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A look into the warped mind and surgical tact of a grocery shopaholic.


Confession time. I have an obsession with grocery store shopping. I know its not the same as admitting Im an internet porn addict or a fan of Abba, but I spend a lot of time clipping coupons, studying newspaper ads, and making separate trips to the store to get Patio frozen Mexican dinners for 69 each. (I dont even like Patio frozen Mexican dinners.)

But Im proud of my obsession. Three years ago, I found 50 coupons inside 89 Michelina frozen food items. With double coupons at Tom Thumb, I was able to get this relatively crappy food item for free. I went back 14 times that day, picking up 76 boxes in total, before the store manager banned me from the frozen food aisle. I bought a 28-lb. turkey last Thanksgiving for $5.04, even though just my daughter and I would be eating it. Still have one drumstick left in the freezer. Ive also proudly kept the receipt in which I saved $52.25 off a $102.45 grocery bill last year.

I buy both Sunday papers to maximize my coupon potential. Even if Im just buying milk or bread, I always walk every aisle, casing the shelves for deals. And I am not ashamed of this behavior. I am cheap and I love to cook, so why spend more than I have to? The booming 1990s are over, and no one has the money to go out to eat four nights a week. The current economy is all about retrenching, and what better way to retrench than to cook at home?

I know most people hate grocery shopping, but I find it to be a simple and serene task that has elements of gamesmanship attached. Every trip to the grocery store is about beating the grocer. To do this, you must get inside the head of your enemy. After all their expenses, grocery stores operate on razor-thin margins, about 11/2 profit on every dollar of revenue taken in. So the goal is to lure the shopper in with sale items and then gouge him on other products.

There are a few simple rules to win the game. The most important is to understand that most stores triple the value of 39 coupons and double the value of 40 to 50 ones. Coupons for 55, however, are only worth 55. Hence, a 35 coupon is, in theory, more valuable than a 55 one (I laugh derisively at any coupon with 55 written on it). Also, the frequent shopper card is your friend and not an invasion of privacy. Think of it this way: Your savings on every trip to the store can be worth about a case of beer.

I have a strategy that I employ with great discipline. On each trip, I take only the coupons I plan on using. And no, I dont use a little file box with all of my coupons alphabetized inside. If you need a box to categorize your coupons, chances are, you havent memorized them. Amateur.

The major stores Minyards, Albertsons, Tom Thumb, Kroger have almost exactly the same merchandise. The only difference is price. And every week, each store offers 10 to 15 items at very low prices. For example, Tom Thumb recently put on sale Pasta Roni (regular $1.29 per box) at two boxes for $1. I had a coupon for 40 off. After doubling, the cost is 10 a box. Would I buy Pasta Roni at its usual price? Hell, no. But for 10, Ill pretty much buy cardboard doused in spaghetti sauce.

Still, the coupon game is only part of the equation. Specialty grocery stores catering to immigrant groups can be full of incredible savings (I think of it as First World quality at Third World prices). I find this especially true at my favorite store, the Carnival on North Main near the Stockyards. Their produce costs about 30 percent less than produce at conventional stores, and staples like dried beans, rice, flour, sugar, and eggs can be had at cut-rate prices. You can get six grapefruits for a dollar, a big bunch of cilantro for 25, three pounds of white rice for a buck, and bollilos hoagie rolls at five for a bill. The best deal is on Mexican-brand pasta, always on sale at five 7-ounce packages for uno dollaro.

Similar deals are available at the other ethnic grocery stores. My favorite Asian store is the Vietnam Plaza on Belknap in Haltom City. Fresh herbs are 49 a bunch, bean-thread noodles at one 10-ounce package for a dollar, and a good selection of Asian vegetables for not very much. The best deal: freshly baked 12-inch French bread at five loaves for $1.

Another great ethnic store is the Indo-European Foods store on Pioneer Parkway in Arlington. Freshly baked pita bread is 60 a package. They also have a great selection of lentils (good for veggie burgers), grains like bulghur wheat (for tabbouleh), and tahini (sesame paste) for bean dips. They usually have olive oil on sale for 99 per 20-ounce bottle.

You may think my cheapness would keep me out of the upscale Central Market on Hulen. But even they have great deals, especially in the bulk section. Whole grains like barley or oat groats are very inexpensive, as are the bulk spices (0.5 ounces of dried basil cost me 34 at Central Market, while the same amount in a plastic container costs $3.29 at Kroger). Central Market also has reasonably priced fresh bread and good tortillas.

Gotta run. Its Sunday night, and sometimes Tom Thumb slaps $2 off stickers on their meat at the end of the week. Plus, I have two coupons for a free 2-liter of some soda called Red Fusion. I dont really drink much soda and dont know what Red Fusion is, but if its free, Ill take it.

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