In my last post, I explored cost-related considerations for three basic household items deodorant, beverages, and paper towels, goods I know I purchase regularly and can forecast annual use. The blog is essentially a guide to evaluating your annual consumption of household goods by considering where you procure goods from and how they get to your home. This type of analysis is great for standard, commonly purchased items, but what about standard, non-branded purchases like rice and fruit? We consume a wide breadth of goods whose distribution networks are not easily compared like La Croix or deodorant.  

When was the last time you looked at a bag of rice or pile of fruit and asked yourself “is this the best cost I can find?” For me, it was Monday. I look forward to grocery trips as if I were getting a round of shots; too many decisions to make, too many people to interact with, too many things I would rather be doing. I am always looking for ways to lower my grocery bill. For goods where a brand does not matter, I look at the unit price, typically measured as a cost per weight for food items. The first thing to understand is that the cost of food, as well as most goods, is a function of the supply chain. That is to say, typically the cost per unit of measurement grows the more packaging is used, the farther from the source production, the more hands touching the product, and the seasonality of goods. To maximize my purchasing power, while keeping my tummy satisfied, I follow a few guidelines:

  • Bulk is better, I generally purchase staple products in the bulk section of my local grocer. I can control the amount I purchase and the cost per unit is clearly identified. I try to stay away from pre-packaged bags of rice or veggies, the less packaging, the lower the cost.
  • Understand what is in season, during the winter months I purchase citrus and root vegetables, rather than berries and asparagus. Usually, those brightly colored “sale” signs point to what is in season. You may have to do a little bit of research to understand seasonality, but the research tends to pay off when you get fresh food at the peak of ripeness.
  • Think local > regional > national > global, with respect to product origin. This principle is similar and related to seasonality, but still worth explicit consideration. A pound of asparagus from the farmer down the road may require an extra stop but could save you a few bucks. Unfortunately, not all of us live in close proximity to a local farm. In a city setting, I suggest visiting the local farmers market to see how their prices stack up against the supermarket, you may be surprised.

In addition to the simple guidelines above, I try to plan my weekly meals ahead of time, before I visit the grocer or local market. Since I walk everywhere, it is not feasible for me to carry home goods for more than a week at a time and, as an added benefit, I cut down on food waste by not having excess fruits and veggies go bad before I can use them. Planning cuts down the time I have to spend at the store and allows me to work grocery shopping conveniently into my schedule. If you drive to the store, consider the cost of fuel to make explicit trips to the grocery store or farmers market. It may not seem like much in the greater scheme of the grocery bill, but those fuel costs do add up over time. By working grocery shopping into your regularly scheduled activities, coming home from work or heading home from the gym, you can cut down on unnecessary fuel costs.

Next time you plan to visit your grocer of choice or local fruit stand, I hope you consider how minor changes to your weekly routine could benefit you financially, by saving hard dollar cost, and logistically, by cutting down on unnecessary trips to the store. Good luck grocering!

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Jonathan Groda

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