I hear over and over again I would buy organic, but I just can't afford it. While it is true that organic is more expensive it is totally possible to do this on a budget. There are lots of different tips and tricks you can use to do so.
The first tip I must stress is decide what is important to you. Do you want to do 100% organic, just some organic, or nothing organic. You are the only person who is in charge of your health, paying your bills, earning your money and how you want to spend it. Only you can decide these things. My goal is to give you some tips to help you make the decisions that are best for you and your family and how to spend your money.
The choice for my family to go organic was not a difficult choice. We started on a journey to live a healthier lifestyle, and this was one simple choice we could make to help us. I have been working on getting our budget just right to eat healthy and organic and to also stay within a reasonable budget. These are some of the tips I employ to help me with this.
1. Make a budget...and stick to it.
Only you can decide what your budget is. We pay for everything we have in either cash or debit. We do not use credit of any sort for anything we purchase. When my husbands paychecks come in I take cash out of the bank for our groceries. It's simple you know exactly how much you have when you pay in cash. When you run out it is gone. There is no way you can go over budget because once it's gone it's gone. Paying all in cash may not work for you, but it definitely works for us. The most important thing though is stick to the budget you have set for yourself.
2. Decide how often you want to shop.
Do you want to go shopping once a month, every two weeks, once a week, every couple of days or everyday? This is completely up to you. I go once a month to stock up on our basics. Every 2 weeks I buy our meats, and once a week to get fresh produce. This is what works for our family and my shopping. You just decide what works best for you and your schedule.
3. Make a meal plan...and stick to it.
Just as with tip #1 decide how far in advance you want to plan out your meals. I typically try to plan out a weeks worth of meals. I plan breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2-3 snacks a day (yes we eat a lot and often :) ). Some people just plan out dinners, and some people plan like I do. Once again just decide what works best for you.
4. Make a grocery list...and stick to it.
After you make your meal plan look in your refrigerator and cabinets so you do not buy things that you already have on hand. Make a list of what you need for your meal plan, and only your meal plan. When you go shopping only buy the items on your list. Impulse buys will eat up a large portion of your budget.
5. Never go shopping hungry
This is pretty simple. Eat before you go shopping that will help keep you from impulse buys. You will be much more likely to want to purchase unhealthy, expensive snacks if you are hungry. This tip will help you stick to your budget and meal plan.
6. Buy in bulk
Figure out the basics, and what you eat the most of in your household. These items are best to buy in bulk and always have on hand. There are some items in my house that only I will eat so I do not buy a lot of them. Then there are things that we use everyday that I buy a lot of. There are also some items that while I may not use everyday it is still cheaper to buy them in bulk. I can either freeze some of it, split with someone else, or donate it to someone. Things like organic flour, organic coconut sugar, organic honey etc... I do not use everyday, but I always have on hand. I try to buy a large quantity of this. Organic coconut oil, organic oatmeal, organic cage free eggs and things like this I use pretty much everyday. So I always have a large quantity of this on hand. I also try to use fresh herbs if possible, but if not I use organic spices. Typically most organic spices are about $4-$5 for a bottle. While that may seem like a lot for spices it really is very cheap. I use them in a lot of recipes and they last for quite a while. It ends up being very cheap for me in the long run. So look at what you use a lot, and buy those things in bulk.
7. Meal prep
This tip helps me save time and money. When I buy things in bulk like fruits, veggies, meats or grains I go ahead and prep them for the week. I will cut up my fruits and veggies. Typically things are cheaper if you buy them in bulk. Rather than just buying 1-2 apples it is cheaper to buy an entire bag. Choose one day during the week that works best for you to meal prep and use this day each week. I know not everyone likes leftovers so probably cooking up meat at the beginning of the week would not work for you. If you do not mind then buy a large quantity of the meats you like and cook them up at the beginning (or whatever day works for you) of the week. Meal prepping also helps you on those nights that you just do not feel like cooking. It helps keep you from going out and buying an expensive unhealthy meal at a restaurant.
8. Skip convenience
This one took me a little while to get accustomed to. I was buying fresh fruits and vegetables, but I would get the ones that were already cut up. This saved me so much time, and was so much easier for me. However, I was spending double sometimes triple the price for a smaller amount of food. For instance, I would buy a prepackaged container of watermelon for $9. Which is less than half the amount of a watermelon. Or I could buy a whole watermelon for $3 and cut it up myself. So skip the precut fruits and veggies and do it yourself. It will take a little more time, but it will save you lots of money. You also get more product for a lower price.
9. Skip prepackaged
One big thing that helped me in my journey to getting healthier was cutting out processed foods. Once again like the previous tip skip convenience here. You may be very tempted to buy a premade frozen lasagna, but skip it. Trust me you can make a homemade one for half the price and it is much healthier. Skip the boxed meals, prepackaged lunchables, frozen entrees etc...Skip all of the processed meals, and do it yourself. You will save yourself loads of calories, sodium, fat, unhealthy preservatives, and tons of money by doing it yourself. If you take the amount of money you are spending on prepackaged processed foods you could easily buy plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, whole organic grains, and organic grass-fed meats.
10. Decide what you want organic
Make the decision of whether you want all organic, a certain percentage organic or nothing organic. A good way to get some organics in your diet, and to save money is to stick to the clean 15/dirty dozen list. There is a list of the produce with the most pesticides that you should buy organic, and some that do not matter as much. So if you cannot go completely organic try to stick to this list as much as possible.
11. Shop around
Do not just stick to one store, and think that is the price you have to pay for everything. Do some research. Go to farmers markets, local healthy food stores, join a food co-op or CSA, compare prices in your local stores. I know which stores in my area have the best organic sections. I typically shop Publix, Aldi (they do not have a ton, but they do have some organics), Earth Fare, Sam's Club (or Costco), Whole Foods, Trader Joes, our local health food store and the farmers market. I do not go to all of these places in one day, but I know in advance what I want from each store. So find the best stores in your areas for a good selection of organic. Go berry picking or apple picking.
12. Shop sale items
When you make a list of the stores you like to shop pay attention to their sale ads. Sign up for their emails, get a card for that store, sign up for their coupons etc... I just received an email from Earth Fare that you can get 2 pounds of organic strawberries for $3. You cannot even get non-organic for that price. Now we eat a lot of strawberries so that is an awesome deal for us. If you pay attention to the stores sales you can get some great deals. Whole Foods is generally more expensive, but they do run sales. They come out with coupons, and sale items. Pay close attention to the sale items from your favorite stores. It can save you lots of money.
13. Utilize leftovers
This one was also hard for us to get used to. We would never eat leftovers, but now we eat them a lot. If you made a big batch of brown rice for dinner eat it for breakfast the next day. Make something new with the leftovers. Take the leftovers for lunch one day. Have a leftover night for dinner. Everyone can choose what they want to eat. If you made a big batch of spaghetti one night (I know I always make way too much spaghetti) with some leftover chicken, homemade pasta sauce and some organic cheese. Do not throw that food away. If you made a large lasagna freeze half of it. etc... Do not be afraid of leftovers. Definitely use them.
14. Stop eating out
I hear people all of the time say "I cannot afford to eat organic foods", but then I see that same person going out to eat. They do not think twice about spending $40-$60 on one unhealthy meal out, or eating a $5 lunch out everyday, grabbing that $6 specialty coffee every morning etc...I bet if you looked at your budget most people easily spend $100-200 a month (usually more) on eating out. Take this money and put it into your grocery budget, and you could eat much healthier. I am not saying you should ever eat out, but limit it to special occasions. If you are meal planning, utilizing leftovers, and meal prepping bring lunch to work is much easier.
15. Shop in season
When foods are in season they are cheaper. I really love avocados, and want to eat them year round. Now when they are not in season I have paid $3-4 for one avocado. When they are in season I can find them anywhere from $.50 to $1. So learn what foods are in season at what times, and buy those foods.
16. Less, better Meat and dairy
Meat and dairy are two things that I prefer to buy organic. I look for organic grass-fed on both. Of course the price of these are going to be much higher. To save costs do not eat these everyday. Go meatless 1-2 (or more) times a week. There are plenty of ways to get protein in that do not involve eating meat. When we do dairy I only get full fat organic (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt etc...). We also do not eat this everyday. Look for dairy alternatives. Rice milk, coconut milk, almond milk etc... are all good options. You can also learn to make these homemade. Get higher quality dairy and meats to eat a few times a week, and the other times go meat free.
17. Homemade is best
As I said skip the prepackaged items. Instead go homemade. Instead of buying a $5 box of organic granola bars make your own. Chances are you have most if not all of the ingredients already on hand. Make your own peanut butter (super easy), homemade bread, invest in a dehydrator and make your own trail mix with dried fruits, make your own jerky, make a big batch of homemade pasta sauce, make fresh pasta etc... Most of these things are not hard to make, and most people have most if not all of the ingredients already on hand.
It is hard to find organic coupons, but it is not impossible. You just have to be willing to put a little effort into it. As I said previously I get coupons from certain stores emailed to me. Occasionally there are organic coupons in Sunday's paper. Common kindness also has some great organic coupons. http://www.commonkindness.com/
19. Grow your own
If you are able to grow your own food. Look for non-GMO seeds. Even if you do not have a large space you can try to create a small herb garden.
20. Do not overbuy
Remember that strawberry deal I mentioned earlier well we eat a lot of strawberries so it is good for us. If you do not eat a lot then I would not go and buy 6 pounds of them just because it was a good deal. Pay attention to what you enjoy eating. If you find that you are throwing away a lot of a certain type of food then it is simple buy less of it. It may be cheaper to buy a 5 pound bag of potatoes, but if you are only using 2 or 3 and throwing the rest away then only buy 2 or 3 at a time. I guarantee you that those 2 or 3 will not be more expensive than the whole bag, and you are not being wasteful.
21. Buy a freezer
We invested about $150 in a big chest freezer. I suggest you do the same. It is a lot at one time, but it is worth the money in the long run. If you buy bulk in produce, meats etc... then you can freeze what you are not using right away. Make large batches of things like sauces, breads, lasagnas, enchiladas etc... and freeze half or more of them. It is worth it in the long run. Especially if you are shopping seasonally. In the fall you can purchase squash when it is in season and freeze it, and then eat it year around. You also can purchase large quantities of frozen fruits and vegetables.
22. Stick to the outside
Try to stay away as much as possible from the aisles of the store. Stick to the outer areas, fresh produce, meats and dairy.
23. Drink more water
Do you know how much money you are spending on your sodas, energy drinks, specialty coffees, teas and juices? I bet that it is a large amount of your budget. If you are drinking water (and I don't mean the prepackaged bottle water you purchase, that is just a waste of your money) then you are saving yourself a lot of money and empty calories. If you would like to drink something else try making your own juice, buy tea bags and make your own tea, you can even make your own specialty coffee drinks if you do not want to give them up.
24. Do it with family and friends
Involve your family and friends in your shopping. You all can go in together on foods. Buy that 5 pound bag of potatoes and split them up, buy bulk in organic meats and split that up, go in on produce together to split up. Have a weekly night where you get together with family and friends and meal prep together. Each person can bring different ingredients (an equal amount for everyone so nobody is spending more than another person), and you all cook together then split up what you've made.
25. Buy local
This is one of the best ways to eat healthy on a budget. You can help stimulate the economy in your local area by supporting local farmers as well as getting the freshest foods around.
26. Social media
Make sure you follow your favorite brands and stores on social media. You can find out different promotions, receive coupons, samples etc... on their page.
27. Portion control
Make sure you are eating the correct portions of your foods. Portion distortion is a huge problem in America today. If you are eating the proper amount of food you will be much healthier. You also will spend less money because you can buy smaller portions of things.
28. Buy online
You can find a lot of organic products on Amazon. You can also join Green polka dot box (which is an online membership site like Sam's or Costco) http://www.greenpolkadotbox.com/
29. Stop wasting food
Raw nuts and flours should be kept in the refrigerator to last longer without going rancid.
Line your refrigerator’s crisper drawer with paper towels to absorb excess moisture. They’ll absorb excess moisture which will help keep produce longer.
To repel bugs, place a bay leaf in containers of rice, flour and pastas.
Buy and keep bananas separated from one another, they spoil slower.
Turn almond butter, yogurt, sour cream, tahini and cottage cheese containers upside down when stored in the fridge – this creates a vacuum seal, keeping them fresh longer
Do not throw away nut meal from homemade nut milk – use it for smoothies, baked goods like biscotti or to make nut flours by placing the pulp on a baking sheet and drying it out in a 250 degree oven or dehydrator.
Repurpose vegetable pulp from juicing to add fiber to soups, smoothies or make crackers or bread.
Placed limp celery, baby carrots and radishes in water with a slice of potato to make them crunchy again.
Keep all organic citrus fruits in the fridge – they will last up to 1-2 weeks longer.
Do not wash organic dark leafy greens or berries until they are ready to consume.
Store herbs, spring onions, asparagus upright in a large glass filled with an inch of water
Learn tips and recipes on how to use over the edge food. For examples, panzanella with stale bread, and banana bread with overripe bananas.
If you know you will not have a chance to eat it, freeze food before it goes bad.
Choose to eat less, use a smaller plate to help you control the amount of food you might eat or end up wasting.
Compost all food waste to put nutrients back in your garden (you will spend less on fertilizer).
30. Purchase the whole thing
If you are looking for a away to save money on organic meats look into purchasing the whole animal. I have never done this, but I know some people that do. They will go in with other people or they will freeze parts of the animal.
These are the tips that I have for eating organic on a budget. If you have anymore please feel free to add them to the comments. I am always looking for ways to save money especially on healthy foods.