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Planning a Bulk-Buying Grocery Staples Excursion

I’m definitely an underbuyer. I don’t like to spend more than I have to, even if it’ll save money in the future. Parting with that money now just scares me. But I’m biting the bullet and becoming more efficient and a better planner.

cooptakomabibelot.jpgI recently discovered that there is a co-op not too far from where we live. We’re not yet prepared to bite the bullet and join (though it’s got a one-time membership fee that’s refunded if you leave…which is pretty sweet!) but we’re going to start scouting it for staples.

Here’s what I’ve come up so far for the staples of our diet:

  • brown rice (would you believe that our supermarket sells white rice in giant bags but only tiny ones of brown rice?)
  • black beans
  • lentils
  • granola (mostly for Micah, he got so much more excited about the co-op idea when I mentioned they had a wide variety of granolas. So cute!)

We eat a lot of veggies too, but unfortunately, it’s hard to buy produce in bulk. You can, of course, but then you have to cook and freeze it or something. Maybe I’ll buy some and freeze it in ziploc bags…broccolli should be pretty resilient about that.

We’ve decided that I’ll staples in mind throughout January (see if I can come up with anything else) and then we’ll take a trip there at the beginning of February.

While we’re there, I’ll bring a notebook and write down prices to compare with our store here. See what else we can get a discount on. And if we like it, we’ll probably buy that membership. At best we can save some money. And if we don’t find ourselves using it, we’ll just get our money back.

Do you like to visit the co-op or the farmer’s market? Do the prices matter more to you or the health aspect?

photo by takomabibelot

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A Co-operative Evening…
February 5, 2008 at 9:45 pm


Becca January 23, 2008 at 8:18 pm

Yeah, my roomie and I have been meaning to get a membership there (based on this post I’m guessing it is the same co-op) but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I think maybe I’ll pop over this weekend to price shop and see if they have the nutritional yeast we want to get for our cats.

You can freeze a ton of stuff, and surprisingly a good number of things can be frozen without blanching. You can also blanch things using the microwave, which roomie and I tried. We haven’t eaten said veggies, though, so I can’t attest to it actually working yet. It does makes me long to buy a deep freezer.

Co-ops rock.

ms. m&p January 23, 2008 at 9:33 pm

I go to the Dupont farmer’s market in DC. It’s pretty good, but I don’t bulk buy at all. I usually use it for produce only. Like you, I’m an underbuyer (which is a term I love and will continue to use).

Meg from The Bargain Queens & All About Appearances January 23, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Our grocery store only sells small bags of brown rice, too! And I didn’t see any at Sam’s Club when we went — not that I want 50lbs of it, either.

I’ve been trying to eat a lot more brown rice. Having a rice steamer has definitely helped.

vh January 24, 2008 at 1:12 am

@Meg: Do they have a Sprouts or Wild Oats near you? Even tho’ they’re not co-ops, they do sell bulk rice, beans, and grains. So do some ethnic markets. A good-sized Asian market is likely to have a great selection of rice.

Two veggies that really freeze well after a brief blanching are French green beans and fresh Brussels sprouts. Also, you can freeze raw garlic and ginger with no pretreatment. Freezing garlic breaks it down, so you can only use it in cooked foods, but seems not to affect its flavor.

Around here, co-ops are few & far between and farmer’s markets are pretty sad. Better produce is to be found at Costco and Whole Paycheck; cheaper and sometimes better produce (especially peppers! and garlic!) at the Mexican markets. January 24, 2008 at 2:29 am

To be totally honest with you…I’d rather spend the extra few bucks so that I can eat healthier! I personally have gone through a serious phase of medical problems that involve maintaining a healthy diet congruent with the lifestyle. That’s just one thing I won’t negotiate. Just the same; I’d never put regular unleaded gasoline in my Lexus!

Jay January 24, 2008 at 4:59 am

Yes, we LOVE our coop. They have seminars on how to maximize from their “basic pricing” options and we buy everything we can in bulk (when it saves us money– for example, cornstarch isn’t cheaper in bulk) from legumes to grains to vanilla extract to olive oil to shampoo/conditioner/body lotion. We also really appreciate the local community aspect of it and that we are spending money that is supporting a part of our community. As a conscious consumer, I also appreciate their letting us know when something they carry may not be meeting their standards (for example, its noted that Horizon dairy products may not be conducting their business in a way that jives with the coop’s standards). They also give kids a free banana, and their juice bar tips go to a local non-profit.

Oh, and we love our local farmer’s market…we go weekly when it is in season. When we lived in DC we frequented the one in DPC on Sat and I also rode my bike home right through the small one by the Foggy Bottom metro on Wednesdays, so I often picked a little something up from there as well.

Its a delicate dance, this idea of eating well (i.e. locally, consciously and healthfully) and eating frugally (spending the least amount of money for the most food, preferably not so junky food!). I tend to not get so out of shape about our farmer’s market spending as I really support these endeavors and sometimes the stuff one can get there is just so fantastic.

Have fun exploring your coop option!

Hilda January 24, 2008 at 5:31 am

I go to the Coop occasionally to stock up on beans for sprouting, falafel mix, and essential oils.

We have a farmer’s market on Saturdays (except in the Winter) and I go there to buy produce not usually available in the grocery store from a Vietnamese couple.

I like to eat healthy and inexpensively. That said, I prefer the farmer’s market over the Coop and grocery store because it’s cheaper, fresher, and I’m helping out the local farmer. I have no use for organic fruits that came all the way from Brazil.

Jim January 24, 2008 at 6:33 am

Farmer’s Markets. Watch out. Some of the vendors buy from the grocery wholesalers.

I know at least 10% of the vendors at our local farmers market would buy 50-100% of the produce from our warehouse or retail stores. Some would go for the older stuff to get a deal. The new stuff that I saw on Saturday’s at the market would be priced about 20% higher than the stores.

A good way to find out is ask them where they grow their crops. Their reaction will tell all. Do not ask where their farm is. They will tell you even if they did not grow the veggies there.

deepali January 24, 2008 at 9:54 am

I’m a nutritionist – I put no price on wellness (or good food!). 🙂

Love the farmers’ markets (I go to the Penn Qtr, Dupont, and U St), love my Whole Foods (P St), and especially love toiling out at the farm in the summer in exchange for produce (great money saver!).

My Whole Foods has a bulk bin aisle – so I don’t buy rice, beans, etc, in 5 lb bags, but I do buy it somewhat cheap.

As for freezing veggies – I do recommend blanching them first. Tomatoes should be stewed, and peppers can be roasted. Of course, I say all this, and a good friend of mine (in NE) insists that all veggies can be frozen raw. 🙂
All that being said, buy veggies in season – cheaper and fresher. Now is the time to check out the collards and root vegetables!

SavingDiva January 24, 2008 at 10:28 am

I frequently go to the farmer’s market on the weekends. I’ve been considering going to the Co-op for some time, but haven’t made it over.

Looby January 24, 2008 at 11:15 am

I use farmers markets in the summer, I also recommend asian supermarkets for bulk purchases of rice etc, they also have fairly cheap fresh produce and lots of very interesting fruits and veg to experiment with. I go to the grocery stores in Little India for spices.

War Gold January 24, 2008 at 12:32 pm

We go to the original Co-Op in Rochdale, Lancashire. It’s like a tourist attraction at times!

boomie January 24, 2008 at 2:39 pm

I make my own granola. It’s much cheaper that way AND it is sooooooo easy. The Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten) from has the best and easiest recipe. You can add in dried fruits and nuts and raisins and make it your own. I store it in airtight containers and sprinkle it over yogurt. Delish!

wealthy_1 January 24, 2008 at 6:18 pm

I must say that I’m willing to spend a little more for healthy food. I get paid every two weeks. On pay day I do what I consider my big shopping. I stock up on items I use regularly if they’re on sale. I shop for produce every week. That’s generally all I need. Sometimes I need milk and snack food for C2, but I only try to only buy what I absolutely need on the off pay week. I’m not good about cooking food and then freezing it.

Mrs. Nathan January 24, 2008 at 7:59 pm

When Nathan and I saw the word “staples” in the title of your post, we both were like “gee, we don’t use staples as often as they do…maybe only one box per year? What are they doing that require so many?” And then we realized what kind of staples you meant….


We’ve recently started buying in semi-bulk (we have the same problem of not being able to eat things fast enough before they spoil) – like if raisins or shampoo is on sale, we buy several because we know we’ll need it eventually. I honestly don’t have enough *room* to store massive amounts of extra staples though.

m January 26, 2008 at 12:00 am

I think I know the coop too, well if it’s the one I’m thinking, we used to live near there when we lived in the DC area.

Anyhow, I am def. one to spend on healthy food. It’s def. one area I don’t skimp on. Not to say we buy whatever we want. We’ve lowered our grocery bill by hundreds a month so far, but we will pay to have healthy food. I have a health condition that pretty much requires it, but if I didn’t, well I wouldn’t want to acquire one, and eating well certainly doesn’t hurt in trying to avoid that fate.

We are def. on a quest now to eat healthier and learn a whole new way of shopping, eating, and cooking. It’s a process but one I enjoy. Our time is limited so we shop wherever is most convenient and healthy and easy, usually for us that is grocery store not farmer’s market, though we hope to check out the farmer’s market if we ever manage to find time.

I try to eat food that is organic, in season, and at least from our region, and not from out of the country. We don’t really buy in bulk, though. We don’t have extra storage space and when we have done it, the food seems to go to waste quite a bit. Now, we buy for the week only and it works great.

Whew, that was a lot of writing about food!

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