I wanted to talk about how I grocery shop today. The plan of the post (requested by a reader trying to determine if a Costco Membership was worth it while eating Paleo) was to detail what I purchase at Costco vs. Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods vs. Our Neighborhood Grocer. Yep I shop at 4 different stores. Not every single Sunday, but since I try and find the lowest prices and sometimes look for specific ingredients, there is never a one-stop shop.
Man, can someone in Sacramento get on that? That would be great.
So I took some pictures while doing my weekly shop last Sunday and worked to write up something cohesive that sort of explained what I buy where. But as I got into the post I started to experience a bit of anxiety. I was trying to communicate an answer to the original question – Should I buy a Costco Membership? I have very specific opinions on that subject, and they are of the HELL YES! variety.
You see for us, it pays for itself each year, and I mean that literally. We pay $100 for the Executive Membership, which offers a 2% cash back reward issued once each year and for us the reward is always more than $100. Yes, it is just the two of us, but between groceries (many which are cheaper than my other 3 grocery store options), household purchases (some are cheaper, some are convenient to pick up in bulk), gas (ALWAYS cheaper), clothing (cheap workout clothes, HOLLA!), booze (always cheaper) and the infamous “impulse purchases” (FUN!) we clearly spend the required minimum of $5000 per year there to make this a good trade off. That breaks down to about $400 per month and honestly between all those things I listed above, we are usually spending more than that.
But the longer the post got and the more stores I started to incorporate, the more I felt like I had to qualify our purchases. The truth is, I love Trader Joe’s (and I used to love it 100x more when I bought all their candy and frozen processed food and pre-made meals) but at this point in my life there are very few items I buy there without “making an exception.” I don’t like their meat (it tends to come from other countries and I live in California so I feel like the least I can do is buy local since it’s readily available.) Their produce SUCKS at all of our locations and the per unit prices are never competitive.
This only leaves a few items on our TJs specific grocery list which include Coconut and Olive Oil, Beef and Chicken Broth, Olives, Almond Butter, Lara Bars, Sunflower butter (Garrett’s addiction) as well as Nuts and Dried Fruit. I buy all of those things there because they are super competitively priced, but when I looked at the photos, I felt like “Wow, seems like a lot of processed food that I could make myself. Maybe I should be buying a better source of Coconut Oil. Shit, my favorite nut mix at Trader Joe’s has peanuts and that’s so not Paleo. People are going to judge the fact that I eat Sunflower Butter.”
Then I looked at the Whole Foods picture.
I basically go there when I want to buy fun stuff. Mint sparkling water to mix with Strawberry Infused Vodka. The Good Olives. Dark Chocolate because it is one of my only vices left. Specialty baking stuff. You know what is notably absent? High Quality Protein Sources. Whole Foods is full of that stuff but they are generally SO MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE that I don’t pick up my beef there, or my chicken. My god, the last time I bought lamb there it was $25 and only made dinner for one night, and lunch the next day. Do you know how many pounds of ground beef I can get at Costco for $25? TWELVE. Do you know how many meals that makes?
So then I felt like I had to add in this “We’re on a budget” qualification to my post. But I felt douchey about that because who ISN’T on a budget, hello. And when I do the math — the amount of money I spend between all 4 of those grocery stores each month is well over $800. And that’s down from last year when it was over $1000. I get myself over the sticker shock of that by reminding myself that we buy A LOT of things at Costco that contribute to that number that aren’t groceries, but still. I just didn’t feel right rationalizing our purchase of non grass fed ground beef by using the “Woe. We are on a budget so we only buy what we can afford” excuse. Because the truth is, we can be making better decisions on this VERY ADEQUATE BUDGET.
It threw me for a loop. And I immediately felt guilty.
You see, I roll my eyes when I see news articles and talk show segments talking about How To Slash! Your! Grocery! Bill! It’s not that I’m against saving a buck, but I feel in my heart of hearts that I want to be aligning my spending with my values. I say this out loud to people all the time when they ask if Paleo is expensive. Yeah it can be more expensive, but isn’t your health worth it? Behind a lot of those exclamatory article headlines tend to be tips like Buy Less Meat, or recommendations to add cheap filler foods like grains and pastas into your dishes to further your dollar and since going Paleo, that is just NOT a part of our lifestyle anymore. We chose this lifestyle because we believe that food is the 100% most important thing that nourishes our health. We have made some financial sacrifices for it, even. When Garrett and I talk about our budgets, quality food is an absolute non-negotiable. But I had clearly been negotiating my way out of this mindset without even realizing it.
And when I was writing this post and looking at the pictures I just nonchalantly snapped at Costco, it really hit me in the face.
I was actually really upset about it last night. You should have seen me, I was bucking for Best Dramatic Actress in my own kitchen about the fact that WE BUY FACTORY FARMED PORK, OHMYGOD — and luckily Garrett took me by the shoulders and asked the all important question:
“Holly, look me in the eyes. Is this you talking or your period talking?”
That guy! I don’t always smile when he asks me that question. Understandably, right ladies? But I was being melodramatic. And so if this post is starting to move in that direction again, I just want to clarify the point. The world doesn’t end if you are on a budget. The world does not end if you don’t buy meat that is raised by farmers who only give them positive affirmations and let them go night night on alpaca rugs. There are recommendations everywhere about how to prioritize your food purchases if you aren’t burning money in your fireplace for warmth.
I talk here a lot about my commitment to eating cleanly, and the positive changes that is has brought to my life, so I feel like it’s only honest to also acknowledge when I’ve gotten a little off track. It bums me out, honestly, but I’m going to do what I do best and evaluate where I am, evaluate where I want to be, and make a new list. A new grocery list, actually, and one that is more in line with my values.
That said, I still recommend a membership to Coscto! I mean where else can you find wild caught tuna, bison sausage, roasted seaweed ALL IN BULK.
Oh yes, and reasonably priced LARGE bottles of McCallan 12.
I mean we can’t all be perfect every day, now can we?