Co-op Shopping on a Budget

I lived in Uptown for a couple years and became a member of The Wedge Co-op. Now that I’m a St. Paul resident, I’m a Mississippi Market member as well. Supporting local business is important to me, but I sometimes feel a little lost at co-ops. Considering how much shopping I do at Mike’s Discount Foods and ALDI, co-op shopping can give me sticker shock now and again.

Recently, Mississippi Market offered a free class called Budget Shopping at the Co-op which was the inspiration for this post. Their next one is February 12 for anyone who’s interested! You don’t have to be a member to attend, and it’s a good opportunity to learn a little about the perks of joining a co-op.

Here are a few of the suggestions covered in the class, and people were encouraged to share their own tips as we went.

Figure out your budget
Track your spending closely for three months to get an idea of where your money goes. Once you’ve completed the three months, you can figure out what sort of budget you’d like for different spending categories. You can use an app or DIY with a spreadsheet.
Helpful resources:
You Need A Budget
Intuit/Mint
LearnVest

Once you’ve done that, decide how you want to shop, like if you want to go week by week, or if you want to purchase most of what you need for a month in one go then buy a few things (like produce) here and there throughout the month.

Meal planning
I’m completely guilty of going grocery shopping when I’m hungry, as well as going in with a list then getting off track when I see a new treat that I have to have. Take stock of what you have before you go shopping and figure out what you need to make a few meals. My number one recommendation is to check out
Plant Based on a Budget for easy meal plans that won’t break the bank. If you’d like some structure but also like to wing it, plan on a certain type of food for a day of the week (Taco Tuesday, Soup Sunday) then take it from there. Make a double batch so you have leftovers for lunch the next day or so you can use the same ingredient for a different meal.

Buy in Bulk
This is the way to go when buying dry goods like grains, beans, spices, nuts, pasta, and even tea and liquid soap. Bring your own container, weigh it and record the weight (referred to as the
tare weight), then fill the container and write down the PLU. You can use any kind of container – empty spice jars, mason jars, I even recently saw someone who uses empty Talenti containers. Get creative! You don’t even have to fill the container – by all means, buy a quarter cup of something if that’s all you need. Products can be a lot less expensive when you aren’t paying for the container, and of course it also reduces waste.

Take Advantage of Deals & Coupons
Fresh deals are steeply discounted products, and there are typically only a couple each week. Right now at Mississippi Market, grapefruits are $1.19/lb down from $2.49/lb. The Wedge has Dr. Bronner’s 16oz Liquid Castille Soap for $6.99 down from $10.99 and Flax Milk for $2.99 down from $4.99. If there’s something you regularly use and it either has a long shelf life or can be frozen, stock up. There are also co-op deals that, as far as I know, are universal across all co-ops, including coupons. As you can see below, Bitchin’ Sauce is on sale and also has a coupon. And there are member only deals, of course. You should be able to find which products are included in all of these on your co-op’s website.

Miscellaneous additional suggestions
Buy fruits and vegetables when they’re in season.
Buy by the case and get 10% off.
Bring your own bag and get 10 cents off your total. It’s not a lot, but it adds up!
Prep your ingredients in advance. If you know you need certain veggies chopped for a meal, do it on on days off when you’re not as pressed for time. Then all you need to do is grab them out of the fridge and throw them into your dish.
Set aside your leftovers
before you eat.
Save veggie scraps to make vegetable stock.
Make a large amount of sauce, chili, soup, etc., then portion it out and freeze it so you can eat it over time.
Use a whiteboard to track what’s in your fridge and freezer. Mark what you should prioritize depending on what might spoil first.

And that’s about all I have to share. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I recommend you start by attending a co-op class that interests you. It’ll get you to the co-op, and they usually provide some general information on co-ops. You don’t have to be a member to attend or to shop there, so consider making a few trips before you commit to joining. And even if you do join and change your mind, you can get your money back. Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention here? Feel free to share in the comments.

St. Paul Co-ops
Mississippi Market
Hampden Park Co-op

Minneapolis Co-ops
The Wedge and Linden Hills Co-op
Seward Community Co-op
Lakewinds Food Co-op
Eastside Food Co-op
Wirth Co-op

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