the grocery shopping conundrum: local, or inexpensive?

There’s so much I want to write on this site every single week, but since picking up the day job to help us work off our $70k in school debt, I have been limited on time and energy.

The grocery shopping conundrum: local, or inexpensive? You can’t have both.

Ali and I love the idea of spending a little bit more to get local, fresh goods that taste better and support local businesses. Luckily, Portland has a wonderful farmers’ market system for much of the year that makes it easy and convenient to find a market close to your home or daily route. But… what to do in these winter months when the markets are on hiatus and local produce is limited to tubers and beans? We like and have a membership at our closest co-op, a tiny but mighty little store on Alberta Street we frequent for bulk foods, greens, and quick refills that fall outside of our big shopping trips. It certainly costs more to shop in a place like this, and I try to avoid buying any non-food items (toiletries, paper goods, etc.) here due to the huge markup.

But then you get into the other issue — the places where I know I can get paper products or the toiletries we like for a good price — such as Tom’s of Maine, Dr. Bronner’s, or Burt’s Bees… well, traveling outside of Portland to get to a Target isn’t exactly helping the local economy in any way. And me going into Target isn’t exactly encouraging toward staying on track with spending…. AND THEN there’s the whole issue of all the “natural” brands selling out to bigger companies, who use the good reputation of the little guys to make themselves look better.

Back to the point of writing this blog post. Ali and I have patched together a reasonably satisfying mix of shopping at our little co-op for small weekly trips, and stocking up at a big employee-owned warehouse store WinCo on the edges of town every 10 days or so. In doing so, I’ve been able to purchase enough food for daily lunches and dinners, with enough variety to avoid the felt need of eating out because we’re bored or lazy. Wintertime cravings for warm comfort food translates into soups and warm stew dishes with the slow cooker, which means dinner is almost ready when I walk in the door after work. IT’S GREAT!

We’re curious: how do you handle the local versus inexpensive conundrum in your house?

4 thoughts on “the grocery shopping conundrum: local, or inexpensive?

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  2. micah

    We always opt for local groceries, when it is possible. If that fails us, which is likely in the winter months, we try to look for goods produced in the USA. Trader Joe’s is usually a good resource for this and their prices are reasonable.

    However, you aren’t going to win this battle 100% of the time. For non-food items it seems near impossible to avoid the larger stores. And so, that is where we go.

    I figure we are doing more than the average consumer trying to buy local or even USA produced foods, that we are allowed to hit up a Target for toilet paper when we need it.

  3. Lance

    A lot of low-income families make their income at places like Walmart and Target … your audience probably doesn’t agree, but there’s a definite “local” impact going on there too. Besides, I think there’s a certain amount of irony when progressive thinkers/do-ers shun the efficiency of the big box stores and cling to the analog way of life.

    So thrilled to find this journal, guys … and the quest that’s motivating it. Kristen and I just settled our last debts this month, and we’re delighted that you two will get to experience the freedom of living without that weight as well!


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