Downshift Trials – Part 1

In order to save money and squeeze my budget, I’ve downshifted quite a lot of different grocery and household items. What is downshifting? Well, it’s where you find an alternative product that costs less. For example toothpaste. You could go with the teeth-whitening, breath-freshening, dentist recommended Colgate/Aquafresh/etc. or you could buy the supermarket own-brand, which is less snazzily packaged, about a quarter of the price, and probably on the bottom shelf, a little out of sight!Many times, these sorts of things are even made in the same factory, albeit on neighbouring production lines. Whilst in Germany last year, I was watching a TV programme about this very thing. The researchers had gone to extraordinary lengths to trace the origins of comparable products, by looking up production codes on an EU database. They went to a factory that tinned fish of various kinds. The owner was completely open about what they did – premium brand on one side of the factory, supermarket own brand on the other, EXACTLY THE SAME fish in both tins. He said that in the cheaper brand, they put about 10% less fish and more sauce to make up for the space.

When you first start downshifting, you need to pay attention to the ingredients and the quality of the new, cheaper product. In the case of the fish, I could quite happily forgo a bit of fish for savings of 40% on the product. I’ve been doing this downshifting for years, and so have personally compared various supermarkets’ own brands against each other in my quest to both save money and yet maintain what I think are good value items at low prices. For instance, Sainsbury’s Basics natural yoghurt is a few pence more than the Tesco  equivalent (ca. 55p), but the Sainsbury’s one is proper live yoghurt, whereas the Tesco version has no live cultures. Therefore, it’s not worth saving the few pence, as I’m getting what I would consider to be a useless product.
It is always a toss-up between price and value, as the famous value investor Warren Buffet said: ‘Price is what you pay, value is what you get’, so when you’re looking to save money on your everyday shopping, I would say that you need to concentrate on value first, price second. There is no point buying the very bottom of the range items, as often they are not great quality, but sometimes they are decent, as Sainsbury’s yoghurt is. Of course, if you’re really short of cash, then you have to do what works for you, I was a student in a high cost of living city, so I know all about penny-pinching!
But you also need to think about your own health and well-being. For example, I decided to downshift from Dove soap to Johnson’s baby soap because Johnson’s is cheaper. You would think that Johnson’s baby soap would be really kind and gentle on your skin, like their baby oil is. Alas! It left my skin cracked and dry! Bye-bye Johnson’s, next time I buy soap it’ll be back to Dove again. This is not disparage Johnson’s, but I have eczema, so I thought it would be good to use an oil-based soap. It just disagreed with me. Lesson learnt: buy what works, even if it’s a bit more expensive.
Photo credit: amenic181/freedigitalphotos.net

4 Comments

  1. Hi TV,

    I’ve outsourced the grocery budget and shopping to my gf, but from what I remember, you shouldn’t go grocery shopping when hungry; and if Tesco’s is anything like the US stores then the more expensive items will be those within easy reach / eye level on the shelves 🙂

    I always remember hearing that the unbranded ‘value’ products were largely made by the same companies making the branded products. But that could have just been a conspiracy theory I picked up from somewhere!

    Keep up the great work on your blog.
    Cheers,
    -DL

    1. Cheers DL, yes all the main supermarkets employ tactics to get you to spend more, so I try to look at the price/weight which is always labelled on the UK price stickers alongside (usually underneath) the packet price e.g. beef stewing steak (“£8/Kg”), also another trick is to look for the actual cost per item when buying “3 for the price of 2” offers, sometimes their only saving you a few pennies, you don’t really need 3 of the own, and you don’t have unlimited space to store them. Is only really worth doing bulk purchases if there’s a ridiculously cheap deal on offer and you can store the item

      Best Wishes

  2. That is true, price is what you pay for and value is what you get. Although, I think time should be factor in as well. Sometimes we go out of our ways to save a few extra dollars and we waste a lot of time doing it. For example, I don’t think its worth driving couple of miles to save $1-2 on a full tank of gas simply because I think my time is worth more than that.

    Cheers.

    1. Yes, you’re absolutely right about time. My time is valuable, so I use sneaky hacks to get the most out of my shopping. In the UK, we have a comparison site, aptly named “mysupermarket.co.uk”, which lets you compare your shopping. I have a default list that I can quickly see the price of in the various shops. But then, the three main supermarket are within 2mins of each other, so it’s no hassle. But I can imagine a sprawling American town with various stores at opposite ends of the compass… really not worth driving across the whole town to save 30c on your toothpaste!

      Cheers

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