Every few months, the same advice on saving money at the supermarket crops up. You’ve heard the line: shopping the perimeter of the store and ignoring the isles will save you money and leave you healthier. The advice is good natured, but is also generally wrong. Okay, maybe not wrong, but at best only half right. Shopping the perimeter is a good way on how to not save money on groceries.
Why is this? The theory behind the advice to shop the perimeter is based on the idea that all of your staples, your meat, produce, dairy, etc. are going to be along the outer edges of the store. Meanwhile, the higher mark-up stuff, the processed foods, and the junk food that simply isn’t necessary are all going to be in the isles. So by shopping the perimeter, you get the lower cost, healthier staples and avoid the costlier junk.
The problem? It doesn’t quite match reality. You can find junk on the edge of the store and some staples are only found in the isles. Here are some examples.
High Markup Items Found On The Perimeter Of The Supermarket
More and more supermarkets are incorporating “fresh food” into their stores. The reason for this is simple. Pre-made, ready-to-eat meals have an incredibly high markup. Those salads in the plastic clam-shell cost nearly as much as one from a restaurant but cost less than a dollar to make. But it goes beyond salads. Deli’s are popping up in grocery stores with pre-made or even made-to-order sandwiches. Sushi, olive bars, salad bars, and cafes are just some of the methods that grocers are using to separate you from your money. And universally, these will be placed along one of the walls, usually nearest to the entrance. There are two reasons for this. One, hot food needs equipment that wants to be hidden from customer’s view. So it goes behind a wall. Two, stores spend a lot of money determining where shoppers’ eyes go, and that wall is one of the prime spots. So they are going to put their biggest money-makers right where you are going to notice them!
Even if a store hasn’t upgraded to all of these newer goodies, traditional perimeter grocery departments have plenty of tempting lures. The deli section will have all sorts of mouth-watering delectables sitting just to the side of the lunchmeats and cheeses. Meanwhile the bakery in most supermarkets would be more appropriately be named the dessert department with its bounty of cookies, cakes, and pies.
Staples Found In The Isles Of The Supermarket
Okay, so food you really don’t need is found in the perimeter. Big deal. You can always skip it and just shop the rest of the perimeter of the store. Except that there are a lot of staples to be found in the isles as well.
Unless you are on a low-carb diet such as paleo or Atkins, complex carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, and rice are going to make regular appearances in your meals. All of those foods are going to be found in the isles. Sure there is bread in the bakery, but buying bakery bread instead of sliced bread is a very good way to not save money on groceries! You could make your own pasta instead of buying it, but where is the flour? It’s in the baking isle!
Do you have time to make bacon and eggs each morning? I don’t. I typically eat cereal. Cereal is just one of the many items that store brands taste identical if you allow your prejudices to get out of the way. That is in the breakfast isle. There is another item in the breakfast isle that I can’t go a day without: coffee.
Frozen vegetables, when prepared properly, taste identical to fresh alternatives and can actually be healthier for you. Since frozen veggies are picked at the peak of ripeness and flash-frozen, they are more likely to contain the nutrients you are after than fresh produce which was picked before it was ripe and artificially ripened with chemicals. Whether you prefer canned beans or dry beans, both are in the isles.
Do you shop in the isles of your supermarket or do you stick to the perimeter of the store?
Edward Antrobus is a food blogger, personal finance writer, ebook specialist, and construction worker.
His mother’s favorite saying is, “if you can read, you can cook.” She firmly believes that making simple dishes is not much more difficult than reading the directions on a recipe. His goal is to take the mystery out of cooking and endow everyone with the basic skills needed to cook your own food and save a fortune by not having to dine out all the time.