As our two boys have left the nest and we’ve started TimeChop, it’s easy to understand that we aren’t buying the quantity of food we used to. But it’s hard to break grocery shopping habits formed over 20 years even when your life has significantly changed. What once made sense, visiting 3-4 grocery stores on a weekly basis to complete our shopping list for the lowest price, may no longer be the best model when buying for two. Especially as the grocery industry has completely been upended by technology and new business models.
Just like the 30+ million other households of young professionals, empty nesters, divorced or retired individuals and off campus college students, we are considered solo, near solo or duo cooks. We want to live a healthy lifestyle, but it seems that it takes way too much time and money for the payoff, considering we are busy working, studying, exercising and socializing. We still want it all; healthy, tasty meals, in less time and for less money.
A “Simple” Wish
Wouldn’t it be great to go to fewer stores and get the products we want for the lowest prices? Unfortunately, there isn’t one store that has all our products, each competitively priced, includes delivery and without a membership fee. On one extreme, you could order from a company like Instacart and have everything delivered and not step into a store, all at a higher price. On the other extreme, you can shop at 5 or more stores each week to seek out the lowest price for each product on your list, and take 4-5 hours on your weekend to do it. We need to find the best of both worlds.
2 Easy Tips to Save Time and Money while Eating Healthy Meals
OK. It probably seems like a no brainer, but how about just going to fewer grocery stores? Being a former financial analyst, I had to ask, “What’s the cost tradeoff?” Is it possible to only shop at one store per week, get exactly what you want, and not overpay? Imagine the hours you’d save.
To figure this out, we started with what you need to buy assuming you are eating meals made using real foods (like we do using TimeChop). Without listing every item under the sun, we simplified a bit using basic food categories.
- Vegetables, Fruits & Fresh Herbs
- Meats & Seafood
- Cold & Frozen
- Nuts & Grains
- Dry & Packaged Goods
- Condiments & Sauces
- Cooking Supplies
Looking at this list gives you a glimpse at the problem. We might get great deals on dairy at one store, higher quality meat at another and fresher, less expensive organic vegetables at yet another.
As a next step, we identified when and why we buy. As we worked through this, a model emerged. To state the obvious, we buy items when we don’t have them in the pantry or refrigerator and we need them for a meal. However, we don’t buy them each time we need them as some items contain multiple servings. For example, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil contains many serving, and an apple is one serving. It may take a over a month to go through the olive oil, but only one meal for the apple. So we might buy apples weekly but we can use the olive oil many times before buying it again. Here’s how it looks in a picture using our food categories.
Tip #1 – Find Your Comfort Level for Refrigerator Items
From the graphic above, we know we need to shop on a weekly basis for our upper right items. Interestingly, these are items you’d put in the refrigerator/freezer/counter. These items most likely have a strong, personal preference tied to them. For example, you may want all organic, or just a few organic items. Or grass fed meats might be important to you. Our new strategy for weekly purchases is to pick the store that’s convenient, has the selection and prices we are comfortable with, and not worry about buying everything we use and eat there.
Tip #2 – Buy Pantry Items Online
But what about the monthly and quarterly purchases, the mainstay in our pantry, the lower left items in our picture? For years we have gone to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Market of Choice, Fred Meyer, Costco and Thriftway and picked up our preferred items trying to find the best prices (our pantry list). It was impossible to get all these items at one brick and mortar store without overpaying in some way or choosing products that weren’t our first choice. Now, as time-constrained duo cooks, this shopping model doesn’t work. So we decided to look at online options to see if we could find a single, online store that sold our preferred pantry items at low prices.
A Pantry Item Face Off: Amazon vs. Thrive Market
We took thirteen of our pantry items used in the connected meal plans found in TimeChop and compared their costs at Amazon and Thrive Market, two online retailers. The result? Amazon $112.41, Thrive Market $65.50, a difference of $46.91. The difference became even greater when we substituted equivalent Thrive private label products.
Hold on. Aren’t there shipping and a membership fees that should be included? Certainly. And with a bit of planning you can easily get free shipping. For example, Thrive has free shipping on orders over $49. What about membership fees? The way we look at it, we’ll recover that from the lower costs in just two orders. The rest will be true savings. We’ve put links to each pantry product on our pantry page for a quick price check.
And One More Thing
We went ahead and looked at a few more items we buy occasionally, notably snacks. We checked out Larabars, Health Warrior Chia bars, Dates, raisins and cranberries. While there were slight price differences each way, on the whole it was basically a wash. So, there’s even more items that we can buy at Thrive without overpaying. This also increases the chances of free shipping for each order.
We’ll provide future updates on our experience with Thrive Market. Needless to say, in our two orders, we’ve recovered our membership fee, received free shipping and started saving money.
We estimate our new shopping strategy will save us a minimum of 1 hour a week in shopping activity (we just earned a weeks vacation for the year) and $300 per year in pantry savings. In an upcoming post, we’ll report on the additional savings our TimeChop beta testers are seeing by using the app (can you say a few more weeks vacation and a few plane tickets?)