If you can afford it and buying expensive food is important to you, then by all means do it. But many of us are wondering “does the benefit of buying expensive food outweigh the cost?” There are several reasons why food is expensive. If you want to save money, don't buy these things.
- The item is rare or hard to difficult to produce. Oranges in Michigan, for example. Oranges cost more than apples because we don’t have orange groves here. But did you know that an orange is not the only thing that contains vitamin C? Strawberries, bell peppers and summer squash are also high in vitamin C and don’t cost anything to grow here in Michigan.
- The item is packaged nicely or is name brand. There’s Barilla spaghetti, and then there’s Walmart spaghetti. The Barilla box looks more appealing, and it’s placed on the middle shelf where it’s easy to reach. The Walmart spaghetti is in an ugly box, and you have to bend down to pick it up (I know, that’s a lot of work). What’s in both boxes? An equal amount of identical spaghetti. Depending on what you buy there may be slight differences between off-brand and name-brand, but both brands serve the same purpose, and many times you get a better deal by buying the off-brand.
- The item is convenient. Those pre-cut and arranged platters of cheese and crackers at the deli? The cheese, meat and crackers are only half of what you pay for. The other half is what you pay for not having to cut up and arrange all those cheese cubes and crackers. The $4 TV dinner that includes $1 worth of food, or the $4 quart of yogurt that cost $1 to make; all very convenient. We pay a lot for convenience. In Pizza Night, I show you how to do most of your own food prep (in a short amount of time) to save money.
Are you shopping for value, or something else?
A lot of shoppers think they are paying for value- for health, their kids, or they think they are buying more time. Let’s see if this is really the case.
You do NOT have to eat spinach every week to be healthy. A fresh, local alternative to spinach is the lambsquarter weed, but who thinks about eating weeds? Nobody, but this does not change the nutritional content of lambsquarter. Likewise, organ meats are cheap and considered “gross” or “for poor people”, but they are highly nutritious.
Because We Love Our Kids
Would you believe that kids like Walmart ketchup just as much as they like Hunts? A kid, if he has not watched a lot of TV commercials, will like cheap “Fruity O’s” that come in a big plastic bag just as much as he likes real Fruit Loops. Don’t kid yourself- kids can’t tell the difference. I can hardly tell the difference. Besides, who is the boss at your house anyway? You or your 5-year-old? Do you think you can truly make your kid happy or show them real love by purchasing “kid-friendly” processed garbage?
We’re Too Busy
Is it really the case that we “don’t have time” to cook, or that we just don’t want to? I imagine many of us spend more time on Facebook and other social networks than we spend in the kitchen. You might think you are busy doing "more important things". Or maybe you really do want to cook more, but you’re not good at managing your time and setting boundaries. (Once again, my book Pizza Night will help you make time to cook.) In many cases, buying convenience food is just putting a band-aid on bigger time-management issues. Being "busy" does not make you any more important than someone who has time to cook.
What does this all boil down to?
One word: ego. I have shopped for ego myself, you know. When I "didn’t have time" to make cookies for a party (bad time management), I used to buy Oreos. Not the identical “chocolate sandwich cookies”, but real Oreos that cost twice as much, because I didn’t want to be seen as the cheapy cheap-pants that didn’t even buy real Oreos. To me it didn’t matter- they were both just as good. But in my mind I could hear everyone’s thoughts: “There’s Bethany with her cheap cookies. She knows that everyone likes oreos, but she is too cheap to spend money on the real thing. She doesn’t care about us enough to buy what we really like. Boo for her- we’re not eating fake oreos, and she can take them all back home.” So I paid twice as much.
Being frugal can be hard if it feels like everyone around you is trying to “beat the Joneses”. Even in something as small as buying groceries. Buying Walmart pop instead of Mountain Dew just looks bad, you know what I mean? Or in higher income (and spending) circles, you might feel bad because Housewife-Down-The-Street makes organic quinoa tabouli, and you make brown rice. Maybe people really will look down on you for “being cheap” or "being poor", but it could be a fear that is only in your head.
I challenge you (and myself) to shop logically. Put aside your own ego in every way, shape, or form. Shop for value, not for status, pretty packaging, or convenience. This will really help you save.
Does buying expensive food help you feel better about yourself? Why?
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: Growing Savings