- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Savvy shopping can keep your budgets lean

DENVER

Katrina and Rita finished battering the Gulf Coast a while ago, but they are not done with our pocketbooks. Assuming we all adjust to huge leaps in the cost of heating our homes and driving our cars, we might also face increases in the prices of other consumer goods as rising energy expenses ratchet up the costs of agriculture, food processing, manufacturing and shipping.

Unfortunately, there’s little wiggle room in the prices of gasoline and natural gas.

But food is a different story. There are plenty of grocery bargains, and the thrill of the hunt goes with finding them.

Anjie Hresan, for example, a probation officer who once managed to buy $333.36 worth of stuff for $16.27 while NBC “Today” show cameras were rolling, started serious coupon collecting when she was a single mother trying to live on next to nothing. She’s remarried now and does it mostly for the adventure.

“The idea is to live lavishly for less,” said Mrs. Hresan, who lives in Powhatan, Va., and dishes out deals and advice on the FreelancebyU.com Web site. “You shouldn’t have to live on peanut butter — but if you do, use it to make cookies.”

Indulgence will always be important, no matter how tight money gets, said consumer-trend analyst Mary Meehan of Iconoculture in Minneapolis. It just may come on a different scale for awhile.

“With limited discretionary income, priorities change and shoppers will rethink big purchases and extravagances like expensive cable-TV packages,” Miss Meehan said. “Instead, I think we’ll see renewed interest in creating a sanctuary in the home for friends and family — home entertaining, even potlucks.”

Miss Meehan also predicts growing popularity for coupon collecting and other bargain-hunting practices.

“Consumers are going to be very vigilant about what goes into their carts, and coupons will be important for those on a budget,” she said. “They can make shopping a lot less painful.”

And even fun. Here are a few stories from the front lines of the grocery wars:

• Katrina Wright, of Aurora, Colo., said she approaches shopping like “a kid in a candy store.”

“When I look at my receipt and it says I saved $150, it’s just astonishing — and it feels really good,” she said. Miss Wright likes the 10-for-$10 deals at Albertsons supermarkets.

• Jim Arneill, a retired bank officer, said that he doesn’t need to scrimp but he loves to look at a grocery receipt that shows he saved more than 40 percent.

“I’m quite well-off financially,” he said. “I could buy anything. But why not get 50 percent off?”

• Annie Raines of Denver said she had a great shopping day recently at a Safeway when she found what apparently were beef tenderloins marked and priced as pork shoulder blade. She bought all six packages.

“I wasn’t going to let them sit there,” she said. “I’d gone with a $20 bill in my pocket, and I got back enough change to buy pickles and a soda. By the way, they were delicious. Ka-ching!”

• Penny Utzinger, 82, bragged about the shopping skills of her friend, James Bronson, 78, who has done all the shopping for both of them for 34 years.

“He saved $22 just today,” she said. “He always clips coupons, and he never buys anything unless it’s on sale … He’ll say: ‘Let’s wait. They’re going to put that on sale next week.’ And he’s always right.”

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