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How Much Do Processed Foods Really Cost?

Updated on February 13, 2018
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Liz's advice on finance, credit, frugal living practices, & anything monetary is from the 'school of hard knocks,' research, & experience.

Are You Trying to Save Money?

Do you use coupons, or even practice "extreme couponing?" I venture to say your savings are not what you think.

It's rather like the gambler bragging about their "big win" at the casino. They conveniently forget to mention or account for all the money they lost up to that point, or times when they managed to just break even.

The problems I see with articles about extreme couponing are these:

  1. The people don't take their time into account...time that could be spent doing other things, or earning money--you need to figure your hourly worth as if you were earning a salary, and charge that amount against the time spent clipping and sorting.
  2. Some of the effort involves going through several newspapers and/or magazines. The cost of those must be charged against any "savings."
  3. Many stores (and manufacturers' specifications right on the coupon) have "gotten wise," and now prohibit 'doubling,' and most of the time state, "not good in combination with any other offer." Yet, those are some of the very practices touted by 'extreme couponers.'
  4. There is the cost of gas, pro-rated insurance and wear and tear on your car for getting to the store(s). Some of these folks drive extra miles to visit several different stores to get the "best deals." Those driving costs must also be charged against any perceived savings.

No, I do not believe coupons are the way to go. Sure, I use them now and then, if I remember, but usually only if it's for a free product, or a BOGO (Buy One, Get One) promotion. If you will notice, coupons are never, ever offered on store-brand or generic foods.

Copuons serve only a single purpose: to insure brand-name loyalty. Look closely, and compare the brand name price against the store brand price of the same type of item, let's say a bottle of catsup (or ketchup, if you prefer). Now, look at the cents-off offer on the coupon. Subtract that from the name brand prince. Most of the time, with rare exceptions, the store brand will still come in cheaper, even with the coupon "savings" on the name brand.

Do you like to save money in the grocery store? Are you a loyal brand-name shopper? If so, you are throwing money away on every shopping trip.

Tricks They Use to Convince You...

How To Really Save

I save money every time I shop. I actually only use one or two coupons a year, if I remember I have them. My husband and I eat well on less than $300 per month. We have to--we're stuck with food stamps--there is no extra, no borrowing from another source. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean that we eat gourmet meals. On the contrary, I do all I can to make that allotment stretch as far as possible. Food stamps cover just that--food only. Toiletries and paper goods must come from whatever cash we may have left after bills are paid.

Here's what works for me. We shop at WinCo Foods. It's a large chain of discount, employee-owned supermarkets. In size, it is like a small warehouse store, but without the distraction of products such as electronics. It is strictly a grocery and everyday-household-goods store. (There are probably similar type stores near you, even if WinCo itself does not have a presence.)

Once in the store, we purchase only from store-brand items, insofar as possible. There are, of course, a few items not made in private labels, and we are forced, then, to buy the name brand.

We avoid shopping at the big major brand chains, such as Raley's, Safeway, Lucky, etc., as their prices are much higher. I've listed those three in descending order of price-points. There may be similar assortments of stores where you live, especially if you are near a large city or metropolitan area.

Neither do we shop at warehouse membership-only stores: they carry too many other things we do not need; the stores are too big; and everything is too scattered about and mixed up, with the premeditated intention of causing customers to overspend on unrelated impulse purchases.

What Are You Really Getting in a Name Brand?

The main difference between name-brand foods and private-label or 'house brand' foods is described by a single word: advertising.

Name brand corporations spend fortunes on nationwide advertising campaigns to target your wallet. Their approach is widespread--broadcast in the original sense of the word--as in spread over a wide area.

Television advertising, especially during prime-time and Saturday morning "kid time" is mind-blowingly expensive. It can cost thousands of dollars for a single 30-second ad, and that's just what they pay the networks to air the ad. It does not count paying the ad agency for the hundreds of hours in designing the campaign; filming and editing it; paying for an original music score; or the rights to use existing music. Some spots go way beyond the pale--there was one ad that aired during the 2005 Super Bowl, that cost the advertiser over 2 million dollars for just a 30-second spot!

Likewise, radio ads during morning and evening "drive time" are expensive. While radio is a little bit less expensive, given that the visual portion is not needed, it still does not come cheaply. Radio advertising can run from $1500 to $8000 per week, per ad; the range depending upon the size of the station and its audience, as well as geographic location covered, just as with TV ads.

None of this covers all the other insidious places ads crop up..such as on Facebook; or any "home page" on the Internet, or in those flyers that arrive in your mailbox.

Then there is print media, ranging from the huge billboards littering the landscape to newspapers and magazines: also expensive. Given that these corporations utilize all of these methods, the total bill is staggering. They have to recoup the cost somewhere. Guess what? It comes from you--in the price you pay for buying their brand.

In a very real sense then, what you are buying when you buy name-brand foods, is simply all that advertising. You are paying them to shove commercials into your face everywhere you look.

I don't know about you, but my digestive system is not designed to live on visual and auditory messages screaming "buy me!"

What's That You're Eating?

Shop For Food, Not Words

So, the final word is, when I go shopping, I shop for food I can eat to nourish my body. I don't care what the ads say; I don't care what "buy me" messages are being shouted out from the TV set.

I do my own reading and comparisons--in the store--by reading the ingredients labels. After that, I decide on price point. I won't pay for fancy packaging or clever ad-writers. You'd really be surprised where your dollars likely end up, anyhow.

Food "Stylists" .... Really??!!

A Side Note About Fast Food

The video above shows some of the behind-the-scenes dirty tricks that are used by specially-trained "food stylists" to make your mouth water for that fast food treat.

While this article was not about fast food, be aware that these same stunts are used for the photos of name brand grocery store products; it explains why the big names are usually considerably more expensive than their private-label counterparts.

It costs a lot of money to produce these false images of what the food in the box looks like.

© 2011 Liz Elias


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