I used to think buying organic groceries meant healthier and more sustainable foods for my family at the expense of things like shoes, winter coats, and trips to the dentist. But after a little research, I discovered ways to buy organic without breaking our bank. Sure, it requires more planning before heading to the store, but my wallet always thanks me for the extra work. If you want to incorporate more organic foods in your (or your family’s) diet, while still staying on budget, consider incorporating some of these cost-saving strategies into your shopping trips.
1. Buy local and in season. When it comes to buying produce, buy what’s in season—it will be more abundant, meaning lower prices. With this in mind, you can also find good prices at farmers markets as well as through community supported agriculture (CSA) programs or farm shares.
2. Avoid the dirty dozen. If your organic produce budget is limited, try to avoid buying the “dirty dozen,” those fruits and vegetables that have the highest concentrations of pesticide residues. They include: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, imported grapes, hot peppers, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, bell peppers.
When buying conventional produce, stick with “The Clean 15,” which have the lowest levels of pesticides. They include: asparagus, avocado, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangoes, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, and sweet potatoes. (Both lists come from the Environmental Working Group).
3. Look for deals online. If you’ve ever watched Extreme Couponing, you know that great deals can be found online. While sites like coupons.com carry the occasional organic item, others like Mambo Sprouts and Organic Coupons are dedicated to helping organic shoppers save money. You can also find deals at places like Amazon or Azure Standard, a bulk and organic food delivery service.
4. Buy store-brand organic. These days, most supermarkets carry an organic or health food store brand that’s cheaper than national name brands. Whole Foods has 365 Everyday Day, Acme carries Wild Harvest, Giant offers Nature’s Promise, and Wegmans and Trader Joe’s both have plenty of store-brand goods with an organic label. Jumping on the bandwagon, Target recently introduced Simply Balanced, an organic line, three-quarters of which is free of genetically modified ingredients.
5. Buy in Bulk. Another way to save in the supermarket is to skip the label altogether and shop in bulk. Stores like Wegmans and Whole foods offer many grains, nuts and more in their bulk-food aisles at a fraction of the cost.
6. Look for sales, and stock up. If you’re the type to toss a store circular when it comes in the mail, stop. Study up on what your store is discounting each week and stock up on or plan meals around those sale items. Organic, free-range, and antibiotic- or hormone-free meats can be especially pricey, so buy extra if you see their prices have dropped. In addition, keep an eye out on meat and poultry that is nearing its sell-buy dates; the store will normally slash their prices for a quick sale. Anything you don’t intend to eat quickly can be frozen.
7. Adopt meat-free Mondays (or Tuesdays, or Wednesdays…). Given how expensive meat and poultry can be, consider buying higher quality but eating it fewer times a week. Enjoy meat-free meals rich in plants a couple of times of week and splurge on top-of-the-line beef, chicken, turkey and such on other nights.
Tell us your cost-saving tips for buying organic.