Going to the supermarket seems like a simple task, but it can quickly turn into an hour-long headache that ends with you going home with hundreds of dollars worth of nuts, meat, and produce. But it doesn't have to be this way. Eating healthy doesn't have to cost half your paycheck. Research conducted by The Miriam Hospital and The Rhode Island Community Food Bank found healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables really are affordable. So much so that households that consumed a plant-based, extra-virgin olive oil diet had an annual savings of nearly $750 per person compared to people who ate according to the economical recommendations for healthy eating provided by the USDA.
The researchers discovered low-income households spend their grocery money first and foremost on meats, eggs, cereals, and bakery products. The fix? Including some weekly meals that don't contain meat, poultry, or seafood, but do include extra virgin olive oil, vegetables, and a starch. Animal products cost more than double that of vegetables and legumes, and 60 percent more than one serving of fruit, the researchers explain.
"Our findings with this study run counter to the general belief that a healthy diet must be expensive," Andrew Schiff, CEO, Rhode Island Community Food Bank, and lead study author said in a press release. "Even using extra-virgin olive oil, a plant-based diet is far less expensive and features so many more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This is really good news for individuals served by the Food Bank—showing that wholesome eating on a tight budget is possible for everyone."
For even more tips on navigating those daunting fluorescent-lit aisles—and leaving with your dignity and wallet intact—read on.
If you usually hit up the supermarket every day for that night’s groceries... stop! Shoppers who make multiple quick trips a week purchase an average of 54 percent more merchandise than they planned, according to a study published by the Marketing Science Institute. The reason: The more times you pop into the store, the more likely you are to pick up an impulse buy. Let’s say you shop for groceries three times a week. And each time, you spend $10 on extra crap. If you cut your shopping down to once a week, that’s $20 you’d save a week—or $1,040 a year.
Check Yourself Out
You probably know that the candy in the checkout lane is there so that little kids beg their parents to buy it for them (nothing gets by you!). But did you also know that grown men (like you!) fall for the same temptations. You can save yourself by using the self check-out line: Impulse purchases by men drop by 1/6th when they choose the DIY option, according to a study by retail consulting firm IHL Group.
Make a Game Plan
It’s not enough to just go to the supermarket with a list (which you should do)—you need to have a detailed plan of which recipes you’re going to make for the week. “Sometimes people say they’re going to eat more vegetables so they buy them but then don’t know what to do when they get home so the veggies sit around and go to waste,” says Manuel Villacorta, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and founder of Eating Free. “Instead, go to the store with recipes in mind. Shop knowing exactly how you’ll use everything.”
It’s fine if you want to be a label-whore and drive a BMW, but you don’t have to go top shelf when it comes to groceries. Research conducted by the Private Label Manufacturers Association compared a shopping basket of national brands with the same basket of store brands. The generic basket totaled nearly 33 percent less than the name-brand basket.
Watch the Weight, Do the Math
Should you go for the 6-ounce yogurt or the 32-ounce mega-size yogurt? That always depends on prices. Just because a container happens to be bigger, doesn’t mean it’s the better value. Sometimes stores or manufacturers rig prices so that you’re paying just a little more for less—and that can add up. Always read the labels to figure out how much a product costs by the ounce.
Stocking fresh fruits and vegetables during their off-season requires expensive shipping, and the stores add the cost into the price at the register. “If you’re buying blueberries and strawberries in February, you’re going to pay a lot more for them,” says Marissa Lippert, RD and author of The Cheater's Diet. Stick to what’s in season. In the winter, you should look for broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. “And if there’s a sale on something, like wild salmon, buy a bunch and freeze it,” suggests Lippert.
Don't Buy Prepackaged
Do you enjoy the luxury of having your salad packed up nicely in a crisp, crinkly bag? Or getting your butternut squash already cubed? Yeah, you’re paying for that fancy convenience. Foods that are prepackaged, grated, sliced or pre-washed come with a higher price tag—about 50 percent higher. Don’t be so lazy and slice and dice your own food.