Co-op on a Budget: The Wedge Co-op vs. Cub Foods

The Wedge Co-op

This is the second post in our Co-op on a Budget series, which explores the different ways that we can shop co-op effectively and affordably. Also check out the first post, on shopping bulk.


About three years ago our young family went through a financial crunch, which I’m sure most Americans shared. My employer was on a two-year wage freeze and hiring-freeze. Rumors of layoffs were the smaller waves of a larger fear that the company might fail altogether. As a relatively new employee, I was confident that layoffs would affect my position. My wife, pregnant with our second child, had recently quit her job to stay home with our 3-year-old daughter and the expected baby, so my income was solely driving our household, and, to be honest, we were scared shitless.

We decided to budget, budget, budget! Luckily, we had committed ourselves to a modestly small (and beautiful) home, so our mortgage was realistic. We suspended any unnecessary expenses. We took our delayed honeymoon driving up the magnificent north shore of Lake Superior instead of our original plan of traveling to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Oh yeah, and we decided to start doing a large portion of our grocery shopping at Cub instead of the Wedge Co-op. We were proud of the decisions that we made, and in retrospect three years later, I think for the most part we made good choices. Sound familiar? Thought so.

I’ve always been a math nerd. Math creates puzzles, and I’ve always been a big puzzle guy. So it wouldn’t surprise many people to know that I’ve charted, graphed, and meticulously organized a budget several times over the last fifteen years since I moved out on my own. It was almost a guilty pleasure to stuff my pockets with every last receipt and compile lists and categories in my budgeting. I remember a similar exercise in my early twenties when my bar/booze budget outspent my rent … a proud moment.

As a husband and father, I’ve somewhat reallocated my priorities. Our grocery budget has consistently come in second in our expenses, far below our mortgage but much more than any other item in our budget. I’d imagine that most families are in a similar situation. Our own food budget situation is compounded by my preference for shopping at a member-owned food co-op. I am definitely biased towards co-ops having grown up in a home that used one as well as having worked at both Linden Hills Co-op and the Wedge Co-op for several years. I know the idea of “buying local” is trendy now, but it’s always been that way for co-ops — historically, a small, member-owned neighborhood business which provides a service directly back to the community. Farmers like my dad’s parents have been using co-ops for decades for seed, fuel, food, tools, etc. as a way of banding small communities together to afford discounts on commodities by purchasing in bulk.

Besides supporting an important local business I also support the type of food that the co-op typically provides. So it was with reluctance that we began shopping at Cub for some of our food in an effort to save money. But there were some things we were going to still buy from the co-op, such as bulk grains and various specialty items that you won’t find at a big box grocery, so we began shopping at both.

I wondered from the very first trip how much money we would really save. I’ve always been a pretty good grocery shopper in that I stick to the list and resist impulse buys, but that takes considerably more restraint at a Cub. You’ve got to admit, they’ve sure mastered the art of advertising in the store. The junk food at Cub is ridiculously inexpensive compared to the co-op, so a few bags of chips or crackers would sneak into the cart. Maybe a box of cookies? By the time all was said and done, I noticed our weekly grocery bills were hardly less than when we were shopping exclusively at the co-op.

As the last couple of years played out we kept sliding more and more towards the co-op until we were hardly ever shopping at Cub anymore. And with every visit, I became more and more aware of all of the other reasons that I loved the co-op besides the quality of the food. To sum it up, I just find those big grocery stores overwhelming and often depressing. The amount of choices piled to the ceiling make me dizzy. The organization is confusing … you want yogurt? There’s some in the dairy aisle, there’s some in the “organics” aisle, there’s some in the cooler end-cap on sale. The lines are long, and inevitably I always choose the line that gets held up because there’s an argument about whether this or that coupon is valid, the register isn’t accepting someone’s credit card, or there’s a dispute about price. I have to say, the employees at Cub are generally very friendly and willing to help, but what non-autistic human would be able to keep track of that kind of inventory in that size of a store?

Additionally, bringing the kids to a Cub always turns into a headache. Again with the advertising, they know what they’re doing. There’s Hello Kitty and superhero logos on cereal, snacks, jelly, really just about everywhere in the store as well as all the candy and junk food they want piled high on the end-caps. Bringing the kids means spending an hour saying “no” every thirty seconds to any flashy, expensive item that they want to throw in the cart. Maybe I'm being neurotic, but I just couldn't handle it anymore. Contrastingly the co-op always feels to me like I'm shopping at a farmer's market, and I get the opportunity to meet my farmers and processors with frequent in-house demos. The co-op had everything that I wanted not only in my food, but also in a complete shopping experience, and so I decided the extra expense was worth it.

When SGT began this “Co-op on a Budget” series I thought, what a good excuse to actually figure out exactly how much “extra” it cost to shop at the co-op. So I planned out seven dinners, wrote down all the ingredients that we needed, and bought the exact same list from both the co-op and Cub. Before I talk any numbers, I do think it’s worth mentioning that there are a lot of variables that could make any grocery trip much more or less expensive. In part that ends up dictating how we shop and what we eat. For example, because meat tends to be more expensive at the co-op, we only eat meat at three or four dinners a week. We always have a red beans and rice Monday, which is an extremely inexpensive dinner. It’s also often the kids’ favorite meal, and it makes me nostalgic for when I cooked in New Orleans. Lunch is almost always leftovers from dinner, so there is very little food waste at the end of the week. And the summer is spent primarily based around what’s ripe in the garden. Because produce is generally the biggest expense at any grocery store we often cut our grocery bill by a third in the summer because of the garden.

Now, onto the numbers. These are the dinners that I planned for the experiment.

-       Sunday: Roasted chicken with broccoli, potato, and oranges.

-       Monday: Red beans and rice.

-       Tuesday: Bean and cheese quesadillas with corn and peaches.

-       Wednesday: Turkey and bacon sandwiches with chips and refrigerator pickles.

-       Thursday: Blueberry waffles with sausage links.

-       Friday: Cheeseburgers with grilled sweet potato and cole slaw.

-       Saturday: Pizza night with salad.

The shopping lists for both the co-op and Cub were identical, and they included only what ingredients and condiments we didn’t currently have at home. While the lists are identical the product at each store were varying as the co-op tends to favor local and organic produce, meat, and dairy while Cub will ship in from California and Mexico at lower prices. Also remember I’m buying to feed a family of two adults and two young children. The total at the co-op was $87.49 and the total at Cub was $64.46. That’s a $23.03 difference, which is about 35%. Maybe a family with four teenage boys will argue that 35% will be a lot more than $20/week. Maybe a family who doesn’t cook from scratch will find that prepared deli foods and frozen foods (items we don’t buy) at the co-op are prohibitively expensive. That said, our average weekly grocery bill is $120, which is less than what is allotted in food stamps to a family of four in Minnesota, so you have to set your own priorities.

With that in mind, do I think it’s worth an extra $20/week to eat exclusively from the co-op? Absolutely.


Photos from Just Coffee, Cub Marketplace, and stock images


Benjamin Krikava lives in north Minneapolis with his family. After over a decade of restaurant work he has moved on to be employed in the medical field, now helping to prevent heart attacks rather than cause them. When he's not at work or on his bicycle you will find him in the kitchen drinking the rest of the bottle of wine that the recipe didn't call for. His last article for us was: Feeding Your Kids Fair Food.