Eating organics on a budget requires patience and careful shopping skills, but it is possible to take care of your health without spending a small fortune at the grocery store. With a bit of planning and prioritizing, you can eat well and save money in the process.
Set Your Priorities
Even if you're a thrifty shopper, eating organic foods might cost more than consuming a non-organic diet. Typically, organic food costs between 50 and 100 percent more than comparable non-organic items. For those with very tight budgets, it may be necessary to set a list of priorities to use when purchasing organic foods.
Research has show that the Dirty Dozen foods should be purchased organic whenever possible, since they typically contain higher than average levels of pesticides and herbicides. Beef, poultry, and dairy are also sometimes included on lists of the best foods to buy organic. However, since there are no official standards for the labeling of organic seafood, most people agree that buying organic fish is not a priority for those on tight budgets.
Basic Tips for Buying Organic on a Shoestring
You will use most of the same strategies to save money shopping for organic food that you would when attempting to save money on buying conventionally produced foods. In addition to preparing a grocery store budget and sticking to it, try some of these tips:
Look Beyond the Supermarket
While buying all your groceries at the local supermarket is certainly convenient, this isn't a very cost-effective way to begin eating an organic diet. Organic foods can often be found cheaper at health food stores, specialty stores, farmer's markets, co-ops, and/or community supported agriculture programs. In addition, these places have a greater selection of products available.
Eat in Season
Buying produce when it is in season is a smart tip for anyone interested in saving money when grocery shopping, but it's especially important for those who are committed to eating an organic diet. In fact, when you buy in season and look for store sales, the difference between organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables is actually quite minimal. For example, fresh organic peaches are much cheaper when they are in season in the summer than they are in the middle of winter. If your recipe calls for an out of season fruit or vegetable, compare costs to see if the canned or frozen version is less expensive.
Although you are less likely to discover coupons for organic foods in newspapers or in magazines than you would for other types of foods, these coupons do show up once in a while and are a great way to cut the cost of groceries. You can also go directly to the websites for your favorite organic producers and look for coupons. Some of the larger organic companies routinely offer coupons online or send coupons in the mail to registered members of their sites. Combine coupons with store sales to maximize your bargain shopping opportunities.
Shoppers Clubs and Loyalty Cards
Join the frequent shopper clubs at your favorite grocery stores. Most stores offer discount cards to members that may yield substantial savings even if you don't have any additional coupons for the organic food you want to buy.
Look for House Brands
Standards for the labeling of organic food help ensure a consistent level of quality, regardless of the product manufacturer. If you're interested in eating more organic while staying on your budget, look into the store brands sold at places such as Whole Foods, Safeway, and Wild Oats. Since they spend less on marketing and advertising, they can pass the savings along to customers in search of a bargain. If you shop at a store that offers multiple brands of organic food, do some comparison shopping. The more expensive version of a product is not always the best.
Spot Sale Bargains
Organic foods go on sale just like other types of foods. In some instances, you might be able to find your favorite organic foods on a clearance rack, especially if the organic food you are looking for is something that is not routinely purchased by other shoppers. Part of being a frugal grocery shopper is to read the ads from your favorite grocery stores to find out which store offers the best prices for the organic foods you want to buy.
If your town hosts a farmer's market, check out the organic items offered by local growers. Costs are lower when a grower can sell items directly to consumers, and if you build up a rapport with a local grower, then you may be able to enjoy even bigger discounts as some growers offer weekly or monthly bulk deliveries of organic produce. You pay one flat fee and the food is either delivered directly to you or you can pick it up on a scheduled day. This is a great way to obtain fresh, organic food at a discounted rate. If you do not need as much food as the grower delivers, consider sharing the expenses with a friend for even more savings.
Consider Organic Gardening
Although not everyone has the time or space for growing their own fruits and vegetables, organic gardening can be a great way to start eating organics on a budget. Carrots, peas, and cherry tomatoes are some of the easiest organic vegetables to grow. However, you can even grow special treats like organic watermelon.
If you have friends who are interested in organic foods, you may even be able to work out an arrangement where you swap some of your fruits and vegetables for the items in their garden. This gives you access to a wider variety of foods with no additional costs.
The Long Term Rewards
While you might think you would have to pay more for groceries when trying to shop for foods that are organic, with just a little extra effort you can save money. An added bonus is that by shopping smart and including more organic foods in your daily diet, you may save yourself quite a bit of money in the long run because of the reduced health care costs that usually come with living a healthier lifestyle.