I know firsthand how difficult organic eating on a budget can be. I am the mom of 4 growing kids with an ever-increasing grocery bill! Let’s face it, organic foods can be expensive. In most areas of the country organic foods can cost significantly more than their non-organic counterparts. My grocery bill rose by several hundreds of dollars per month when I started buying everything organic. Consequently my husband complained constantly that I was spending too much on groceries. I knew I had to find ways to cut costs while still buying the healthiest foods for my family.
The benefits of buying organic foods are great.
- You lessen your exposure to chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which have been linked to cancer and numerous health problems.Really, who wants all those unnecessary chemicals on their foods? Some fruits and veggies actually absorb pesticides so peeling or washing doesn’t solve the problem.
- Organic foods are produced using methods that are safer for the environment. Organic farming methods produce less air, soil, and water pollution.
- Organic foods may be higher in certain nutrients than their non-organic counterparts. In addition they taste better, especially if you buy local or grow your own.
- Organically-raised animals are typically raised in more humane conditions Conventionally-raised animals are typically fed an unnatural diet and are confined to tiny spaces with no access to fresh air or pasture.
It all comes down to whether or not you feel these benefits are worth the extra cost. If you think they are, then keep reading for some tips and tricks to help keep your grocery costs down while adding organic foods to your diet.
Money Saving Tip #1 – Plan your meals each week.
If you are serious about eating wholesome organic foods and sticking to a budget, you should start with a plan.Meal planning helps you save money at the grocery store by avoiding unnecessary purchases. It also helps cut down on food waste, because you don’t buy any more produce than you can use.
in the picture: Spiral Bound Weekly Meal Planner
There are many different ways to meal plan. The simplest way is to use a planner calendar and write down what you will make for meals each day. Then you just need to pull out the recipes and make your shopping list. You can use your shopping list to pull out what coupons you will use. My grocery bill dropped from $200 a week to around $100 for the week when I started meal planning.
Try to base your menu around recipes that use organic whole foods. The less processed foods in your diet, the better for your health. Organic or not, processed foods contain preservatives and fillers, and are typically high in sodium. By sticking to a diet of lean meat, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables you will be acting in the best interest of your health. Even with choosing organic varieties, you will most likely save money.
Money Saving Tip #2 – Serve meatless meals a couple of nights a week.
Organic, pastured beef and poultry can easily cost double what non-organic varieties cost. However, I would much rather support small farmers who treat their animals well, than buy products from factory farms where animals are crammed into a small space with no room to move and no access to fresh air and sunlight. So I choose to serve a few meatless meals each week so that we can afford to eat the higher quality pastured organic beef and poultry at the rest of our meals. Just adding two meatless meals a week saves our family of 6 $10-$20 on our groceries.
The simplest meatless meal that I serve my family is Aztec Beans and Rice. You really don’t need a recipe for it. You just need enough cooked beans to serve your family, a jar of salsa, and cooked brown rice. I usually use organic black beans or pinto beans, but feel free to use whatever variety of beans is your favorite. All you have to do is stir the jar of salsa into your cooked beans and warm it over medium heat. Serve over brown rice. It’s quick and simple. Together, beans and rice form a complete protein. Served with an organic vegetable, you have a well-balanced frugal meal. I can feed a family of 6 this meal for around $3, using organic ingredients.
Another of our favorite meals is Mexican-style Baked Potatoes. We top organic baked potatoes with black beans, salsa, sour cream, and a little bit of shredded sharp cheddar cheese. Using organic ingredients, this recipe costs about $1.50 a serving.
We also like to have breakfast occasionally for dinner. Some scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, and fruit on the side make a frugal meatless dinner. Even using organic pastured eggs, I can feed a family of 6 this meal for around $5.
Money Saving Tip #3- Practice portion control.
Americans, as a whole, eat way more food than we should. By eating slowly, and learning to listen to our body when it is telling us we are full, we will not only reap the health benefits, but we will spend less at the grocery store as well.
If you struggle with portion control, a good tip is to portion food in the kitchen and immediately take care of leftovers. With pots of food sitting on the table, you are more likely to eat a second serving that you don’t really need.
Money Saving Tip #4 – If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, at least buy organic foods from the Dirty Dozen List.
I admit, I don’t buy everything organic. I rarely buy organic bananas or oranges, unless the price for organic is the same as the regular varieties. The skin of these fruits is so thick, it helps protect the fruit from absorbing too much pesticide residue.
There are however certain foods I always buy organic. These are foods known as the “dirty dozen”. These foods are the ones most polluted by pesticides, each containing 47 to 67 different pesticide residues, according to The Environmental Working Group. In other words, significant amounts of pesticides have been found on the interior and peeling or washing won’t limit your exposure. If you have a limited grocery budget, stick to organic foods from this list. (Or better yet, grow your own!)
The Dirty Dozen List
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Dark leafy greens like Spinach, kale and collard greens
Money Saving Tip #5 – Search for coupons on organic foods.
Often times, food manufacturers offer large value coupons directly on their website for you to print.
- Mambo Sprouts (Can request coupon books by mail at this link)
- Stonyfield (Yogurt coupons)
- Whole Foods Market (Some are manufacturers coupons that can be used anywhere.)
- Cascadian Farms (Sign up for their newsletter for coupons)
- Earthbound Farm (Take their quiz for a $1 off coupon)
- Horizon Dairy (Click on coupons at the top right)
- Simply Organic
- Seventh Generation
Also be sure to check out the free magazines that are given out at larger grocery stores and health food stores. They often contain coupons for organic products. You can also write or email the manufacturer with comments. Sometimes they will respond with coupons.
Each week, browse the coupons that come with your Sunday paper. They will sometimes have coupons for organic foods. You can also acquire clipped coupons through eBay for a modest fee.
Another good idea is to sign up for mailing lists of your favorite organic brands. Sometimes they offer coupons or even free samples for their subscribers. If they have facebook pages or twitter accounts, be sure to follow those as well. Over the last year, I have received quite a lot of coupons for free products from facebook pages.
If you have found any other sources of organic coupons, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page so I can add it to the list.
Money Saving Tip #6 – Visit Farmer’s Markets and Bulk Food Shops.
Some of the best deals I have found on organic foods have been in places other than the grocery store. Since I mostly buy whole foods, I find I save more money by buying in bulk, especially on non-perishable items. Some places you might way to check out for deals on organic foods include your local farmer’s market, country produce stands, food co-ops, food buying clubs, bulk food shops, health food stores, and even online.
During the summer months, I visit the farmer’s market every weekend. Not only do I pay less for organic produce than I would at the grocery store, but it also tastes much better. Conventional produce is bred to withstand transportation and storage. It doesn’t always have the best flavor though. Local farmers grow varieties for taste since they don’t have to worry about their produce standing up to long transportation times. Another advantage is you can get to know the farmer and ask them questions. Many of the farmers at my local market can’t afford organic certification. However if you ask them about how they produce their crops, you may find that they are using organic methods.
For dry goods, like beans and wheat berries, I find I do best at bulk food shops. While they generally have better prices than the grocery store, you may be able to have them order larger quantities for even greater savings. I routinely order 50 lbs of organic wheat berries for making bread and only pay about $1 a pound. Organic wheat berries are $1.60 a pound at my local health food store. Other items to buy in bulk are dried beans, grains, coconut oil, and honey as they will all keep for a long time.
You might be surprised to learn that you can even get good deals on organic groceries online. Amazon has a good selection of organic foods. When I last checked they had over 33,000 organic products! I have found that Amazon typically has low prices. In addition, they offer free shipping on orders over $25. Another great online source for organic savings is Tropical Traditions. I regularly buy a gallon of organic coconut oil from them. In addition to their coconut oil, Tropical Traditions carries a good variety of other quality organic foods. They offer free shipping periodically so it is a good idea to get on their mailing list.
By not limiting yourself to the grocery store, you can find even greater savings on organic foods. It is well worth setting aside some of your grocery budget for bulk food purchases.
Money Saving Tip #7 – Grow your own organic foods.
A packet of vegetable seeds typically costs less than $2. You can easily make your investment back with the first harvest, especially with high yield plants like tomato or zucchini. If you have the room in your yard, it is well worth the effort to have a large garden. The savings can be substantial. I like the square foot gardening method best as it is easy to maintain. I have also used the lasagna gardening method to build beds and found it works well. I was amazed at the number of fat earthworms I found in the soil at the end of the season, which is a sign that my soil was healthy.
If you have the room, don’t forget to also grow some fruits. Raspberries and strawberries are so easy to grow. Nothing quite beats the taste of a fresh-picked berry, warmed by the sun. There are also dwarf fruit trees, like apple and peach, that are great for the backyard garden.
If you have a really small yard or live in an apartment, you can give container gardening a try. I have found that the Earthbox system works really well and gives high yields. If nothing else, you can grow pots of fresh herbs, like parsley and basil, year-round in a sunny window. Another option is the Aerogarden. It is a small hydroponic unit that can sit on your kitchen countertop. I have found it is wonderful for growing salad greens throughout the winter months.
No matter what size your garden is, you will want to make sure to preserve your extra harvest. A deep freezer is a good investment to ensure that your garden keeps you well-fed into the winter. Canning seems to be something of a lost art, but it is definitely a worthwhile skill to learn if you are serious about organic eating on a budget. A good dehydrator is also nice as it is a great way to preserve fresh herbs. You can even use it to make your own paprika and garlic powder. Dehydrated vegetables can make good additions to winter stews and soups. Believe me, nothing is better than being able to cook some vegetables in the dead of winter that you grew organically during the summer.
Money Saving Tip #8 – Make Your Own Organic Convenience Foods.
By taking the time to make your own convenience foods, you can choose organic ingredients and still save money. By making your own, you also avoid preservatives, fillers, other chemicals, and excessive sodium in your foods. Although it takes a little time, you can easily save 50% or more, which can be a definite help to your grocery budget.
I like to set aside time each weekend for some batch cooking. I can easily make some baked goods for the kids, start some chicken broth in the crockpot, cook up a pot of beans, and whip up some biscuits or English Muffins on a Sunday afternoon.
Money Saving Tip #9- Stick to In Season Fruits and Vegetables.
By purchasing organic produce that is currently being harvested, you can save even more money. The NRDC Simple Steps Website is a great place to check what is in season in your area.
Be sure to watch for loss leaders on seasonal produce at your local grocery store. Farmer’s markets are also a good place to visit at the end of the day. They won’t want to bring everything back home, so the vendors might be willing to cut you a deal on large purchases.
If you come across an exceptionally good deal, buy extra and freeze it for use during the off season. A deep freezer can be a good investment for people serious about saving money on organic foods. Be sure to check out this quide to freezing produce so you ensure that the quality of your food doesn’t deteriorate in the freezer.
You can also preserve your extra produce by canning. The USDA’s National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great free resource for safe home canning. I also recomment the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It is a great book to have in your kitchen if you are interested in doing a lot of canning because of the step-by-step instructions and wonderful recipes that have been tested for safety.
Money Saving Tip #10 – Keep an eye out for freebies and giveaways for your favorite organic products.
I have received samples from Kashi, Cascadian Farms, and other organic companies in the past. By following the Facebook and Twitter accounts for your favorite brands, you may receive notice well before it becomes public knowledge. Also check Freebies 4 Moms or Deal Seeking Mom as they share freebies regularly.
As for giveaways, Tropical Traditions loves to sponsor blog giveaways. You can typically find giveaways for many of their organic products from coconut oil to raw honey. Check out Online Sweepstakes and The Blog Giveaway Directory to find the latest giveaways for organic foods. This can be a nice way to save money on your grocery bill if you are lucky enough to win. I have found that blog giveaways have a smaller number of entrants, so they are definitely winnable and well worth the time it takes to enter.
So tell me… How Do You Handle Organic Eating on a Budget? Leave a comment below to share your tips for saving money on organic foods.