In a perfect world, I’d eat only organic foods.
Why? Organic farming methods have a lower impact on the environment, and I think organic food simply tastes better than conventional. In addition, The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rigid organic farming guidelines ensure organic foods won’t have been treated with synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or “sewage sludge” — none of which I want in my food.
But this isn’t a perfect world.
Organic food is pricier than conventional. If you purchase solely organics, especially for a family, your grocery bill can resemble a car payment.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy organic food; you just have to smart about how you add it to your shopping list. Here are my favorite strategies for buying organic foods while sticking to my budget.
1. Pick and Choose Your Organic Foods
In my house, we compromise. Certain conventionally grown foods, such as bananas and avocados, get a pass. Others, such as soy products, grains and apples, typically have to be organic.
Not sure which organics to choose? A couple of resources can help you decide:
- The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce
- Web MD’s Organic Foods: Top Picks
- Good Housekeeping’s The New Dirty Dozen: 12 Foods to Eat Organic
It’s important to note that the term “natural” is not the same thing as organic. It’s not regulated, and can be broadly interpreted by marketers, according to ABC News. Don’t be fooled: a “natural” on the label doesn’t necessarily make something a good purchase.
2. Know Where to Scavenge for Deals
Organic product coupons are not as widespread as conventional ones, but they are out there. Here’s where to find them:
On Manufacturer Websites
Many of us have favorite organic food companies, such as Organic Valley, Amy’s Kitchen, Eden Foods, Newman’s Own Organics, Bob’s Red Mill and Simply Organic. Find deals and coupons by checking their websites and social media pages, and opting in for free email newsletters.
At Your Grocery Store
Get coupons when you’re at the store? You might not think it, but grocery stores are great places to locate coupons.
I find store-specific coupons in flyers at the front of the store, such as Whole Foods’ Whole Deal. I also look for manufacturers’ coupons in store aisles, on product packages and taped to displays. It’s mostly a matter of being observant — the deals are there if you look.
Combine these offers with manufacturer’s coupons for the biggest savings. By combining an in-store sale with a manufacturer’s coupon, I recently scored a $8.99 bottle of Avalon Organics Shampoo for $1. This was an unadvertised promotion, one I found because I was paying attention while in the store.
You may be able to find manufacturer’s coupons in these magazines from time to time, but they’re not my top sources. Some publications where you may be able find a limited number of coupons include Taste for Life and Natural Health.
3. Get Paid to Eat Well
Does your health insurance provider offer preventive health programs? Group Health Cooperative, a local insurer, reimburses members for purchasing produce through Community Supported Agriculture programs, which connect the public with small-scale farmers. Check with your insurance provider or your company’s HR department to see whether this option could work.
One caveat is that CSA food comes in bulk — a membership is ideal for families or those willing to share the cost with others, but less so for those living on their own. You also don’t always get to pick your bounty; you get whatever’s in season and ready that week.
Still, considering the quality and savings from your insurance provider, it’s worth researching. For a list of CSAs in your area, try localharvest.org.
4. Grow Your Own Food
Food doesn’t get any cheaper — or tastier — than home-grown.
You can even grow produce indoors during the winter. Here’s a great article from the Organic Consumers Association to help you get started. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, the substantial savings might make you want to give it a try.
For example, a bag of 25 organic cherry tomato seeds might cost $2.99. Each seed represents a plant, so you’ll have 25 plants at 12 cents each. If each plant yields just 30 tomatoes (a conservative estimate), you’ll have about 750 tomatoes — all for a $2.99 investment!
Don’t want to propagate seeds? A plant will only set you back by about $6. If you bought organic cherry tomatoes at your grocery store, you’d likely pay about $4.99 per pint.
5. Shop Around and Compare Prices
Be mindful of where you shop because prices for organic food can vary quite a bit. These are some of my favorite stores.
SuperTarget carries an impressive selection of organics, including produce, snacks and frozen foods at remarkable savings. I typically save at least 30% by shopping here and using a few Target savings hacks.
For example, let’s compare prices for an Amy’s Kitchen Pasta and Veggies frozen meal.
Regular price at other stores in our area (average): $5.50
Regular price at SuperTarget (my area): $3.49
Using my REDcard for an additional 5% off, the total is: $3.31
If I add a manufacturer’s coupon, I can get the price even lower!
The warehouse club has introduced more organics, though the membership fee, bulk-size portions and smaller selection are potential caveats.
Decide if the price of membership is worth it for you and your family. For us it is, because of the money we save on both organic and conventional foods. Plus, Executive members qualify for a yearly 2% cash-back reward based on their purchases — up to $750 per year per household or business. The Penny Hoarder has written before about how to make the most of a warehouse club membership.
I’m consistently amazed by Trader Joe’s prices, especially on their organic offerings. Don’t let the generic part throw you off; if the product is certified organic, you’re getting the real deal. Why pay more than you have to?
Whole Foods Market doesn’t have to eat up your whole paycheck, as some say, especially when you come armed with coupons from Whole Deal and opt for their store brand.
Check their impressive loss leaders in the flyer each week. For example, they recently advertised $1.50 per pint of blueberries.
6. Work for Perks
One of the benefits of working for a food retailer is the employee discounts. This is a way to earn a paycheck while taking advantage of discounts on groceries and other products you use on a regular basis.
Employee discounts are often addition to other benefits some stores may offer — and these could be as valuable as pay. For instance, Whole Foods, Target and Trader Joe’s all offer their employees extras such as paid time-off and retirement plans.
Here are the discounts you could enjoy as a store employee (may vary by store):
- Whole Foods: At least 20% off for employees who work at least 20 hours per week and who have passed probation.
- Trader Joe’s: 10% off all Trader Joe’s products.
- SuperTarget: 10% off all products.
7. Buy local
I’ve had mixed success with prices at farmers markets and stands. Check localharvest.org for lists of farms, farmers markets, food co-ops and fruit stands in your area. Be sure to compare the prices with your other options, but also consider the advantages of eating fruits and veggies that were likely picked within the previous 24 hours.
Hopefully this article has shown that organics can be affordable. By using these strategies, you can enjoy the best nature has to offer — while maintaining your budget. Here’s to eating well.
Your Turn: Do you choose organic foods? What are your best savings strategies?
Paula Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer, passionate about animals and sustainable living.