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The complexities of shopping - Valerie Baldowski

Shopping is not as simple as it used to be.

I was at my favorite supermarket last week, doing my weekly grocery shopping, and when I went to the light bulb aisle, I saw a strange phenomenon.

Once upon a time, buying light bulbs meant you had a choice of 40-, 60-, 75- and 100-watt bulbs. Then some creative geniuses with far too much time on their hands decided to tweak that a little, and come up with 54-watt and 67-watt bulbs. That's the kind of thing that makes me stop in my tracks and scratch my head in puzzled bewilderment. What the difference is, I'll never know. Neither seems any brighter or dimmer to me. All I know is, I prefer the traditional light bulbs over the fluorescent kind, because they burn brighter.

I tried a 60-watt fluorescent bulb in a lamp at home, and it's quite dim. I know the fluorescent kind lasts longer and uses less energy, but it's more expensive at the checkout lane. I guess I'll still need convincing before I jump ship and abandon the traditional light bulbs I've grown up with.

Another example is breakfast cereal. Call me a cereal purist, but I feel breakfast is the most important meal of the day and should not be tampered with. I suppose it's all about marketing the product, making a buck and turning a profit, but for some time I have been disturbed to see the once-huge cereal boxes I remember as a kid reduced to smaller sizes, while the price skyrockets. Rarely do I buy the stuff.

Using coupons to try and save money is a good idea in principle, but it really doesn't work out for me. There was once a time in my life when I faithfully scoured the Sunday paper, and any advertising circulars I could get my hands on, to clip coupons and stuff them into envelopes or coupon organizers. I had every intention of taking them to the store with me.

Well, sometimes I forgot the coupons, and sometimes the store would not have that particular brand or even that item. Then I'd be required to jump through hoops and buy more than one of something, buy the large or jumbo size, buy the more expensive brand, or buy a product I don't even use, to use the coupon. Turns out I wouldn't save money at all, I'd actually be spending more. Or else the coupon would expire before I could use it. I really admire people who can make the coupon system work for them, and get, say, $100 worth of groceries for about $15.

Buying cars is also trickier. It used to be, you went in to the dealer, verbally danced around for a while, haggled, then plunked down the money with the intention of paying off the vehicle as soon as possible. Now, I see these 72-month financing offers being advertised. That may bring down the dollar amount of the monthly payments, but over the long run, you pay more in interest and finance charges. I sure wouldn't want to be tied down with making car payments for six years. It seems like a "gotcha" situation just waiting to happen. It brings to mind an old saying, "A fool and his money are soon parted."

I've always been leery of the fancy marketing techniques some retailers try. I'll continue to adhere to my own personal shopping habits, which keep the shopping process simple. At least it will keep my wallet and checkbook safer.

Valerie Baldowski covers government and politics for the Henry Daily Herald. She can be reached via e-mail at vbaldowski@henryherald.com.