This One Little Grocery Swap Saved My Family $1,150 in a Single Year

published Sep 21, 2023
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The first time I bought dried beans was back in 2020, and I did not intend on eating them — they were for sensory play for my then 2-year-old. She would pour and scoop and funnel those beans (along with some rice) to and from different-sized bowls and jars. It didn’t occur to me to actually cook dried beans until a year later when I’d realized our four-person family had spent nearly $2,500 on meat. (The beans we ate then came from cans.) 

Fast forward a few years, and not only am I a dried bean enthusiast, but I’m also now a member of the Rancho Gordo Bean Club, a somewhat exclusive club with a months-long waitlist. The best part is, I’ve shaved nearly $1,150 off our annual grocery budget. Here’s how.

Credit: Jen Sherman

Why I Joined the Rancho Gordo Bean Club

Allow me to go briefly back in time first: In 2021, we started only buying pasture-raised meat from Farm Foods, an online meat delivery service that sources from farms across the United States. The meat tasted noticeably, significantly better than the meat we’d been buying at the grocery store; it also aligned with our desire to be more socially and ethically conscious eaters. Once we made the switch to pasture-raised, there was no going back, but it also dramatically raised our meat expenses. (We spent roughly $1,400 in 2020 — $1,100 less than the following year.)

While conventionally raised meat was no longer in the recipe cards for us, $2,500 a year on meat also seemed a bit steep; so I started thinking about ways to reduce that number. On the hunt for a cheaper replacement protein source, I remembered reading many suggestions for budget-friendly, bean-forward meals. Unfamiliar with the different varieties of beans and how to cook, I texted my brother-in-law (who is an excellent cook) and he turned me on to Rancho Gordo

Credit: Jen Sherman

Based in northern California, Rancho Gordo sells heirloom dried beans, which are grown from seeds that have been passed down through families or farms for generations because of their unique taste and/or looks. At the time of this writing, you can buy a variety of beans by the pound for $6.25 to $7.50, depending on the bean. Bean Club members receive quarterly shipments of six bags of beans and a grain (or another Rancho Gordo product) for $49.95 (or $58.95 if you opt for premium shipping).

Yes, Rancho Gordo is a bit more expensive than most dried beans found at the grocery store (whether sold in a package or bulk bins). I did try other dried beans, and I found that the ones from Rancho Gordo just tasted better overall. They tend to be fresher than other dried beans, requiring minimal soaking (if any) and less cooking. There’s also a lot more variety in size, taste, and texture, and I like choosing between the different varieties and experimenting with recipes, like lentil minestrone, chili, or just straight-up with rice (an unbeatable duo).

I decided the joy I get from these beans was a premium worth paying — especially when it still reduced our meat spending by more than half. 

Credit: Jen Sherman

We still buy pasture-raised meat — just a lot less of it. Beans began to feature a lot more in our meals. These days, our family of four (two adults and two kids, 5 and under), goes through about one pound of dried beans every week or two, depending on the meals we have planned.

How I Determined My Savings

Our gloriously detailed food tracking spreadsheet, which we’ve been keeping since 2019, made it easy to calculate our savings. In 2021, we spent $2,452.67 on meat (and zero dollars on dried beans). The following year, after the Great Protein Switch, we spent $1,091.88 on meat — and $217.89 on dried beans (for a total of $1,309.77), which means, in 2022, we saved $1,142.90.