15 Supermarket Myths That Keep Wasting Your Money
Should you buy your groceries in bulk? Are organic foods actually healthier? For the sake of your budget (and your waistline!), it's time to set the record straight.
Myth: Buy everything in bulk
Bigger isn’t always better. Check the unit prices before you buy: Items like cereal or frozen foods are sometimes cheaper in smaller quantities, according to Natasha Rachel Smith, a consumer affairs expert. Plus, you could waste a lot of food (and money!) if you don’t finish items before they spoil. Stick to healthy pantry staples or frozen goods that you often use, and make sure you can eat everything before it goes bad.
Myth: Fresh vegetables are more nutritious than frozen
Frozen vegetables can actually be healthier than some of the fresh produce sold in grocery stores. Why? “Produce is flash frozen at peak ripeness, meaning flavor and nutrients remain intact,” said Andrea Woroch, a consumer finance expert. Same goes for seafood. So go ahead and stock up on those frozen goods—especially produce that is out of season—for a fraction of the cost.
Myth: It doesn’t matter which day of the week you shop
Kudos to those who go to the grocery store on the weekend and do all of their shopping in one go. But if you’re looking to save money, reconsider your timing. Products with short shelf lives (like meat and dairy) usually go on sale mid-week; plus, you’ll find more discounts later in the day because the stores need to get rid of perishables. For the best bargain, Lifehacker recommends shopping on Wednesday nights.
Myth: Always pick the bag of spinach at the back of the produce case
A recent study found that spinach that was continuously exposed to light for just three days contained higher levels of vitamin C and preserved levels of vitamin K, vitamin E, folate, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. The scientists believe light boosts nutrient levels by aiding photosynthesis. In other words, the package of spinach at the front of the case—where it receives the most light—could be best.
Myth: “Organic” means healthy
It’s no secret that organic foods contain fewer pesticides, but that doesn’t always mean they are more nutritious. In fact, when researchers at Stanford compared organic and non-organic foods, they found very little difference in nutritional content between the two. Still, you can’t go wrong with buying organic apples, peaches, and spinach, which tend to have the most pesticide residue when grown conventionally.
Myth: Wheat bread is always made with whole wheat
Shoppers, beware: Bread or crackers claiming to be “wheat” might seem like guilt-free carbs. But food with labels like “multi-grain” or “cracked wheat” can still contain high levels of refined white flour. To make sure your selection is truly whole grain, look for the terms “whole,” “whole-grain,” or “whole wheat” on the ingredients list.
Myth: Leave the kids at home
Most parents worry that bringing their kiddos to the grocery store will lead to requests for unnecessary items like candy and cookies. But it could also be a great opportunity to get kids interested in the food they eat. If they can choose their own healthy lunches and snacks, they will be more likely to eat them, which means you’ll waste less—and save money in the long run. Giving everyone a snack before you go can help to avoid those impulse buys.
Myth: Stick to the store’s outer aisles
To protect your budget and waistline, most experts recommend shopping around the perimeter of the supermarket, where you’ll find most staple goods like produce, dairy, and poultry. But if you avoid the middle aisles, you’ll miss healthy (and budget-friendly!) items like beans, peanut butter, and tomato sauces. Just keep the cookies and chips out of your cart.
Myth: Brown eggs are healthier than white ones
Wrong again! While not all eggs are created equal, the difference has nothing to do with nutritional value. White eggs come from white hens with white earlobes, while brown eggs come from red hens with red earlobes. Because red hens are larger and their feed costs more, brown eggs are more expensive. So stick to the white eggs, and you can save money without missing out on nutrition.
Myth: Bagged salad is too expensive
Sure, a head of lettuce or spinach costs less per ounce than the bagged kind. But if you’re more likely to eat bagged salad for the convenience, it might be worth a little extra money in order to waste less. You can keep your greens fresh even longer by choosing a bag with the latest “buy by” date and keeping your fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. To save even more, don’t miss these 20 shopping secrets from America’s top grocery stores.
Myth: Low-fat foods are healthier
“Low-fat” has a long-standing reputation as a diet-friendly term. But in reality, many processed foods claiming to be low-fat often contain a lot of sugar and other undesirable ingredients. Before they go into your cart, take a close look at their Nutrition Facts panel, and avoid purchasing foods that are high in sugar, sodium, and calories.
Myth: Name-brand goods are better quality
Odds are, you won’t even taste the difference between your favorite brand-name chips and the generic kind. “Many supermarkets have store brands/generic brands that are significantly less expensive and can be as good or even better than brand name products,” said Claudia Sidoti, head chef for HelloFresh. Household cleaning products are great off-brand buys, as well.
Myth: Stick to your list
When it comes to saving money at the supermarket, making a list is the oldest trick in the book. Doing so can keep you focused on foods you need to buy and steer clear of impulsive purchases. However, a list isn’t a guaranteed money-saver. Many stores have weekly deals that can help you save money in the long run. While you should use your shopping list for the basics, you can always take advantage of a great sale if you see one.
Myth: Shop once per week
Getting all of your groceries in one trip is admirable, but if you buy large quantities of perishable items, some of those goods may go bad before you have the chance to finish them. It can actually be less expensive and wasteful to make multiple trips to the supermarket throughout the week. On the other hand, limiting your shopping trips to once or twice per month can encourage you to buy staple items in bulk—and reduce impulse purchases. Find a happy medium that fits your diet and lifestyle.