When grocery shopping, that is.
I’ve always heard the theory that shopping the perimeter of the grocery store – buying the fresh foods and not the processed ones – is less expensive overall. Now that my spouse is following a specific meal plan, I’m buying almost exclusively fresh food, when I used to buy a mix of fresh, canned, frozen, and some processed food. And lo and behold, my first week shopping, I spent almost twice my normal grocery budget. Now, some of that was “start up” expenses, foods that I can buy in bulk and use over time, but a lot of it was things I will have to buy on a weekly basis (produce doesn’t last forever, after all). I expected this to be the case, but it begs the question – contrary to popular wisdom, is shopping the perimeter really more expensive?
For us, it appears to be, and I’ve identified three key reasons why that is the case. First, I didn’t buy solely processed foods in the first place. I had a mix of select processed foods and select fresh, frozen, and canned foods in my past regular weekly grocery lists, so we aren’t comparing solely processed to solely fresh. I generally tried to make cost-conscious choices when it came to buying fresh vs frozen or canned, and with substituting that for all fresh, that raised the overall price. (I will be going back to some frozen in the future, we are still working out exactly what we want from the meal plan.)
Second, it is winter here, and winter is not the biggest growing time ever. The food comes from farther away and is much pricier. In the summer I expect to find more fresh food cheaper, as well as being able to take advantage of some farm stands. I live in a city, so I don’t have a ton of access to farm stands but our city does have a weekly farmers market in the summer I can check out.
Third, I have pretty much successfully tamed my impulse shopping, and I think that is a huge reason why aisle shopping is generally more expensive than perimeter shopping. The longer you stay in the store, and the more area you are exposed to, the more things you can potentially buy. It is not that I have more willpower than the average person, it is just that I am generally more aware and on guard against the impulse buys, and I have a specific plan in walking through the store where I do not go down any unnecessary aisles. That limits my exposure to extra items that can magically jump in my cart. They sometimes do, especially Arizona Herbal Iced Tea, but generally, I am pretty well behaved.
So, for us, it seems the perimeter of the store does in fact add to our grocery bottom line. Not that it isn’t worth the extra expense, but we’re still working on adjusting what we expect and what choices we should make to still get the most bang for our buck.