Home Conscious Consumerism Priced Out: Too Expensive to Buy Healthy?

Priced Out: Too Expensive to Buy Healthy?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

grapefruitPeople often complain – loudly – that they’d love to eat healthier, but that it’s much too expensive. It’s hard to justify purchasing a gang of tomatoes at $2 per pound, when tomato sauce comes in a giant jar for $2.99. It’s hard to justify buying oranges at $3 per pound when a can of mandarin oranges at Walmart runs about $0.85 a can… and you don’t have to peel them!

I won’t lie – to the novice health nut or someone flirting with the idea of being a more health-conscious shopper, the odds are stacked against you. Why? Look at it like this. A bagel with cream cheese (which, according to my nutrition tracker, weighs in at 647mg of sodium; 57g of carbohydrates; 12g of fat, 7g of that saturated; and a lovely 390 calories) can, nowadays, cost considerably less than a single grapefruit (which – again – according to my tracker, has zero grams of fat, zero grams of sodium, 2 grams of protein, 12 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of carbohydrates). To the person trying to save money – and trust me, that makes a world of sense in this economy – it simply makes sense to buy as inexpensively as possible without sacrificing too much in the way of quality (especially on the things that are important to us – Philly cream cheese vs generic is a BIG one for me, lol.)

Now, let’s talk about why this is the way it is. A bagel runs cheaper than a grapefruit because, quite frankly, a bagel can be made anywhere. It doesn’t need to come from a certain climate in particular. It doesn’t need the same level of effort to create. I know some may be saying “Duh!” but do we all really make the connection of why it seems we may have priced ourselves out of eating healthier? I know that I, personally, didn’t realize that I had effectively priced myself out of eating healthier simply because the cost made me uncomfortable.

0901092108How do we fight that feeling? Here’s what I do. The next time you go grocery shopping, look at your cart. Is there anything there that you like, but is unnecessary for you to buy THAT brand in particular? Let me tell you a secret. Generic foods/store-brand foods are often just as good as some of the better name brands sold on the same shelf. They’re less expensive because the grocery store wants to make sure that you can still get what you want even though you’re not paying as much as you might for the name brand. This way, they can ensure that you’re not pricing yourself out of owning the product entirely, and they can still squeeze a couple extra dollars out of you.

Now, let’s talk about generic and store brand foods. Most store-brands, regardless of the store, are made at the same production plant and then shipped to the production plants for these stores for labeling. Guess what else – did you know that MANY national name-brand manufacturers also produce those same store brand products? Which means… yes – Reynolds’ Wrap might’ve made that store brand aluminum foil. Yes, Mott’s might’ve made that store-brand applesauce. Don’t believe me? Ask MainStreet:

Many of the national brands actually produce store brand products, so besides the packaging, you may not even notice a difference between generics and their brand name counterparts.  For example, Alcoa, the maker of Reynolds Wrap Aluminum foil, produces store brand foil. McCormick produces herbs and spices without its signature label, and Birds Eye, known for its frozen vegetables, produces a number of frozen and canned vegetable products, according to Consumer Reports.

One major reason for the deep discount on store brands is they “don’t carry heavy product development, advertising and promotion costs,” says Tod Marks, a Consumer Reports researcher who blogs by the name “Tightwad Tod” on ConsumerReports.org.

Having said all that, yes. It is more expensive to infuse your shopping cart with healthier alternatives like fresh produce and minimizing the processed foods. However, now knowing that you can save up to $2 an item in some cases by buying store-brand, you can easily accommodate the cost. It’s up to you to do your own taste testing to see if there’s a difference that you simply cannot live with, but for the most part a lot of these things can be accommodated. I buy certain store-brand cereals (because again, not everything can be replaced!), ketchups and mustards, and the like. The money I save (almost $2 per box of cereal) goes toward my ability to buy fresh ingredients. Score one for my wallet, my pantry, and my body.

I know, I know. It’s hard to swallow – giving up our beloved brands for… store brands. Generic. Some of us are cringing right now. Look at it this way – we can’t swap out everything (a friend just notified me that there’s no way in the WORLD he could purchase anything other than ONE brand of apple juice in particular), but we can certainly take it one step at a time. Remember, we shoot for progress over here!

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21 comments

Rooo August 27, 2010 - 4:04 PM

“I know, I know. It’s hard to swallow – giving up our beloved brands for… store brands.”

Hmmm. Why are people tripping?
Shop Rite raisins are just as tasty as Sunmaid or DelMonte, and, as you say, Erika, at a considerable discount.

Sometimes we folks do get a tad label-happy. Even in the face of recession, what?

I think it’s important to remember that once upon a time, even Versace was just somebody’s last name.

Aisha December 2, 2010 - 8:27 AM

I get a lot of frozen vegetables for free. Green Giant has coupons in the paper almost every week. If they have a lot I will buy more than one paper. I wait until the small boxes are on sell for $1 and use the 50cent double coupons to get them free. They are frozen so you can stock up. These really come in handy when I am feeling lazy.

Ashanti January 27, 2011 - 1:24 PM

I know that store brands are cheaper than name brands and can save money… that is why I already buy them.

What about those of us who are already frugal, making the best of a small income? I can’t switch to a street corner “brand” to save money, and I sure can’t use money that I don’t have to buy food that I can’t afford. It costs me more in the long run both in terms of health and time.

Maybe I just need to go back to filling up on fiber. If I stick fiber in everything, then maybe I will be satisfied with the little that I can afford to buy.

Erika January 27, 2011 - 1:34 PM

There’s an entire series on this site of posts regarding different ways one can save money and eat cleanly and cheaply: https://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/the-recessionista/save-money-on-groceries-buy-frozen/

Felicia June 28, 2011 - 11:10 AM

I will have to give a shout out to Aldi’s. I don’t know if they are located everywhere, but if you have one in your city, please consider shopping there..no frills, and you have to bag or box your own food, but it’s WELL worth it. It has really helped me on my quest to eat healthier. I can buy a whole big shopping bag of produce for under $20.00! They carry a brand called “Fit and Active” which sells anything from fruit snacks to lite salad dressings, so I am able to buy a lot of staples, along with their brand of ground turkey (85/15). I never spend more than 90.00 to feed my family of three for two weeks! AND I’ve never been disappointed at the taste or quality of the foods/products I’ve bought from this store!

Jeri Shermaine August 1, 2013 - 12:09 PM

We have an Aldi’s over here but Im reluctant to shop there for some reason…And there is a sprouts right up the street. I don’t know how much sprouts cost but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow when I go grocery shopping.

milaxx June 28, 2011 - 12:41 PM

I find it balances out and keeps me in check. For example, buying pure maple syrup instead of caramelized sugar and chemicals may be more pricey, but knowing that means I don’t drown my pancakes in syrup.

icwatudid June 28, 2011 - 3:41 PM

Actually, the reason certain foods are cheaper is because of gub’mint subsidies. Think: Hamburger at a fast food restaurant: $1. Salad at a fast food restaurant: $5. Ultimately, the gub’mint subsidizes the stuff that people eat. Sadly, that ain’t fresh produce.

Erika Nicole Kendall June 28, 2011 - 4:09 PM

Not quite. A hell of a lot more goes into pricing a product beyond whether or not it contains an ingredient whose farming was subsidized: https://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/?p=1244

Betti July 22, 2011 - 4:13 PM

Here in Kansas City there’s a program at the Farmer’s Market that you can get $2 worth of food for $1 if you are using SNAPS (food stamps). You can get a 1 lb. bag of carrots for $1, strawberries for $2, 13 ears of fresh corn for $5, a 5 lb. bag of potatoes for $2, celery for $1, two containers of cherry tomatoes for $1, a four pack of avocados for $2.50 and the list goes on. If your heart is in it and you truly want to start making a change in your eating habits it can be done and it’s not expensive. Not everything will be this cheap but it’s a very easy and friendly place to start. Unfortunately, from the growers that I talk to at the market few people take advantage of the program.

kim February 21, 2012 - 9:56 PM

I just wanted to share something that I am using to provide organic food for my family that is costing me zero, zilch, nada! My local CSA normally sells their weekly shares of organic veggies, free range eggs, and other goodies for about $425 per 18wk season… this year I was able to get a “work share” – I signed a contract donating 4 hours per week to tending the crops and animals in exchange for the CSA share. I’m saving money; learning about farming; and getting sunshine and exercise – feels like it’s a real win.

Allhoney April 29, 2012 - 5:26 PM

I spend money on food. I buy fresh and local and in season. I buy eggs, turkey and salmon at the Farmer’s market, and my produce at he seasonal Farmer’s Markets. Bread I get freshly made at Whole Foods. Tofu also comes from the Farmer’s Market or from Whole Foods. Everything is organic if I can find it that way. Very little of my food comes packaged. My grocery bills average $125.00 weekly, and that is for my son and me. But… I don’t have cable, or dish or whatever. I don’t keep snacks in the house. And I don’t spend hundreds of dollars on clothes, shoes, and accessories. Healthy food has been my top priority for decades. Everything else is secondary.

curlsz May 22, 2012 - 7:58 PM

if its hard to swallow it’s only b/c advertisers have really gotten to you, they are your puppet master!!!

Tameka August 16, 2012 - 9:38 AM

To me eating Healthy is not expensive….now paying medical bills and perscriptions due to poor eating choices is expensive then you still have to eat (a triple whammy). Now you tell me what’s expensive. That’s all I have to say about that

Kay Tee August 16, 2012 - 9:44 AM

I shop like AllHoney above. I shop veggies and fruit first…whatever is on sale … and buy lots of fish. My teen eats what I eat – no choice … and they love fish and chicken.

I buy what is on sale … and I average 225.00 a month on groceries.

It can be a challenge, but it can be done.

Gizzle August 16, 2012 - 2:58 PM

Tips for cheaper grocery bills:

Farmer’s Market
Food Pantry
CSA (purchase a share and/or do a workshare to ‘earn’ your veggies)
Aldi
Dollar Store/General for Canned Goods
Food Depot (grocery chain in Georgia, not sure where else)
Open Markets (some city parks have farmers sell their fresh foods on Saturdays or once per week. Things like eggs, fresh milk, veggies, herbs etc)

Get in a potluck group 1-2x per week with a group of clean eating friends!

Start a porch/patio/windowsill/flower pot garden. Things like tomatoes, zucchini, herbs, collards, kale are fairly easy to grow and usually 1-2 plants of each produces an ABUNDANCE of food. Tomatoes/zucchini are versatile for recipes, IMHO.

Popular grocery stores like Publix, Giant, definitely Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are ALWAYS really expensive compared to the options I listed above!

Vana August 18, 2012 - 9:34 PM

Let’s take orange juice for example. I don’t like Tree Ripe. I only like Tropicana and Florida Natural on sale. If neither is on sale I might go with Simply Orange or Minute Maid. but we all have our favorite brands. I have tried cheaper substitutes. You are not saying any money if you can’t stand the product and won’t use it.

Erika Nicole Kendall August 21, 2012 - 1:24 PM

Ahhh, but alas… there’s a reason why orange juices taste so “different.” Processed food is a tricky, tricky science.

Tia October 7, 2012 - 2:54 PM

I swear by generic brands. I have to fuss at my soon-to-be hubby about the exact thing. Never mind the over priced labels. If I need to tweek the flavor, I don’t mind. But I do notice the difference when I am healthy eating!

christine January 20, 2013 - 6:11 PM

Being a single parent stretching a dollar came second nature to me. We never really had extra money to order pizza or eat fast food.Flash forward and my son has kept those good habits.Lettuce doesn’t stand a chance in my house.

Lynnel January 28, 2013 - 8:37 AM

I coupon, In the past few months I have seen coupons for fruits and veggies. Granted it is not a lot, but they are there and last I checked they do not expire.

That said coupon, save money in other places, so you can buy the the fruits and veggies.
I also do farmers market a lot also

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