I’m a sucker for supermarket deals. The thought process goes something like this:
“Hmm… I could get a can of peas for $1.49, but if I get 3 cans it’s only $2.99! What a steal! Sure, I didn’t really want 3 cans of peas, but forget about that, what kind of fool pays $1.49 for a can of peas when you could pay $0.99 and have peas for days!”
I’m clearly not the only one who this tactic works on, as I see these brightly colored deals all over the place.
It’s true, if you don’t mind buying in bulk you can save some cash at the supermarket. But one thing I try to keep in mind is the externalized costs behind these great deals.
In economics, an externalized cost is when a business offsets part of production expense to an unwilling third party. For example, if a factory chooses to dump waste into the local river, it puts the cost of waste management onto the city and takes larger profits. You as a consumer might pay less for the product on the shelf, but ultimately you end up paying a much higher price through taxes used to clean up the river, or through doctor’s bills when the water makes you sick.
When it comes to great deals on food, you’ll notice they’re almost always on processed food and drinks. It’s not likely you’re going to see a “buy one get one free” for a bright, fresh vegetable or cut of lean protein. This puts a subtle pressure on you as the consumer to choose factory made, processed food, and all the salt, fat, and sugar that goes into it.
In these cases, take a moment to think through the external costs that these foods will subject you to.
As an example, let’s say that you buy two bags of potato chips, saving yourself $3 compared to buying each bag individually. Cha-ching!
Here’s the problem. When there’s more chips in the pantry, there’s a higher chance you’re going to put more chips in your body. Let’s be conservative and say due to excess supply you consume an additional 30 gram serving (about 15 chips, or two handfuls). This serving will come out to 160 Calories.
You’ve now got 160 extra Caloric units on your body, spread out as sugar and fat in your liver and blood. You have three options for how to handle this energetic input.
Option 1 - Burn off the 160 Calories with exercise. This will require about 35 minutes of walking, 20 minutes of jogging, or 15 minutes of skipping rope. Keep in mind these numbers only get you through the chip debt. To make additional fat loss progress you’d need to add these minutes onto whatever else you planned for exercise that day.
How much do you value your time? Would you pay yourself minimum wage? Minimum wage is currently $12 an hour in California. If you paid yourself for your extended exercise time, you’d be owed $7 dollars for your walk, $4 for your jog, and $3 for your jumprope time. Poof! Just like that you’ve lost any savings that you got by buying more chips than you actually wanted.
Option 2 - Offset the calories by not eating other things. You could theoretically get back to even by eliminating a healthier protein, fruit or vegetable serving from your day. The result is that you’ve traded a fresh, nutrient-rich serving for empty, nutritionally-bankrupt potato chip calories. When your system is slogging through a dense, carby, fatty food portion, your body’s resources have to work harder to digest and distribute the food mass. This saps energy away from other areas, which you feel as a foggy-brained, post-meal slump.
Let’s imagine you’re trying to get some work done after your excess potato chips. A task that usually takes you 20 minutes ends up taking 40 minutes as your foggy head means you lose your place, make dumb mistakes, and waste time staring off into space. Again, paying yourself minimum wage, you’ve spent $4 worth of your time on what should have been a simple task. All those sweet supermarket savings are down the drain!
You can game this out to extremes. Maybe a diet of cheap junk food is what keeps you from connecting the neurons that would have become a million dollar idea. That’s some serious loss of future earnings!
Option 3 - Don’t do anything about the calories. This means the potato chip energy will be packed up into body fat which you carry around with you all day and night. As a result you’ll have to expend more energy to move around the world, feel less comfortable in your body, and not like what you see in the mirror. If allowed to pile up year after year, excess fat starts to impact your health in dozens of ways, from endocrine disorders like diabetes, to cardiovascular issues, to out-of-left field problems like coronavirus complications.
Just one extra trip to the doctor, prescription at the pharmacy, or stay at the hospital can easily wipe out an entire lifetime’s worth of cost savings from “great deals” on processed food.
Remember this. When it comes to food, your bloodstream is the river which the toxins will be dumped into. The food manufacturer is externalizing the clean-up cost to your own body!
When you start to think of nutrition in this way, the flashy offers don’t seem like such a good deal anymore. Money spent on slightly more expensive fresh food will, in the long run, save you the most cash. And as a side-effect you get to look good, feel good, and live your best life. That’s a buy-one-get-one-free deal that you can’t afford to pass up!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder