Grocery buying presents a real quandary for those wanting to “shop local.” In a time gone by the “homemaker” allowed much of her (or his) work to include time for food including growing our own, meal planning, shopping, and preparation. Today it feels like an indulgence to allow time in our schedule for this kind of work. Or, if not an indulgence, it may seem like an impossibility because of time constraints. I go through periods where it feels like my busy lifestyle dictates that I buy my groceries in a one-stop-shopping mode. As a practical matter we also have to consider the economic impact of shopping at locally owned stores, which are smaller and don’t have the “buying power” of the chains. It may be better for the community’s economics. But is it more economical on MY bottom line?
My strategy for shopping is to try my best to shop with integrity. I may be able to justify one-stop-chain-store shopping; but how do I feel about it? When I live my life with integrity, when my values match my actions, I find that I can be fully alive. I have to shut-down less. I have more energy. This extra energy actually allows me to have more time in my life. And we all know that “time equals money.” So I can be richer for shopping locally too.
I believe all of that and still I have to find ways to make practical application of shopping locally. First let me say that I don’t always do it. There are things that I buy at the local big stores. These include prepared cake mixes, non-stick spray and Healthy Choice Fudge bars. I know, I know. If I were some little perfect organic domestic goddess I wouldn’t even have these things on my shopping list. But I’m not. Sometimes I even pretend like Healthy Choice Fudge bars are healthy.
Of the big stores only Jerry’s IGA’s are locally owned. They are owned by Kirby Inc., which owns eleven other stores besides the three in Champaign Urbana. Schnuck’s is a privately held corporation with more than 100 stores primarily in St. Louis and the Midwest. County Market is owned by NFI, (Nieman Foods Inc.) based in Quincy, Illinois and operates stores, including Cub Foods and Sav-a-Lot, in four states. Meijer’s also operates in four states and is based in Grand Rapids,Michigan.
THE GROCERY LIST
I keep a grocery list. This helps in several ways, but mostly if I don’t have at least a basic list going I begin to feel overwhelmed.
When we feel stressed our natural reaction is to turn to old habits and try to make things easier on ourselves. Staying as organized as possible is important when changing habits. A grocery list also helps if you are enlisting other household members to shop. I divide mine into three sections. 1) Buy local, 2) buy at the big store, and 3) get it somewhere else. One of the biggest wastes of money is buying nonfood items at the grocery store.
EXPENSIVE VERSUS SANITY
I do not recommend clipping coupons, mail-in rebates or being over-zealous about sniffing out bargains in store ads. If you have a lot of time this may be a good strategy for saving money, but for me it just makes me hate grocery shopping and in the end, when I have forgotten my coupons for the fourth time, after I spent six hours organizing them by expiration date, I find that it just makes me feel incompetent. I find that a HUGE part of my food bill goes to eating out at restaurants. If I have good foods on hand at home – no matter what price I paid for them in the store – it keeps me from eating out as much, and that more than justifies the extra money spent at the store.
I avoid “convenience” foods. Instead I suggest you develop several meals that are convenience foods at your house. The qualifications: the meals are easy to prepare and everybody in your house likes them. Develop this list of convenience meals and make sure that you always have the ingredients for these on hand.
SAVE MONEY, MAKE IT CONVENIENT AND HAVE FUN
I find it interesting and fun to shop at local stores. I try to not make it a big deal and keep it as simple as possible. It takes me about 20 to 30 minutes to shop so I look for these periods of time, between appointments, before meetings, at the end of my work day, etc. I find that the more I shop at the locally owned the easier it becomes to shop there. I get to know the layout of the store, the inventory and the shopkeepers. I ask for help if I need something and this saves me time. Once you know the inventory you’ll find that there are many items that are much less expensive at these smaller stores. At the Food Co-op (see article in this issue) the spices are an incredible savings. Buying in bulk (out of bins, without prepackaging) may also create savings. Last week I thought I splurged by buying a bag of Raisin Bran at the Food Coop for $7.25. I thought it seemed extravagant at the time, but when I got home I compared it to the box of Total brand Raisin Bran that I had on my shelf. The Total cost about $5. However, the box only held 24 ounces as opposed to 32 ounces. Percentage wise this would have driven the box of Total to about $6.65. So I had to pay just 60 cents more for getting organic food, not contributing to the landfill, and keeping the dollars in the community. It seems worth it to me, especially when balanced with the things that I find less expensive there such as bulk tofu, soy milk, and maple syrup.
Often the locally owned stores have things you can have for lunch.While I’m indulging in the delicious egg rolls from the Sunshine grocery I’ll pick up dried mushrooms, soy sauce, and a variety of vegetables. If I’m at Strawberry Fields for a Bar-B-Q tofu sandwich I’ll package myself some oatmeal or buy a bag of carrots. Natural Gourmet, which has a Thai deli, also has organic coffee. Yes, it may be more expensive than Maxwell House. But Maxwell House just isn’t enough incentive to brew at home instead of stopping at the coffee shop for the much more expensive cup – fresh ground mocha decaf provides that incentive.
A FEW MORE HINTS FOR GROCERY SHOPPING
• Keep your refrigerator cleaned out so you don’t let food you do have go to waste. It makes putting away groceries so much easier.
• Sometimes the Lincoln Square Farmers Market is fun for the social occasion that it is. But if you just want to get to the vegetables and not mix and mingle try the smaller market at Country Fair shopping center at Springfield and Mattis in Champaign (Wednesdays from 7am to noon).
• Look for roadside farm stands where the produce is often less expensive than at the market.
• Prepare your menu for the week around what you already have. Substitute ingredients that you might not have in the cupboard.
• Ask staff to help you rather than wasting time looking for items.
• Meat is a good source of protein but it’s expensive and questionable for many reasons. Cheese, poultry, eggs, peanut butter, dried peas, beans, lentils, and some fish are less expensive and excellent sources of protein.
• Buy locally grown foods; they are fresher, more nutritious, and ecologically smart.
• Herbs are especially easy to grow yourself even in a small space.
• Most bargains are found on the higher and lower shelves. Most expensive brands are at eye level to get your attention. Pretty packaging costs you money.You are not only paying for the product, but for the packaging (and advertising) as well.
• Convenience foods are more expensive, you are trading money for time. Slice, season, mix, and cook it yourself.
THE OTHER LIST
I try to never buy personal care or houseware items at a chain grocery store. This really drives the cost up. I buy what I can in the way of hardware, paint, and garden supplies at True Value Hardware. Both the store in Urbana and Champaign are owned by local Bob Cooper. I buy all housewares at Farm and Fleet on North Cunningham in Urbana. The price is right and while not local (their corporate offices are in Appleton, Wisconsin)– at least it is helping the tax base of Urbana, which needs all the help it can get.
A Partial List of Locally Owned Stores
AM-KO Oriental Foods, 101 E. Springfield, Champaign, 398-2922
Chang’s Oriental Market, 505 S. Neil Champaign, 356-9288
Common Ground Food Co-op, 403 S. Wright, Champaign, 352-3347
El Charro, 55 E. Green, Champaign; 337-6647
Jerry’s IGA, 2110 Round Barn Road, Champaign, 352-8715; 2010 S. Philo Road, Champaign, 367-1166; 312 Kirby Ave, Champaign, 352-0019
Lee’s Oriental Market, 303 Cedar St, Champaign, 351-8949
Natural Gourmet, 2225 S. Neil, Champaign, 355-6365
Roundbarn True Value, 2010 Round Barn Road, Champaign, 652-1100
Strawberry Fields, 306 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana, 328-1655
Sunshine Grocery, 117 W. Washington St., Urbana, 384-6668
Sunnycrest True Value, 1303 E. Colorado, Urbana, 367-6458
World Harvest International Foods, 519 East University Ave., Champaign, 356-4444