Meat (minimally processed, minimal/no additives)
4) High Quality Chicken
5) High Quality Fish (wild-raised)
6) Grapes
7) Orange Juice with Calcium
8) Bread
9) Yogurt
10) Fresh Spinach

You asked about whether you should include diapers on your list of 10 items. If you normally buy your diapers at that store, and not another store (for example one where they are less expensive), then I might. If you spent $10-$15 on diapers a week, then a 5 percent discount equals 50-75 cents off per week, or $25-$40 per year. If you child still has two years left in diapers (being optimistic:)), then that's a savings of $50-$80.

It is true that when they are out of diapers, you won't get any more cost savings from including the diapers on your list of 10 items. However:
a) you will have saved the $50-$80, and savings you've already achieved is better than future savings you might save, imho, plus:
b) the store could change or even discontinue the 5% offer after a few years, especially if they find that it is costing them too much. A number of my credit cards used to offer 5% cash back on all purchases, or on some groups of purchases, but over time the percentages for cash back have dwindled and now mainly off 1% back regularly, and 3-5% back for certain types of items.

This same logic (a and b) could apply to other baby items as well -- wipes, supplemental food, etc. -- all of which can be quite expensive when bought on a regular basis, but which are no longer needed after a child outgrows them.

Ilya said...

It sounds like the choice of 10 products is made once and cannot be altered later. Given that, it seems like the only logical way to approach this would be to find those items whose total expected cost over the credit card's expected lifetime (10 years?) would be the highest. I suggest to start with about 15-20 products that intuitively would be on top of the spending list and then sort and take the top 10. Since the usage can change over time, it would be necessary to project 10 years ahead and readjust year by year or something like that. To help identify the initial list of 15-20 we might go to statistical sources such as

Maria said...

Wow, thank you all so much for the answers. I owe you at least a half of these 5% - that comes right about one puzzle point.

You reminded me that this card indeed comes with a cost but I got it fee-free for a year and intend on cancelling later on. I usually do not open new credit cards but somehow a woman at the store trapped me into it. So, we are planning for a year only.

Not all the products are on a list - fresh or deli meat is not included. Summarizing your answers and analyzing what my family consumes frequently I marked the following products:
- diapers
- organic milk
- organic eggs
- tuna
- ketchup (my daughter eats everything with it)
- nutella (yum, we all love)
- honey (expensive)
- olive oil
- tea (we love tea rituals)

Thank you all!

Ellisa said...

Very well design ideas! We would use our 5% now for everything listed above which is
soy beans
chick peas
chinese tea

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