Saving Money and Calories at the Grocery Store

Saving Money and Your Waist

As most of our readers know, we buy most of our groceries at Sprouts, a local farmer’s market chain with stores in the west and southwest.  Sprouts is filled with mostly fresh produce and natural meats at reasonable prices to help us focus on saving money.  They do have some natural and organic processed foods.  Their processed food section, though, doesn’t even take up a third of the store.  We do most of our own cooking from scratch, so this isn’t a big deal.

When we go to our local King Soopers (owned by Kroger) or Safeway, we’re astounded by how large the processed food section is.  There are aisles and aisles of pre-packaged food.

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The “Perimeter Rule” to Lose Weight

A rule of thumb for those trying to lose weight or simply eat healthier is to shop the perimeter of most grocery chains.  This is because most grocers put produce, meats and dairy products on the sides and back of the store.  Meat is often kept towards the back to force customers to walk all the way through the store.  If those who are trying to eat better stick with this “parameter rule” they’ll quickly learn that they’re avoiding processed foods, many of which are foods with empty calories that tend to be over-eaten.

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The Cost of Processed Food

This made us curious about how much money Americans spend on the processed foods that are making them unhealthy.  A recent study suggests that 23% of grocery bills are spent on processed foods and sweets.  As a country, we spend more on processed foods than either meat or produce.  This is 11% more than we spent on processed foods 20 years ago.  It was recently reported that food stamps buy $2 billion in junk food annually. Americans aren’t saving money or calories.

There is a lot more that goes into making processed foods than picking an apple, for example.  Fresh foods don’t typically get television and other advertising time.  Fresh foods require minimal processing and fewer hands required to get them from the farm to the table.

Raw Food Explained compiled this interesting list of information.  For each dollar spent on processed food:

  • $0.12 goes towards packaging
  • $0.17 goes towards advertising
  • $0.55 goes towards processing and profit markup
  • $0.06 goes towards additives, coloring, and preservatives
  • $0.10 is the actual food in the product
  • 80% of all food items in the grocery store did not exist 10 years ago

Only 10% of the cost of processed food is actually food.  This is assuming that 10% is not inclusive of other edible chemicals and artificial foods.

Adding to the unhealthy diet, 44% of Americans get fast food at least once per week.  We now spend $110 billion on fast food annually.    This is in striking contrasts to the $3 billion Americans spent on fast food in 1972.

All these processed foods, the quick and convenient foods, are having a detrimental impact on our health.  When we calculate food expenses, we can no longer ignore the medical expenses that follow. This has just as much an impact on our money savings as anything.

Junk Food Expenses on Health

According to the 2012 Milliman Medical Index, the average American family of four spent over $20,000 on health-related expenses.  Healthcare is now 17.6% of our Gross Domestic Product, meaning $0.176 of every dollar we spend goes toward health-related medical expenses.  We spend more on healthcare than all other countries combined, excluding only Japan, China, the UK, Germany, and France.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that, as of 2010, 36% of adult Americans and 17% of children and are obese.  America spends $117 billion annually on direct and indirect healthcare related expenses associated with obesity, which make saving money in general nearly impossible.

The Expensive Healthy Food Disconnect

Considering all of these costs, we find it hard to swallow when we’re told that eating healthy is too expensive.  Even by excluding medical expenses, we don’t see how eating healthily is more expensive.

We’ve posted several of our grocery lists, weekly menus, and receipts on our blog.  We budget $150 per week for groceries and on average spend less than $125 for two grown men. This includes stops at the grocery store throughout the week.  If we spend more, it’s because we need bigger household products, such as detergent.

This week we spent $6.50 on processed foods and $104.26 on fruits and vegetables.  If we spend 10% of our groceries on processed foods, that means we spend an average of $112.50 a week on fresh fruits, vegetables and natural meats and dairy.

On a monthly basis, we spend $500 total at the grocery store and $450 of that on fresh produce and meat.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average family of two spends $537 a month on groceries.  By creating a weekly grocery list and menu and strategically shopping for fresh foods, we’re spending $37 less on groceries than the average American family of two and saving money for other goals, such as retirement and travel.

We hardly eat out and when we do we don’t go with traditional fast food.  Our first two choices are Chipotle and Garbanzos.

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Saving Money and Calories

 If we combine the costs to processed foods with the medical expenses that come with a diet high in calories, fat and salt, it’s hard to accept that a healthy diet is more expensive than an unhealthy diet.  Our claim is that a healthy diet seemingly takes more effort.

If you’ve read our other featured posts, you know that we base our weekly grocery list and menu on the weekly sales items at our grocery store.  Not only does having a grocery list and menu prevent us from spending money on food we don’t want, it helps us not waste food.  We always know what we have to eat and what we need to eat before it spoils.

When we make our lunches and dinners, we typically make more than two servings.  This reduces work for us throughout the week.  This little bit of extra effort saves us a lot of time, money and calories.

Tighten your wallet and your belt by eating more healthy foods and cutting down on processed and fast food.  Mvelopes amazing app will help you tighten your budget and they’ll also give you a free debt analysis. Try them both! Your bank account and your body will thank you.

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Comment List

  • Debt Free Divas 26 / 09 / 2014 Reply

    This is a great reminder, how much eating healthier is for the bottom line and you waistline!

  • Hey David & John, I love the fact you guys are touching on the fact that spending a little extra on healthy eating definitely be worth it.

    One of the things I found is that Harvard did a study (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/healthy-vs-unhealthy-diet-costs-1-50-more/) that found eating healthy costs about $1.50 extra per day.

    When you compare that to the average medical expenditures you mentioned, or the estimated cost of a health issue (let’s say type 2 diabetes, which alone adds almost $8k per year), around $550 extra per year to avoid those issues definitely seems worth it!

    I have some additional stats on a similar post, http://hackingyourbudget.com/invest-in-your-health/ , but essentially the thing I always mention is that you should invest your money in quality nutrition and invest your time in quality exercise.

    Between those two you are definitely setting yourself up for a healthy life down the road!

    Thanks again for sharing the great info!

  • Derek @ MoneyAhoy 23 / 03 / 2016 Reply

    I have not spent a lot of time digging into the details, but for our family we do find that eating healthier does cost more on the average. Fresh fruits and veggies just seem to be more expensive than chips and such. By sticking with a weekly menu (like you guys), we are able to keep our weekly grocery bill around $150 – $200 a week for a family of four.

    • David Auten 07 / 04 / 2016 Reply

      You are right that in many cases, the “junk” foods are cheaper. What we found with many of them though is that they are empty calories and they leave us craving more. Thus we end up eating the whole bag, which in the end is more expensive. Trading out a handful of nuts for a bag of chips and we are ahead and healthier. Trading out an apple over a bag of M&Ms and we were more satisfied. True, the treat is still good from time to time, but we find we don’t keep going back for more.
      Congrats on sticking to the food budget. It’s a big and simple step so many families don’t take. 😉

  • Investment Hunting 27 / 03 / 2016 Reply

    Grocery stores are stocked with so much junk food. Entire aisle dedicate to potato chips, soft drinks, and cereal. It’s insane. My wife and I made a rule when our kids were little that when our kids are with us we would only shop the perimeter of stores. To your point, that’s where everything you need is located. I see too many parents give in to their kids, buying all kinds of junk for them. We solved this by not letting them go down those aisles.

    • David Auten 07 / 04 / 2016 Reply

      It’s tough to avoid those isles sometimes, but they sure can help the waist and the wallet if we can. 😉 I also like your comment about avoiding the isles altogether. It makes it so much easier to avoid the temptation.

  • Deb 30 / 07 / 2017 Reply

    When I hear people say fresh fruit is expensive, I wonder if they’ve noticed that a banana at Trader Joe’s is .29 cents and even an apple or an orange are maybe .75 cents. But, maybe fruit is more expensive in different parts of the country. In southern CA even berries are on sale every other week. I really don’t think it’s more expensive to eat healthy in general, but sometimes certain items can be pricey like matcha powder.

    • David Auten 18 / 10 / 2017 Reply

      We completely agree with you Deb. You can usually find healthy food on sale every week. That being said, we still don’t want ours to go to waste. 😉

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