Where to shop for groceries

In this post, I will boil down my years of honing my shopping strategies for groceries, including food, pantry and cleaning products, and health and body products.

Where to purchase groceries is an individual decision based on budget, quality & types, breadth of selection/stock, timing, and convenience/location. But, among my friends and family, most people are making similar kinds of choices. So, there are some assumptions to be made that might apply to most of us.

When I lived in Michigan, I did actually create spreadsheets to compare grocery prices to figure out how my sources stacked up: my co-op, Trader Joe’s, Costco, and even Meijer. Now I live in Minnesota and I have a co-op grocery store, Costco, Trader Joe’s and lots of new online options such as: Thrive Market, Amazon.com, Instacart (for local delivery), plus for supplements and some foods, Vitacost.com, among others.

These days, I take a blended, more cavalier approach to checking prices. Because I’m both more aware, and now also am not willing to devote the time to spreadsheets. Even so, many of my friends are so busy that people rely on me to tell them even my best guess on which sources are the best deals.

I spot check my most expensive foods. I cross check against only one, maybe two other sources. I try to pick the source that I think in the past was one that think specializes in this product.

  • Costco Wholesale. I continue to champion Costco. It’s rated one of the best places to work, so I know they’re treating their local employees well. The price checking I’ve done over the years shows consistently low prices. Quality is much higher than Sam’s Club–I won’t consider Sam’s Club every again. If Costco has it and if I want it, I buy it there. I use the Executive Membership and recommend that to everyone. We buy our tires there. We’ve purchased prescription eyewear there. And, their pharmacy is a great deal, too. If there’s one store I think everyone should really consider shopping at, it’s Costco. I shop here about every other week and buy certain things. I buy almost all my fish at Costco (only wild caught), greens, frozen fruits, Kerrygold butter, and cheeses. You can also use coupons to save even more on laundry detergent, snacks, etc. The Costco Visa is a really great deal, especially if you can fill up on gasoline while you’re there.
  • Frontier Wholesale. This is a co-op. If you’re short on time, this is not the way to go. But, if you’re short on cash, this is a great way to go. It takes me time and experience to pull together a $250 order in order to get free shipping (otherwise, it’s not worth the high shipping cost). When I do, I know I’m saving a ton of money. I could write a whole post or several on Frontier if there were interest from my readers. I usually do one order every fall. As time goes on, I think I’ll order there more, because I continue to get more familiar with my sources and their pricing (hence this blog post). I have a high level of trust in the pricing on Frontier. I’ve checked many products against other sources over the years. It usually comes out with Frontier a clear winner on lowest cost.
  • Thrive Market is in fact a great way to go if you you like the selection of products that they have. You pay for an annual membership, so you want to know that you will use it often. Yes, buy pet shampoo here–almost half the price of Amazon.com for the same item! Yes, buy the collagen, if you want the Great Lakes brand. Decent price. Don’t buy whey protein at Thrive; it’s overpriced. I checked several other types of products and found that their prices are indeed quite good and I would consider becoming a member. My only hesitation is that I do have a Frontier Wholesale account which suffices for a lot of things. And, my sister lets me use her Thrive account. For Minneapolis folks, Thrive is a great addition to the local co-op stores and I would recommend you check your more expensive purchases against Thrive Market for those pantry items. I believe you will find that Thrive Market does indeed save you money vs. the co-op stores and even Amazon.com. Here is a coupon for 15% of Thrive Market and my sister will get some money toward her groceries. http://thrv.me/rachelsfyi
  • Amazon.com: Not really. I have a Prime account which means free 2-day shipping. Without Prime, pricing can differ. My purchases credit my favorite charity. And, I use a Chase Bank Amazon Rewards Visa to earn cash back. Even with all that, I haven’t transitioned to Amazon for groceries. I do buy some supplements, but it’s a headache to always be checking prices. I notice that Amazon pricing is going up in general, now that they have everyone hooked on their convenience.
  • Garbage bags: Home Depot’s HDX brand is the lowest cost I’ve found. I haven’t seen “flap tie” at Costco. I absolutely hate drawstring bags. If you want bags made from recycled plastic, look to Seventh Generation. They are at least twice as expensive as virgin plastic. The pricing listed on Target.com was incorrect/confusing and appears to be way out of line. The price on Frontier is certainly the best ($4.85 for 30 bags. 13 gal flap tie). Even still, HDX bags are half the price of Frontier’s price for Seventh Generation. Whichever brand you buy, try making less trash, hence fewer trash bags: Place dry, non-messy things that won’t attract flies directly in the alley bin, and utilize compost and recycling to it’s fullest. If you have to put something plastic in the trash, don’t wrap it in more plastic.
  • Compost bags: Frontier Wholesale is the best source. Otherwise, let me know if you cross check pricing. Again, fill those babies to the brim! I now put food scraps into a SMALL compost bin (found at Cost Plus World Market) with 6 liter bags, rather than the 13 gallon compost bags. I also put DRY organics into a paper grocery bag.
  • Farms. Meat. I stock my freezer with basic meats from a farm. In Minneapolis, I use Pastures A Plenty.
  • Co-op. My co-op store is a grocery store and I get most of my produce and dairy there, some meats, as well as items I can’t get elsewhere. I order some things by the case (usually 12 packages per case) for a 10% discount. Most natural foods stores will give you a discount if you order a case. I usually order cases for: yogurt cups, seaweed snacks, chips, Amy’s black refried beans, coconut milk. However, if you see a SALE PRICE, then it’s time to stock up. Usually a sale price beats a coupon and is a much bigger discount than 10% off. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

If you are left with some questions, please ask in the “Reply” section below, or shoot me an email. I can coach a little more based on your particular criteria.

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