calculations, food, small potatoes

The Great Apple Calculation

Friends, today I ask for your advice on an important decision I’m currently pondering. A decision involving…apples.

By the way, this post is part of my “Great Calculations” series—other posts in the series include The Great Laundry Calculation (which contains an important equation that you definitely need to know), The Great Yoga Calculation (yep, I shell out for classes on a regular basis), and The Great Phone Bill Calculation (more updates on this one very soon, I hope).

So about the apples. I don’t know how tuned in you are to the yearly apple cycle in the region where you live, but I’ve been closely monitoring the cycle here in New England for years, and I can tell you that we’re rapidly approaching a pivotal juncture. That’s right: it’s the time of year when the last local (and local-ish) Macintosh and Macoun apples have all but disappeared and the fancy-pants apples shipped in from Chile—I’m talking about those huge, shiny Pink Ladys, Fujis, Braeburns, and Honeycrisps—are multiplying like crazy.

How many apples do you eat per week, on average? One? Two? Three? Five? I’d estimate that I typically consume between ten and fifteen apples every week, year-round, and I feel confident in saying that if apples were free, I’d have one with every single meal. And what all this means is that I spend a good deal of time in the fruit section of the supermarket, engaged in apple examination and apple math.

Apple-purchasing is a complicated business. Apple prices fluctuate notoriously frequently, but in the stores in my neighborhood they can generally range from $0.99/pound (and sometimes as low as $0.69/pound) to $3.49/pound (and occasionally more), depending on when, where, and what kind you’re buying. So if I buy 10 apples per week for a year, this could cost me anywhere from about $350 to nearly $2000, depending on the weight of a single apple, which can also vary widely.

A money-savvy person who does not care about apples might say, well, Sarah, either don’t buy apples at all, or buy the cheap ones and put the difference towards your student loan payments. But it’s not that simple. If you have ever selected apples for purchase before, you know that there are a plethora of issues standing between $0.99/pound and $3.49/pound. I have been pondering these issues for a while now and have changed my mind so many times that I now feel utterly confused. All I know is that I need to make a decision soon about which apples, if any, I’m going to be buying between now and the beginning of local apple season in September.

And so that’s why I’ve decided to crowdsource this question. Any advice is greatly appreciated. First, let’s just take a moment to review the factors impacting apple choice:

  1. Clearly, time of year and location are both factors. Winter in Boston is what I’m working with right now.
  1. Then there’s the organic vs. non-organic question. God help us. This post is really not meant to be a discussion of organic vs. non-organic produce, but it’s impossible to talk about apple prices without at least mentioning this issue. Rumor has it that the pesticide content of non-organic apples is astronomically high, which is bad for me and bad for the planet. Unfortunately, organic-ness, in addition to driving up price, also negatively impacts taste, at least in my opinion (see factor #3).
  1. Perhaps the biggest factor for me is apple taste, by which I mostly mean whether an apple is crisp (yum!) or mealy (blech). This varies WIDELY. I regret to report that my mealiness detection abilities are preternaturally acute, kind of like those people who can detect that milk is on the verge of going bad before anyone else can. I also regret to report that most organic apples taste somewhat mealy to me, which basically means that I will never, ever buy them.
  1. And, yep, there’s also the local question. Local is always preferable, at least in my book, but for many months of the year local is simply not available. So when it’s not, what’s an apple addict to do? (Side note: local apples are occasionally “unsprayed”, but virtually never organic, at least not around here.)

So, given these factors, how do I proceed?

Again, my sources suggest that the local, $0.99/pound apples will soon vanish from the produce section entirely, leaving me to choose between a) the $3.49/pound organic beauty pageant apples that taste mealy, b) the $2.49/pound non-organic beauty pageant apples that taste great but *might* be slowly poisoning me, especially if I’m eating ten of them per week, or c) no apples.

I guess no apples is the logical choice, probably from an environmental perspective and definitely from a financial perspective. I am not kidding when I say that I could pay off my student loans faster if I didn’t buy so many apples because, as we know, small consistent choices add up. The problem is, I just don’t know if I can do it.

(Then again, I used to think I couldn’t get through the day without a Kind bar, and it turned out I was totally wrong about that. Last month I was like, dude, I’m not buying these delicious but expensive bars anymore—and I haven’t had one since.)

And finally, the one other possibility I will mention is that I recently discovered organic pears—good-tasting ones!—for $1.49/pound at Market Basket. I don’t like pears as much as I like apples, but it’s possible that with discipline I could make the switch.


Do you have an apple habit? Or a banana habit, or a fro-yo habit, or a gum habit, or a latte habit? How have you dealt with it? Any advice about any of this? I’m all ears!

34 Comments on “The Great Apple Calculation

  1. That’s really too bad that the super expensive organic apples don’t taste good! Are there any other stores in your area that might have better quality organics? We get ours from Costco for about $2.50-$3.00/lb and they are great almost year round (we occasionally get a bad batch but that seems random). For apples I think organic is worth it since you are eating the skin too, although I’m definitely not an expert in that area!

    1. Ah, interesting. I hear such good things about Costco, but since I don’t have a car I think it would be tough to fully take advantage of a membership. I should look around some more though at different stores. I will also admit that I stopped even *trying* to eat organic apples a couple of years ago because so many of them tasted sub-par to me…but maybe I should collect some new data, just to see if they seem better now. $2.50-$3.00 a pound for organic apples is not bad! Thanks for your input. 🙂

      1. Oh gosh, this was my suggestion too – not even for organics, just for apples that are out of season! Since my boyfriend and I both eat at least one apple a day, our apple bill is climbing thanks to winter and the sad Canadian dollar, so we recently switched to buying apples at Costco. It doesn’t help that my boyfriend is pretty particular about apples too – Gala or bust, apparently – so I can’t just show up with whatever was cheapest at the grocery store.

        The vector in price probably isn’t worth a Costco membership, especially if it’s not easy to get to for you… So this is a totally useless comment, haha. Someday it might help?

        Also, I love this post because it has genuinely been something we’ve talked about at length, lol. I love that we’re not alone!

        1. Oh, I’m so glad you understand the dilemma! This is a very important issue, haha. 🙂 And yes, I do think the Costco solution would be a good one…if I had a car already for other reasons. But for now I think it would be more trouble than it’s worth. I’m glad it is working well for you though.

          I’m interested to hear that the current Canadian dollar woes are impacting this purchase. Can you not get apples that were grown in Canada to avoid this issue? I guess I assume that you would have a lot of domestic apples up there, but if you’re buying at Costco maybe they’re sourcing (or price-standardizing) across borders.

  2. Can you stock up on the local ones when they’re on sale (and before they’re gone for the season) and then use running out as an excuse to eat more of a fruit that is in season next? (apricots? oranges?) Apples keep pretty well–I mean, the local apples being sold now have been kept somewhere by someone since fall–so if you have or can create a “root cellar”-type space, fill ‘er up!

    1. That’s an interesting strategy, Kelsey — I could definitely try to stock up. I don’t have a root cellar, but I could fill up both crisper drawers in my refrigerator maybe. Something to consider for next year.
      It’s true too that there are so many other good fruits I could switch to instead. I think I’m just so used to eating apples as my go-to fruit that I typically don’t think outside that box…but that being said, I do like lots of other fruits, so I think if I made a conscious effort I could probably switch over for a while. Oranges are definitely in season now.
      Thanks for your suggestion! 🙂

  3. I vote that you buy the conventional apples (please don’t stop eating apples!), but use either a veggie wash or clean them with vinegar. This should get off a good portion of the chemicals. Of course not all, but hopefully enough to ease your mind and minimize the chemical risk. The vinegar method would be super cheap, but it may affect the taste of the apples. I’ve never tried it with apples. Here’s a link that describes what I’m talking about.

    1. Thanks, Jillian, I will check this out! I had heard of the vinegar method before but have never tried it. I feel like I’ve also heard of sprays you can buy specifically for doing this, but I’m guessing it’s just repackaged expensive vinegar.
      I’m glad you understand that not eating apples is not an attractive option! 🙂

      1. Well. I’m not a huge fan of apples myself, but I definitely think eating produce is the best thing ever. It’s great that you love apples! And if you stop eating them, you’ll have to eat something else. Most likely something less healthy. Then how much does that cost for your health? That math could just spiral out of control 🙂

        1. Hahaha, that’s a good point! I neglected to mention that issue in the post, but it’s very true: the apple void would have to be filled with something else, and who knows what that something else could end up doing to my health and/or finances.

  4. I have a huge apple habit when I can get them locally (for me this is about August/September through March or even April — the cold storage ones keep showing up at the farmer’s market til then.) But I mostly don’t eat them the rest of the year because I feel like it’s just not worth it. It’s like trying to eat a tomato in February. Sometimes I’ll pick one or two up at the supermarket, but it’s not like it is during the season/late season when I have one or two a day typically. Between the apples running out and the berries/nectarines/etc picking up, I eat citrus and dried/frozen fruit.

    1. I really should give citrus more of a chance. I just feel like orange quality is basically a crapshoot — I just have no reliable strategy of choosing a good one from the pile in the supermarket, and getting an orange home only to find out it’s dried out or stringy is just…not fun. Whereas with apples it’s much easier to tell. I actually used to have a grapefruit habit though, until I decided they were too heavy to be carrying home all the time.

  5. We’re big apple household, especially in the growing season. We’re near Albany NY and I can usually find Jazz apples year-round for about $1.69 a pound. Where do they come from? I have no idea, and that marketing name is awful. But they always manage to taste good where other varieties can be really hit or miss.

    I never buy organic, but always try to buy local since the timeliness plays the biggest part in taste. In season, I always go for honeycrisps, macouns, really anything from the farmer’s market that sets up in our neighborhood, or a nice Cortland which not only tastes great when fresh, but is really pretty.

    1. Ah, I’ve seen those Jazz apples but have never tried one — partly because the name is so awful, as you point out! Wow, $1.69 a pound, that’s not bad, especially in the off-season. I should check them out; thanks for the suggestion! And I too am a fan of Cortlands during apple season — they’re right up there with Macouns, my other favorite. 🙂

  6. When apples are in season, I eat one or two daily. We buy organic, which hover around $2 per pound; I buy three pounds for a week and eat quickly because they definitely turn faster. Because of price and quality, we’ve switching to oranges for the winter. My vote is for mixing it up with citrus. But really, I love all fruit. 🙂

    1. Wow, organic for $2/pound — that’s amazing! I really should switch to citrus for a bit, at least for the winter months. I can’t believe how much the price of oranges can vary from one variety to the next, but I think some of them are relatively inexpensive this time of year.
      And yes to loving all fruit. 🙂

  7. We have something in Phoenix called “Market on the Move” which offers 60 lbs of your produce of choice for $10. If you’re flexible on apples vs. some other type of local produce, it’s a great way to cut costs and eat locally. Maybe there is something similar in your area?

  8. “I have been eating an apple a day for years. It’s not a habit exactly, more of a healthy lifestyle choice. I will only eat three types of apples: Pink Ladies, Honey Crisp, or Fuji (It doesn’t make a difference to me if they are organic or not). Which one I eat per week depends on the season and cost. I have paid as low as $5.99 for 12 apples (50 cents an apple) to $12.99 for 14 (93 cents an apple) at Costco. I have never done a yearly total, but the price doesn’t matter because you’re worth it. It is way better than a lot of other crap we could be eating”

    1. You are so right about apples being a lot better than a lot of things we could be eating. And I’m being a little facetious about the term “apple habit” 😉 — it’s definitely a conscious health choice. But I also just LOVE them. And Pink Ladies and Fujis are both awesome. 🙂

  9. I will respect your desire not to get into the organic vs. non debate, and not go there. (Though I will say, for transparency, that if all the organic apples look or feel mealy, then we go appleless that week.) 🙂 The part of the equation that you didn’t list out is *what apples are worth to you.* This does seem like that kind of a question. Laundry is a necessity, so that question could be answered that way. But apples aren’t something you can’t live without, and could be replaced calorically and nutritionally with other fruits, like the pears you mentioned. Is there something else that you gladly pay for that you could equate apples with? E.g. “I like going to the movies once a month, for $10 a pop, and I like apples at least three times more than that monthly movie.” Therefore, apples are worth $30 a month to you. I know that’s totally a dumb example, but maybe some thinking along those lines would be helpful in figuring out your total apple budget? And then from there you can feel out if you’d rather have a better tasting apple less often or a bland tasting apple more often, and set your allocation accordingly.

    1. Haha, yes, sorry I’m so dismissive of important topics like whether or not one should buy organic. The truth is that I buy the organic version of most produce and worked on an organic farm for several years back in college — I think maybe I’ve just talked about the issue *too* much and am a bit weary of it (kind of in the same way that I’m weary of talking about how most processed foods are made out of corn). I also know that there can be super strong opinions and emotions on both sides of the issue, and I’m a bit of a wuss about taking a strong stance here on a potentially controversial topic. :/

      What do you mean, I can live without apples??? Lol 🙂 But seriously, I think your equation suggestion makes sense. The difficult part would be actually assigning some sort of value. On a related note, it would also be interesting if I actually tracked my apple spending in my expenses spreadsheet as a separate category. That would be very illuminating, because right now I’m just guessing at how many apples I buy and how much I spend, and there’s no reason to assume that my guesses are accurate.

  10. I think you have to look at your choices. If you aren’t going to eat apples, what are you going to eat that fills that niche in your belly?

    For instance, right now I’m paying 79 cents a piece for blood oranges. But, my daughter is asking for blood oranges for her school snack instead of Cheezits (cheaper but a heck of a lot less healthy). The healthy alternatives that she’ll eat are strawberries (not in season, much more expensive), Mangoes (more expensive and less convenient), and Granny Smiths (a bit more expensive right now at $2.29 a pound). The less expensive options are bananas (may come back uneaten), bagged fruit like oranges and red delicious (will definitely come back half eaten), cheese sticks (fine on occasion) or junk that she’ll eat but is less healthy. So, blood oranges it is.

    1. That’s a very good point. It’s not like I’m going to just stop eating apples and not eat anything else to replace them. Too bad I’m not that into bananas, because those would be a heck of a lot cheaper. But I think pears could maybe fill the void. 🙂

      By the way, that’s so great that your daughter currently prefers blood oranges to Cheezits! Wow! Way to support a healthy habit. 🙂

  11. No apple habit here, but everyone has his/her own thing. The thing that no one else gets. People probably think it’s ridiculous that I have peanut butter shipped to me, but my preferred brand isn’t down here. And after having Adam’s, everything else tastes ridiculously sugary. So I cough up $4/jar and then enjoy my two to three pieces of peanut butter toast a day.

    If you’re good about locally sourced stuff most of the year, then you especially shouldn’t feel bad about indulging in other varieties when local ones run out.

    That said, you forgot one other cost: Cumulative wear on your tooth enamel from all the acid in fruit juice. I imagine apple isn’t as bad as citrus, but it can’t be great. I did some serious damage with a strawberry addiction for a few years. So the cost of whitening and/or enamel-building toothpaste may have to get figured in there.

    And I think the preternatural sense of mealiness is a boon. Think how much money the rest of us waste accidentally getting mealy apples that we then throw out.

    1. Yes, exactly — the thing that no one else gets. At least apples and peanut butter are health foods. 🙂

      Oh yikes, the tooth enamel thing. I too have heard of it mostly in relation to citrus fruits…but it makes sense that it would be an issue with apples as well. As it so happens, I am going later this week to my first dental checkup in, oh, about five years (because I suddenly and unbelievably have dental insurance), so it will be interesting to see what they say. And by interesting I mostly mean scary. But also interesting.

      Ah, my preternatural mealiness detection abilities are actually more of a taste thing: unfortunately I seem to taste a tiny bit of mealiness in a lot of apples that other people think taste fine. Which means that I sometimes throw out apples that other people would not throw out. Fortunately it doesn’t happen too often anymore because I’ve really cultivated my ability to select super crisp ones from the pile in the grocery store. 🙂

  12. It sounds like anywhere from 10-15% of your daily calories come from apples (you look like sort of a small woman, so I’m assuming your sort of on the less than 2000 calories side of things), I’m curious if they eat up more than 20% of your grocery bill. If they do, I wonder if you could cut back elsewhere? Do you buy pre-packaged foods that could be replaced with PB&J for example?

    We spend about 50% of our grocery budget on fruits and veggies (mostly fresh though sometimes frozen), and these are worth about 25% of our daily calories. The biggest bang for our buck is eggs, oatmeal, and chicken, but those are rather uninspiring without plenty of accouturements.

    1. These are such good questions. To be honest, I hadn’t thought of counting it up in terms of percentage of calories or overall grocery bill. I tend to try to stay away from counting calories these days (because I used to do way too much of that and it wasn’t healthy), but percentage of grocery bill is probably a calculation I could easily do if I consciously collected some data for a while. It would be interesting to see.

      I too buy a lot of eggs and oatmeal (though I definitely add a lot of other stuff to the oatmeal!). Trying to get the highest possible amount of nutrition per dollar is definitely a worthy goal. 🙂

  13. You should stop up on apples if you’re getting a good price! Find a cool place to store those apples & buy a lots. I think we get stuck in the modern thinking of buying enough for 1 week and going back to the store next week for more. Historically this isn’t how people ate or reduced food costs–it was through bulk purchases and food preservation.
    That said, I try to buy whatever fruit is on sale and think of all food purchases in terms of nutrition and food groups more than the exact type of food I’m buying. This allows us to eat healthy for less.

    1. Yeah, I definitely am in the mindset of going *at least* once per week to the store to replenish my apples (and everything else). Unfortunately I don’t have a ton of storage space because I have housemates, and my other issue is that my preferred grocery store is about a 20-minute walk away (and I don’t have a car), which means there’s a definite limit to how much I can carry home. But I definitely think it’s a good point: the more bulk, the better. 🙂

  14. Okay, so I’m going to throw a completely different angle here! What if you cut down consumption of how many apples you eat per week by pairing your apple with a filling protein packed accompaniment -for example peanut butter, or almond butter? You may become more full with such an accompaniment which limits the amount you need to purchase per week (lessening the cost per year) to satisfy your apple cravings & intake. Also, the peanut butter and almond butter can serve as an additional ingredient for other meals & snacks! Alright, so this doesn’t fit the answers you provided – but maybe it’s another perspective. 🙂 Or, is there someone you know locally who would go half & half with you to buy apples in bulk?!

    1. Aha, interesting! I am definitely a fan of peanut butter, that’s for sure. It’s a good idea, though I suspect that in my case the apple addiction is less about hunger and more just about loving apples. It would be interesting to see what would happen though.
      Bulk apples, yes — it’s not something I’d thought about before, but it could be possible. I think I tend not to consider bulk because I always have to factor in “Can I carry this home on my back without a car?” But I do have friends with cars. I think what I need is a friend with a car AND an apple addiction, to buy apples in bulk and drive half of them to my house. 🙂

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