This is why you're broke 

This is why you’re broke, Whole Paycheck edition

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They don't call it Whole Paycheck for nothing
I try to be frugal with my meager fellowship earnings while I finish grad school — I really do. But at the same time I want to eat healthy, and this is why I’m broke.

It’s much easier to eat healthy at the grocery store than at the fast food places around campus. But guess what the nearest grocery store is to my school? I’ll give you a hint: the one that has parking attendants and the apples cost $5? I’m kidding about the apples costing $5/each — it’s probably more like $10 — but we’re not to that part of the story yet.

I make roughly $200 every two weeks as part of my teaching stipend while I finish my masters, which is great and I’m not complaining, but I’m also broke all the time. (This is my fault, entirely, and I’m NOT EVEN blaming Whole Foods’ $15 apples for any of this.)

Between classes, I usually have a window of time in which I can run out and get food during the day. All I really want to eat are French fries and then take a nap in my car like a normal graduate student. But I’m trying to be healthy, so instead of staying on campus and eating disgusting fried food I go to Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck) to hit the salad bar and buy an apple for a snack.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Whole Foods you know the allure of the prepared foods section. It always looks nice and respectable, approachable even, but if you’re hungry, RED ALERT, wallet. That’s why I approach the salad bar like I would a sworn enemy, slowly and with care.

Unfortunately, this is how it usually goes. I’m so hungry and my resolve waivers and I add maybe a few more carrots and maybe like two pieces of broccoli (and that broccoli is heavy, yo). But it looks really good and “broccoli is so good for you,” I mutter to myself as nearby shoppers look alarmed at my soliloquy to this nutritious vegetable. OK, maybe one more and oh, ranch! Yes, ranch, but just a little. OK, just a little more. “That can’t be more than $4 of ranch on top,” I mutter again. People start to move away slowly.

All right, I’ve finished putting together my salad and I head to the checkout. I do a rough calculation of what this will cost me and I always, without fail, am off by $6. I have my salad and my apple and the little box of salad sits on the weight as I anxiously grasp my hands together in a silent prayer of “Don’t be over $15, salad” and “Ugh, do I really want this $20 apple?” The grand total is almost always around $15 except once when it was inexplicably $7, and there was just magic in the air (so much magic).

After that, I swipe with my credit card and return the receipt to its home next to the receipts of all my various indiscretions. Then I sigh loudly causing more people to look at me nervously out of the corners of their eyes. I head back to campus and enjoy my $15 salad and make myself a promise that maybe tomorrow I’ll bring lunch, but I never do. Oh, $15 salads, you’re the death of my stipend.

The takeaway? If I skip the Whole Foods salad and buy a head of romaine lettuce for $2.68, carrots for $3 and three bell peppers for $2 a pop instead, that will get me through the week for about half the cost. (And I know for a fact the English department keeps packets of ranch in the fridge.)

The savings I would realize by doing so adds up to around $33 a week, and if I did that 52 weeks a year, it would add up to $1,716 — math I can live with. And that’s without even giving up my apples from Whole Foods.

What do you think? Do you ever blow your budget on lunch? Do you find it’s more expensive to eat healthy?

(Photo: That Other Paper, GIFs:,

{ 14 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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14 Responses to “This is why you’re broke, Whole Paycheck edition”

  1. It was a few years ago that Subway ran the ad slogan that said: “Fat Is Cheap.”

    That’s so true, it has stuck with me for decades. I wonder why they dropped it… as I scarf down my Big Mac meal.

  2. Sam says:

    Once you get into a habit of bringing your own it will become second nature. I’ll be honest though, I never stuck to it until I was forced to stick to it by working on a compound without a cafeteria.

  3. jestjack says:

    Good article… “Whole Paycheck”… too funny and too true…Is there an Aldi in your area? You could pick up “a bag of salad” for under $1 … carrotts … brocoli … etc…have salad for the week. Congrats on the fellowship WITH the stipend…as a DF (dear father) of a CAD (college age daughter)I know all too well these fellowships are becoming as rare as hen’s teeth…..

  4. Not sure what Whole Foods you go to but mine charges me about $8.50 lb for the salad bar. There was a time (up until last year) I ate dinner there almost every day. My salad was never more than around $6 and that pretty much filled me up. I’d buy a monster cookie ($1.69) and bottle of house brand water (.99¢), but never reached $15. Not sure what type of salad you bought? I did find ways to save money, go heavy on the greens, then ‘scrape’ the vegetables from the top of the pile (often the toppings are water laden which makes it weight more) so there would be less water in them, then after purchase, go over and top it with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Doing it pre-purchase would make it weigh more, thus cost more.

  5. Demi says:

    For years now my Sunday ritual is: up at 6AM, breakfast, shower, Church, grocery shopping, and then spend 3-4 hours in the kitchen cooking for the week. I routinely spend about $50 for food for the week and of that $25 is fruits and veggies, two heads of lettuce and a stalk of Romaine, tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc. The balance is chicken and fish. Summer time I grow my own veggies and buy fruit from the local farm which drops about $20 off the cost. I love to cook my own meals because I can control the salts and fats. Plus it gives me some time to think about life while I am cooking. I disconnect from the world; cell phone is off, TV is off, door is locked. The overall “savings” I see in doing all my own cooking is magnified many times considering the additional peaceful benefits I also get as well. I wouldn’t have it any other way actually.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Yes it’s very expensive to eat healty

  7. Steve says:

    I have always thought the best lunch was leftovers from dinners. All you need is a microwave and enough foresight to fix more dinner than you will eat the first night. If it was good for dinner, it is even better for lunch.

  8. Mark Ross says:

    I tried eating healthy but I couldn’t sustain it for more than a week. I’m planning to start eating healty again this coming March and get some exercise too.

  9. Sandy says:

    I need something warm to eat to feel food satisfied, and don’t mind eating the same thing for lunch all week. I make a pot of soup, put it in 5 bowls, buy 5 yogurts or whatever satisfies you. Pack it all in 1 bag and take it to work Monday. Now I don’t have to “take” lunch every day. You can do the same with salad. Pack 5 bowls and put in 1 bag. All the work is done in 1 day.

  10. NateUVM says:

    The reality isn’t that “fat is cheap,” it’s that “Lazy is Expensive.”

    When you went to the pre-made section of Whole Foods, everything was expensive. You even went through the exercise of explaining that if you bought all the components of a salad and….drumroll…MADE IT YOURSELF(!) that it would be cheaper. MUCH cheaper!

    Conclusion… It’s not being healthy that makes it expensive, it’s not wanting to put the effort into making it yourself that makes it expensive. You want the convenience of having your food already prepared for you…you pay for it.

    In my expereince, healthy, homemade, WHOLE foods are more commonly cheaper than if you purchased more expensive prepared foods. It’s just the value of the effort put into making them…edible…that you have to weigh against spending more on the ready-to-eat versions.

    Want cheap? Want healthy? Eat healthy foods, and make them yourself.

  11. Leigh says:

    It’s expensive to eat out. It’s not expensive to eat healthy if you plan ahead and bring your food as you go about your day at school or work.

    Even though you’re in a grocery store, you’re still eating food that someone else prepared for you. As a poor student, you shouldn’t be paying other people to make your meals, your coffee, or any other luxuries that grown adults with real paychecks forego in order to be financially responsible.

  12. Marie @ 4HWD says:

    Saturday is my grocery day, I always make sure that I have my list with me, in that way I can stick to my budget limit. Next month I will less my meat and more on fruits and vegetables.

  13. iamalighthouse says:

    You’re totally right! I love getting Whole Foods organic stuff, but their salad and hot bar is just ridiculous. I did that maybe…once. And was so floored that I never did again! Instead, I’ll wander the freezer section and see what’s on sale that’s organic. 🙂

  14. dianea11ison says:

    The cost of not eating healthy won’t hit your pocketbook until decades later when you’re body is replete with inflamatory processes. Then you pay the price exponentially, physically and financially.

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