Myth: Healthy Food isn't Budget Friendly
I’m here to tell you that eating healthy does NOT mean breaking the bank. It's possible to save money on real food, especially at your local grocery store. With a little thought and preparation, you can stay within your budget, give up processed foods, and start eating more real foods.
There are so many sources to find real food. It isn't like the days of our great-grandparents. For them, if they didn't grow or produce it, it wasn't available. Today, we can grow our own food, shop online, run down to the supermarket, visit a Farmer’s market, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program), etc.
This week, we are going to start with where you’re probably doing all of your food shopping, the grocery store or supermarket. We’ll talk about buying real foods and staying on a budget.
My family of five eats about 85% organic with a food budget of $800 a month. Between late spring thru fall, it is much lower, because our garden is in full production. Whenever I go to the grocery store, I try to follow these three tips:
1) Do NOT go to the store hungry!
2) Make a grocery list of staples and general grocery items needed.
3) Choose produce and vegetables based on what looks best, in season, and how much it costs.
Save money by:
1) Making a lot of our food from scratch.
2) I stopped buying packaged breakfast cereal and sliced deli meats. They were too expensive.
3) Buy when items go on sale and stock up if necessary.
Where to Find Whole Foods in the Grocery Store
Save the Aisles for Last – Shop the Periphery First
You are going to find your fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, eggs, etc. on the outside aisles of the supermarket. This is all real food. Well, with the exception of the caramel sauce stacked ever so conveniently next to the apple display. Beware of the marketing displays offering food like products. Remember that real foods are the foods that grow out of the ground, on a tree or bush, or are raised on a farm. Do the majority of your shopping from these areas.
Tip: Pick your fruits and vegetables from the back of the displays. They are fresher! Watch the next time they stock, they place the oldest produce up front and restock from the back.
On your dairy products, be sure to read the labels. Choose unsweetened or plain varieties of yogurt and add your own sweeteners. Buying larger containers is also cheaper.
On your cheeses, buy the block. It is generally cheaper than shredded or sliced. Plus it won’t have any anti-caking agents.
Don’t buy products at eye level in the aisles
Grocery stores market the more expensive items at eye level. Food manufacturers have paid for this prime space. These items will probably not be a healthy choice. Start looking at the bottom of the shelves. This is where you will find the bags of beans, rice, whole grains, etc.
Remember when shopping the aisles; ask yourself if you could make this same item yourself for less. For example, that can of black beans is $1.09 a can. Can you make it at home for less? Yes, a 1 pound bag of black beans may cost you $2-$3 and make the equivalent of 4-5 cans.
Be aware of food ingredients contained in products found in the aisles. This is where you are likely to find many food like products. Be sure to read the labels.
Shop the Freezers for Vegetables and Fruit
Sometimes fresh ingredients can be just too expensive. For example, corn in the middle of winter is $$$. Instead of buying at a premium, buy it frozen. Frozen vegetables and fruit are more nutritious than canned varieties and contain no added salt (typically). Most stores offer both organic and conventional versions.
What you want to avoid in the freezers is all the food like products. Skip the vegetable packages with sauces, frozen pizzas, frozen meals, etc. These are overly processed and expensive. If you want these types of items, make them yourself. When comparing the costs of frozen cheese pizza to homemade, the frozen version will cost you $6-7 for a large. The homemade version may cost you $2-3. If you have pizza once a week, that’s a savings of at least $20 a month or $240 a year.
Supermarket Savings Hacks
Shop the weekly sales
Buy what is on sale. Organic whole chickens were on sale recently for $1.99 a pound. I bought 10 and put them in the freezer. Plan your meals by what is on sale that week and what you have on hand.
I make my list of groceries each week. I list all of the staples I need and any other necessities. I plan to shop for produce and vegetables that are on sale. But I make the final decision on fresh ingredients in the store. Something may look better than what was on my list.
Buy what is in season
Buy vegetables and produce in season. In the winter buy kale, spinach, winter squashes like butternut and acorn, parsnips, rutabagas, leeks, etc. During the spring buy radishes, lettuces, carrots, lettuces, peas, etc. Summer months include melons, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, etc. When you buy in season, you will be paying less. When you buy out of season, like a watermelon in December, you are paying more to have it shipped thousands of miles.
Buy staples in larger quantities or in bulk
Buy your staples like grains, flours, rice, nuts, beans, coffee, tea, etc. in bulk. Whether you're shopping at a natural foods store, supermarket or co-op, buying in bulk is a great way to stretch your food dollar.
For flours, grains, and rice, larger quantities can be less expensive. I buy my rice in large 20 pound bags from a local Asian market. It saves me about 40% when compared to buying smaller bags at my local grocery store.
For beans, lentils, dried fruit, coffee, tea, and nuts, head straight for the bulk containers. You pay for what you need and don’t pay for added packaging. Just make sure you have a cool, dry place in your kitchen to store your dry goods. I like to use glass jars.
Be sure to bring your calculator along. Not every item you can buy in bulk is worth the bother. Do the math.
Avoid premade or prepared foods
Very few convenience foods are good for you. They may be fast and easy to prepare. But your body will hate it and your wallet will be considerably lighter for buying it. The time investment in making items from scratch is well worth the effort.
Shop the sale/clearance bins
Some grocery stores offer overly ripe or slightly older produce and vegetables at a discounted rate. There is nothing wrong with these items. They are still full of nutrients and taste. The store just considers them past their prime. Overly ripe bananas are great in smoothies or dairy free ice cream. Unpeel them, place in a freezer bag, and freeze. Other vegetables can be used right away or frozen and used later.
Just like conventional groceries, you can find coupons for organic and all natural foods.
Common Kindness also has a variety of organic and natural product coupons. Plus they help fund non-profits.
Many organic companies also offer coupons directly on their websites or social media sites.
Here are a few sites:
Organic Valley Coupons: Sign up for FREE online coupons
Applegate Organic and Natural Meats: Coupons for signing up for their newsletter.
Lundberg Family Farm Coupons: Printable coupons
Cascadian Farms Coupons: Get a $1 Cascadian Farm coupon when you sign up for their newsletter, plus more coupons in each issue.
Earthbound Farm: Get a $1 Earthbound Frozen Fruits and Vegetables when you sign up for their newsletter, plus more coupons in each issue
Santa Cruz Juice and Soda Coupons: .
Naked Juice Coupons: Sign up for the newsletter and get coupons.
Annies Natural’s: Get $1.00 off coupons .
Simply Organics Spices and Sauce Mixes: Plenty of coupons on their website.
Whole Foods Store Coupons: Print coupons online for FREE in store Whole Foods Coupons.
Safeway – Organic Store Brand O Organics: and through your club card.
As you can see, there are many ways to save money on real foods at the grocery store. Next week, we’ll discuss other places to find real foods; Farmer’s Markets, Grow Your Own, CSAs, and more.
I’d love to hear how you eat real food and stay on a budget. Tell us your story in the comments.
Read more about how I save money on real food at the grocery store in these articles: