My first ever blog as Grumpy Dad was a rant against lunch bags that fall apart and are difficult to clean properly (that’ll be all lunch bags then). Seeing my son’s two-month-old Doctor Who lunch bag festering with mould in its name tag pouch this weekend, my anger on the subject still remains, but never did I think it would come close to being outdone in the packed lunch rip-off stakes.
Then on Sunday we go to the supermarket to get a ‘few bits’ for a fajita dinner: mushrooms, tortillas, some of the el Paso mix, that’s it. Alas, as I am sure you are already thinking, there is no such thing as popping into a supermarket for a ‘few bits’ – certainly not just what you came into buy anyway.
As we’re leaving the fruit and vegetables, my wife says: ‘We need packed lunch things. Can you grab some ham and a bag of…’
And then she gives me a name of a brand of kids bite-sized processed cheese which, for the purpose of this blog, if I call Tiny Newborn Clangers, you should know which ones I mean.
So I go to the cheese section and pick up some of these Tiny Newborn Clangers. They’re £2.87 for a bag of 12. How much?! Scanning the rest of the shelf in desperation, I can see no cheaper equivalent and besides, like most dads, I have learned the hard way to never scrimp and stray from the exact type of foods your little ones expect.
So, begrudgingly, I take the bag, hurry over to the cooked meats section and, in a bid to compensate for the expensive cheese, grab the cheapest packet of sliced ham I could find that doesn’t look like it has been formed from a pig’s buttock and go back to find the wife.
Daylight robbery, I mutter to myself as I stomp over to beers and wine. £2.87 for what is, essentially, a quid’s worth of Edam chopped up and wrapped in shiny maroon paper. I could get a decent chunk of Yarg for £2.87.
I find the wife musing over the port and instantly the sister-in-law spies the Tiny Newborn Clangers I was holding.
‘Oh I love those,’ she says. ‘They’ve got one of those little plastic trays so you can melt the cheese in the oven.’
Well, whoop-de-doo. Unusually, I hadn’t noticed this free ‘gift’. For £2.87 I’d have expected a value griddle on which to cook Welsh Rarebit.
The wife hasn’t clocked my feelings of contempt for the Clangers and instead turns back to the port on offer. Now, I accept that part of the idea of coming to the supermarket had been to buy a few festive treats. Alas, behind the generous ‘let’s get some nice things in for Christmas’ heart lurks an irrational monster thinking ‘we only came in here for tortillas…’
I do well to find a half-priced bottle of vintage port in another part of the section, then try my best to push our already healthily-stocked trolley towards the checkout.
‘I just need a mop,’ she says.
‘Ooh,’ I say. ‘Can you grab some eggs?’
And off she goes.
My outrage at the overpriced Tiny Newborn Clangers has made me determined to save as much money as possible so, as I’m unloading at the checkout, I sift out the half a dozen illegitimate items the kids have chucked in willy-nilly – creme caramel yoghurts, a lettuce (actually, the lettuce ended up staying, I should have dumped the lettuce, the lettuce will be festering in the fridge as I write this) and a cherry-flavoured pack of mini-rolls which I ask the checkout guy to take off.
The kids nag me for a luxury mini chocolate Santa, a whole box of which are lurking temptingly by the checkout. Even though they are on 3 for 2, I reply with a firm: ‘No!’
All the while I am aware of the supermarket offer where you could save 5p a litre on petrol if you spend fifty quid.
The guy scans the last item and hits the £50 threshold. Hurrah! Then he presses a button and the total slips to £49.23. Drat!
But then I remember the eggs, the eggs. Where is the wife with the eggs? I tell the checkout guy she’ll be back in a second, roll eyes with a plastic grin at the thankfully quite patient people in the queue behind me.
Still no wife. Do I add the cherry-flavoured mini rolls to the bill to make my target total. No, she’ll be here any moment. Sister-in-law can’t help as she is holding grizzling baby. The kids can’t help because, well, they’d return with a tub of sweets or a bag of artichokes.
Come on, wife. But still there’s no sign. The queue is growing and I don’t want to hold them up any more. So I grab the 3 for 2 luxury mini chocolate Santas from the front and get the guy to put them through. Target reached and paid for, petrol token printed out, the wife returns, eggs and mop – I’d forgotten about the mop – in hand.
I stomp off, childishly shouting ‘oh, buy your own mop’. Then still determined to save money, I head for the petrol station and fill up with about 40 litres, thus saving about, ooh, £2.
And en route home I realise how, in this psychological battle to save money, I am the loser. We all are. Damn those Tiny Newborn Clangers. Not only have we spent all that money, we’ve wasted all that time too. Had we gone to a Spar shop instead, we’d have picked up the required fajita ingredients and got the heck out of there, giving us a precious extra hour of time at home. The petrol I could have bought from the garage across the road from us. We do mostly support them, and the fact I may have saved a little bit extra buying petrol from the supermarket, only makes me feel guilty. Yes, it was a four or five quid difference, but what are the consequences of not supporting the little guy in this way in the long run? We’ll have to go a lot further for petrol for the school run of a morning, that’s for sure.
No, the only winner in all this is the supermarket. They know what they’re doing with these enticing offers. They made me spend over £50, they printed out the voucher which made me go and spend another £50 in their petrol station. Yes, they’re down two quid at the pumps, but they made me spend a hundred overall.
Another supermarket is running automatic price checks at the tills and printing out vouchers immediately to cover where you could have saved on your purchased items in other stores to make up the shortfall. What they don’t emphasise is that this only applies to branded products, not own-brand things. So last time I went I received a voucher for 9p. I can’t imagine that even I, the next time I’m at the checkout, am going to tell the person serving ‘hang on, my good fellow, while I rummage in my wallet for my 9p voucher’. And the supermarket marketing team know this.
So next time I need a few items, I intend to shun the supermarkets and support a local shop instead. And I urge everyone to do the same. Sure, go there for big shops or something specific that may be on offer, but otherwise use your corner shop or local independent trader. The time you save there with be invaluable to you. The money you spend there will be invaluable to us all.