Thursday, May 15, 2014

Joining Costco was EPIC and How to Get your Superfoods for Super Cheap

The other day I was in Walmart shopping for some garden tools and I passed by a sale display: boxes of Macaroni and Cheese for $0.33. Yes, that's right - thirty-three cents. For an entire box of Mac & Cheese. No, I wasn't tempted to buy it but I did feel a twinge of envy. Why can't my organic bunches of KALE be thirty-three freaking cents? How come Goji Berries can't be the blue light special or in the dollar bin at Target?

Now I'm just as outraged as everyone else about the state of the food industry in America, but that's not what this post is about. This post is about working within the constraints of the current system to get the healthy Superfoods you want for the lowest possible prices, without sacrificing quality. In case you didn't know, I've gone through a bit of financial downsizing this year. No more big cushy salary to throw around at the juice bars and organic cafes. The wealthy organic/green/vegan/paleo gurus on TV will argue that you can't put a price on your health but for anyone with bills to pay looking at a container of organic strawberries that cost $10, you know that in fact you can...and it's a whole lot more than $0.33. I'm frugal by nature. I didn't like parting with my money even when I could! But as a health-coach-in-training with a heart condition married to a green juice consultant, we kinda gotta put our money where our mouth is. 

Saving money typically means investing a bit more time, so I'm not saying these tips work for everyone. When I had mo' money and less time, I had to buy everything pre-made or starve so I get it. However, if you're willing to put in the effort and save some dinero, here's how we do it:

We make about 2 gallons of juice (3 kinds) and 2 types of
almond milk each week.
1) Buy the machinery you need to prepare your smoothies and juices at home. As far as a money-saver, this is only for the hard-core smoothie and juice drinkers among us. Sure, our Hurom Slow Juicer cost $299, but here's some math for you: If you buy 1 juice a day at $10, that's $3,650 a year. If you buy a $300 juicer and make one juice everyday with the average cost being $5 per juice (based on following the other cost-saving tips below), that works out to only $2125 a year for a savings of $1,525.00. Same goes for smoothies that cost even less per drink when made at home. Vitamix is the gold standard and we bought ours with wedding present gift cards. Before that we had a cheaper blender that worked just fine (until you own a Vitamix you don't know what you're missing). Don't get caught up on the brand name but if you're REALLY going to use them, these tools are worth the investment. Same goes for a slow cooker, good knives for chopping veggies, and a few good pans for stir-fry.  

Same brand as Whole Foods - 10lb size - perfect for
carrot juice, carrot cake, rabbit farming, etc.
2) Join Costco. Seriously. Join. I had never been to a Costco until last week but after my sister told me that they were owned by liberals (as opposed to the conservative-owned Mac & Cheese slinging Walmart) and had a huge selection of organic products, my interest was piqued. They charge an annual fee of $55 per year, which is about what I saved on my first trip to Costco, versus the same shopping cart at Whole Foods. Because we make large quantities of juice at a time, the cost of buying pounds and pounds of organic produce could rob us blind. At Costco we can buy ENORMOUS bags of organic kale, cases of organic citrus and apples, and other organic staples in modestly gargantuan sizes such as cucumbers, carrots, pineapple and sweet potato. They also have a crazy selection of frozen fruit: mango, pineapple, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, and probably more but that was all I could fit in my cart. Make sure to check out the dry goods too. Nuts, stevia, organic quinoa, agave, organic coconut oil, even GOJI berries and slightly more obscure Superfoods can be found in this discount food mecca. The only downside of course is you can't buy "just one" of anything and organic foods can't sit on your shelf too long. Costco is your go-to for a) frozen items b) items to be juiced in their entirety right away and c) dry goods.
Why throw money down the blender or use sub-par conventional
fruits? Just buy big-ass organic bags from Costco.

3) Join Amazon Prime and/or Subscribe & Save. Are you a Superfood snob? Do you regularly buy things like Raw Cacao, Acai Powder, Raw Vegan Protein Powder, Chia Seed, Spirulina, Coconut Sugar, Maca and other items that you sometimes can't find at Whole Foods let alone Costco? Do you take obscure supplements and vitamins or drink dandelion tea every night before bed? If so Amazon Prime is the way to go. They've got EVERYTHING under the sun and if you're willing to do a bit of research, it's a great place to find steals. If you sign up for regular deliveries via the "Subscribe and Save" plan, you can save an additional 5-15% depending on how many items you subscribe to. Make sure you read customer reviews- not all sellers are reputable, but many are. Also if you're buying items by weight, it's important to do the math...duh, right? But I've almost been fooled by the picture of the big bag with a price next to it, only to click the link and find that that price is actually for the smaller size. Just sayin'. 

I love the NOLA Food Co-Op! 
4) Shop Local! Join your community co-op or CSA. I am fortunate to live in a tropical region where local produce abounds! I can get local strawberries (naturally grown- not certified organic) for $2.99 a pound at my local farmer's market and tubs of raw honey for $5. As a shareholder in my co-op, (a lifetime investment of $100) I get weekly "owner's discounts" on things like brussels sprouts, organic breads, grass-fed local meats, and other farm-to-table items. I don't do the majority of my grocery shopping at these two destinations, but I make sure to get a few "special" items (special both in terms of price and quality) from each place each week. This often leads me to buy things I ordinarily wouldn't, like the delicious fava beans I picked up last week, adding variety to my diet. I typically plan our dinners around what I've gotten from the co-op and save the "bulk produce" strictly for juices and smoothies. There is nothing better than locally grown food. It's fresh, flavorful, and you get to feel good about supporting your local farm economy.

5) Become one of those mason jar people.  Not gonna lie...when the mason jar trend first took off, it kind of annoyed me. I get it...we're all so earthy and green. Look at my mason jar board on Pinterest!! We pack our salads in mason jars (wet items on the bottom- lettuce on the top!). We brew tea in mason jars! We even drink cocktails at our local organic artisanal bespoke cocktail bar in mason jars! Becoming-a-hipster-phobia aside, when you're buying from the bulk isle at any store - grains, steelcut oats, pink Himalayan salt, spices, and nuts - these trendy granny jars become your best friend. Sometimes it seems easier to buy prepackaged goods (at Whole Foods 11oz of cashews for $13.99 vs the same price for a pound in the bulk isle) just to keep things neat and organized in your pantry. Who wants to have everything laying on their shelves in skimpy plastic bags closed with twist ties? However if you've got mason jars and stick-on labels, this becomes a non-issue. Plus, doesn't a cabinet full of mason jars make you look so DIY and boho-chic? Come on, you know it does! 
Cool people have pics of cashew prices in
their phones!

6) Take notes - or pictures - when shopping around. I've proudly got pictures in my phone of countless food price stickers, bulk-food dispenser labels, and screenshots of website carts pre-checkout so I can keep track of what costs how much where. This week I found out organic ginger is the same price at my co-op as at Whole Foods because of my photographic memory (aka my iPhone). You'd drive yourself crazy trying to remember all your "best buys." By documenting prices at the stores you frequent, you'll know for sure you're getting the best possible deal on the staples you need. 

$1.89 a pound? Never made Kamut Berries
before but I bought 'em and loved 'em!
 7) COUPONS! Unfortunately there aren't as many coupons for Superfoods as there are for say, Macaroni & Cheese, but they do exist. Like the Co-Op and Farmer's Market specials, coupons often encourage me to venture off my "always buy" staple list and try something new- just to grab the great deal. Now don't go buying stuff you'll NEVER eat just because it's on sale, but if you're always eating oatmeal and there's a sale on amaranth, get a little CRAZY and switch your breakfast grain style up. Here's a link to lots of great coupons and if you come across another, send it my way!

8) Go on a "wallet diet" - at least Monday-Friday. Back in NYC I made far more trips to Starbucks, 16 Handles and other money vacuums than I'd like to admit. I'd drop $4-7 without blinking an eye and walk out with something that didn't fill my belly, was full of chemicals, additives, caffeine, and sugar, and cost as much as a wholesome home-cooked meal for two. If you're gonna splurge, better at least to splurge on something truly valuable like organic produce than on a $6 cup of fro-yo. Admit it - you'll bitch about the price of organic broccoli but you'll gladly plunk down $5 for a small Frappucino at Starbucks. I know, me too. If you really want to maximize your health and minimize your expenditures, this is a great place to start. Think of these places as a treat- twice a month to once a week maximum. Because seriously, if you've got enough money to buy Starbucks everyday than you can probably also afford to fuel your body with organic groceries.

Eating healthy is certainly more expensive than eating packaged, processed crap, but there are ways to make it work for any budget. You might have to trim your expenditures elsewhere but once you get fully immersed in high-quality organic and naturally produced food, you'll start to realize that spending any money - even thirty-three cents on boxed Macaroni & Cheese would be the REAL waste.