The Economics of Food Choices

Spending and eating, budgets and diets . . .  there are more similarities between food and money than you might think.  With the current economic downturn, there is a lot of focus on the economy, the economy of the country and the effect it has on each of us.  I am always looking for ways to make just the right connection with just the right words to get a point across, so I have been making the money-food connection more lately in hopes of creating more “aha!” moments for people.

Even those of us who never followed a budget before are finding that their decreasing funds need structure.  Some expenses must be cut from the budget to make ends meet.  A calorie budget works the same way.  As people get older and/or less active, their calorie needs often decrease.  Even if someone has had no trouble controlling their weight before, there often comes a time when weight control is difficult without more attention to calorie intake (spending your calorie budget) relative to calorie needs (the budget).  Weight loss can only happen when there is a lower calorie intake than calorie output though activity, in other words when there is a savings of calories in the weight loss bank.  We all have our unique budget of calories, and it is an individual decision how we spend it.  It helps to ask the question “Is it worth it.”  (See previous article Reduce, Reschedule, Replace, filed under Healthy Weight Loss Tips.)  It does not have to be worth it to anyone else.

The idea of personal choice leads to the next similarity between money and food, buyer’s remorse.  This sometimes happens to me when I get a great deal on a piece of clothing and then never wear it.  I regret my choice and finally end up giving it away, so the money is wasted anyway.  With food, there can also be regret about choices.  “I really wanted the brownie, but I thought it would be bad to eat it, so I ate a sandwich and vegetables . . . and then I ate 3 brownies anyway, because I felt bad about my choice.”  That’s not a great deal!  In this case, the brownie would have been a much better calorie bargain.

While eating a food strictly for pleasure can be the right choice at the right time, it is still a good idea to think about what created the craving.  Sometimes If you don’t see it, you won’t need it.  If you think in terms of the economy, there are lots of people working hard to make you feel as if you need things.  Good advertising is designed to get you to buy something you never knew that you wanted or needed before.  When my kids were little, there were constant ads on TV for a food dehydrator.  Did we need one?  Absolutely not.  Did they want one and feel that we needed one?  Absolutely!  They became little salespeople, touting the nutritional benefits and how much money we would save by using it.  “Mom, we can make our own fruit leather so you can save money.”  If I had bought it, it would have been sold at a rummage sale by now.  Food cravings can be like this.  You may not have thought about having a Cinnabon (those fragrant cinnamon buns sold in malls), but when you walk through the mall and smell them, a craving emerges.  All of a sudden, you may feel as if you cannot leave without one.  Beware of the cravings you create for yourself by stocking the cupboards with tempting high calorie snacks!  You may not crave them if they are not there.

So, making choices you are happy with is important, but it is also important to feel that your choices are not overly affected by your food environment.  In addition, it helps to keep the Law of Supply and Demand in mind.  With respect to the economy, when supply is low, prices are generally high and people pay more.  Low supply is a way of creating demand due to the scarcity of a product.  I see people who create this feeling of scarcity with food by trying to cut favorite foods out of their diet completely.  The feeling of deprivation can create cravings for the very foods they are trying to avoid, and often the end result is much larger quantities in the end, in essence a calorie spending spree.  It makes much more sense to be moderate in eating than to pay the high caloric price of overeating.

When there is a sense of deprivation and then overeating, the next step is often to take strict control of the budget, to really crack down on things.  It usually just keeps the cycle going.  If you see yourself in this scenario, either with money or food, the point of improvement is with the budget itself.  A realistic budget is so important!   This is no less true for eating than it is for money management.  Make a realistic plan, and tweak it as needed to keep it realistic as time goes by.  The alternative, having an unrealistic no-win budget, is a setup for failure, or perhaps a major depression.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s