Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
15 Jun

Save a Few Bucks, Gain a Few Pounds

CostcoThe stories are everywhere on news broadcasts, mornings shows, and magazines. Bulk shopping, particularly as it’s defined by stock images of Sam’s Club and Costco, is the key to the current economic crunch, the newscasters tell us. Footage clip after clip show the enormous carts filled to the brim with essentials like toilet paper, diapers, Pepsi, potato chips, cookies, hamburger buns. Huh?

We fully recognize and applaud that some warehouse establishments now offer even organic meats and some produce in bulk, and even those that don’t likely sell something worth foraging for (nuts, eggs, etc.). But the pull of those snack displays are apparently too much for many folks. The price is, in most cases, quite a bit less than what you’d find in the grocery store. But the difference is this: people apparently eat more junk food over time if they buy it in bulk.

Brian Wansink, noted author on the psychology of eating offers an interesting bit of commentary on this phenomenon.

Our additions? Maybe people justify it because it’s cheaper. Maybe it’s just easier to lose track of how much they’ve eaten in the context of a 5 lb. bag of Lay’s. Probably both.

Perhaps what intrigues us the most is the tenacious, indissoluble relationship we seem to have with our junk food. We may (rightly) complain that we’re being driven to the brink of financial ruin, but there’s no way we’re giving up our daily soda fix. Sure, those mammoth bins of kettle corn are a cheaper stomach fill than organic greens and chicken. We get that, and that’s the hard part of the issue and the current times we live in.

But how can we not watch those junk food laden carts and not think (especially if there are seedlings at home), “This isn’t a legitimate answer.”

The fact is, there are better, healthier, more economically sustainable ways to stretch a dollar for good, filling eating. And it doesn’t even count out the warehouse stores, but it does necessitate some selective vision as you roam the aisles of any shopping establishment. We liked this article on the best and bust of bulk shopping.

But we’d add that a lot of us have more (and much better) choices than Sam’s Club. How about boosting local economies and saving some serious bucks in your own wallet by seeking out local farmers who sell real food in bulk: farmer’s markets, farm stands, CSAs, mail-order. Buy a share of produce or a half a hog. A deep freezer can be a lucrative investment. And it’s not just for meat. Use the summer to buy at peak as much as possible and then bag and freeze to preserve berries, tomato sauces, and other fruits and veggies long beyond their harvest (cheaper) seasons.

And then there’s the old “grow-it-yourself” option. It hasn’t been that long since most people grew something of their own to help support their families. An apple tree, a blackberry bush, a couple tomato plants, even a small herb garden can offer a respectable start.

Tough economic times definitely call us to re-evaluate and change our shopping practices. But we’d suggest taking all those newscasts with a grain of salt. There are much more creative ways to buy in bulk and maximize both health and savings.

Your ideas and thoughts?

AlaskaTeacher Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

You vs. The Mob: Mob Eating Mentality

Healthy Eating on a Budget

How to Get Sick and Die

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  1. Good post, but I laughed a little because I realized that my family makes trips to costco almost weekly. Its actually not a bad stop for the modern caveman: We buy bulk quantities eggs, meat, fish, nuts, fish oil, vegetables, and fruits. Its a great way to save money on expensive meat and produce. We do go to the farmers market quite frequently, but sometimes it seems more economical to get certain things at the wholesale store than the market.

    Moe wrote on June 15th, 2008
  2. The fact is, there are better, healthier, more economically sustainable ways to stretch a dollar for good, filling eating.

    Yes, indeed. Canned collard, kale, turnip, or other nutritional powerhouse greens costs about 30 cents a serving. Some of the 300 mg of sodium can easily be rinsed off before heating. Frozen broccoli, cauliflower, or brussel sprouts are less than 50 cents a serving. A head of cabbage and a bag of carrots are less than $1. Apart from lettuce or spinach, other greens tend to have low pesticide residues and thus are a safe and affordable non-organic option. A surprising nutritional bargain is broccoli sprouts. A 4 oz. container costs about $3.30, but a little goes a very long way. I usually get about 6-8 nutrition-packed servings out of one container. I buy hormone and antibiotic-free meats when they’re marked down close to their expiration date. Unlike produce, the nutritional quality of meat doesn’t decline significantly while it’s sitting in the supermarket. Mixing meats and beans also saves money although I realize some paleopurist folks here eschew legumes.

    Sonagi wrote on June 15th, 2008
  3. What a good post. While buying the basics at Costco can save money, like Moe pointed out, I find the aisles pretty dang tempting. A huge tub of gummi bears is both awe-inspiring and terrifying for me. :)

    p.s. This is my first time to the blog, and I love it!

    Jenn wrote on June 15th, 2008
  4. Great points!

    I’ve been reading lots of tips on how to save money on groceries, and read a story about a woman who sometimes only pays $10 for a week by using coupons, doubling coupons, etc. The problem with all those tips is that most of the food was crap! I look through the coupon sections of our local paper, and went to one of the coupon websites, and almost all of the food coupons were for junk food of some sort. (I could have used the toothpaste coupons, I suppose.)

    I think I’ll keep spending what I do to make sure my family gets lots of high-quality whole real foods!

    Judy wrote on June 15th, 2008
  5. We canceled our Costco membership a couple of years ago after I actually crunched the numbers and decided that it wasn’t saving us any money. Sure their average prices are cheaper but I can get the same stuff (if not better) on sale at the grocery store minus the yearly fee. Now I just go twice a year with my mom to load up on the few items that make buying there cost effective (laundry detergent, garbage bags etc.) Plus I’m not tempted by the huge (both calorically and monetarily) impulse items:)

    charlotte wrote on June 15th, 2008
  6. Well, I love Costco and will remain a member. I find that it saves me a lot of money as I’m only going shopping once a month. And while there is always room for improvement in my grocery shopping I’m pretty good at passing up the unhealthy temptations. To each his own. :)

    Jerry wrote on June 15th, 2008
  7. Timely post, I just discovered that at the farmer’s market for local organic farmers there is a couple there that sell organic grass fed beef. I justify the extra expense due to the fact I eat less IFing.

    MikeB wrote on June 16th, 2008
  8. IFing

    My favorite new verb!! :-)

    Dave C. - DaveGetsFit wrote on June 16th, 2008
  9. For me the main cost savings with Costco have been on the non-grocery items:
    – reduced homeowners and auto insurance rates through Amex
    – zero deductible broken glass coverage – had to use this when someone put a golf ball through my window. Saved about $300.00
    – Costco’s awesome return policy. Once returned a camcorder about 1.5 years after I bought it when it suddenly stopped working. No questions asked.

    SB wrote on June 16th, 2008
  10. Just thought I’d post a quick thanks. I was introduced to your site through the Crossfit community and I’ve become a daily visitor since. Keep up the good work.

    Brett_nyc wrote on June 16th, 2008
  11. Don’t get us wrong – we love these clubs for a lot of other reasons. In my case, I get great new wines at Costco, as well as great prices on hard goods and electronics, etc. Can’t walk through without getting three new things I hadn’t realized I “needed”.

    Mark Sisson wrote on June 16th, 2008
  12. All good advice, although I will be another to say that I still do well shopping at Sam’s. I get cheaper gas at their gas station, and much better prices on fruits, veggies, tuna, raw nuts & cheese.

    I don’t buy anything else in the store beyond the occasional DVD or piece of clothing. I’ve found gorgeous winter coats for great prices. I also get my photos printed there because Walmart is the only other option and they’re beyond incompetent.

    I’ve made it a mission this year to find local farmers & other sources of decent food. Haven’t been able to find a CSA or rural farm stand. Our town got it’s first farmers market two weeks ago, and I’ve gone both times and chatted with the vendors for maybe an hour each time, trying to build relationships with them.

    The first week they were sold out of food in 10 minutes, and I showed up 2 hours in. The second week I bought almost everything that was there, a bowl of tiny strawberries & 2 bags of lettuce… I left some turnip greens & more lettuce for other people. There are ostrich eggs to buy, but I’m not ready to deal with one just yet, it’s a *lot* of egg. So at this point, the farmers market is not a viable option for getting most things.

    I even stopped at a fruit stand that my mother-in-law told me about the same day, and most things they had were the same as the grocery store. There’s no way Pink Lady apples, lemons, nectarines & fat Sweet Bea watermelons were grown locally… I still had to stop at the grocery store to get the other produce I needed. =*(

    Heather wrote on June 16th, 2008
  13. Great article. While I do think that you can get some value at the Sam’s and Costco’s of the world, if you just look at how “out-of-shape” most of the Sam’s shoppers are, you have to think that people aren’t buying health food.

    Andy wrote on June 16th, 2008
  14. Andy, I can’t disagree with that. Although I don’t personally buy the junk at Sam’s, almost everyone in there has a cart full of garbage, and most of them are very large. I’ve actually had people make comments at the register when they see that all I have is fruit & vegetables.

    Heather wrote on June 16th, 2008
  15. I don’t know, you see out of shape looking shoppers at the regular grocery stores as well. I think that’s a stereotype to say most of the shoppers look out of shape at Sam’s.

    I know there are plenty of people like myself that combine the Costco shopping with places like Trader Joe’s, Sprouts, etc.

    Jerry wrote on June 16th, 2008
  16. My last run to Costco.
    2 pound bag of spinach (that’s a lot spinach, it hardly fits in the fridge)
    At $4.79. it’s really some of the cheapiest around and is homegrown (not organic)
    5 hass avocado’s, bag of baby cucumbers and a large bag of broccoli.
    1 large bottle of eco-laundry detergent for $12.
    The small one of the same brand at whole foods and others cost $9.99.
    I love Costco, but you have to be a savy shopper.
    If I even look at the macadamias in the aisle……they end up in my cart. 😉

    tatsujin wrote on June 16th, 2008

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