Tag Archives: WinCo

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?

busting open the bread bag on the way home from the grocery store

This afternoon I was driving home from the Saturday errands and realized I was ravenously hungry. I’m one of those people who stops functioning when my blood sugar is low, so I NEED TO EAT when I feel hungry. As I drove out of the WinCo parking lot I noticed a Sonic next door. Before going on our “budget diet”, I would have pulled right up to the little order station and gotten hooked up with some tots and lime-cherry soda to tide me over until I got home. The hugeness of our financial goal means eating out is not really an option. [Ed. note: I just realized how gross fast food tater tots and soda are for a messed up metabolism! What was I thinking?!] And then… THEN I saw a Burgerville — a highly-regarded local chain that features locally sourced “slow” fast food and a seasonal menu in some ways similar to the relationship Californians have to In-N-Out. I was so tempted to pull over and try their food after hearing friends rave about it – and I was SOOO HUNGRY I could have easily justified it. Then I thought about Dave Ramsey and how he always counsels people trying to get out of debt “shouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant… unless [you’re] working there”

This story has an up-side. I had a little victory when I realized I could take some bread and hummus that I had just purchased fair and square with our grocery budget and make a nice and MUCH HEALTHIER snack for the 25 minute drive back home. Food budget victory! I would have never even thought about that before we put this budget into place and started heavily concentrating on ways to quickly eliminate our debt. Constantly treating yourself to small indulgences can become the equivalent of “death by paper cuts” in the financial world.

While we’re talking about food vignettes and in the spirit of transparency I should also admit that I had a food-related failure this week as well. There was one day this past week when I didn’t take my lunch break until 3:30pm and had to go back for the last 30 minutes of the day anyway. I was innocently going by the local library to pick up a book when I noticed that there was a McMenamins next door. I found myself heading inside to take advantage of happy hour at the bar — I ordered a beer and an appetizer. It was ‘only’ $7 with tip but it felt like a total rebellion because I was spending money for food I didn’t need to buy, and also because I was drinking a beer and then going back to work. A little like a decadent Mad Men-esque triple-martini lunch. Obviously I didn’t drink enough to even get tipsy or I would NOT be admitting this to the internet. I am sad that we are now $7 further away from meeting our $70k goal.

So there are my food stories of the week. Is this the equivalent of tweeting what I ate for breakfast? Or is it relevant enough to be interesting?