For nutritionists and eco-friendly shoppers, seeing “organic” on a label makes an item very attractive, but on the other hand, that same word usually scares away people with tight budgets.
Believe it or not, eating organic food does not have to be expensive. Over the past few years, the growing interest in organic food and its many benefits has led to more competition and increased availability. Organic options are more accessible, and if you’re concerned about where your food comes from, affordable organic items are very welcome choices.
These nine tips can help you pick up plenty of organic products without getting you uncomfortable with your grocery budget.
How to Buy Organic Food on a Budget
1. Buy Unpackaged Foods
More and more grocery stores have package-free bulk dispensers for items like nuts, beans, lentils, coffee grounds, and even cereal. You can buy the exact amount you need at a lower price point than the packaged counterpart of these items. Since you’re not paying for a big brand name, you don’t waste money subsidizing fancy packaging or big advertising campaigns. Plus, if you bring your own bags, you’re also helping out the environment.
2. Buy in Bulk
Organic foods still seem like niche items in exclusive stores, so many people don’t think that buying in bulk is even possible. But it is! You can purchase everything from grains to fruits and nuts in bulk. As long as you have room to store bulk items (i.e. long-term home food storage), you can save a great deal of money. In addition to warehouse stores, your local grocery and natural food stores probably have bulk aisles.
3. Stock Up on Pantry Items
Have you ever been to an organic bakery? You might die of sticker-shock while waiting in line for your oatmeal brownie. But if you have a hefty supply of organic flour, cocoa, nuts, oatmeal, cornmeal, and dried fruit, it’s easy to whip up your own organic muffins, polenta, or an oatmeal bar at a fraction of the price. Some of the most popular stores that offer a large selection of organic foods include Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market.
4. Skip Processed Items
This is one of the most obvious ways to improve your food budget. It’s also one of the most overlooked ideas, even when it comes to organic food. Organic doesn’t always mean healthy; you’ll find organic chips, candy, and frozen pizzas for nearly four times the price of organic produce. Swap out the organic snack crackers for a pound of organic carrots and hummus. You’ll be eating healthier and saving money at the same time.
5. Look for Store Brands
In addition to their standard generic lines, chains and boutique stores alike are now carrying their own generic line of organic products. My neighborhood Kroger, for example, carries organic diced tomatoes, pasta, beans, peanut butter, strawberry fruit spread, ketchup, mustard, and many other products for much lower prices than brand name organic items.
6. Shop at a Farmers’ Market
While growing your own food can be cheap and exciting, there are going to be times when you have immediate needs. In this case, you should seek out a farmers’ market in your area. Of course, you need to make sure they have organic choices before you start to fill up your basket. Since you are buying directly from the person growing the produce, you do not have to worry about supermarket mark-ups.
Finding a farmers’ market that is close to home is easier than you may think. To get started, visit LocalHarvest.org.
7. Buy “In Season”
If you want to save on fresh produce, purchase the fruits and vegetables that are currently in season. In the summer months, for example, fruit is easy to come by. To find out what is in season, visit a local farmers’ market and see what type of produce is plentiful. If you can’t figure this out on your own, there’s no shame in asking someone in charge.
8. Coupons, Coupons, Coupons
Whether you’re shopping at a local grocery store or at a farmer’s market, if you keep your eyes open, you will be able to find coupons that can save you money on everything from fruits and vegetables to beans, nuts, lentils, and grains.
For the largest selection of coupons, don’t ignore your local newspaper after you search online. Look at your favorite store’s site too. Whole Foods, for example, publishes deals online, including printable coupons and special promotions. For even more savings, learn how to extreme coupon by combining coupons with store sales.
9. Grow Your Own
When you are in charge of your produce, you know exactly how it has been treated from start to finish. Maintaining a home garden takes a serious commitment of time and effort, but some nearly maintenance-free plants make it easy to get started even if you don’t have a green thumb. Consider the following list of crops for beginners: blackberries, raspberries, spinach, tomatoes, green peppers, banana peppers, and zucchini.
Once growing season is over, you can even learn how to can and store your fruits and veggies for good, cheap eating throughout the year.
Buying organic food doesn’t have to break the bank. By practicing a little self-discipline and choosing your grocery purchases with precision, you’ll be able to afford more organic food items on a regular basis. So toss up that organic spinach salad with a side of organic jalapeno corn bread, and wash it down with a glass of iced organic green tea. You’ll be sitting down to a family dinner you know offers the best nutrition and food safety you’re able to provide - for a fraction of the cost.
What are your best tips and tricks for saving on organic products?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)