Gov. Bill Haslam proposed a cut to the food tax yesterday, slicing it from 5.5 to 5.3 percent in a move that promises to be a boon for working families everywhere. Or not.
Now, I love tax cuts as much as the next person. But even by my math — admittedly, the part of school I was least interested in — that's 20 cents on $100 worth of groceries.
I'll repeat that — TWENTY CENTS.
I'm not sure what level of objectivity I'm sacrificing by calling that the worst tax cut in the history of ever, but surely the $18 million the state is foregoing to bring us this tax cut could go to something better than the pennies it's going to save us. Have you seen some of the roads around here?
Nevertheless, I tried to see how I could use this largess. The first article of faith among tax cutters is always, "You spend your money better than the government can spend it." So here's how the wife and I attempted to spend 20 cents at Publix on a Tuesday night:
Do you realize how few things there actually are for 20 cents? This Nestle Pure Life water — no store-brand knockoff here — goes for around 14-and-a-half cents per bottle. The problem is that you can't buy just one bottle, you've gotta buy the 24 pack, and at $3.50 (on sale, no less), that's light years beyond our budget.
2. Cat food
We tried a different tactic. What about something that ought to be cheap, like cat food? Publix was running a special on their house brand, so maybe kitty gets in on the tax cut? Nope. At 45 cents, this was also too rich for our blood.
3. Tomato sauce
A simple can of no-salt-added sauce got closer to the mark. With 25 cents, we're well on our way to an extremely sad plate of pasta.
4. Black-eyed peas
Resolutions aren't cheap — and neither are black-eyed peas, apparently. A post-New Year's fire sale was little help as the 15.5 oz. can came in at a hefty 91 cents.
5. Jelly Bellies
Having burned through about 10 aisles already — don't even stop in the freezer section — Jen had a great idea: bulk candy. The trick with it, though, is knowing juuuuuuuuuuust how hard to pull down on the lever so you don't get too much. After deciding that Jordan Almonds would be too risky, we settled on the Jelly Bellies assortment tube. At $7.99 per pound, we needed just .025 pounds to hit our mark. We overshot it a little and ended up with .07 pounds for 56 cents and some truly nasty flavors.
There's always room for Jello. Or Royal. This package of off-brand, sugar-free cherry-flavored gelatin came in at a whopping 39 cents on sale.
Finally, after about 15 aisles, our first 20-cent item — a packet of Kool-Aid. Drink up, friends, but try not to pucker, because the sugar is extra.
The produce section should have been easy pickings, but it's winter. Do you know what decent-looking limes are going for these days? Sheesh. A one-pound bunch gave us this guy, a 33-cent banana.
A quick pass through the peppers was little help, either. Scotch bonnets? They might as well be made of gold on this budget. Poblanos? Way too big. Enter the jalapeno, a relative steal at $2.29 per pound. We picked up this one for 11 cents.
My guess is that the folks who work the produce aisle have seen all sorts of manic behavior, so two people searching through a bin of red potatoes for the smallest one possible at 8:30 on a Tuesday night didn't set off any alarms. We finally found this one near the bottom, a .14 lb wonder which cost us 18 cents.
The most photogenic items of the evening — think green boxing gloves — as well as the cheapest, these two brussels sprouts cost us just 16 cents. With the leftover money, we can afford a few grains of salt to add a little flavor.
This photo is deceptive. It could be that this yellow onion, which cost us 21 cents, is a large, fist-sized thing which could be the base of a good mirepoix. In reality, it would barely cover a small burger.
The guy behind the deli counter was up to the challenge when I told him I wanted to buy a slice of cheese. "I can cut two for 20 cents," he responded, and then pulled out a sale block of American ($6.99/pound) and cut two of the thinnest slices I've ever seen. After wrapping, packaging and stickering it, he handed me my prize: "I'm pretty sure that transaction just cost us money."
The seafood counter should have been a forbidden zone for a 20-center like me, but what about the pre-cooked shrimp? The kid working the section had a blank expression — one I interpreted as, "Dude, I just stepped over here from the bakery to help out, don't ask for anything stupid" — when I asked for a single shrimp. One peel-and-eat shrimp cost me 21 cents, but apparently the scale thought it was a stupid request too: It refused to even print out a sticker. He gave it to me for free.
Ahhh, the college staple. The last refuge of the student who has blown all of his money on beer. When I asked Pith-In-Chief Jeff Woods what he thought the proposed tax could buy, he responded, "One packet of ramen, possibly." He was right. Just add water to this 20-cent package of beef-flavored noodles for the most complete meal possible on two dimes.