Cost Savings at the Co-op

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Image by Carol Coogan

When my husband and I were both graduate students on small stipends, cooking at home was a necessity and eating reasonably well was a challenge. A trip to our local natural foods store, which we thought we couldn’t afford, revolutionized our strategy and sparked my love affair with bulk departments. After moving to Troy, my need to find a new bulk department led us straight to Honest Weight. Although our finances are a little less lean these days, I still use a lot of the same strategies in my quest to eat good, whole, interesting food and enjoy all that Honest Weight has to offer while staying within my budget. I hope you’ll find the below tips helpful, too.

Check the Fresh Deals and Great Deals Circulars!

When I’m making my meal plan for the week and my grocery list, I always go to the Co-op website to see what’s on sale. A great deal on kale or chicken can inspire a meal, and I often stock up when I see sales on pantry items like rice, flour, or paper towels. It’s also the perfect opportunity to try that new vegetable, different grain, or unusual sauce! You can also opt in to have the circulars emailed to you, and can always find printed versions to your right once you walk into the store.

Shop the Perimeter

In any grocery store, you’ll typically find fresher items and whole foods on the outside edges of the store. Shopping the perimeter at the Co-op helps me to avoid that tasty-but-expensive cereal I’ve been eyeing. As many of the Grocery Department’s sale items are on endcaps, they’re easy to grab as you move along.

Produce

During these cold months, I miss my garden and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, and thank my lucky stars for Honest Weight’s produce section. When organic isn’t in the budget, I know I can count on the Co-op to find locally grown veggies and fruits. Shopping the sales and buying seasonally helps to keep costs down, and I’ve found it helps to have a few produce standbys that fit your needs even when they aren’t on sale. This time of year, we love the spinach pillows!

Buy in Bulk

I. Love. Bulk. My squirrel heart loves the sight of a pantry with jars of colorful whole grains, beans, and flours – especially when they were bought on sale weeks ago. You can buy a little
quinoa for just one meal or fill a large container of sale-priced oats for several weeks’ worth of breakfasts. Bulk Department items are often cheaper per pound than the same items sold in the Grocery Department, and they come with the added bonus of paying for less packaging since you can bring your own container to use in Bulk (just have the container weighed at the Service Desk when you arrive, so the cashiers will know not to charge you for your container weight).

To save both your money and time, cook your dry beans or long-cooking grains in advance and freeze them flat in plastic storage bags. Beans only take a few hours on high in the slow cooker (even less in a pressure cooker!), and a bag of frozen beans is just as convenient as canned but much cheaper!

If you plan to experiment with a new recipe or food, the Bulk Department is your best friend. Buy just the two tablespoons of miso paste you need instead of a whole jar that might sit unused. Take a few tips from vegan cooks – get small bags of flax and chia for egg replacements and overnight puddings and try nutritional yeast as a cheesy topping – for easy, inexpensive and interesting ingredients and recipes. And whether you want to stock your pantry with dried herbs and spices that are new to you or tried and true, the prices and portion control offered by the Bulk Department simply cannot be beat.

Reduced Items

Always check out the reduced bin in Bulk, the reduced bread basket to the far left of the bread shelves, and watch for last-minute sale stickers in the meat section. The Produce Department even offers ‘culled’ items for free! If you keep your eyes open, you can pick up a bag of discounted mystery coffee, try a new brand of gluten-free bread, get some nice cuts of beef (just toss it in the freezer when you get home, or cook it that day), or rescue a still tasty but not sellable piece of fruit from the waste stream.

Become a Shareholder or Member-Owner!

Seniors and students can take advantage of special discounts at the Co-op and Shareholders always get two percent off of their purchases – every little bit helps. If you have the time and ability, I strongly encourage becoming a Member-Owner. There are lots of opportunities to be a monthly or weekly member worker in different departments, by serving on committees, helping out at Co-op events… there is something for everyone! My husband and I have really enjoyed meeting new people, helping make the Co-op run, and we love to see the discount come off of the total bill each time we shop.

Treat Yourself!

And perhaps the most important cost-saving tip of all – decide in advance what to buy as your one ‘treat.’ Maybe it is a nice piece of cheese, a fancy jam, that amazing local yogurt, a chocolate bar, a bottle of cider, or one of those tasty pastries from the bakery. Being mindful of your grocery budget is important, but approaching shopping (or anything!) from an attitude of deprivation will make you less likely to stick to your plan.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Let us know, and we’ll pass them along. Happy shopping, and happier eating!

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Jennifer Betsworth found the Co-op in her quest for a good bulk department soon after moving to Troy in 2013, and became a member not long after that. She enjoys working in and being continually inspired by the bulk department’s offerings. A lover of words, old buildings and beautiful natural places, she relies on the Co-op, her garden, and a little culinary creativity to fuel her adventures.