Why I Shop the Perimeter

Produce Department

A couple weeks ago, a friend – whom I had only spoken to online before – surprised me by figuring out which coffee shop I was working from and showing up. We spent a good couple of hours chatting away, which a few times lead to comments about my blog. One comment he made had to do with the video I shot with the Globe and Mail back in January. He joked about how I bought the cheapest can of beans on the shelf, to which I replied that a) that’s just common sense (duh) and b) I was actually disappointed the Globe chose to show that over a number of other things we shot.

One of the messages I wanted to portray in that video was how grocery shopping, for me, involves only shopping the perimeter of the store. I might pop up an aisle to grab some pasta or rice (or a can of beans) but, for the most part, my shopping route looks like this: produce, bakery, bulk, walk past the meat (I’m a vegetarian) and head for the dairy. I walk out with fruit, veggies, sometimes bread/pasta/rice, and then some nuts/seeds, eggs, yogurt, cheese and almond milk. If that sounds boring to you, let me explain why it actually makes sense.

The inside aisles of any grocery store are filled with prepackaged products. And, other than Kraft Dinner (which is surprisingly expensive these days), most of them cost a lot more to buy than if you were to make the same meals yourself. Don’t believe me? Think about products like frozen pizzas, microwavable Thai food, and even tomato sauce. Unless you find them on one of those magical sales that only come around twice/year, I guarantee you can make them yourself for less by using fresh ingredients. We pay a premium for convenience; this statement is true for a number of things that we use in our daily lives, but is especially true about food, whether it be fast food or from the grocery store.

Google “shop the perimeter” right now and you’ll see that this concept is anything but new. While some people (like us personal finance bloggers) choose to do it to save money on our grocery budgets, others do it to limit their intake on processed foods, sodium, etc. For those people, shopping the perimeter can go one step further – for any aisle they do go up, most health-conscious shoppers will look above and below eye-level. Why? Because marketers know that they need to place the best (a.k.a. the newest and/or most expensive) products at eye-level. Those are the products you usually buy on a whim, often based on the need to fulfill a craving – and they know you’ll be happy to pay an extra dollar, to do so.

Now, personally, it’s probably easy for me to shop like this because I enjoy cooking. Unless I feel like I’m starving, I have no problem mixing something up and waiting for it to be ready. I do get lazy sometimes with things like chili, where I’ll buy cans of beans versus soaking and cooking bulk ones. But, other than that, I do my best to write a grocery list that only includes things I can find along the perimeter of the store.

What are some of your tactics for saving at the grocery store?

Flickr: mliu92