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Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

MyPlate on My Budget: Pricing produce


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I'm sure I don't need to remind you that fresh produce is one part of the grocery bill that can add up very quickly. Jenny shared her frustration with the cost of produce on week one of the MyPlate on My Budget project. She went to the store and carefully selected fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors and textures. When all the shopping was tallied she discovered that the bounty was less than the recommended servings of produce her family would need for the week. Unfortunately the cost pushed the upper end of her budget. I felt Jenny's frustration but I was curious about her methods.

Jenny did her weekly shopping at a Trader Joe's store. In the spirit of full disclosure she included a picture of her grocery receipt in the post. For whatever reason I generally include Trader Joe's among high end grocery stores. After scanning her receipt I was sure her purchases would be more budget friendly at a larger national chain grocery store. So I went on a pricing expedition. Armed with her receipt and my trusty notebook, I went out to see if my assumptions were correct.

Well color me surprised! I did my best to price like for like items and when I added up my choices the total exceeded Jenny's by a whopping $7.01. OK, so maybe not a huge difference but enough to make both Mr. Second Helpings and I pause to reconsider our preconceived ideas about Trader Joe's and our local super market.

Click on the image at left to see the numbers.

Now I'll let you in on my little secret. At least a couple times a month I try to visit one of the produce markets in my area. Just like the supermarket, these carry a wide variety of fruits and vegetables both local and well traveled. I don't expect to find organic options at these small markets particularly during the winter. I do find produce that is generally less expensive than my supermarket and use the savings to off set the cost of the organic items I may buy later. (These markets may not be common in all regions and the prices are certainly subject to change by region and availability.)

In addition to produce, some of the markets specialize in grocery items specific to Middle Eastern, Latin, or Asian cuisine. In these larger markets I like to poke around the shelves and look for interesting ingredients while I shop for fruits and vegetables. There are a few that only open during the warmer months of the year. These tend to offer produce that is grown in our region. They are more likely to offer some organic options as well as a few local specialty items like honey or eggs.

Armed once again with the shopping list and my notebook I set out for one more pricing expedition. Once again I did my best to choose like for like items though organic varieties were not available. This time the results were more in line with my expectations. Excluding the tomato soup I was able to check everything off the list for the reasonable sum of $24.43. A savings of $9.59 from Jenny's bill or $16.60 over the supermarket prices.

You'll recall that Jenny's frustration was with both the cost and the volume of her purchases. With the "extra" money I did a little more shopping and added a few more items to the cart.

  • Broccoli: 1 additional pound, $.99
  • Roma tomatoes: 2 additional pounds, $1.98
  • D'anjou pears: 3 lbs, $2.67
  • Yellow onions: 3lbs, $1.49
  • Butternut squash: 3lbs, $2.37
Total added produce = 12 pounds!

New grand total: $33.93

I realize this shopping trip omits the tomato soup. My intention is to use alterations and additions to make a big pot of vegetable soup and more than replace the boxed version.

What I hope readers see in this exploration are new and different ways to approach shopping for fruits and vegetables. If you do have produce markets in your area and have never stopped in to see what they offer, I encourage you to take a few minutes and check one out. Not all will be the same. I have some I prefer and others where one visit was plenty. This exercise challenged my assumptions and I hope it challenged yours too.

Do you have ways to save money on produce? Share them in the comments!

Don't forget to check in on Jenny's blog to see how she is managing her limited food budget.

AND follow all our posts and thrifty ideas on the MyPlate on My Budget Pinterest Board!

Story tags » FoodPersonal Finance

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