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Thread: Midnight grocery runs capture economic desperation

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    Default Midnight grocery runs capture economic desperation

    Midnight grocery runs capture economic desperation - Yahoo! News


    In this Oct. 1, 2010 photo, Pia James, 55, who lives on a disability income, leaves Costco after shopping in the Harlem section of New York. Americans relying on government benefits are doing their homework to stretch the payments. The vast majority interviewed by the AP were carefully scrutinizing prices and had a game plan of what to buy where. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

    FREDERICKSBURG, Va. –

    Once a month, just after midnight, the beeping checkout scanners at a Walmart just off Interstate 95 come alive in a chorus of financial desperation.

    Here and at grocery stores across the country, the chimes come just after food stamps and other monthly government benefits drop into the accounts of shoppers who have been rationing things like milk, ground beef and toilet paper and can finally stock up again.

    Shoppers mill around the store after 11 p.m., killing time until their accounts are replenished. When midnight strikes, they rush for the checkout counter.

    "The kids are sleeping, so we go do what we've gotta do. Money is tight," Martin Young said as he and his wife pushed two carts piled high with ground beef, toilet paper and other items.

    The couple said they need food-stamp benefits, which are electronically deposited onto debit cards, because his job as a restaurant server doesn't quite cover expenses for their five children.

    "We try to get here between 10:30 and 11 because we know we've got a lot of stuff to get. That way by 12 o'clock we're at the line cashing out and done," he said.

    More than a year after the technical end of the Great Recession, millions of Americans still have a hard time stretching their dollars until the first of the month, or even the next payday.

    One in seven Americans lives in poverty, and more than 41 million are on food stamps, a record. Last year the figure was about 35 million.

    As a result, there are more scenes like the one last week at a 24-hour Kroger in Cincinnati. As the final hours of September ticked down, about five dozen cars were in the parking lot. It's much slower on normal weeknights.

    "This here is emergency bread," said Melinda Patterson, 36, who has been without a full-time job since the recession began and had started shopping 20 minutes before midnight. That's when $435 in food stamps kicked in to help feed her six children.

    The same night, Shavon Smith and her four young children were loading up on meat, fruit, bread, water, tissues and cereal at Kroger's Food 4 Less store on Chicago's West Side. Those staples had begun running out more than a week earlier.

    "Tonight, they were tired and hungry, so I said, 'Let's go ahead and do it now,'" said Smith, who had $600 in food stamps electronically deposited to her electronic debit card at midnight.

    "They can go to the fridge and get whatever they want in the beginning of the month, and we have bigger meals," a reprieve from the rationing that is the rule for the rest of the month, she added.

    Stores have always noted swings in spending around paydays — a drop-off in buying in the days before shoppers receive paychecks or government subsidies, followed by a spurt of spending once the money is available.

    [Related: Which cities are facing the biggest housing risks?]

    The recession and its aftermath have taken the trend to an extreme. Tight credit is a factor, too. When cash runs out, many can no longer fall back on credit cards to buy what they need.

    There is no broad data on the impact of this shopping pattern, known as the paycheck cycle. The timing of government assistance is different from state to state, and when payday falls varies by employer.

    But stores have learned how to adapt to the surges, which typically occur on the first and the 15th of the month, when many people get their paychecks. They monitor the pay schedules from big employers in the towns where they operate.

    Walmart, Kroger, Kmart and others have worked with their suppliers to stock more gallons of milk and supersized packages of toilet paper and detergent at the beginning of the month. Smaller packages and store brands are given prominence leading up to payday.

    Walmart is collaborating with vendors to offer even smaller sizes for under a dollar to win back customers who are heading to dollar stores to buy mini-size laundry soap and other items because they only have a few dollars left until the next payment. Earlier this year, Kmart began pushing $1 items on snack packs and other food items, timed a week before the 15th of each month to help customers stretch their budgets.

    "This is the new normal," said Richard Hastings, macro and consumer strategist with Global Hunter Securities. "This is going to be like this for many years to come."

    Not counting Social Security, one in six Americans now receives some form of government assistance, including food stamps, Medicaid and extended unemployment benefits.

    These government payouts now account for about 20 percent of Americans' total after-tax income, said David Rosenberg, an economist at investment firm Gluskin Sheff. The average over the past half-century is 13 percent.

    The high number of people on government assistance is atypical for this stage of an economic recovery. Usually at this point, growth in assistance rolls should be flattening, Rosenberg said.

    Americans relying on government benefits are doing their homework to stretch the payments. The vast majority interviewed by The Associated Press as October dawned last week were carefully scrutinizing prices and had a game plan of what to buy where.

    In Harlem, shoppers were running back and forth from Target to Costco to compare prices just after 10 a.m., the time most of the stores open, on the first day of the month.

    Sandra Bennerson, 66, who is retired and gets Social Security on the first, was in the detergent aisle at Target, explaining to a reporter why Costco had a better deal on Tide. Costco was offering 20 more ounces for the same price.

    "Every penny counts," she said.

    In Cincinnati, Patterson said she had learned how to budget. She said she hopes the midnight shopping ends soon.

    "It's going to be getting colder," Patterson said. "Hopefully, it won't be like this much longer."

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    Elite Member KandyKorn's Avatar
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    Although I'm not on food stamps, I get paid once a month & I can spend about $30 a week on food. On the 1st of the month, I can usually be found RACING to the dollar store for my fresh veggies! Living on the edge of poverty really makes you appreciate things like fresh vegetables, something I used to take for granted.
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    I feed my family of 2 adults, 3 dogs and assorted other animals on less than $600 a month. More liked $300, if that.

    I tend to buy frozen veggies rather than fresh, use coupons, buy nearly all sale items or store brands. Despite that, we eat well and healthy. Rarely ever do I find that we're running out of staples. I also cook meals that stretch; soups, stews, chilis, etc.


    I think most people just don't know how to shop frugally. Plus, junk food, like chips and cookies, is expensive.

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    It helps to live in less expensive areas. Here in NorCal, food is so goddamned expensive that it's really hard to grocery shop on a budget. I find that going to our local farmer's market really helps--supermarket produce is either atrocious and cheap, or decent and hellishly overpriced. Etc.
    Did you know that every time a parent gives in to their kid's whines and buys them candy at the checkout lane, a kitten gets diabetes?-Dlisted
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kathie_Moffett View Post
    It helps to live in less expensive areas. Here in NorCal, food is so goddamned expensive that it's really hard to grocery shop on a budget. I find that going to our local farmer's market really helps--supermarket produce is either atrocious and cheap, or decent and hellishly overpriced. Etc.
    I live in NYC, food is NOT cheap. I just bought store brand chicken cutlets, $4.99 per pound. Crazy. I generally only buy meat when one of the local markets does a mix and match 5 for $20 sale. I load up and it lasts a few moths til the next sale.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charmed Hour View Post
    I feed my family of 2 adults, 3 dogs and assorted other animals on less than $600 a month. More liked $300, if that.

    I tend to buy frozen veggies rather than fresh, use coupons, buy nearly all sale items or store brands. Despite that, we eat well and healthy. Rarely ever do I find that we're running out of staples. I also cook meals that stretch; soups, stews, chilis, etc.


    I think most people just don't know how to shop frugally. Plus, junk food, like chips and cookies, is expensive.
    Now, that is the truth! Veggies frozen within hours of picking are going to beat any at a store, unless you live on the farm. A few years ago I got fresh peas at Central Market. Mother (who grew up on a farm) carefully picked through them and threw out over half! And she was right!
    I also think it makes sense to cook things that will last for more than just one meal. For instance, a pork tenderloin is great and seems to be always on sale. 2 meals and a couple of sandwiches, easy.
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    Quote Originally Posted by McJag View Post
    Now, that is the truth! Veggies frozen within hours of picking are going to beat any at a store, unless you live on the farm. A few years ago I got fresh peas at Central Market. Mother (who grew up on a farm) carefully picked through them and threw out over half! And she was right!
    I also think it makes sense to cook things that will last for more than just one meal. For instance, a pork tenderloin is great and seems to be always on sale. 2 meals and a couple of sandwiches, easy.
    Frozen veggies are far cheaper too. My local supermarket does 10 for $10 sales on lots of items, including boxed veggies, so I load up on them. I'm always amazed when in the supermarket with how people shop, maybe cause I'm so cheap.

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    Elite Member sluce's Avatar
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    You are shopping at Acme/Jewel/Albertsons right? LOL. I love the 5 for $20 on the meat and the 10 for $10 deals. They have the salmon, and other frozen seafood fillets, 10 for $10 all the time. My daughter eats 2 pieces, I eat 1 so for $3 we have a great dinner. I also buy the family packs of meat since it is cheaper if you buy at least 3 lbs. Then I split it up into zip lock bags and freeze it.
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    Quote Originally Posted by sluce View Post
    You are shopping at Acme/Jewel/Albertsons right? LOL. I love the 5 for $20 on the meat and the 10 for $10 deals. They have the salmon, and other frozen seafood fillets, 10 for $10 all the time. My daughter eats 2 pieces, I eat 1 so for $3 we have a great dinner. I also buy the family packs of meat since it is cheaper if you buy at least 3 lbs. Then I split it up into zip lock bags and freeze it.
    I'm in New York, so I'm shopping at a Pathmark (owned by A&P) for most things. The sales are similiar to Albertson's (which I loved when I was in college) Foodtown, is the other place, they are mega expensive so I only go there when the meat is on sale.

    It's funny to me that people really use the excuse that they eat junk cause it's cheaper. It's cheaper to cook, for one, and easy to stay healthy. Last night I made grilled chicken, brown rice and broccoli. It probably came in under $3 each. So, I fed 2 adults with leftovers for the dogs for $6.

    Hell, pasta isn't all that great for you but you need a cheap meal, toss in some elbow's and a little sauce with chopped onion and you have a meal. My mom used to call it "Poor Man's" and we ate it all the time cause money was tight growing up. It's far better for you than the $5 combo from McDonald's.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charmed Hour View Post
    It's funny to me that people really use the excuse that they eat junk cause it's cheaper. It's cheaper to cook, for one, and easy to stay healthy.

    Hell, pasta isn't all that great for you but you need a cheap meal, toss in some elbow's and a little sauce with chopped onion and you have a meal. My mom used to call it "Poor Man's" and we ate it all the time cause money was tight growing up. It's far better for you than the $5 combo from McDonald's.
    I totally agree and am on a campaign to get parents to feed their children better than they do. We have athletes who are getting seriously injured and/or dying just from poor nutrition alone.

    Yes, it is easier and cheaper to actually cook instead of buying fast food. The most delicious pot of beans was simply cooked in water with olive oil, a little garlic, salt and pepper. And you can't beat the nutritional value once rice and cornbread are added to the meal with a green salad. And don't forget the drink-- a nice glass of lemonade made with real sugar is wonderful. Of course, adding meat or fish, baked, broiled and pan seared is the way to go. Simple and better for you.

    And how easy is it to make a pot of egg flower soup? Fast, filling and delicious. There are tons of alternatives to wasting money on fast and junk food... and running out of food before the end of the month. Buy plenty of beans, pastas, canned veggies, frozen veggies etc., and, as Charmed said, it's all better for you than the cheap combo.

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    Elite Member ConstanceSpry's Avatar
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    What surprises me is how much money people waste on convenience foods. Basics like rice, beans, fresh poulty/fish/meats, fresh/frozen veggies and fruit are so much better and cheaper than prepared crap loaded with sodium and additives. But it seems like many people either don't want to cook or they don't know how to cook and have no interest in learning.

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    We're thinking about going on food stamps again. Probably will apply next month if the SO's doesn't hear back from a job - my paychecks are enough to cover our bills but groceries are killing us.

    Our local farmer's market accepts food stamps now, which is really great. That will be the biggest help because we'll be able to buy local eggs and veggies/fruits.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ConstanceSpry View Post
    What surprises me is how much money people waste on convenience foods. Basics like rice, beans, fresh poulty/fish/meats, fresh/frozen veggies and fruit are so much better and cheaper than prepared crap loaded with sodium and additives. But it seems like many people either don't want to cook or they don't know how to cook and have no interest in learning.
    THIS! You can easily feed a whole family with a healthy pasta/tomato/tuna bake for well under $10.
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    I think part of the problem is that some people were latch-key kids who may have taken care of their younger siblings. Convenience foods were probably left for them to eat and no one took the time to teach how to prepare foods. It was just easier to open boxes or stick something in the microwave or leave money for Mickey D's or Jack. These kids grew up without really knowing how to cook or hold nutrition in regard. Just a thought...
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    ^^ I was a latch key kid, but my mother cooked in the evening, and we all got up early in the morning and had breakfast together. My son was a latch key kid, but I did the same as my mother, cooked at night and on weekends, and made breakfast every morning. He and his wife, however, just subsist on fast food and ready-made crap, even though she only works part-time. I've offered recipes, advice, brought groceries over, didn't work. Some people just don't want to take the time to cook, and have no interest in good nutrition.

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