VeganMoFo, Day 20: Frugal vegans stockpile staples as though the dead are reanimating.

October 20th, 2009 4:26 pm by Kelly Garbato

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(This post has absolutely nothing to do with zombies; it’s just that time of the year, and you happened to catch me in the midst of a zombie kick. A more appropriate title might be “Frugal vegans buy in quantity.” Not nearly as catchy though, am I right?)

Naturally, the more you pledge to buy of any given item, the better overall deal you’ll get on said item – per pound, per box, per case, per widget, per whatever. This maxim is equally true of “normal people” foods (fruit, vegetables, grains, etc.) and vegan specialty items (meat analogs, faux cheeses, soy milks and dairy substitutes, etc.) – so buying in quantity is a strategy that frugal vegans can employ, no matter their dietary habits.

There are four ways that regular consumers like you and I can “buy in quantity”:

2008-02-18 - Boca Burgers - 0012

1. Buy packaged foodstuffs in the largest available sizes.

Usually the savings here are minimal – we’re talking pennies per pound – but you can save a little money by purchasing the largest available size of cans (jars, bags, etc.) of food. Some stores make it simple to compare cost across sizes; Wal-Mart and Wegmans, for example, include price per pound (ounce, fluid ounce, etc.) information on the shelf pricing label.

If not, it’s fairly easy to calculate (and if you usually shop at the same store or chain, you only need to run the numbers once – then keep a list of the cheapest goods and stick with it!):

Price per ounce = The cost of the item divided by the item’s weight in ounces

Price per pound = (The cost of the item divided by the item’s weight in ounces) x 16

Price per fluid ounce = The cost of the item divided by the item’s volume in fluid ounces

Price per quart = (The cost of the item divided by the item’s volume in fluid ounces) x 32

Price per gallon = (The cost of the item divided by the item’s volume in fluid ounces) x 128

Always be sure to compare cost across sizes and brands. The largest size usually gives you the greatest savings per pound, however, this isn’t always the case. A two-pound jar of name brand peanut butter, for example, may actually cost more per pound than a 1-pound jar of the generic/store brand.

Of course, buying a gallon of tomato sauce will only save you money if you’re able to use it all; toss it out, and you’ve wasted money in the end. When buying perishable items, a) make sure you have a way to save or preserve the extras and/or b) don’t purchase more than you can actually use.

2. Join a warehouse club.

A more extreme version of #1, warehouse clubs (think Sam’s Club or Costco) allow members to purchase large and/or wholesale sizes/quantities of items – usually fresh and packaged foods, but also clothing, electronics, appliances and more. While the selection of specialty vegan foods is minimal – some Sam’s Club stores stock Boca Burgers and Silk soymilk and only Boca Burgers and Silk soymilk, for example – warehouse stores can be a good place for vegans to save on the staples: fresh fruit and veggies, cereal, grains, the occasional snacks, and of course other consumer goods, too.

Again, the same rules apply here as in scenario #1: compare cost per unit across brands and sizes, and don’t buy more food than you can reasonably use, preserve and/or store.

However, I’d like to introduce a suggestion that makes more and more sense, the greater the quantity of food you buy: why not pair up with a friend or two and share the savings? (She doesn’t even need to be a member of Team Vegan, yo!)

Given the sometimes impossibly large sizes involved, warehouse clubs can seem like a non-starter for many consumers. Perhaps you live in a small apartment and simply don’t have room to store 20 pounds of rice. Or maybe you can’t afford to pay for a 6-month supply of toilet paper all at once? By teaming up with a buddy, you can overcome each of these obstacles: split the cost and quantity of wholesale items to make them more affordable and feasible – and eliminate waste, too.

As the name implies, warehouse clubs oftentimes charge a membership fee. Have one friend join the warehouse club and do the shopping for everyone in your mini-club. Get together once a month, come up with a shopping list, and divvy up the bill and haul on a regular basis. Perhaps all the non-shoppers chip in for the membership fee and let the cardholder skate on the fee and a week’s worth of groceries in order to compensate her for time, travel and gas? Or maybe y’all just treat her to dinner and a movie once awhile?

With some advanced planning and a little help from your friends, you too can buy a box of rolled oats for pennies on the pound!

2007-10-15 - (Mostly) Moved In - 0040

3. Purchase oft-used items by the case.

Shane and I burn through a ton of Lightlife Smart Pepperoni. Never one for the “real” stuff, I’ve found that pizza just isn’t pizza unless it’s covered in a dozen slices of faux pepperoni. Seeing as we eat pizza several times a week….well, you do the math!

Luckily, Whole Foods is more than willing to accommodate us: we special order a case of pepperoni (and Lightlife Smart Bacon, and Westsoy Non-fat Vanilla Soy Milk…I could go on and on!) at a time, and get a 10% discount in exchange. In fact, I’m fairly certain that they offer a 10% discount on all by-the-case purchases, but don’t quote me on that. (It could vary by store location, for all I know.)

This is also a great way to get your cruelty-free paws on items that the store doesn’t normally carry – while they might be loathe to order twelve of a slow seller if they’re only guaranteed to sell one unit (i.e., to you), there’s no loss if you pledge to buy the whole case. We’ve special ordered many items this way, including two cases of Yves brand Breakfast Sausages. Long story short, the warehouse accidentally sent Lightlife Breakfast Links, and because the store manager didn’t want to get stuck with 24 boxes of sausages that might not sell, he offered an extra discount on top of the 10% to entice us to eat his mistake (um, literally). We couldn’t walk away from such a good deal, and since the Lightlife links tasted almost as yummy as Yves, WIN!

Before special ordering cases of goodies, talk to a store employee – preferably the manager – about the store’s by-the-case policy. Confirm that the store offers a discount, and see how deep they’re willing to cut prices. For the most part, small/local/independent/granola-y stores are more willing to negotiate than are the big box chains.

Again, the same rule of thumb applies here as above: compare cost per unit across brands and sizes, and don’t buy more food than you can reasonably use, preserve and/or store. Also, recruit a friend or two and split the cost, case – and savings!

4. Buy items in bulk, by the pound.

Whether you’re shopping in person or online, buying items in bulk – by the pound – can help save money.

In the real world, look around for stores that have bulk foods sections. In my experience, bulk departments are becoming a rarity, but they’re out there: Wegmans has ’em; so do some Whole Foods stores. Here in Kansas City, a few Price Chopper stores had bulk sections upon my arrival six years ago, but I haven’t been in a PC bulk foods section in three years or more.

Anyhow, bulk foods sections allow you to buy as much or as little of a staple as you want. Common bulk foods include dried fruits, nuts, rolled and quick oats, baking flours, and candy and cookies. If you’re trying out a new recipe and unsure whether you’ll take to soy flour, buy a cup of the stuff to sample. On the other hand, if you’re an oatmeal fiend like me, buy a few pounds of quick oats to get you through the week. Since you can buy only as much as you need, the buddy system need not apply here.

Online, bulk quantities may be more fixed. Some online storefronts, for instance, package their wares in specific sizes: one pound, five pounds, ten pounds, twenty pounds, etc. The more you purchase, the less the price per pound. At the risk of being redundant: compare cost per unit across brands (websites) and sizes, don’t buy more food than you can reasonably use, preserve and/or store, and shop in groups. Also, when trying out a new store, make your first order a small one – buy a (relatively) small quantity of whatever strikes your fancy, as returns can be difficult, if not impossible. Make sure you like the store and its foodstuffs before stocking up.

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Photo credits, top to bottom:

www.flickr.com/photos/ateofiel/292853829/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/ateofiel/ / CC BY 2.0
www.flickr.com/photos/smiteme/2292191929/in/set-72057594131387908/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/smiteme/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
www.flickr.com/photos/alaskaval/3776681201/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/alaskaval/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
www.flickr.com/photos/smiteme/1697556193/in/set-72057594131387908/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/smiteme/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
www.flickr.com/photos/qilin/3923247224/in/photostream/">http://www.flickr.com/photos/qilin/ / CC BY 2.0

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5 Responses to “VeganMoFo, Day 20: Frugal vegans stockpile staples as though the dead are reanimating.”

  1. Shannon Says:

    What a great list of tips! We are devoted Costco shoppers for things like pasta, toilet paper/Kleenex, and Boca burgers (I’m indifferent, but he loves ’em). Our organic hippie grocery lets us bring our own jars for bulk stuff. Planning our menu for the week also helps us buy only what we need so we don’t get stuck with a ton of extra produce we can’t eat, which sometimes happened when I had a CSA share.

  2. Kelly G. Says:

    Hey, that’s a great idea – I never thought to bring my storage bins to Whole Foods for the bulk stuff! That way I can avoid overbuying – no more stray baggies with an extra 1/2 a cup of this and 3 tablespoons of that :)

  3. Shannon Says:

    Our store is very cool about it. They weighed the jars at the register, wrote the weight on each. We have jars for rice, popcorn, couscous, etc. with each bin # marked so we don’t confuse anyone. Then they just do the subtraction when they ring us up. It’s awesome. The plastic bags everywhere were killing me!

  4. peace Says:

    So THAT’S where restaurants get their giant Boca burgers..

  5. The Return of “Frugal Vegans…” & delicious-ness, Hoarded » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] VeganMoFo, Day 20: Frugal vegans stockpile staples as though the dead are reanimating. […]

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