If you’re single and not picky, it doesn’t make much difference where you shop

I always bought into the idea that shopping around was a good way to save money, but recently I’ve realized that if you’re a single person buying groceries, that’s not really true. Sure you’ll save a little, but unless you’re down to your last dollars then it’s just probably not worth your time to go to more than one store. Two weeks ago I spent a few days recording prices and info for some of the most basic grocery items in both organic and non-organic form. I frustratingly found that I was wasting my time.

After scouring our local grocery stores, it became really clear that it wasn’t going to benefit me. Unless you have strong convictions on what you eat or you’re providing for someone else, then it’s really not worth shopping around.

I went to four locations: Walmart, Sprouts, King Soopers and Trader Joe’s. All of which can be reached by bus and were the franchises’ closest location to Colorado State’s campus.

If you simply don’t care about perceived freshness or quality then it seems like you should just go to Walmart. Walmart had the cheapest regular prices for 13 of the 23 items surveyed, including everything that wasn’t a meat, produce, egg, or dairy product. My findings were pretty consistent with what other media outlets have found in Colorado.

A Walmart frozen isle (Wiki Commons)

If you wanted to bring the budget down just a bit, then you could shop at Trader Joe’s or Sprouts for fruits and veggies. Even when you plug in the cheapest processed items from other stores though, you only save about 3 dollars in total. For what it’s worth, if you take sales into account then King Soopers was a couple of dollars cheaper.

The Trader Joe’s brand promise (Mack Beaulieu)

Organics provided more of a victory in the terms of my study, because the results were more pronounced, but overall the result was largely the same. One store ruled above all for organics and shopping around made little difference.

Trader Joe’s completely dominated the organic items, again having 13 of the cheapest 24 items. A few of the items at trader Joe’s would have to be substituted to make a fully organic diet, but if you did that then the total price of going to Trader Joe’s for organics would only be about 3 dollars more than if you went out to get the cheapest organic diet you could buy for all four stores.

My findings didn’t really fall in line with what one financial site found in terms of fresh-organics. They put Trader Joe’s slightly behind Sprouts, but my research found sprouts to be almost $20 more expensive to buy a wholly organic diet. King Soopers was next at about $9 more expensive than Trader Joe’s and Walmart shouldn’t even qualify as it only had 10 of 24 organic items.

Beyond that, there really wasn’t much to find besides the fact that Sprouts might be the place to go for someone that has a restrictive diet. It had vegan and gluten free options for everything. While some of it’s really expensive, based on what I found with organic and nonorganic foods, it might be safe to assume that there’s little sense for one to try and seek out lower prices around town.

It’s frustrating, but also really re-assuring to know that an individual can’t change their grocery bill that much simply by shopping around. Unless you want to grow food or visit those who do, you can rest easy knowing that being frugal in one store is probably enough.

Hopefully these results will at least have taken one part out of the equation that is buying groceries in Fort Collins for you, the reader. The biggest take away here might be that shopping is not so cut and dry and to do it right, you have to look into it and actively build what is a very underrated skill.

We see two common frames of thought almost debunked here for single persons: that shopping around makes a big difference and that healthy food is really expensive. Things do add up, but unless you’re providing for a family (and even then it’s highly relative), then what you could do with your time is probably more valuable. Furthermore, even if it’s forty dollars more expensive to shop organic for a month, is your health not worth that investment? Or is it not doable on your current pay? Or are you just not trying hard enough? Have you even looked into using coupons?

Those questions and others become more profound and harder to answer ethically as you add members to a family, but the first step is looking. (And maybe writing some things down..)

Mack Beaulieu can be reached on twitter @Macknz_James