Frugal Shopping At The Co-op

written by Kira Montagno, Assistant Operations Manager

When it comes to groceries, I shop strictly at two places – the Swarthmore Co-op and Whole Foods. Both provide a variety of quality, locally sourced brands and products that I love. However, I’m frequently asked, “How can you afford to shop there?” As a frugally minded shopper, I’ve compiled a list of tips anyone can use while shopping on a budget.


As someone who lives alone, I find difficulty in cooking for one person. Instead, I always make a lot of food, often serving as my lunch or dinner the following day. Freezing my cooking prolongs the lifetime of my leftovers, especially when making large pots of soup, stock, and marinara. Defrosting leftovers is great for nights when I’m looking for something quick and simple for dinner.

Many don’t realize you can freeze almost anything, including fresh produce and even cheese. Having access to an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables at the Co-op, I find myself buying more than I could even intend to eat. Instead of tossing spoiled produce, I always freeze produce I know I won’t be able to use during the current week. Peppers, tomatoes, onions, broccoli, and corn are great for a last minute stir-fry or soup base. Fruit, such as berries and stone fruits, freeze well too and are great for smoothies and baking. Freeze fresh or day-old bread to retain freshness and use throughout the week as needed.


I love shopping in the bulk aisle because of the variety of products. The walls and shelves are lined with foods such as lentils, beans, dried fruit, nuts, rice, and pasta. Our bulk products are not only healthy and sustainable, but also affordable. When buying bulk you can buy as little or as much as you need, saving you money when you buy just two bay leaves or a pound of lentils.

Bulk is great for protein alternatives. I usually buy lentils or beans, which are able to store for longer periods of time. The variety keeps shopping interesting.

Bulk spices, the latest addition to the bulk aisle, are organic and cheaper than the bottled spices. Typically, spice jars cost between $8 and $10. Bulk spices are weighed by the ounce and typically fall between $1 and $2 for a heaping portion. You’d be surprised many are less than $1 too.

back to basics


The Back to Basics program derived from our mission to carry local, sustainable food at an affordable price. When I shop at the Co-op, I am always purchasing items from this program, including grains, produce, meat, and even toothpaste. Recently, the Co-op added Severino – a local, sustainable pasta brand – to the program. Now, it’s cheaper to buy a pound of bulk pasta than it is to buy a box from the shelf.

Also a part of the Back to Basics program is Co-op Certified chicken packs. Buy the bulk packs for one dollar off per pound.

One of the greatest deals on the Back to Basics program is One Village’s Block Party coffee. One Village Coffee is a Philadelphia based company that believes in sustainable and fair trade practices. While creating the program, Steve Hackman, the CEO of One Village Coffee, expressed interest in getting involved. He created Block Party specifically for the Back to Basics program. Block Party is on sale for $9.99 per pound, compared to the rest of the One Village Coffee line that sells for $14.99 per pound.

For more great tips, check out Environmental Working Groups’ Good Food Guide.



  1. Pingback: Frugal Shopping At The Co-op | Swarthmore Co-op Blog | Saving Money

  2. I’ve been shopping at the Co-op for about 6 years and became a member 2 years ago. The bulk aisle is indeed a great way to get your money’s worth! It’s made me want to cook from scratch again. 🙂

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