The Best Way To Shop Smart: Shop For Others

Bowl of macaroni and cheeseRecently, a local organization that I support held a food drive. We were given a grocery bag one holiday evening and asked to bring it back full of food the next week. Donating food is a very basic way of helping directly in the community, so I was excited to help. I have run food drives in the past and know how happy the food banks are for any donation, especially these days when many are running low on supplies. So off I went to the grocery store.

I decided to shop for the food drive at the same time as my regular grocery store run. Normally, I go shopping about once a week and stock up on things that we use regularly, plus whatever else is on sale that we can use. I usually just walk around the store and go down most of the aisles, picking things up here and there, and keeping a mental estimate of how much I’ve spent. This time, in addition to my mental list of what I needed for my own home, I wanted to make sure to get items like tuna, peanut butter, and macaroni and cheese that are always high on food bank wish lists. I also went in with the mindset of buying balanced meals that would offer the most bang for my buck so I could give as much as possible to the food drive. Then, I began my journey to the store.

As background, when I shop, I’ll normally just dawdle around the store, see what’s new, and pick up items that seem like they might be tasty or interesting. Frequently, I’ll come home with extra stuff that I never intended to buy in the first place! But on this unique trip to the store where I was shopping for both myself and the food drive, I was in the mindset of trying to find items that would make a real meal; I got the macaroni, tuna, and peanut butter, but also ended up with several cans of pork and beans, chicken soup, boxes of pasta, and many other things.

My mindset also forced me try to spend my money more wisely than usual. For example, where I’d normally pick up a pad thai lunch kit (a weakness!), I realized that for the same price, an entire family could have a pasta dinner, so I passed on the pad thai. Where I might have previously bought brand name canned beans, I instead put the generic alternative in my cart, and ended up getting an extra can out of the price difference. When I finished up at the checkout, I was surprised to find that I spent almost exactly what I normally do even though over $30 of the bill was towards items for the food bank.

When I got home, I laid out the items for the food bank and found I’d actually purchased two bags worth of food! I was really proud at the amount of food I’d managed to bring home to donate. But what made this shopping experience even better was when I examined my personal food purchases; I hadn’t ended up with a single “Why did I buy this?” purchase where I bought something on a whim that I didn’t really need. I realized that my food drive mindset helped me make wise, more value-oriented purchases not only for the food drive, but also for myself.

This little “experiment” was such a great experience for me that I’ve decided to shop like this permanently. Not only does shopping like this give me the warm fuzzies from putting a meal on another family’s table, but it helps me make smarter purchasing decisions for myself. Food banks need donations year-round, so instead of making needless purchases on brand name products, I’ve started to always buy a few items for local food banks. This is a great project for kids too! If you ever take your children shopping, ask them to pick out one item for a kid in need – maybe one of their own favorite foods like macaroni and cheese or some brightly colored cereal. Providing basic needs for others gives you a great feeling, and it helps you keep in mind what’s a true need when you’re surrounded by wants!

(photo credit: Stephen Boisvert)