Jackie Kaines: shopping is now a test of maths

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I dream of securing a good buy: a brilliant outfit, a stunning piece of furniture, a vital pack of gardening equipment, at a giveaway price.

The reality is that I am the woman who recently resorted to buying a pair of mid-life crisis shoes from Lime on Hide Hill. Not because I needed them, but because they were half price, ‘for one day only’ – and I was determined to score a price-drop success for once in my life. Yep, when it comes to bargains, I am a failure.

I go to the sales and end up with something from the ‘New Season’ rail. I sign up for notifications for the cheapest advance tickets from East Coast Mainline and, by the time I log on, they’ve all gone.

I follow the links on the email offering me 50% off the 11-year-old’s favourite running shoes: her size is never in stock.

Like most women, I check out others’ clothes with a subtle glance. Sometimes I’m impressed enough to ask where they’ve been shopping for such a chic/quirky/stylish outfit.

‘What? This?’ comes the reply, ‘Oh, it’s charity shop.’ Which charity shop, where? Not the ones I go to. Even in the 70s when racks of 50p granddad shirts vied for your attention in Oxfam, I always ended up with the one with sweat stains under the arms.

People tell me I should go to car boot sales. I’ve been to one. I found the sheer amount of stuff – and bargain-hunters – overwhelming. And I can’t let The Husband out of sight at these events: he’s bound to take pity on yet another piece of Victoriana that needs a home.

Also, boot sales don’t resolve the need to shop for food and domestic products. And that’s a minefield in itself: you only have to skim the pages of consumer magazine, Which?, to realise that supermarkets are playing more tricks on us than an illusionist on amphetamines.

Go shopping in a supermarket without a brilliant grasp of mental maths, or a calculator in hand, at your peril. Whether it’s discounted items, multibuys, special offers, or BOGOFs (buy one get one free), there’s no such thing as a straightforward cost-cutting purchase. BOGOF almost invariably involves price inflation of the paid-for item to cover the cost of the ‘free’ one.

Half-price items have usually had their prices bumped up for a fortnight before they are reduced – the ‘half price’ is simply the normal cost.

Which? gives the example of blueberries in one high street supermarket: they “increased in price from £1.80 to £3.99 for 14 days before going on ‘offer’ for £1.99.”

We have been trained to trust that buying bigger quantities is most cost-effective. For example, ‘18 loo rolls for the price of 12.’ Got to be good, hasn’t it? But then it dawns: two bags of 12 loo rolls are cheaper than the 18-roll offer.

Recently, in a local supermarket, I realised it cost less to buy two 1kg bags of potatoes than the promoted 2kg bag.

I noticed a man with a 1kg bag and, a bit nervously (I’ve been told to mind my own business in the past), I pointed out the saving. Turned out he’d only wanted a few potatoes – he was simply trying to save money by buying in bulk.

I know it’s sad to stand and calculate how much each banana costs – but the smoke and mirrors of pricing an item by unit in one place and weight in another really rankles.

So, caveat emptor, of course: buyer beware. But bamboozling with tricksy promotions and cavalier price-inflation isn’t fair or, I believe, morally justifiable. If you’re interested, Which? (www.which.co.uk) has a sign-up campaign, ‘Price it Right’. And, if anyone catches me going for a ‘bargain’, drag me away from the till, please.


Twitter: @JaxKaines