October 27, 2012

Shopping Supermarket Savvy – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of Shopping Supermarket Savvy. In part 1 of this series, I addressed one of the most often-repeated tips for buying nutrient-dense foods at the supermarket:  shopping the perimeter. Hopefully, I did a good enough job that you understand that sticking to the outer aisles is a smart strategy, but there are also plenty of good things hiding in the middle and there’s nothing wrong with going in search of them, as long as you don’t get distracted by all the colorful packages designed to do exactly that—distract you from the real foods you went into the store to buy.

In this installment, I’ll talk about a very simple method for saving money at the store. With food prices going up like crazy lately, we’d all like our dollars to stretch a little further. Until they learn to do Pilates, however, we’re going to have to do it for them. What is this simple method? If you thought I was going to say “use coupons,” you’re wrong. Coupons are great. Some stores will even double coupons, letting you save twice as much. But you know what? Real food doesn’t have coupons. Don’t believe me? Check your Sunday paper, with its 3-inch-thick stack of ads and coupon inserts. What are those coupons for? Sugary cereal, candy, frozen vegetables with “cheez” sauce, cake mix and frosting, frozen “entrees,” processed foods like fat- and sugar-free yogurt, microwaveable potato skins, and French toast. And what are the rest of the coupons are for? Antacids, aspirin, ibuprofen, cold medicine, and chewable calcium supplements. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge. The point is, fresh, whole foods—like chicken, broccoli, beef roasts, and asparagus—don’t have coupons. They might go on sale at the store, yes, but you won’t find “manufacturers” offering discounts in your paper.

(What are the remaining few coupons for in the behemoth weekend papers? Hearing aids, collectible plates, and ugly, mail-order old lady pants with elastic waistbands that come in exactly three colors: Pepto pink, sky blue, and vomit beige. Do these people not watch What Not to Wear?)

But anyway, on to how to actually get the most for your buck. This tip is huge. It’s so big, I’m not sure this blog can even contain it. Ready?  

Read price stickers.

Yep, that’s it.

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “but I already do that! Amy, you’ve said it yourself: this isn’t rocket science! Tell me something I don’t know.”

Well, you’re reading the price stickers, but you might be looking at the wrong place. See, supermarket price stickers usually have two prices – one for the item itself (like one container of yogurt, one jar of nuts, one can of tuna), and one for the unit cost – the price per pound, quart, ounce, etc. And by paying more attention to the unit cost, you can do two things that are both fun:  saving money and sticking it to the man. (If you’re anything like me, the latter is even more fun than the former, right?)

Take a look at these. (Click on photos for a larger view).

$8.36 a pound? EEK!

$10.83/pound? Dost mine eyes deceive me?! This is utterly unconscionable. 

Now, I know none of you are buying this junk. The pictures are just to illustrate the point. (What? Granola bars with fiber and antioxidants are junk? Um, yes. Big time. More on that in a future post.) Anyway, the price for a box of this slop is $3.29. Not too bad, right? But take a look at that unit cost -- $8.36 per pound…and even better, $10.83 per pound! Are you kidding me? (Anyone watch the Suze Orman Show? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?)  

If you claim you can’t afford meat at $4-$8 a pound but your kitchen cupboards are chock full of these boxes, it might be time for a good look at your priorities. Even when not on sale, chicken breasts are usually only around $3.99/pound. Maybe meats at those prices aren’t grassfed, organic, or blessed by fairies riding unicorns, but they’re still real food, and much better than this garbage merely masquerading as health food. (Then again, who can blame it? It is almost Halloween. But I prefer costumes on little kids and not on my food labels, thankyouverymuch.)

Don’t believe me that it’s junk? It is. (Click on the photo for a larger view.) 

Holy frikkin'*BLEEP!* (Sorry, this is a PG-rated blog...for now.)

The way to use the unit cost to your advantage is to purchase strategically. How’s that work? STAND BACK:  I’M ABOUT TO DO MATH! 

If it’s an item you’ll use before it goes bad, you might as well get the larger size. (Larger sizes are usually less expensive per “unit.”) For example, the 8oz container of sour cream is $1.59 and the 24oz is $3.59. Yikes. That’s a big difference. But if you go through a good amount of sour cream, you’re better off buying the 24oz. Yes, you’ll spend more money upfront, but the 8oz container is $3.18/pound while the 24oz is $2.39/pound. Maybe a 79-cent difference doesn’t sound like much, but think about how much food you buy in a week, a month, or year. Those little differences can add up over time.

I'm no Einstein, but I'm pretty sure $2.39/pound is a better deal than $3.18/pound.

Same thing for the ricotta cheese: The 15oz is $3.83/pound and the 32oz is $2.70/pound – over a dollar difference! So if you would finish the larger size before it spoils, you get more for your money buying it instead of the smaller one.

There’s lots more to this, but that’s a very simple tip that you can employ at your next trip to the store. Don’t shop at supermarkets anymore? Even if you stick to farmer’s markets, co-ops and other alternatives to the mega-chains, you can probably get a discount for larger purchases. Most farmers will give you a price break for buying in bulk. If there’s no sign saying so, don’t be afraid to ask. They want to sell their meat and produce. First, that’s how they make a living. Second, the more they sell, the less they have to pack up and transport back to the farm. Don’t underestimate the amount of labor involved in boxing up hundreds of pounds of apples, potatoes, tomatoes, or frozen beef and pork.

Coming up in part 3:  more tips on buying in bulk and why things don’t go bad nearly as quickly as we fear they will. (And hopefully part 3 will appear with a lot less lag time than part 2 did, eh? What can I say...it's October, and it's hard to sit inside and write blog posts when the leaves are stunning, the air smells smoky and crisp, and the weather's AMAZING. It's all good, though -- stress relief and getting outdoors is good for health!!)

Disclaimer:  Amy Berger is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition. 

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