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In this episode of The TFD Test Lab, host Julian tests out the same grocery list at three different stores to find out which is most cost-effective.

In The TFD Test Lab, we're sharing real-life experiences challenging ourselves to live better, more budget-friendly lives. Whether through attempting a no-spend challenge, switching up a budget system, or tracking progress on a new healthy routine, we'll be highlighting all the risks *and* rewards of frugal living.

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What's up, friends?

Julian Thomas here for The Financial Diet. And this is The Test Lab, a video series, where we take on different money-making or money-saving challenges to help us live a better, more budget-friendly lifestyle.

And in today's video, we're grubbing. That's right, we're talking all things groceries. As a bona fide, big city bachelor, I must admit that I do not like cooking.

I just don't enjoy the process of it. You have to find something to eat, then you have to go to the grocery store, then you have to carry all of those groceries back-- especially if you don't have a car, like me-- then you have to put the groceries away, then you actually have to cook-- the actual process of cooking. And then I'm usually dissatisfied with what I cook, and after that, I have to clean up, and I don't have a dishwasher.

It's just not my thing. I've never really been into it. However, the pandemic pounds are starting to add up, all while my wallet is getting thinner and thinner thanks to the likes of Uber Eats and Seamless.

So for my challenge this week, I am on a mission to see which grocery store is more affordable-- Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or my local, independently-owned grocery store. As for the rules, they're pretty simple. I must stick to the same list at each store.

And that list includes one pack of chicken breast, frozen or raw, a bunch of bananas, one container of strawberries, a dozen eggs, one loaf of sliced bread, a carton of plant-based milk, one carton of orange juice, a packet of raw oats, one bushel of broccoli, one bag of rice, cooking spray, a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, one bottle of ketchup, 1 bag of veggie chips, and one box of cookies. You know, the essentials. The next rule is, I must take public transportation to and from each store.

Living in New York City, it's very easy to just call an Uber after you finish going grocery shopping, especially if you have to go miles carrying pounds of groceries, but that can add up, and will quickly dry up your grocery budget. So we're going to stick to the good old-fashioned New York City subway for this challenge. And the last rule is, I must buy generic brands when possible.

I know that's going to be very easy when going to Trader Joe's, whose whole business is built off of their private label brand. However, I'm very curious to see how that limitation is going to impact my experience at my local independently-owned supermarket, who I know for a fact carries very little off-brand product. [? Fun ?] fact-- I have not stepped foot into a Trader Joe's since 2015.

Honestly, I feel like Trader Joe's is a glorified snack store, and I just never really felt for the whole nautical theme and stuff. It's just never really been my thing. Sorry.

Don't argue with me, argue with each other in the comments. Now that all of that is out the way, let's get to it. Hello, friends, and welcome to day one of this grocery comparison mission, where we're kicking off everything here in my cocina.

That's Spanish for kitchen. Let me begin by giving you a very, very quick tour. As you can see, it is your typical bachelor pad kitchen, I like to say.

Over here is where I keep my uneven, mix-matched cutlery. As you can see, another dying plant. And of course, my kitchen appliances I keep right here.

They're dressed in their original packaging, only because the only appliance that I use to cook in this kitchen is this. And I use this to order takeout, because I don't cook in this kitchen. And of course, what is a bachelor pad kitchen without some moldy avocados?

And of course, the piece de la resistance, the bachelor pad refrigerator, featuring all of your favorites such as moldy cheese, bacon that I'm sure if I was to open I would have to go to the hospital, all of the vegetables that are now growing roots, and yeah, this is how I live. Don't judge me. Don't tell my mother.

I wanted to give you guys a quick tour just to show you guys that I'm really not about this life. I do not cook. I do not go grocery shopping.

I'm really coming into this challenge blind. I think if you were to ask me how much a bag of sugar or flour costs, I would not be able to tell you. I'm thinking, like, $5, $6 for your standard bag of sugar.

I really don't know the prices of these things because I don't go grocery shopping. It's bad. So I'm definitely coming into this blind, but I am trying to adjust to a more mature, adult lifestyle.

I mean, I do think it's time I say adieu the $6 coffee and donut for breakfast every day. I think being able to have food in my house to cook at all times, that would be good, and to not have to rely on an app or a delivery service, because that definitely adds up, as well. I'm actually excited to get back in the kitchen and be able to fend for myself, because these donuts, like, I can't keep doing this.

What's wrong with me? I'm 30. Mm, they're cinnamon sugar.

After I cleaned my kitchen and took inventory of what I already have and scarfed down not one, but two whole donuts-- because rumor has it, you never want to go grocery shopping whilst hungry-- I hopped on the good old-fashioned New York City subway and made my way to the hipster paradise that is Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There, I ventured into the wonderful world that is Whole Foods on Bedford Avenue in Northport Street. While Whole Foods is riddled with its own controversies, I'm going to be honest and say out of the three stores I'm visiting on this challenge, Whole Foods is my favorite.

There's no gimmicks. There's no lines. And you are in and out, grab what you need and go.

The aisles here are clearly labeled, and I was able to get everything on the list in less than 15 minutes. However, with that said, Whole Foods only operates in, let's just say, affluent neighborhoods. So the trek back to my apartment in the not-so-affluent neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn carrying two heavy bags of groceries is less than ideal.

All right. I am back from my first store of this mission, and that was Whole Foods, as you can see. I went to the Whole Foods that is closest to me, and that is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is a kind of-- I don't want to say controversial neighborhood, but let's just say, the moment that they opened a Whole Foods, that's when you knew neighborhood was different.

And I think that that's fair to say for almost any location where Whole Foods opens. I mean, South Park made a whole episode about how, when a Whole Foods opens in your town or in your neighborhood, that's when the neighborhood is changing and it's being gentrified. That's no different from the one in Williamsburg.

Going to the first store made me realize why I have not been grocery shopping in such a long time, and that is because it is a workout, especially when you don't have a car. I just measured both of these bags. One was 16 pounds, while the other one was 18 pounds.

That's a lot of weight to carry almost-- what, two miles? 20 minutes on the subway. It would be a lot different if I had a car or lived within walking distance of a Whole Foods, but no, this was crazy. Fortunately, it's just me.

All of these groceries is enough to feed me, an adult male, for, I'd say, about a week or two. Imagine if I had a spouse, or imagine if I had kids to feed. This is a lot to carry, especially having to be dependent on public transportation.

But I will say, getting to Whole Foods and back from my house only cost me $6 taking the subway. If I used an Uber or another form of private transportation, that could have easily been $60. That alone is worth the cost savings, in my opinion.

But now that that is out of the way, let's get into this haul. Full disclosure, I spent $60.66 and knocked everything off of the grocery list. One thing I really liked about Whole Foods is that it reminds me of a grocery store back from where I grew up in the suburbs.

You know exactly where everything is-- where the milk would be, where the eggs would be. Whole Foods was a very run of the mill kind of supermarket, if you think about it. One thing that I noticed, too, with the Whole Foods 365 brand, which I'm assuming is their generic brand, is that while they pretty much carry all of your essentials and basic grocery items, their shelves are stocked with so many like new alternatives.

Like, there's flax seed milk, and all of these crazy new things coming on the scene. The generic brand, they don't carry all of that cool, fancy stuff. It's just very cut and dry, black and white.

You can't really experiment with all the new trends that are on the market if you shop generic. Something to keep in mind. Another thing that I noticed is that, when it comes to fresh produce, fruits and vegetables, you are going to have to shop on-brand for the most part.

You can't shop generic for fresh produce. And I think that's pretty interesting. However, I did notice that Whole Foods has a dedicated 365 store in Brooklyn.

It's in downtown Brooklyn, which is about five miles from here. Hell, I struggled just carrying this two miles. Five miles, it was out of the question.

But I'm curious as to how that store is set up in the price savings, especially when it comes down to fresh produce. If it's a dedicated store to 365, do they carry [INAUDIBLE] for fresh produce, and other on-brand names? I don't know.

It is so funny. I think the craziest thing when shopping at Whole Foods-- again, this is the first store that I went to in this challenge. And I have not been grocery shopping, with a dedicated list, in a very long time.

I'm actually embarrassed to be saying that on camera, but it's the truth. And it's been so long since I went grocery shopping. And mind you, I'm shopping for myself.

Why do I need a whole thing of sugar? Like, I don't need this. But I just wanted to get it for the challenge, just to really be able to show and compare prices.

And when I went in to Whole Foods realizing, oh, I have to get a thing of sugar-- which, I've never bought a whole packet of sugar in my life. Like, why-- I don't bake. I don't need this.

And same with this flour. I thought to myself, oh, OK, this thing of sugar is probably going to be, like, $7. And I feel really embarrassing that I don't know the prices of basic food items.

I could have sworn this would be $7. And this one's like-- it's pretty heavy. Like, $8?

This was $3, and this was $4, $5? Yeah, let's see. Sugar, $3.19.

And the flour, $4.99. I could have sworn this would have easily been $7 and this would have been about $8. So I'm a little out of touch when it comes to groceries and pricing.

But to get all of this, including meat, for a total of $60.66, I don't think that's bad. I'm going to be honest and say, for $60, that's only about two nights of ordering stuff off these apps-- ordering dinner off Uber Eats or Seamless, yea, each meal is going to cost me about $20 to $30. All of this, I would say this could definitely hold me down for about a week.

Between breakfast, lunch, and dinner, absolutely. But am I going to do that tonight? No.

Not after carrying an extra 40 to 50 pounds of weight for two miles. I am tired. First of all, shout-outs to any adult, or parent, or student that has to do that.

I see you. I salute you, because that is work. It looks like it's going to be another Uber Eats kind of night.

When I did muster up the strength to walk four blocks in the rain, I eventually made my way to my local independently-owned grocery store. And full disclosure, I hate it here. First of all, they make you check your bag as soon as you walk in the door for loss prevention measures.

The produce is overpriced and has about a good two days left on it, maybe. And the meat section is nauseating. I saw very little generic options when shopping here.

And to make matters worse, they didn't have any paper bags. After having a full-blown conversation with myself about how much I hate that grocery store, I met up with my girlfriend, [? Billie, ?] and headed back to mine to make dinner. [?

Billie ?] and I spent the rest of the night cooking, laughing, and debating each other on why Trader Joe's is or isn't a glorified snack store. We then had dinner and watched my first episode of The Test Lab-- link in bio. And of course, I was left to clean the dishes the very next morning.

Now, it's off to Manhattan for my final store visit, and that's the one and only Trader Joe's. As mentioned earlier, I haven't stepped inside a Trader Joe's in over five years. And surprisingly, it was just as I remembered.

While I was not impressed with their selection of fresh produce, I was blown away at the variety of their packaged foods. It was easy to get distracted with all the random food, snack, and drink items. It was kind of easy to find the essentials, like milk, bread, and eggs.

They were all located on the outside aisles. However, the layout and massive assortment made it a little challenging to find nonessentials, like chips and cookies. While the prices at Trader Joe's were really appealing, I can see how someone can overspend by adding random things to their cart.

The entire store seemed like one big impulse buy. With that being said, Trader Joe's was actually the quickest store to visit on this mission. I was in and out in less than 15 minutes.

Now, it's back to Brooklyn to wrap this challenge up. And we're back in mi casa. That's Spanish for house.

And now, it's time to run the numbers. Coming in third place, as the most expensive place to buy groceries, is fan favorite, whole paycheck, a.k.a. Whole Foods, with a grand total of $60.66 to get everything on my list.

And in second place is my local supermarket. It cost me a grand total of $53.30 to get everything on my list. I was actually quite surprised by that.

And that means that-- yeah, that means that Trader Joe's is the most affordable place to buy groceries based off the list that I created. Just don't tell my girlfriend that. She'll never let it down.

OK? As for my final thoughts, I have quite a few of them. I realized that food can be politicized, and can really show the inequities in a society.

From Whole Foods essentially being a marker for gentrification and my local supermarket policing the poor residents of this neighborhood, food can ruffle some feathers. And speaking of feathers, this challenge also showed me that I might be ready to embrace a plant-based lifestyle. One reason why I've been so hesitant to embrace grocery shopping as a habit is because I don't like food waste.

As you saw at the beginning of this video, I had to throw away a lot of spoiled groceries that just went uneaten. And most of those groceries were meat and cheese. And I realized that a lot of these grocery stores don't really cater to single people.

You had to buy meat in packs of four or six, and cheese is these big globs or big blocks. And it's just me. I still live the bachelor life, so I really don't have a need for all of that food.

And I feel like avoiding meat and cheese could help cut down on food waste. I noticed that Whole Foods and my local supermarket, again, doesn't cater to single people, while Trader Joe's, on the other hand, it seems like that's their biggest market. But let's keep talking about branding.

It's no secret that grocery stores, they use a lot of tactics and marketing schemes to get us to buy more. For instance, milk and other essentials are located in the back of the store to get us to walk through the aisles that has all of the cookies and snacks that we probably don't need, until we see them. And also, I notice that all of the more well-known, larger brands are eye level, while the smaller, arguably better for you brands are kind of out of sight, making it hard for small businesses that retail at Whole Foods or these other grocery stores-- it makes it hard for them to compete.

I thought that was pretty interesting. And when completing this challenge, I also realized that I'm a brand snob. I would much rather pay the extra $2 or $3 for the brand that I grew up with rather than the cheaper brand that I've never heard of, even though I'm pretty sure it's the exact same thing.

Am I going to change that? No. And you know why?

Because I recognize my privilege. And that is going to be the last point that I'm going to make on this challenge, is the fact that I am privileged. This week, I got a crash course on why social programs like WIC or SNAP are crucial for certain communities and marginalized groups.

I've realized that I am privileged to be able to pick up my phone and order food the moment that I realize that I'm hungry. I realized that I am privileged to be able to use my able body to walk down the street, go to the grocery store, carry these heavy bags down the street to my house, and not have to worry about being cat-called or harassed. I'm privileged to even contemplate going vegan.

A lot of people, they have no choice but to take whatever option is cheaper for them and more cost-effective for them, especially if they have multiple mouths to feed, whether that is a cheap fast food hamburger or a pack of fatty chicken from the supermarket. Fresh produce can cost $5 a pound and deliver half the calories of what a fast food meal for the same price would deliver. And it's situations like that you have to consider-- again, especially when you have people that depend on you.

I'm privileged. At this moment, in my life, I don't have to worry about that. I can go on and on about all of this, but I encourage you all to do your own research on how food insecurities and environmental racism can affect household finances and economics at large.

Speaking of doing research, I went to tip-tapping on Google.com and found a bunch of local organizations and charities to donate all of the food that I used for this challenge to, so do not worry. Nothing will be wasted. In fact, I've noticed that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, quite a bit of community fridges have opened around my neighborhood.

And I'm going to donate half of the food to that and the other half to another local food pantry. It's really cool to see mutual aid actually benefit the neighborhood. Be sure to like this video and subscribe to The Financial Diet if you haven't already.

Sound off in the comments below on what our next challenge should be. Personally, I'd love to know if I'd save more money actually cooking my food at home versus ordering takeout all of the time. Until next time.

I'm Julian Thomas for The Financial Diet and, this was The Test Lab. Pace.