Targeting the Convenience/Frugality Sweet Spot - Live Like a Mensch
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Targeting the Convenience/Frugality Sweet Spot

Regular reader Bobi asked this question on my post last week about going grocery shopping without a net (erm, a list):

Wow, Target must love you. I'm curious about why you shop there. I don't have a super Target near me so I'm not sure about the prices, but I find regular grocery stores to be cheaper than Wal-Mart and Target in my area and I'm not overly fond of the selection at the big box stores either. I know you've mentioned before how often you visit Target and I just don't get the attraction. Is it super close to you and really convenient? Or are the prices and selection in your area just really good? Don't misunderstand, I like Target, but I don't remember you mentioning stores other than Target or Trader Joe's, so do you shop regular grocery stores or just Target? Again, just curious. Thanks!

It's an excellent question, particularly considering the fact that she's absolutely right about the price differential between big box stores and dedicated grocery stores.

As I told Bobi in my response on the post, it basically comes down to convenience. Our Target is almost literally next door to LO's Montessori school, across the street from J's office, and next to our local Goodwill (which means I can combine errands quickly and easily when I have a donation to drop off, which I ALWAYS do). It's only five minutes from our house (although there are some grocery stores that are similarly close by)--and it's in the direction of the highway and is therefore the fastest one to get to considering traffic patterns.

In addition, since I often have baby items to pick up (such as disposable diapers since J and I are no longer deluding ourselves into thinking that we will be cloth diapering BB), Target is more convenient (and potentially cheaper) for those items, as well. If I were to follow the grocery sales like I used to and go to dedicated grocery stores, I would likely have to also make a stop at Target in order to pick up baby sundries at the best prices. In some cases, Target is the only place that appears to carry some baby stuff, like the Mum Mum teething crackers BB loves. (Although, those would frankly last longer in our house if LO hadn't decided he likes them too and that he ought to get one every time BB is gnawing on one.)

So, the short answer is that Target is more convenient.

But this conversation with Bobi got me thinking about when convenience should trump frugality. There are times when I find myself wondering why the heck anyone would buy certain products--like pre-boiled eggs, pre-chopped frozen veggies for making stir fries, and even pre-mashed bananas for babies. Boiling your own eggs, chopping your own sweet peppers and onions, and mashing your own bananas simply do not take that long. I get the impression that if you need any of these conveniences in your life, then you need to either scale back on what you do each day or you need to go whole hog and hire some staff.

On the other hand, I regularly buy applesauce cups for LO to take to school, even though I am perfectly capable of doling out jarred applesauce (to say nothing of making it myself) into small tupperware containers. Despite the ease of making my own applesauce cups, I strongly feel that you can have my pre-packaged applesauce cups when you pry those suckers from my cold, dead fingers.

So how do you determine the right balance between convenience and frugality? (I recently concluded that convenience is where frugality goes to die, which is the sort of pronouncement that I suspect will come back to haunt me.)

For right now, the convenience of shopping at only one grocery store certainly trumps the frugality of cherry-picking sales items for me. (This mostly has to do with the fact that I think there is a conspiracy afoot to give hours from the days of busy moms to teenagers and young kids who complain of boredom because they now have more than the standard 24 to fill. It's a sick and twisted game and if I could figure out how the time puppet masters were doing it, I would certainly object.)

But I think the sweet spot between frugality and convenience is a moving target. (Ha!) Depending on where you are in your life, how much of a money cushion you have, and how much time the time puppet masters are stealing from or gifting to you, different conveniences will make more sense than DIYing everything.

Although it would be a lot easier if there were a simple carved-in-stone answer to the convenience conundrum. Something like:

There is no need to cherry pick sales, but you must absolutely draw the line at frozen, microwaveable grilled cheese sandwiches.


How do you determine when convenience trumps frugality or vice versa?

Target photograph courtesy of Kristiantiholov



livingcheapinpa said:

Oh WOW!  Didn't know there are frozen grilled cheese!  Had to click on it to be sure you weren't kidding!  How horrid.  I try to eat mostly home-cooked foods.  But I do have a nice selection of canned soups (cherry picked on sale) that are fast and warm when needed.  I know, I know, the sodium can be out of this world, I try to only eat them occasionally.

My way of by-passing convenience foods is figure out how long I'd have to work to pay for said food (or any item for that matter).  If I clear $12 an hour and stop for a "value meal"  it would cost me a half hour of work.  I'll pass on that.  And save my money for new windows!!

May 5, 2014 4:43 PM

bobi said:

Being child-free, I never realized Target was so baby centric; must admit, I've often wondered why I seem to be the only kidless person in the store so thanks for the explanation. You are so right about convenience versus frugality being a moving target. My choices have changed over the years and I'll admit I buy bagged salad and frozen chopped onions (only on sale) because frankly I hate washing greens and chopping onions. I actually find the onions to be very convenient for soups, chili and other dishes and considering the per pound price of onions in my area, I really find the pre-chopped frozen ones to be pretty cost effective.

May 10, 2014 10:10 PM

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