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Save Money on Healthy Organic Foods

by Tiffany in Frugal Green

save-money-on-healthy-organic-foodsYes, the conundrum that most families into natural health and wellness will face. On one hand we have the argument that organic, healthier foods cost more and therefore cannot be justified when we have a modest budget.

There is some truth to this no doubt. Organic cow’s milk might cost you $4.99 for a half gallon at the grocery store. The non-organic milk sits right next to it at $2.79 per whole gallon. The raw organic almonds I buy at $12.99 a pound to make breakfast bars with seems extravagant when I could buy Pop Tarts for a couple dollars a box right? Why go buy $15 worth of ingredients at the store to make a good dinner when we can shop the $1 menu at McDonalds?

But then the counter argument is that unhealthy foods and non organic foods will cost us more in the long run. Why? Because food is our medicine. An unhealthy diet will eventually lead to health problems, doctor visits, unpaid sick days, hospitalizations, pharma prescriptions, etc. If you need proof, look at me. My bad choices turned around to bite me in the behind BIG time. I chose bad foods…REALLY bad foods for many years and got lovely colon cancer, $50,000 worth of surgeries, and chemo treatment at $7000 a week for 6 months. Don’t I wish I could go back and buy healthy foods and complain about how expensive it was. ;)

I see both sides of the coin but only one  really stands up to tough scrutiny. If we cut corners on a healthy diet due to expense…we may likely be paying the piper later…with interest. But like everything it seems there is no black and white here. Some things we may need to compromise on. How can we cut costs and allow access to better food? Let’s explore some of the ways.

Menu Planning – This is probably the best way to cut costs, good old fashioned planning. It gets really pricey when we shop piece meal and only pick up ingredients for a couple days worth of meals. You also might not know what you already have to work with and that can be costly. It just makes good sense to sit down every month or every two weeks and plan out every meal you will eat. Take an inventory of your frig and pantry to see what you have already and work with that. If you have a 5 pound bag of jasmine rice then plan 2-3 meals each week that incorporate rice. If you shopping listhave lots of dried or canned beans then plan some meals with beans, etc. And when staples like beans and/or rice go on sale, make sure to take advantage.

Meal planning alleviates stress because you always know what you will be making and that lessens the chances that you will just call out for pizza. And eating raw takes planning cause if I want to use rice I have to allow four days for it to soak! But it is kind of fun to do. If it is not your thing you can also use online meal planners or services. Try Menu Planning Central or the Healthy Menu Mailer.

Also don’t be afraid to eat the same thing multiple times in a week if it saves money. There is no law that says dinner has to be totally unique each night.

Buy in Bulk – Sometimes bulk food warehouses can be a bad deal if we buy stuff we don’t need or want just because it is cheaper. But if you shop wisely they are wonderful. Personally I avoid paying the membership fee at Costco by shopping with my mom. I save money on the fee and my purchases count towards her cash back bonuses.

I like to buy frozen fruit at Costco. I can get a huge bag of frozen strawberries for $7.99. A bag ¼ that size can be found at my local grocery store for $6.99. That is a BIG savings since I can easily go through one bag a week and this is one of those areas where I opt not to go organic due to cost. If I had to pay triple for that amount of strawberries I would not buy them nearly as much and I would not make green smoothies nearly as much so the health benefit in that scenario favors the non-organic strawberries. Same goes with their bag of mixed fruit. But when strawberries are seasonal I buy organic and freeze my own. I just run out pretty quick. :(

Organic Baby Spinach is also a great price at Costco so I stock up on that. Fresh, seasonal fruit is better priced too. Costco it is one of the few places I can find wild caught salmon in our area. They have big bags of baking soda that I use to make my own green cleaners. They also add to their organic offerings all the time. Just don’t buy stuff for the sake of buying cheaper stuff.

You might also look into a food co-op where you join with other people to get bulk food at wholesale prices.

Shop Less – This ties in with meal planning. Frequent trips to the store end up costing us more than if we just plan for one or two shopping trips a month. Of course a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies might mean more trips but the bulk of the shopping should only be done at certain times. The book America’s Cheapest Family discusses this.

Don’t Eat Out – Just stop it already, it is expensive. Make your own meals and save money. Presuming you don’t shop the dollar menu then value meals at fast food places will run around $25 for a family of 5 and it is crap food! That $25 could be dinner for 2-3 nights if you plan well. And don’t waste money on $4 coffees from coffee houses. Yes, it is easy for me to say since I don’t drink coffee but it seems like such a waste. I had to speak with my hubby about this recently and his iced coffee from Dunkin Doughnuts habit.

Make Your Own – Are you buying bottled salad dressing or salsa? Bags of bread? Think about making your own foods and condiments and save money.

Look for Deals – When staples go on sale like rice, beans, nuts, grains, etc, stock up and fill your pantry. Use coupons when you can but do not buy stuff you don’t need or want just because it is on sale. Wasting food is not cool.

If you find you regularly buy certain brand products then contact the distributor and see if they can send coupons. Join their online mailing list to get printable coupons. Pick up Mambo Sprouts coupon books in front of Whole Foods. Look at online sales flyers to see which stores are having sales and even if you have already shopped this week check them anyway, just in case. Don’t go to Whole Foods to buy your almonds when Trader Joe’s down the street has them on sale. If you use Agave Nectar a lot then stock up when they have a sale. I recently found my favorite brand of raw Agave Nectar for $1.99 a bottle! It was an unadvertised sale and needless to say I bought every bottle they had. Which leads me to a little tip: the little natural food sections of mainstream grocery stores often have unadvertised sales. I guess maybe they decide that no one is buying this stuff so they want to clear it out which is good news for me.

Also start keeping track of your purchase in a spreadsheet so you can get a feel for average pricing. This will help you figure out if something is a real deal or waste of time.

egg comparisonCSAs and Farmer’s Markets
– Do the math and see if a CSA membership will be a good deal for you, it usually is. BUT if you end up with veggies you don’t like or use then perhaps not. Also check out Farmer’s Markets at the end of the day when the farmers mark down produce to get rid of it. Also be sure to look for local Amish for great deals on organic veggies and eggs.

Eat Less Meat – Meat is the budget killer so try to incorporate as many meatless meals as you can. If you see my sample rice meal plan above you will see only one of the three meals includes meat. That was deliberate. I have been amazed at how much food I have been able to bring home on the average shopping trip since we stopped buying so much meat. If anything we buy fish now instead for 1-2 fish meals a week. Ultimately I would like to see us move to buying sushi only… at our local Japanese grocer.

Eat in Season – Buy according to the seasons for cheaper prices. In the fall buy apples and persimmons and skip the pineapple and green grapes. In the summer load up on watermelon and strawberries. It might also be advantageous to buy a stand alone freezer and freeze some. You can also dehydrate to extend the life of seasonal foods.

Grow Your Own – Even if you have never gardened or think you don’t have the space I bet you can grow at least ONE thing. Pick one item you always buy and see if you can grow it yourself. Cherry tomatoes, strawberries, or herbs are a great place to start. They can be grown on a patio or at a sunny window. I love this post fro J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly about gardening. He found that for every dollar he spent on the garden, they harvested $1.91 worth of food and the expenses were often one time things like a wood chipper and young fruit trees. That is awesome. Wouldn’t you like to make every dollar go twice as far?

There are lots of ways to reduce costs that I can see. How about you? What tips or comments do you have?

  • kristen

    Great points. I can’t imagine shopping without a menu plan-I would get home and not have full meals! I too try to stay out of the stores. I do BIG shopping every 3 or 4 weeks to stock up and then quick runs for produce in between. My new habit I am forming is making a raw menu for myself instead of just eating the lonely veg everyone else is having or a salad. I deserve a good meal too!!

  • Mary

    Great advice! I too have been trying to cut back on meat lately. I’ve been reading “Food Matters” by Mark Bittman, which has great advice on living a “flexitarian” lifestyle (not cutting out meat completely, but definitely cutting back on it). Check it out!

  • christina

    Great post! I’m showing this to my husband. Who although is very understanding still struggles a but with my “organic”, “natural” shopping, mostly money related.

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Great post! While I can’t completely agree with you that you got cancer because you were not eating organic I most definitly agree with you about everything else, especially the costco idea. They have LOTS of organic stuff there for *significantly* cheaper prices. The key to not getting into financial trouble for me at Costco has been to stay out of the aisles (like snack food aisles) that have nothing I need.

    Another trick I have come up with is go completely forego snack foods. When my kids are hungry they get a small bowl of cereal, popcorn, fruits or veges, or babybel cheese. You would be amazed how much not buying individual snack bags of popcorn, pretzels, chips, and granola bars has saved my budget. I would also recommend that eating less meat does help a lot. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where you can buy a big bag of meat substitute for the whole family for less than what you can buy even non-organic meat for.

    I would also recommend that even if you still can’t buy organic, just eating more fruits, veges, and less meat will be healthier for you.

  • Kitty, I am 100% positive my cancer was dietary. But also not necessarily related to organics. For several years I worked in a movie theatre as a manger. So for years I ate the free popcorn and soda for meals…like 5-6 days a week! That is the just the tip of the iceberg. ;)

  • Great post! I’m so glad I stumbled across this website. You’re right, if I don’t make a plan, I end up with an expensive cart full of stuff that doesn’t go together… it’s a mess:)

    I’m a big fan of the book Fresh Choices by David Joachim and Rochelle Davis. It’s all about how to eat healthy if you can’t afford to buy 100% organic. Some fruits and veggies are produced with fewer chemicals conventionally (like blueberries), so splurging for organic doesn’t make much sense. Others, like spinach and celery, are filled with chemicals and should always be purchased as organics.

    The book is full of good recipes and lists of various substitutes for your grocery list… It even talks about innovative things leaders are doing around the country to improve our food supply!

  • All good tips to remember. We also cut back on meat in order to save on our budget.

    Two additional tweaks on that tip: 1)don’t make meat the centerpiece of the meal and you can stretch it further. Instead of serving a chicken breast per person plus sides, cut up one breast and serve it in a stir fry and feed the same number of people. 2)Even if you’re cutting back on meats, you can still keep nutrient-dense animal fats like butter, tallow, or lard in your diets and cook with bone broths to ensure your energy levels stay high (particularly if you’re ALSO trying to cut back on carbs at the same time!)

  • Valérie

    Great post with so many different ways to help lower the cost of an organic grocery. I’m going to post it on my Facebook and email it to some family members, who are still not convinced that it is possible and important to have an organic diet.

  • Great post and definitely the way we should all be heading. It reminds me of what David Wolfe said in Food Matters that we need to change our paradigm and invest in food to make us well. There are definitely ways to do this on any budget.

  • I agree that cutting down meat and dairy products will totally help you save. I’m a vegan, and while not everyone can/will do that, everyone can and should eat at least one meat- and dairy-free meal per day.

    Also, what I’ve found beneficial is to sign up for coupons from organic manufacturers that I enjoy, such as Organic Valley, White Wave, etc. The occasional $1 off I get on soy milk, tofu or a convenience food is a nice treat.

  • ThirstyApe

    Searching on I found a great book that promotes flexitarian (mostly vegetarian) eating that has saved me so much money on my grocery bills! The Flexitarian Diet by Registered Dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner. It has more than 100 flexitarian recipes and shopping lists to go along with them. There is nothing more convenient! I just love the book. It has helped my family to eat healthier and save money. I also have downloaded some great recipes (for free) from the author’s website.

  • Jen

    Great tips. One thing I’ve recently started doing is taking advantage of the 10% case discount at Whole Foods on staples. I found that my typical grocery lists involved a lot of the same WF brand pantry items that rarely go on sale, so why not buy 6 or 12 or 24 at once (case size varies) and save a few bucks over buying a couple each week?

    I wish I could convince my husband of your statement that it’s ok to eat the same food more than once a week! It drives me nuts that he refuses to eat perfectly good leftovers and then uses up ingredients for other meals to make himself something new and different!

  • Great post – as usual :)

    Have a super week!!!!!

    Kristen’s Raw

  • great tips!
    My friend and I started a local group to run Frontier coops and stuff like that. So we get all of our personal care, essential oils and stuff like that at a great discount.
    I just got a deal on a Costo memembership so I’m excited to take my first trip there this week.
    Oh and one more think I’d like to add, is the produce list. I try to use that as a guide as to what produce I should buy organiic (or avoid all together).

  • Brooke

    I really try not to buy anything that is packaged in plastic. It saves money and it is better for the environment. Instead I shop at my local healthfood store from big bulk containers. Another thing is for families to cut back on prepackaged beverages. Instead people can make tea or drink water. It is way cheaper. Shopping for me has become more politically motivated then dollar motivated. By shopping for organic, fair trade food and coffee I feel like I am paying the real value and not a value based on unfair labor practices and agricultural practices that harm our environment. The reality is the cost for buying organic or natural food is not that more expensive. It is that buying non-organic food is too cheap. The prices are too low for the farmers to afford to feed their families or farm in an ethical way. I get that some families may truly not be able to afford to buy organic food. However many of the people who do not see the benefit put a higher priority on the things they wear or the size of the home they own then the foods they put in their bodies. From my point of view it is simply crazy to pay hundreds of dollars for a bag or on gas each month and then say that organic food that is a few cents or dollars more expensive that normal food is overpriced.

  • Rachelle

    Great post!! My husband and I have “discussions” about this topic almost every shopping trip. You’ve brought up some good things to think about here though.

  • shelley

    i don’t think your smoothies are all that ‘green’ if you are not using organic strawberries. I have read they are one of the worst for chemicals.
    due a little research and see what you can find.

  • Sheri

    Great post, Tiffany! The foodie in me loves all your food-related posts :)

    We are a family of 7 whole food vegans, eating a high-raw all organic diet. That can get pretty pricey to eat that way (especially for so many of us!), but we have found ways to cut corners.

    We grow our own, a little veggie garden in my backyard in Suburbia yields a surpising amount of veggies. I freeze and can a lot of what we grow. We did a CSA last year. We shop at the farmer’s markets. We don’t eat out (not much selection in Columbus for raw, vegan, and organic people anyhow). We meal plan. We cook from-scratch. We keep inventories of our freezers and pantries.

    But our biggest savings came by buying in bulk — we have been in a buying club ( food co-op) for several years, and we save so much money shopping this way! I buy all of our nuts and seeds, grains and beans, seasonings, cases of dried fruits (like raisins, cranberries,dates and goji berries), frozen organic fruits, etc this way, by the case or the 25lb sack for huge savings. This is high quality organic food. No fresh produce through the buying club, so in winter months we hit Whole Foods for produce, in summer months we use our garden and the CSA and farmers markets for fresh produce. This keeps me out of the stores — with 5 kids, shopping is not fun! I just zip in quick for produce and I’m outta there. Everything else I already have at home because I bought it in bulk through our buying club.

    Our grocery bill used to be over $1200 for our big family to eat organic. I got it down to around $700-$750/month by shopping this way. That’s about $100/month per person for organic food, and we eat a LOT!

    The newspaper did a feature on our buying club last winter if you want to read it:

    You hit a lot of good points for healthy eating on a budget…it can be done!

  • Green refers to the color of the smoothie. And I don’t need to do “research”. I already know about the value of organic strawberries and have posted about it here in fact…but I also know my own spending limits.

  • Mary Rex

    Thanks for the great post! I totally agree with you about growing your own. Herbs are an especially rewarding place to start because of the added ornamental value. I will be putting in raised beds this year to fill with tomatoes, peppers, salad greens and butternut squash. Read Barbara Kingsolver’s *Animal Vegetable Miracle* for inspiration.

  • Terrific post. My mom and I were just talking about meal planning to stop the waste. Organic food is so expensive I hate having leftovers that aren’t eaten or produce that goes bad. Sometimes I can’t make it to our local farmer’s market, so I got some of those Debbie Myers “Green Bags” and they really do extend the life of my organic fruits and veggies. Be careful with your choices on sushi and the amount eaten weekly. Do you subscribe to Dr. Mercola’s website? He posted a story about actor, Jeremy Piven and his mercury poisoning from too much sushi. Granted he ate it once or twice each day, but it’s good to know which fish has the highest amounts. Go to for a mercury calculator. Thanks for your great posts!

  • Watch out for the frozen veggies at Costco. Some of it comes from China. IMHO, this is not a good thing. I bought a bag of gorgeous-looking asparagus there & didn’t notice the “product of China” statement till I got it home. Read the labels carefully.

    Great post. Agreed: organic is worth the cost, in flavor if not in safety. I’m trying to figure out how to get more garden space to grow veggies and herbs.

  • Great post! I shared it on Facebook. I FINALLY got my husband on board this year, I think, with eating less meat, more organic, and it has made my life so much less stressful, because I don’t feel like I am fighting him anymore on the food we eat! We use a CSA and freeze to save money. I also received a food dehydrator for Christmas and am anxious to give it a try.

  • I like to think of buying organic as an investment in my family’s health….like a small health insurance premium. It does pay off, but of course it is impossible to measure this, so people think organic is expensive. But considering what you are getting, I think it’s cheap compared to chemically-saturated non-organic stuff! All natural foods are worth paying more for. I write at more length about this here:

  • marleen

    Great post!

    I had a question. I am doing a competition with TCEA for websites, everybody makes their own website and our theme was Green. So my website is about green organics (food). I would like to use your pictures(the ‘shopping list’ ones), can I? I have to ask permission for everything I use. Could you mail me back?

    Thank you!

  • Tina

    It is quite refreshing to hear that so many of us are breaking through the challenge of convincing our spouses of the importance of eating organic! My mother and I both have been making great strides even if it is simply because they have chosen to just give in! I really think they may even be starting to enjoy and believe in the importance of a healthy diet. We have really cut back on meat consumption for many reasons. I have found a great meat filler-Quinoa. It is a complete protein for one but it also is easily disguised when mixed with ground turkey, etc. for meatballs and loafs.

  • kathryn

    This was a great article. I do marketing for an organic food produce company very much like a CSA in Califonia. When there are things I don’t care for which isn’t very often, I use that to make vegitable stock. I freeze it and then use it to make my beans or to roast meat or veggies. I even use it to make rice. It gives everything a great flavor and adds vitamins also. When I am done with the veggies, I give the left overs to my chickens which is a great way to take care of them too. This helps to use everything in my weekly box. If there is anything else left I put that in my compost pile. Everything gets used each week. I feel that I am saving on average about 50% this way.

  • Dyah

    All are wonderfull to be inspired me to improve my healthy live. Thank you for your photos and article

    Dyah K

  • Wow Tiffany! You have done it again! Another great post. You are truly helpful especially to all of us moms out here. Thank you :)

  • Kresnadi Blog

    We also plant tomatoes, peppers, lettuces, and green beans in our garden.

  • Traci

    Thank you for this post. I just did a TV segment on saving money at health and natural food stores as well. Thanks for all of your ideas.

  • Nikky

    Great posts! I envy anyone can shop only once or twice a month! It does help me to eat the same things each week (spaghetti on Mondays, tacos on Tuesdays, etc…) so that we can use up things that have been opened. Finally, I agree eating less meat definitely helps keep the cost down. Hooray for beans!

  • Lynn

    There’s a new book called “Looking Good Naked”. I haven’t read it yet, but I hear that it promotes healthy and inexpensive changes that you can make to your diet in order to look and feel better. I think this is an idea that we can all get behind.

  • I just came from your post about flowers and am equally impressed with this one. The shop less tip is rarely discussed, as well as “eat less.” It’s an easy way to organic weight loss and organic savings. If we just chose a simple healthy homemade juice made from garden grown fruits and berries we’d boost our immune systems and get hefty organic savings on the normally processed food we choose for this meal.

    Another tip: When in a rush, opt for some freshly steamed vegetables. The better the taste; the better the organic quality…I’ve experience having organic peas and corn that needed no seasoning whatsoever- so very good. But, unfortunately, not all organic certifications are the same. Some have higher standards and it shows in the taste.

    Find a good provider (local usually tastes awesome and is very affordable- I describe this on my site) and you’re well on your way toward organic savings through using eating less. The hips will thank you :)

  • Aaigg

    Buy local when possible. It benefits your local economy, benefits your local farmers, and benefits the environment (with regards to reduced energy for shipping). It generally also benefits your wallet.

  • silentwriter

    I am now eating natural/organic foods and my husband went nuts the other day as I paid $98 for only 2 bags of food but to me those 2 bags were worth weight in gold! He wants me to stick with buying whatever is in the supermarket & whatever is detrimental to your health. He told me that “he” can’t afford to buy expensive products. We live in a rural area and one of the two supermarkets only has 1 isle with natural food. If I want to buy natural, I have to travel over an hour to another supermarket but that is where I went the other day when he blew up at me! We don’t have a Cosco around here and Sam’s Club doesn’t see much organic food (if any)….so I’d like to know how am I going to eat healthy where I live?

    • Carina

      Try  it’s a natural food co-op our of Oregon that covers a whole lot of states on the west coast and beyond.  You have to either be your own group by ordering $550 or more, or call them and find out where the closest group in your area is so you can join up with them.  There is no shipping charge and no tax. 

      We just moved to an area where there is NO health food stores and NO organic sold in the conventional stores.  I feel it’s very important to feed my family, (and myself) healthy foods.  We now order most of our food from Azure Standard.  I highly recommend them.  Their prices are great, often times their organic items are even lower than the grocery stores conventional ones.  You do have to buy most items in bulk, which is sometimes hard as it’s a large chunk of money at once.  Also, you really have to plan your meals out as the truck only delivers once a month.  I’m learning to do with what I have and be creative in making meals while waiting for another order to come in. 

  • silentwriter

    Actually I live on a farm but we can’t plant a garden as we have many wild who eat all your plants and beside that my husband “won’t let me grown one, not even in a a little tent. I know this sounds terrible but mu husband is in control in this household!

  • Ecolily

    Thank you for this! It is exactly what I needed. Great advice here!

  • Thanks for this!  I am only starting to go green and a lot is being said about it being expensive. Hearing it from someone who was hit hard by not taking the good, more difficult choice in the past, makes it more compelling to make little sacrifices now in exchange for a more sustainable life.  

  • Previ Lean

    For those wishing to lose weight, Healthy Eating usually congers up feelings of deprivation, tasteless food and food cravings