The dining hall truly is a glorious place, with mountains of pancakes, fountains of soda, and bottomless bowls of Lucky Charms—I probably ate a cheeseburger a day during my freshman year.
But, sooner or later, you might get tired of cheeseburgers. When that happens, you can either start eating cereal for every meal, or you can go to the grocery store.
If you're like me, you know nothing about cooking and you'd rather eat potato chips for dinner than attempt to fix a balanced meal. If that's the case, remember there are plenty of ways to eat fast and healthy. Believe me, you don't want to get scurvy from a diet consisting entirely of frozen foods.
But how can someone eat healthy and still save precious dimes and nickels? I went to the produce section at Haggen and Fred Meyer to compare prices. If you're lucky enough to live in Buchanan Towers, Sehome Haggen is just a mile down Bill McDonald Parkway. The Fred Meyer on Lakeway Drive is a more treacherous journey if you're walking or riding a bike, and it's almost a mile and a half away from the Viking Union. But is it worth the extra effort getting there?
In general, Fred Meyer's produce was cheaper than Haggen's. Fred Meyer's bananas cost $0.49 a pound, while Haggen's cost $0.59 a pound. Fuji apples were $0.98 a pound at Fred Meyer and $1.99 a pound at Haggen. Haggen did have cheaper navel oranges, though, at $1.49 a pound to Fred Meyer's $1.99.
Ok, Fred Meyer has cheaper bananas, whatever. But I've always felt a swell of loyalty for Haggen. Maybe it's the convenient location or the inviting green sign or the fact that they're open 24 hours, but I felt compelled to see if Haggen's prices on store brand food could compete with Fred Meyer's.
It turns out Fred Meyer pretty much has Haggen beat across the board. Even with my Haggen card, I couldn't usually beat Fred Meyer. Let's look at spaghetti as an example. With my Haggen card, I could get a 48-ounce bag of Haggen brand spaghetti, normally $3.29, for $2.99. But Fred Meyer's 48-ounce bag was still $1.99. Even if I bought one 16 ounce bag of Haggen spaghetti for $1.39 and got another bag free with my Haggen card, Fred Meyer's 48 ounce bag is still cheaper. Milk and hot dog buns were the same price at both stores, and only eggs were cheaper by weight at Haggen.
There are still reasons to love Haggen, though. One is that they're open 24 hours, so after a hard day's night at work or at the library, you can go load up on comfort food. Another is the awesome candy section, which always has seasonal stuff like candy corn that you can scoop into a bag and buy by the pound. Plus, their already-cooked rotisserie chickens come in four different flavors. All you have to do is buy one, cut it up, add one of those pre-made salads with the dressing in a little packet and you've got dinner. Fred Meyer's chickens come in a plastic bag. Meat in a bag is weird.
So can you get discounts on groceries at Fred Meyer with the Fred Meyer Rewards card like you can with the Haggen C.A.R.D. program? No. Instead, you can get points that go toward rebates. According to the information pamphlet, you get one point for every dollar you spend. Then, you get one rebate for every 500 points you earn during a “specified 13-week cycle.” Your rebate is equal to 1% of your point total.
So, if you spend $500 in 13 weeks, you'll get a $5 rebate. For a college student, this probably isn't an ideal set-up.
But there are other grocery stores in Bellingham. Bargainica on State Street is well within walking distance from campus, and the Community Food Co-op is on the corner of Holly Street and Forest Street. These places specialize in locally-grown produce and organic foods. At these stores you can find snacks without ingredients like gluten, MSG, or high fructose corn syrup. Even if you're not into all-natural food, you can find some pretty good stuff at these establishments. Amy's frozen pizzas are tasty, Kettle potato chips are delicious, and Newman-O's (Paul Newman's version of Oreos) make great last-minute snacks for the potluck on the last day of your Fairhaven class.
If you've ever looked around in the little organic section just past the produce in Fred Meyer, you've probably seen all this stuff. These things tend to be a little more expensive then the more familiar brands. But is it actually cheaper at Fred Meyer then at the Co-op or Bargainica? You may be surprised.
I looked at the prices of a few particular products at Fred Meyer, the Food Co-op, and Bargainica. I expected Freddy's to have the lowest prices again, but this time the competition was fierce. For instance, Amy's frozen burritos cost $2.49 each at Fred Meyer, $2.35 each at the Co-op, and $2.19 each at Bargainica. A six pack of Blue Sky Natural Soda costs $2.99 at Fred Meyer, $3.25 at the Co-op, and $2.59 at Bargainica. Bargainica even matched Fred Meyer's price on organic Fuji apples at $1.49 a pound.
So Bargainica lives up to its name. Sure, even at Bargainica, organic food is going to be more expensive than non-organic, but if you're willing to pay the extra money for healthier snack food, this is the place to do it.
Besides the fact that it's close and cheap, Bargainica also has a pretty good selection of Dagoba chocolate. Plus, if you're of age, they've got a menagerie of delicious beer, and they sell 12-ounces microbrews for $0.99 each. The best part is they let you pick and choose what kinds of beer you want and build your own six pack. Thus, you can afford to be a beer connoisseur on an undergrad's budget. And the best part of it all is that there's no membership required.
There are other grocery options in Bellingham. Grocery Outlet on the corner of Ellis Street and State Street has low prices on frozen food, including Amy's TV dinners for $2.99 each. Cost Cutter on Lakeway Drive across from Fred Meyer also has good deals. The newest grocery store in town is Trader Joe's on the corner of Alabama Street and James Street. They don't have as many fresh vegetables as the Co-op, but they do carry a lot of organic and natural stuff. They also call their oatmeal raisin cookies “Druid Circles.”
For good, inexpensive food that's close to campus, Fred Meyer is my top pick. But if it's organic food or healthy snacks you're looking for, I'd hit Bargainica.