The Cost of Routine – How Getting Stuck in a Rut Costs You Money

062309rutAs humans we are creatures of habit.  We settle into predictable routines repeated day in and day out.

A person may read the same newspaper each morning, stop by the same coffee shop, socialize with the same handful of co-workers, and visit their favorite food truck for lunch every day. At home the same news channel are watched,  the same types of meals eaten, and the same type of music listened to.

Routine creates comfort and surrounds us with what’s familiar.  Yet our normal routines, our regular patterns of behavior can cost us dearly.  This is no more apparent than when it comes to shopping. Here routine behavior can be costly.

Over years, even decades, our routine patterns of shopping behavior have been ingrained so that they become second nature. 

We’ve been shopping the same way for so long that it becomes almost impossible to change our ways.  In the process, our entrenched shopping routines – shopping ruts,  frequently blind us to cheaper alternatives.

Yet every so often something comes along that forces us to change our routine behavior.  For some its a reduction in financial resources. For others its a health scare that necessitates more healthy eating.

Yet, when we do venture out of our comfort zones and try new things a funny thing happens – we inevitably find new ways to save money!  

For me the jolt to my normal shopping routine came in the form of an nationwide economic meltdown just as I was making a crucial career change.  As a result I was forced to tighten my financial belt and make serious changes in how I spent money.

Here are just a few of the ways in which my routine, my shopper’s rut cost me hard earned money.

For nearly eight years I’ve known about Aldi supermarkets. Yet week after week, year after year I’d bypass Aldi stores and shop at my favorite local supermarket.

Yet it took an economic downturn to force me out of my comfort zone and check one of these supermarkets out.  To my surprise, what I found was a clean store with great low prices.

Aldi’s claims that the typical consumer will save  20%  to 37%  off of regular supermarket prices.  I routinely save $20 a week simply by shopping at Aldi’s.

But what if I’d stepped out of my comfort zone eight years ago when I first heard of Aldi’s? I could have saved $20 a week for nearly 12 years, making me $8320 richer today!

Bakery outlets are another change in my routine for which I am now grateful. I was first introduced to the concept of bakery outlets by my grandfather when I was a small kid.

Yet once I was an adult my weekly shopping routine never entailed shopping at one. It was only in the past year that I was forced out of my shopping rut and experienced the enormous benefits of shopping at a bakery outlet.

Not only can you get bread and other baked goods at a 50% to 75% discount over supermarkets but the products are frequently just as fresh as those found in your supermarket.

I can easily save $25 a month by making a monthly visit to my local bakery outlet. My normal shopping routine was costing me $25 a month, or nearly $3000 over the last decade!

It was these changes as well as several dozen others that got me thinking of how my routine way of grocery shopping blinded me to cheaper and often better alternatives.

So how do we break those shopping patterns that have been so deeply entrenched through weekly repetition?

You could wait for external factors to force a change in your shopping behavior or you could take the plunge yourself and just decide one day to do something different.

As the Nike commercial fondly advertises:  “Just Do It”

Either way you’re bound to save money.

Here are some examples of simple ways to break your normal shopping routine:

  • Try a local bakery outlet. Find an Entenmann or Wonder/Hostess bakery outlet near you.
  • See if your supermarket has a store brand guarantee that allows you to return store brand products if you don’t like them. Then try a few of these products risk free.
  • Check out a local Aldi’s supermarket. Find a location near you.
  • Purchase a Sunday newspaper and clip a few coupons for things your family normally purchases.
  • Instead of just picking up the name brand item that you’ve been buying for years, try the item that’s on sale. If you are true to Tropicana Orange Juice but its not on sale, try the brand (say Minute Maid) that is on sale.

Anything that gets you thinking or acting different when it comes to your same old shopping routine is a step in the right direction.

Have you changed your shopping behavior to save money? If so what did you do? How’d you do it? We’d love to hear. Leave a comment below.

Insider Restaurant Secrets That Save You Money

While everyone knows that its cheaper to cook and eat at home, sometimes you just want to enjoy the convenience or experience of dining out.

Even when dining out, however, you can still find ways to save money. Below we reveal insider secrets to saving while dining out.

Insider Restaurant Secrets That Save You Money

Watch Out for Those Menus. When ordering from the menu don’t be deceived by the extra emphasis placed on certain menu items. Restaurants often emphasize menu items that bring the restaurant the greatest profit. They may place a box around such a high profit item, feature it with larger type, or place it near the top of the menu.

Another technique involves using more descriptive language to describe higher margin items. Studies have illustrated that we tend to expect food with more lavish descriptions to taste better.  Which sounds better: “Delicious 10 ounce filet mignon” or “Succulent, large filet mignon grilled by our renowned chefs to the brink of mouth watering perfection.”  Same steak but which one would you be willing to pay more for?

Try a Lunch or Early Bird Menu. Restaurants have significant overhead costs. They must keep their tables full in order to remain profitable.  As a result, many offer great lunch and early evening deals when fewer people are eating out.  This is a fantastic way to get a great dining experience on the cheap. Portions are generally smaller but the prices can be significantly cheaper.  You’ll get the same delicious food and atmosphere but pay less money.

Check the Bathroom. Restaurants provide a great dining experience by paying attention to details, whether in regards to how well the food is prepared, how well the dishes are cleaned, or how the dining table is arranged. One way to gauge your restaurant before you eat is to check the bathroom. A meticulously maintained bathroom suggests you’ll have a great experience while a dirty, smelly, or downright nasty bathroom may cause you to take pause. If they can’t keep the bathroom clean, how clean is the kitchen where your food is being prepared?

According to food blogger Michael Bauer,  “When a restaurant minds the bathroom, it makes me believe the staff has been trained to have an equally serious and healthy attitude about food safety. ”

Visit During the Restaurant Sweet Spot – Tuesday Through Thursday. Fridays and Saturdays may not be the best time to visit your favorite restaurant. The fact that many people dine out on the weekends is the exact reason you may not want to. Restaurants packed to capacity may be prone to poor service  and it may take longer for you to get your food.

Sundays and Mondays may not be so good either. With higher fuel costs many restaurants are receiving fewer weekly deliveries from their distributors. Restaurants commonly receive food and supplies on Friday which last throughout the weekend. Eat Sunday afternoon and you’re likely to eat food delivered on Friday. Eating on Monday is even worse as you’re getting served the last of the food stuffs that were delivered on Friday.

For these reasons, the most optimal eating experience can be enjoyed by eating Tuesday through Thursday. You’re served food that is delivered closer to the time its prepared and the restaurants are usually less crowded. Additionally, many restaurants offer mid-week specials to attract more diners.

Beware, That Daily Special May Not be so Special. Understand what you’re buying when you select that daily special. With food prices rising, chefs attempt to use every last bit of the ingredients they have. Left-overs can be used to create a “daily special”. Be especially careful if the daily special is a soup, or contains a sauce served over rice or pasta. Soups and sauces are common repositories for left-over meat and other foods. That crab chowder, for example, may contain the left-over crab from the day before.

Ask If That’s Real Maryland Crab. To save money in hard economic times many restaurants are substituting more expensive foods with less expensive substitutes.  This happens commonly with seafood. Some restaurants, for example, substitute Maryland crabs with crab species from other areas of the Atlantic ocean or, worse yet, import crabs from other countries.   When the menu lists “Maryland-like” crab be very suspicious.

Always Examine Your Bill. Many restaurants have standard gratuity fees that they tack onto the end of the bill. Usually mandatory gratuity fees are applied for large groups, but restaurants may have policies that apply a mandatory tip for groups as small as four or six people. Check your bill before you pay to make sure that you don’t pay a gratuity twice.

Update: We’d like to thank Consumer Boomer for including this article in the recent Money Hacks Blog Carnival.

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