Impulse Spending on Food: What’s your Fluff Factor?


Tasty Trash: The $55 million Squawkfox Food Waste Challenge is a series aimed at helping your family save up to $1,500 this year by reducing food waste. The environment may also thank us. To start from the beginning, read the introduction.

Don’t let me stand behind you in line at the grocery checkout — I might just calculate your Fluff Factor.

That’s exactly what happened to the fellow in line ahead of me when I watched his grocery items rolling down the conveyor.


me: Hey, what’s in that crazy jar of Fluff?

him: Oh, that’s just marshmallow spread. I put it on toast for breakfast.

Slightly grossed out by the idea of consuming edible ‘Fluff’ in the wee hours of the morning and lacking the social grace that keeps most people quiet in grocery checkout lineups, I pressed on…

me: And those orange cheezy poofs, the tater tots, and the ice cream — where’s all your nutrition? Don’t you buy any actual food at the grocery store?

The poor guy looked perplexed. I’m sure if we were having this conversation on Facebook he would have defriended me by now.

him: I have to go now.

He darted from the store, probably to remove himself from my awesomeness. No wonder I never dated cute guys like this in school — none of them knew how to shop for groceries. I would have starved.

Anyhoo, there’s a point to all this. And yes, one of these points is to AVOID ME LIKE THE PLAGUE at the supermarket. But the real reason here is to take close consideration of how you spend your food budget.

Are you stocking your cart with food or Fluff?

What is Fluff?

Fluff is all the superfluous stuff you can chew on — but likely shouldn’t swallow — sold at the supermarket. Fluff is also the purchases you did not plan for AND don’t need. Hello, planning ahead using a grocery shopping list?

Fluff can be big or small. Everything from a tiny stuffed toy to a value-sized bag of potato chips.

Costco shoppers are probably the most familiar with Fluff. How many times have you shopped at Costco for a box of chicken only to return home with a solar panel and a garden shed? Yeah, don’t do this!

The problem with Fluff

Fluff is a wondrous waste. The more edible Fluff you buy, the more Fluffy stuff you eat instead of real food. Research shows we’re throwing away around 25% of our grocery haul every year, so we’re tossing out our Fluffy food purchases too — that’s a lot of unnecessary food waste.


Fluff doesn’t (really) contribute to your happiness.

Fluff costs you money.

Calculate your Fluff Factor

I asked Carl to express Fluff in a mathematically precise way so you guys could calculate your personal Fluff Factor. He came up with this infallible algebraic expression:

Fluff Factor Equation

I immediately slapped Carl on his summation symbol, and defriended him on Facebook.

This one is Squawkfox friendly. Seriously.

Fluff Factor

Here’s a Fluff Factor example:

Total grocery bill: $78.23

Fluffy items purchased:

  • Jar of edible marshmallow spread (Fluff): $2.97
  • Celebrity gossip magazine (contains Fluff): $3.99
  • Toy animal (stuffed with Fluff): $5.49

Total Fluff Dollars Spent: $12.45
Fluff Factor: 16%

BOTTOM LINE: If your family spends $7,000 on groceries annually, a 16% Fluff Factor costs you $1,120 each year.

I dare you to total the Fluff Factor on your last grocery bill. Results may shock you.

Combating Fluff

You have the power to combat Fluff. It only takes three little steps. Promise.

STEP ONE: Make a meal plan. Planning is key, and sticking with it can help cut your grocery bill on non-Fluff items too. Check out Meal Planning: Save time and money in your kitchen for a free meal planner download and the details.

STEP TWO: Create a grocery shopping list. Straying from your list will puff your Fluff Factor. Download our free grocery shopping list for a little help in the supermarket.

STEP THREE: Calculate your Fluff Factor. After every grocery haul, be brave and tally your total Fluff Factor. Aim to get it down to ZERO for maximum savings.

Happy de-Fluffing, and remember to run if you see me at your supermarket!



  1. Darlene May 29, 2012 at 7:45 am


    Fluffers are made…not born. As mom’s (albeit my boys tower over me now) we need to ensure that the easiest things to grab, nosh and run (or run and nosh) are the healthiest things. When crabbing a few apple sections is even easier than a candy bar – they’ll grab and eat it. When savoury kale chips are in a bowl on the counter – who cares about fried, potato chips and when crunchy carrot sticks are RIGHT THERE when you open the fridge – look no further.

    Then as mom’s, we can all stand proudly behind our sons in the check-out line, admiring all the healthy foods and think smugly to ourselves, “I done good.”

  2. Young Professional Finances May 29, 2012 at 8:05 am

    I’m actually good with groceries about sticking to a list – I have very little fluff factor. On the other hand, stick me in a Target and I’m sure to walk out with mostly fluff. So to solve that, I just try not to go into my weak spot stores.

  3. Kathy Weier May 29, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I try and read your articles as a little pep-talk before heading out into the world that tempts me with caramel rolls and chocolate covered pretzels on the way to items on my list. I have to admit…I don’t know if I’m ready for you to be behind me in the grocery store as of yet though 🙂
    I was wondering if you would throw out any tips you have for getting the most bang for the buck in children’s items (since I know you recently entered into that area- I hope it is going smoothly for you!) When my daughter was born 2 years ago I was dismayed by the cost of items and have dove into making baby food and doing cloth diapers while accepting every single hand-me-down available, but wondering if there are other areas that I can cut some corners? I would love to know your thoughts.

  4. Lili@creativesavv May 29, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I mostly avoid Fluff by shopping where little fluff is sold. I do the bulk of my shopping at a cash and carry, restaurant supply, wholesaler. They sell things like 25 lb sacks of oats, rice, beans, 50 lb sacks of flour and sugar, oil by the gallon, super large, restaurant-size cans of tomatoes, tomato paste,etc. Costco also sells this stuff, but they have too many other temptations, AND they charge a membership fee. My cash and carry wholesaler lacks temptations (unless you go wild over gallon-size jars of mayo and mustard), and there’s no membership fee. For produce I stop in at a produce stand twice a week, and use my garden for the rest. I think I go to a regular supermarket about once every two to three weeks.

  5. Kevin May 29, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Very interesting topic; you have an incredible ability to quantify these things. Have you yet to publish some form of average or estimated cost of grocery expense for a typical 3 person family or 4, etc? I follow much of your advice and if anything might spend too much on the natural side (free range, hormone free, and farmers markets) which can be more per lb then costco/walmart but it’s real food from real farms and not manufacturing plants. We track every penny and find ourselves north of our $750 budget per month (some months we’re as high as $1000) for a 4 person young family (includes diapers, formula, bathroom supplies, etc). Some of our friends claim to spend $100-150 /wk for a similar family size however I think that’s a best case and they don’t track every bill and must ignore the one-off refills of jumbo size laundry detergent etc that derail your budget; or the cost of stocking up for friends/family entertaining. Love to hear some real life figures to compare.

  6. The witch May 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    What a great post!! I just love the Fluff Factor theme you have going. I always look at other’s grocery items in their carts(we all do it)while waiting in line and realize either these people can’t cook or are so super busy that fast food is what only works for them. It is a shame that package food has become the main staple in the grocery carts.
    I’m the one with all the veggies, fruit and boring stuff I guess but I do buy P.C Ball Park chips for a occasionally snack. Hey a girl has to have some fun.
    I do agree meal planning and shopping once a week is a life saver for us. Every Sunday we do the list for the week and try to catch the end of the flyer sales on Thursday and then review the sales that start on Friday for next weeks shopping. Don’t be afraid to ask for rain checks they can be worth their weight in gold and last a month.

  7. Jules May 29, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    LOL, I sometimes catch myself staring in disbelieving horror at some of the stuff that people buy, too. Where is the fruit, indeed? A shopping cart should never stack so neatly….

    Although these days I’ve taken to going to the greengrocer’s instead of the supermarket for my veggies….

  8. Rick Coyle May 30, 2012 at 5:34 am

    I love commenting on other peoples stuff at the grocery store too. It drives my wife crazy. I like to go in knowing what I want and getting it, although sometimes I will take a swing by the Lindt chocolate bars. Funny thing I will go shopping with my wife when she is looking for shoes or clothes and I will usually end up with a new something. Never fluff though.

  9. smchan May 30, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Such a good article. I have this problem when I grocery shop with my kids. Most days it’s impossible to go without one of them, but I try really hard. I find I can only say NO so many times before bedlam starts and I always give in. I usually come out of the grocery store with about $15 in extra fluff. Soon both the kids will be in school and I will go while they are there and stick to my list. I also find if I go to stores like Safeway I am more likely to stick to my list then say Superstore or Costco, where I will wonder through the home section and decided I need some new dishes, kitchen gadgets, etc.

  10. abc's June 2, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Unfortunately alot of what we buy and even endorse oursleves in life can be considered to be a ‘fluff’ factor. When I go to the grocery store, even what is considered to be the healthiest foods contain chemicals of some sort or have been altered in some way. No food item is 100% in today’s world. And the unfortunate fact is, that while I personally enjoy home cooking and try to do it as much as possible, the demands of today’s workforce make it difficult to cook good wholesome meals 7 days a week. And what is so ‘fluff’ about buying the occasional stuffed toy or magazine (not necessarily about Hollywood but many magazines contain very valuable information, such as science magazines and such). In today’s world it is vital to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world, as this can also contribute to one’s success. Notice that while large compnaies have no regrets about promoting their ‘fluff’ food products, they also will not make any effort to create healthier food, which I am sure the will charge at least as much for, ie. homemade ice cream and other treats which even the healthiest person indulges in at some point. What perhaps is so ‘fluff’ is for people to recognize the realities of living in the Western world today, and for companies to prey on people’s inherent weaknesses, instead of making an effort to do something better for people. Unfortunately, much of what we work so hard for in today’s world, can be considered to be ‘fluff’. Consider also the quality of much of what we buy (many products are overpriced and are so cheaply made that they fall apart in months). People do not care any more about the real issues in life, ie. people are sick and over worked, financial crises, and living a life that is redundant because no one cares. People are having less children, no one stays married, everyone think only about the value of a dime instead of someone’s quality of life. Much of the life that we lead in the Western world can be considered to be ‘fluff’. Its only until collectively people decide to no longer put up with a life of ‘fluff’ that things will change.

  11. Laurel Alanna McBrine June 2, 2012 at 7:34 am

    I had to squelch making a comment to a young tattooed fellow in a grocery lineup the other day. Just in front of me, on the conveyer belt was $50 worth of empty calories – not a single fruit or vegetable, everything processed to the max, all the meat was processed and full of nitrites, the yogurt tubes were full of sugar and artificial color, ditto the Lucky Charms cereal (who eats those past age 7?), the worst chemical filled white wonder bread, CHEEZ WHIZ for Pete’s sake instead of a natural cheese. Probably all fit into “Canada’s Food Guide” I suppose, shows how the nutrition information people receive in school is all wrong. Saw him on the way out of the store, smoking and waiting for a cab….

  12. Ruth Cooke June 2, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Thanks for the laugh, Kerry. I do shop from a list, but that doesn’t necessarily stop me from bringing home fluff. 🙂 Yesterday I thought through my meals for the next week, checked the flyers, made my list and off I went. I didn’t buy anything that wasn’t on my list, but the problem is the fluff was on the list! Most of the advertised specials are for prepared food, and I came away with some diet soda (which I’m addicted to–gotta change that!) and some potato chips.

    What’s funny is that later that day, I had some of the chips and didn’t really enjoy them. Then I put some cherries (also on sale this week) in a bowl, and snacked on them instead, and lo and behold! I found that I enjoyed them much more than the chips.

    Score one for real food!

  13. Valerie June 2, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I enjoy your web site very much, as a senior I have lived alone for over 30 years and find living on a budget really a challenge, I enjoy that challenge too. Keep up the good work! Valerie

  14. Ajka June 4, 2012 at 5:33 am

    I don’t buy fluff although I do have to admit that last night, a tub of ice cream made it into my grocery cart. But that was the only thing that could be considered fluff.
    I think everybody should read The Blood Sugar Solution by dr. Mark Hyman and Why Are We Fat And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes (I am quoting the titles and the authors’ names from memory so pls cut me some slack if I am not 100% correct).
    But then again, if you look around yourself you will see so many people who are overweight if not outright obese. And yet it does not stop the same individuals from making a daily stop at Tim’s for a coffee and a donut or eating their dinners at McD’s or Burger King and similar places.

    I bet the majority of people don’t bother reading the nutritional info of what they are buying (although the rule of thumb is to buy stuff that doesn’t come with labels [i.e. fresh produce]).

  15. Ajka June 4, 2012 at 5:39 am

    Just reading other posters’ comments …
    Ruth Cooke – I purchased soda maker ( or – but I used to make plain soda. I found out that if my water is carbonated I drink a lot more of it and I am not missing the artificial flavours (of Coke or Pepsi) not the sugar at all. Try it – maybe it will help you to wean off diet soda. Diet driks are almost just as bad as regular drinks – even though they are sweetened with aspartame or other art. sweeteners our bodies respond to them as if they were sweetened with regular sugar (and I suspect that regular coke probably contains HFCS which is even worse).

  16. Ajka June 4, 2012 at 7:36 am

    I am just rereading my last comment and although it may appear I am drunk I am sober. Which makes all the typos and badly strung sentences even worse. I am hanging my head in shame.

  17. […] What’s your Fluff Factor? […]

  18. Canadianbudgetbinder June 9, 2012 at 11:34 am

    What a great post, just loved it. It’s true we are always watching what other people buy at the shops. The Mrs. sometimes says something but I don’t say a thing.
    It’s true the “fluff factor” can be related to anything you buy in life… needs vs wants…. and most men aren’t picky when in the grocery store or any store for that matter. Shopping isn’t tops on most men’s lists. Some men or most I should say have tunnel vision when we shop, we get in and get out!

  19. Funny about Money June 10, 2012 at 6:14 pm


    Yes, Costco is the home of Fluff. The lifetime supply of fluff! I’m sure that’s why it’s impossible to get out of the place for under $200, no matter what you went in there to buy.

  20. […] might not agree with my potential frugal man signs but maybe you don’t mind men high on the fluff factor.  So if you think frugal men are sexy, and potentially spot one, go get […]

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