The latest entry in NPR’s eye-opening “Graphing America” series takes a deeper look into how Americans’ spending habits have changed at the grocery store. One of the most interesting findings is how much we’ve reduced spending on groceries over the last few decades, even as the cost of many foods have soared.
Between 1982 and 2012, we shaved 3 per cent off our grocery budgets to just under 9 per cent of total income, according to the Bureau of labour Statistics. But it turns out that actually says a lot less about our savvy spending habits than our reliance on high-calorie convenience food.
“We now spend a much bigger share of our grocery money on processed foods, which includes things like frozen dinners, canned soups and snacks,” NPR reports.
In fact, spending on processed foods has doubled since 1982, jumping from 11.6 per cent to more than 22 per cent of our grocery budgets. Other than processed foods, we’ve changed our spending on meat products the most (down about 10 per cent to 21.5 per cent), which is likely because meat production is so much cheaper now. We still devote about 14 per cent of our budget to fruits and vegetables and 11 per cent to beverages.
Overall, the numbers are pretty discouraging, especially in light of recent findings that show how mistaken consumers are about the cost of healthy, high-quality foods.
1. Ditch the typical grocery list. Gault says too many consumers make the mistake of treating food like a cheap commodity rather than an investment. “We’re not doomed to pay full price for everything we consume,” she says. “Instead of letting running out of food trigger the purchase, let the sales trigger when you shop.”
2. Bigger doesn’t mean better. Items typically come in three sizes—small, medium and large, says Gault. But bigger doesn’t always mean better value. Choose the item with the lowest cost per unit; chances are it will be medium-sized one.
3. Go for store brands. We’re not talking generics—the supermarket’s private label actually competes with no-name products since they offer great value at a reasonable price, says Gault. When they go on sale it’s practically a steal.
4. Shop “high-low” stores’ sales. Grocers fall into two categories: “high-low” chains like Ralph’s and Albertson’s and Every Day Low Price (EDLP) stores like Dollar Tree and Dollar General. Gault, who lives in California, has “parallel shopped” at a Ralph’s and Food For Less and found that despite their fancy digs, Ralph’s still beats Food For Less on price—when she shops the sales.
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