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I used to question the value of eating organic food. But when my normally-skeptical oncologist suggested switching to organic produce, I investigated further.
In addition to the scientifically proven health benefits of eating organic, it seems they’re better for the environment. And, once we started eating organic fruits and vegetables, my wife and I quickly discovered that they taste better.
Of course, my hesitation to make the switch may have come from my frugality. After all, organic food always cost at least a little more than non-organic, and sometimes four or five times as much!
Fortunately we can reduce that cost with a few simple strategies. Here are some of the best ways to save money on organic groceries.
1. Buy Only Some Organic Produce
There are several reasons you might buy organic fruits and vegetables (higher vitamin content, better for the environment), but if it’s pesticides that have you concerned, consider limiting your organic purchases to the “dirty dozen.”
These are fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residue when they’re not organic. Here’s the list:
- Bell Peppers
Other produce is less likely to have chemical residue. To be really safe and still compromise, you could buy everything organic except the “clean fifteen;” the fruits and vegetables that are least likely to have harmful levels of pesticide or herbicide residue. Here’s that list:
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
Try this: If it’s on the first list, buy organic, if it’s on the second, buy non-organic, and for anything else, buy non-organic if there’s a big difference in price This simple strategy can save you hundreds of dollars annually.
2. Change Your Diet Slightly
If you’re flexible in what you eat, and you’re willing to compromise based on the lists above, shift to eating more of the clean fifteen, and less of the dirty dozen.
For example, quit eating organic strawberries altogether and eat more non-organic melon. That shift is, of course, a shift to cheaper food, and it comes without adding much pesticide residue to your diet.
3. Look For Store-Brand Organics
Many stores carry their own line of line of “natural” and/or organic products, like these brands:
- Safeway: “O” Organics
- Whole Foods: 365 Everyday Value
- Target: Simply Balanced
- Aldi: Simply Nature
- Kroger: Simple Truth
- Publix: Greenwise
Keep in mind that the “natural” label is often meaningless, since it can be legally used to label just about anything. Be sure the product is labeled “organic” if that’s what you want.
4. Grow Your Own
Growing your own organic produce is labor intensive, but doing so can save you money. To save the most, grow those things that cost the most at the grocery store.
Consider fruit trees. They may provide the most food for the least effort. For example, I once had a peach tree that, for many years, produced hundreds of peaches every season, and I never did a thing to care for it.
To help you get started, Mother Earth News has a crop-by-crop guide to growing organic vegetables and fruits.
5. Shop Farmers Markets
Farmers markets do not always have certified organic produce, but often the growers sell their own crops, so you can ask the relevant questions, like whether they use chemical pesticides.
And the prices are usually better than at grocery stores, especially if you shop near closing time, when vendors discount their produce.
6. Harvest Wild Foods
Wild foods generally meet organic standards unless there is a source of pollution nearby. You can find them in wilderness areas, but also near urban centers.
For example, when my wife and I lived in Florida we discovered an old orange grove in the woods at the edge of town, on public land. The oranges were tasty and there was no reason for anyone to treat them with insecticides or other chemicals.
The Falling Fruit database and map is a good place to start your search for urban wild foods.
7. Buy Wild Foods
Nobody is going to pay to have wild foods certified organic, but there is also nobody treating them with chemicals. So buying wild is generally buying organic, and sometimes cheaper.
For example, we buy frozen wild blueberries from Quebec at Trader Joe’s, and they cost less than regular blueberries do at other grocery stores. Wild caught fish and wild game are other examples of foods that are sometimes inexpensive and can be considered organic.
8. Find The Right Store(s)
Obviously some stores are more expensive than others (like Whole Foods), so it makes sense to check around and locate the best regular prices for the organic items you normally buy.
Where we live Natural Grocers is the cheapest, and they have the added advantage of carrying only organic produce, so there’s no need to keep checking labels.
More Ways To Save On Organic Foods
Those first eight strategies apply primarily to organic purchases.The rest of our list overlaps with strategies that work for saving money on any grocery shopping…
9. Be Flexible And Opportunistic
When melon is on sale, eat melon and skip the apples. When apples are on sale, eat apples. This habit of opportunism will save you money on organic food the same as any other.
10. Check Ads Online
Our Sprouts grocery stores have great sales on organic produce, but we don’t always get the paper flyer in the mail. Fortunately they post their weekly ad online.
11. Try Receipt Scanning Apps
Although the offers for organic foods are less frequent, these apps have cash-back rebates for scanning your receipts with your smartphone. Here are our previously-published guides for some of them:
12. Use Coupons
If you get flyers with coupons for organic foods (in the mail or the Sunday paper), great! If not, try online at these websites.
13. Use The Right Credit Card
The American Express Blue Cash Prefered card pays 6% cash-back on any grocery store purchases, but has a stiff $95 annual fee. Other cards, without a fee, offer up to 3% all of the time, or 5% when grocery stores are one of their quarterly bonus categories.
14. Sign Up For Those Loyalty Cards
Any grocery store that has a customer loyalty program offers the best deals only to those who sign up. Natural Grocers, for example, almost always has a $2 discount on organic, free-range eggs, but for members only.
15. Stock Up During Sales
You can’t get too far ahead on organic produce (unless it’s frozen), but if organic canned beans are on sale, why not load up that cart? Anything that can be safely stored and which you regularly use should be bought in larger quantities during the best sales.
16. Buy In The Bulk Foods Area
Often the bulk bins have better prices than those of the pre-packaged foods, especially for things like organic seeds and nuts.
17. Limit Your Food Waste
Americans waste a lot of food, including almost half of our produce. That cost money, of course, so to avoid wasting food by doing the following:
- Buy Smaller Amounts – Not sure that you can eat all those organic avocados or apples before they go bad? Buy fewer.
- Rotate Food Stocks – Don’t let those grapes go bad while newer ones are being eaten. Put new cans of organic vegetables behind the ones already on the shelf.
- Eat What’s Oldest – Survey the fridge and cupboards to find the foods nearest their expiration dates, and plan a meal based on those.
18. Walk Or Bicycle To The Grocery Store
By leaving the car home you eliminate any transportation expense involved in grocery shopping. And, if environmental concerns are part of your decision to eat organic foods, well, you’re helping there too.
19. Buy The Right Size
When buying organic produce, buy larger fruits and vegetables when they’re priced per-piece, and buy smaller sizes when they are priced per-pound.
Clearly you get more for your money with a big melon versus a small one if they cost the same, but buying smaller fruits when priced per-pound can save you money too.
For example, you’ll probably eat only one banana at a time regardless of size, so if you buy a bunch of six small bananas you’ll pay less and still have, well, six bananas.
20. Check Unit Prices
If the store has decent unit-pricing tags on the shelves you can quickly see which size of organic beans or almond milk costs the least per-ounce or per-gallon. If the store doesn’t tag items in this way, use the calculator on your phone.
21. Eat Before You Shop
My wife and I have done this as an experiment many times, and the results are clear: Eating before grocery shopping saves money. And shopping when you’re really hungry is a sure way to buy more food than you need (and more junk food).
22. Bring A List
Having a list with you is a great way to reduce the number of impulse purchases, which can save you a fair amount of money.
23. Go Down Fewer Aisles
This is also about reducing the number of impulse purchases. A study done by the Marketing Science Institute showed that shoppers buy significantly more unplanned items when visiting most or all aisles rather than just those with the items on their lists. If nothing in that next aisle is on the list, move along.
24. Buy Fruits and Vegetables In Season
Buying organic or non-organic vegetables and fruits in season usually means buying them when they’re at their best and and at their cheapest. The USDA list of what’s in season will show you what to look for.
25. Leave The Children At Home
Kids tend to beg when shopping with you, and may tempt you to buy non-organic items or things you don’t need. Eliminate the temptation by leaving them home at least some of the time.
26. Buy Frozen Foods
Many organic fruits and vegetables are cheaper if you buy them frozen rather than fresh. This is especially true when they’re out of season.
27. Use Discounted Gift Cards
We regularly use discounted gift cards to save on groceries. You can buy gift cards from Raise and other websites. The best discounts (like 16% off Walgreens cards) are often at places that don’t carry many organic products, but keep in mind that “wild” products are essentially organic (like the cans of wild-caught salmon at Walgreens).
28. Combine Strategies
Let’s say you use a discounted gift card to buy organic produce on sale, and you picked out large fruits and vegetable that are priced per-piece. You just used three savings strategies at once. See my Guide to Deal Stacking for more on how to combine savings tricks on the same purchase for maximum frugality.
If you can add to this list of ways to save on organic groceries, please do so in the comments below, and happy frugaling!