You might think that it’s easy to make good choices at the grocery store, but it is not. Grocery stores are a skillfully designed marketing trap from the moment you walk in the doors until your credit card swipes the register. Grocery shopping on a budget when diabetic is difficult. Sure, you’ve been to the grocery store hundreds, maybe thousands, of times but you have been quietly led down aisles to make purchases you never planned on making. These products are usually the most profitable, for the store or manufacturer, and are also the least healthy for you. Grocery stores play a significant role in influencing customers to buy poor quality food that has caused a nationwide epidemic of obesity. For those getting started on the path to reversing your Type 2 or Prediabetes it is essential that you enter every grocery with a well thought out grocery list and avoid all the impulse purchases. The easiest route to success is subscribing to this affordable diabetic meal plan that includes a weekly grocery list, engineered thoughtfully for the needs of diabetics, directly to your inbox.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFOREHAND
You would never go into a final exam without some preparation. Yet most Americans head to the grocery store without much forethought to what crucial life choices they need make for themselves and possibly their families. Studies show that people who shop with a grocery list are less likely to splurge on items they do not need and overall make healthier choices. The single largest controllable variable of your health is nutrition. If you can feed yourself well, lots of others things in life can get much easier. Eating a healthy diet of whole food ingredients from clean sources can make your skin look and feel better, can make your brain work quicker and even reverse damage done to your body from highly processed, nutrition deficient foods. Grocery shopping on a budget when diabetic is much easier with a grocery list. If you do not have the convenience of this meal plan’s grocery list on your phone, in your pocket or on a tablet, you need to make your own grocery list and think through every meal you will eat for the week. It’s a fair amount of work or a very affordable 33¢ per day for our tasty and healthy services.
Once you have a trusty grocery list to stick to, you need to reconsider when you head to the grocery store. Just like freeways, grocery stores can have rush hours and you should do your best to avoid them at all cost. Crowded stores produce stress similar to that of a crowded highway and stress is one of the hard to detect, silent killers in our always-on modern society. Most of the crowds at grocery stores occur on the weekends, so be a contrarian and pick a time to go with fewer people. Shopping first thing in the day on a weekday, if your schedule permits, is an excellent time to load up on foodstuffs. I am fortunate to work near a wonky grocery store here in Portlandia. It’s a great escape for a healthy lunch midday and a perfect low traffic time to shop for our groceries. (Do people dance and do flash mobs in any other grocery stores?!)
GROCERY SHOPPING WITHOUT THE STORE
Simple solutions are often the best solutions. Since grocery stores employ countless tactics to legally separate you from your hard-earned money, why not just not go? (Or reduce your time in them.) In this modern world we have several affordable (many are even cheaper!) alternatives to the conventional brick and mortar grocery stores.
There is no jungle to navigate through on Amazon.com. The selection is enormous and the delivery times are convenient and usually free-to-cheap. Head over to our online food shopping guide for specific choices of items ideal for diabetics. In fact, Amazon is also an excellent place, with competitive prices, to shop for your non-perishable household items like paper towels or deodorant, too. We also curated a shopping guide for those non-food items. But wait, there’s more! Amazon has an automated store that some folks still have not heard about. Please check out Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program. It’s worth spending 15 minutes of your time to set up recurring shipments for those items you consume. The hidden benefit to putting these on auto-pilot means that you never have to spend any time shopping, or forgetting to shop for, these items ever again. The less decisions you have to make the better your choices will be in the end. That’s a time saver that can be spent on cooking or exercise time. If you find yourself shifting your shopping to more Amazon purchases, consider upgrading your shopping experience to Amazon Prime. Not only does Prime offer free 2-day shipping, it also comes with free eBooks, unlimited TV shows and movies, streaming music and product discounts. Numerous items that you will see on this meal plan are easiest to find on Amazon and usually the cheapest (I double-check the math compared to local stores). The service can also be shared with four others. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers one year of free Prime membership after completing the minimum spend on the credit card.
Support your local farmers instead of your multinational grocery store chain. The best way to get the freshest and most nutrient packed produce is to buy it directly from a farmer. Believe or not, there’s bound to be a few farmers’ markets close to your where you live or work. Farmers’ markets are typically a minimalistic setup in a parking lot someplace. This setup is free and void of all the marketing techniques used by formal grocery stores. Buying from your local farmers is also good for your community, just like using a local credit union. The money local farmers (and local ranchers) earn will stay in your community instead of a being trucked back to a mega farm somewhere in California’s central valley. Search for farmers, CSA’s, ranchers and more on Local Harvest.
You should strongly consider buying your meat in bulk from a local rancher. Sadly, the best meat is usually not found at a grocery store. And if you do find a grass-fed, pasture-raised cut of meat at a grocery store, you will surely pay a pretty penny for it. The most affordable way to eat healthy meat is by finding a rancher through Local Harvest and buying in bulk when in season. It is common for ranchers to sell whole animals or portions at below warehouse store prices. For this plan to work well you also need a solid chest freezer to store the 30+ lbs of meat. (Chest freezers are commonly sold on Craigslist and usually under $100.) It’s best to ask your rancher questions before making such a large purchase.
Another gem on the internet are grocery delivery services. These are becoming more popular and expanding to different metro areas. If you are someone who often buys impulse items from the endless temptations you could greatly benefit from staying out of the grocery store and let someone else shop for you. If you are someone who has mobility concerns and have a hard time navigating a grocery store, you might also benefit from letting someone else do the shopping for you. Additionally, if you are a parent with several children to wrangle through the store, this service might take some headaches out of your day. This service is reasonably priced. There are some purchase minimums and delivery fees but with some planning you can easily keep it affordable. (If you are single consider splitting the costs with a neighbor or roommate.) Most of these services have corresponding apps to let you shop from earlier order history and from the convenience of your couch. I look forward to the day when a drone can land on our back patio with our week’s worth of foodstuffs! The honorable mentions for grocery delivery services are:
Are you fortunate enough to live near a Trader Joe’s grocery store? They are forever expanding into new geographic areas and worthy of your hard-earned money. Take a moment to do a quick search for one near you. They have quality choices for meat, produce, spices, cheese, coffee and wine. Trader Joe’s operates without a “middle man” so they can offer lower prices on better products. It’s an excellent place for value shopping. The marketing tactics are also minimal-to-none so you can gladly avoid those too. Trade Joe’s is also a well run company that extends benefits to its employees, even those who work part-time. A friend of ours had the unfortunate fate of getting cancer in his lymphatic system. He works for Trader Joe’s and they paid all of his medical expenses for his cancer treatments. Thankfully, his cancer went into remission and he avoided going into bankruptcy from medical bills. I tip my hat to the fine folks at TJ’s for being good businessmen.
SURVIVING THE GROCERY STORE
Now that you’ve got your non-perishables setup on autopilot on Amazon, your quarter of a grass-fed, pasture raised steer at home in your freezer and a solid grocery list in-hand, it’s finally time to get to the grocery store. Getting to the store during off-hours helps to reduce stress from crowds, but the time of your trip can also influence your choices. All humans have a finite amount of daily willpower and it can be depleted. The more choices that we make and the later that it gets in the day means we are more likely to make bad choices over good ones. There’s two ways to hack this knowledge to your benefit. First, use a grocery list. If you stick to a list you will have fewer choices to make at the store. Second, try to go to the store earlier in the day when you are mentally fresh and your willpower is not depleted. Avoid going to the store late at night.
Always chose a push cart instead of the hand basket. One might assume that carrying the basket through the store would be a convenient mini-workout, but there are some subtle subconscious behaviors at work. The reasoning is a little complex to grasp but a study found that our physical body actions can affect our mental choices. This study by the American Marketing Association concluded that people using a cart are three times more likely to select healthier foods. The research states that the flexing of arm to carry the hand basket subconsciously affected the brain to chose easier and smaller rewards (read: unhealthy and more expensive). The extending of the arm as needed to push a cart produced the opposite effect.
Stick to the outside perimeter of the store. Most grocery stores are setup with similar layouts. There’s produce and meat along the outside of the store and processed, shelf stable foods in the center. The middle of the store is typically where most folks get into trouble. The stores place unhealthy items perfectly at eye-level or at the end caps at the end of the rows. This placement encourages the sale and is very intentionally misleading to the customer. Get used to bending down to find the coconut milk in a can or olive oil that you need. These will never be as easy to spot as the name brand colas, cookies or chips.
The best advice is to avoid foods with health claims on the label, or better yet avoid foods with labels in the first place.
– Dr Mark Hyman
Buying packaged food is necessary from time to time, but realize that these are the most suspect products in the grocery store. A great way to find the difference between good brands and poor brands is with this helpful reference book: Rich Food Poor Food. It is an eye-opening guide to different products on the shelf done by a certified nutritionist and a doctor of nutrition. This is the best way to cut through the health-like marketing attempts to find the truly healthy items.
The beauty of smart phones is that you have a powerful computer conveniently in your pocket. And you should use it to save yourself money! Two of my favorite apps for grocery stores are the Amazon app and Milk by Honey. The Amazon app has a barcode recognizer in it. You can quickly scan a code and see if the item is available and cheaper online. There are usually big price differences on protein powder, cocoa powder and liquid stevia. Milk by Honey is an app that automagically applies coupons for you when you are checking out at the grocery store. It works wonders but sadly has been temporarily withdrawn from the app store. They are working with grocery stores on a new design. Hopefully it’s not gone for good.
HACKING THE GIFT CARD RACK
Gift cards are not just for quick presents around holidays and life events, but can be incorporated into your regular shopping trips. Most gift cards can be purchased for face value without any additional fees. Variable Amazon.com cards, for example, can be loaded up to $500 for the cost of $0. Gift cards for eBay are similar. This starts to make financial sense when you consider that most grocery stores offer additional points through their reward program. Safeway ran this promo for 4X gas reward points when you buy gift cards. If you are also doing your shopping on Amazon.com, you could buy gift cards to load to your account to greatly increase your fuel savings. If you combine this offer with a cash back credit card, like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, you can also get a 6% savings on these gift cards. Double dipping on gas points and cash back is a great way to save real money at the grocery store. Buying whole foods to reverse the effects of diabetes is more expensive than highly processed foods.
HACKING THE CHECKOUT LINE
Paying for your food is often as challenging as picking the correct food to fight your diabetes. If you can get to the store during off hours you will be rewarded with short lines at the register. But if you find yourself staring down long lines of impatient shoppers you have to exhibit ninja-like skills to find the quickest line. Thankfully a math teacher already put this problem under a microscope for us. If you’re doing a full grocery shopping trip you should not be able to use the express lanes, but that’s okay because they are usually not the quickest. To hedge the bets on your side, look for the line with the least amount of shoppers in it, regardless of the number of items in their basket. When you add an extra person to the line it adds an extra 48 seconds to the line length. Surprisingly, adding extra items to the carts only adds about 2.8 seconds per item to the time per person. Granted, there are some unknown factors that can throw this plan off. Those paying with the dreaded check or requesting cigarettes can slow you down, while having a dedicated bagger can decrease the line time.
Most stores these days have a reward program. This benefits the store because they can now track what, when and where you buy items for their marketing needs. It does come with some benefits to the consumer as well, but they are all a little different. Some stores, like Safeway, offer discounts on the items at the register, while others might give you some points to accrue. And others can offer fuel discounts based on your spend. Nonetheless, it usually is helpful to your bottom line to sign up at stores that your frequent often. If you find yourself in a store you do not use often and they are offering a discount for members at the register you can use an easy to remember hack to get the savings. Jenny, don’t you change your number! Simply use the local area code with 867-5309 and sing yourself a savings of a couple bucks. Another perk of joining reward programs is that they can email you coupons that you might not otherwise know of. Check your inbox before heading out.
It never hurts to ask the service counter what random discounts they might offer. I’ve noticed at our local grocery store that they offer a discount for military or senior citizens. A discount of 10% is significant enough to make me reconsider my shopping day.
The last step of your grocery trip is payment. There are some ways to optimize your spending to your benefit. If you have good credit and a score over 700 you should consider putting your grocery spend on a credit card. Head over to our credit card page to peruse the options. Several credit cards offer cash back and even up to 6%(!) at grocery stores. That can add up to big money saved if you also use a reward program and coupons. Since eating real food costs real money every bit can help your budget.
SHARING IS CARING
Has this article helped you learn more about grocery shopping on a budget? If you enjoyed this article, others may also find it useful. If we’ve earned it, can we kindly ask that you share this article online or through email? A referral is the greatest compliment a customer can give a business and we thank you for helping us spread the good word to the millions who suffer from this troubling disease.