As I detailed in my previous post, using a portion of my food shopping budget at Costco has allowed me to regain control of my out of control grocery bill.
While I do find shopping at Costco helpful, it is not the answer to everything for me. I know that I am not alone in my quest to save money at the food store. I’ve read more than a few blog posts about how people save money on their food bill. I’ve seen the photos that people include of their weekly grocery hauls. But what is missing from almost every photo and grocery list? Real food. I’m talking fresh fruit, vegetables, unprocessed meat…they are missing or barely there in almost all of the posts that I have read (not all, but most).
I am not a food snob, but I am committed to providing nutritious meals to my family. I am not willing to accept the fact that in order to stay within my food budget I must feed my family boxed meals, frozen dinners, processed meat, and fluorescent colored fruit-type things. I’m sorry, but I just won’t accept that. But that is the lie that you are led to believe you must accept. I’m here to tell you that that is just false.
What it comes down to are choices. If I have a dollar to spend I can choose to buy a bag of chips on sale, a box of macaroni and cheese, or a pound of dried beans. That same dollar can buy cheese cracker sandwiches at the local dollar store, a bag of candy at the check out line, or a huge bunch of fresh kale from the produce section. Some of the most nutrient dense foods are actually cheap, like the kale and beans in the examples above.
Eating well on a budget can be done. Below you will find a few of the places that I go to to find bargains, along with some of the unconventional methods I employ to purchase food.
How to save money on fresh produce.
(1) Start you own produce co-op.
Did you know that you can completely eliminate the middle man (the grocery store) when it comes to buying fresh produce? Yep, you can. I do it every single week. Most food distributors are more than willing to sell directly to you. You will likely need to meet a minimum order amount, and unless you are interested in eating forty pounds of carrots by yourself, you should gather up a few friends. Do a search of food distributors in your area. Contact the sales department and ask them if they will sell directly to you. They may very well say yes. You will be amazed at how much you save. We’re talking 40-60% less than at the supermarket for the exact same product….except it’s far fresher coming from the distributor. You can buy a few cases and split it among friends.
(2) Participate in a local produce co-op.
Not interested in doing all that work yourself? Search out local produce co-ops. There are more out there than you may realize. Some of them save you money; some of them don’t. Be wise. The quantity you receive may not justify the check you write. Most co-ops are set up to where you do not have the ability to choose your produce. You may receive burdock root, daikon, and rutabagas. It’s not that these ingredients are horrible, it’s just that you may not want them. Do your research.
CSA’s (community supported agriculture) are another option. Here you buy a share in a farmer’s harvest. It’s a great way to support local farms. I would so love to be able to do this, but I can’t work it into my budget right now.
(4) Shop store front farmer’s markets.
I’m not sure if this is a Northeast thing or not, but there are more and more store front, farmer’s market type stores cropping up (ha!). The name is a bit deceiving because it’s not a farmer’s market. It’s more like a discount produce store. I have a friend who shops at one such store every week. She tells me of $.75 cauliflower, green beans that are $.59 per pound, and apples for $.79 per pound. I am amazed at the amount of fresh produce she bags for a few dollars.
(5) Grow your own.
Begin to garden. Use what little space you have to try your hand at growing something. Greens are easy to grow and freeze nicely once blanched. Tomatoes can be canned, made into sauce, or sun-dried. It’s incredibly rewarding to whip up a meal using ingredients that you have grown yourself.
How to save money on bulk items.
(6) Start your own buying club.
Buying clubs are sponsored by several companies. The idea here is to gather people together, form a group, and buy in bulk directly from the company. Buying clubs are not for everyone. You need to be able to store twenty five pounds of oats or fifty pounds of flour. The quantities are large, but manageable if you split it with friends. As with everything else, not all items are cheaper in a buying club.
As the coordinator of a group, you are able to earn money on purchases that group members make. The current company that my group is with credits the coordinator with 5% of the group’s sales. The people in my group pay nothing towards this; it’s a benefit that the company gives out. There is a bit of work involved in coordinating a group, but it’s not too much. You are also able to earn credit if you refer people to the company. For instance, Wholeshare, the company I work with, provides me with a $100 credit if someone I refer starts up a group and places an order. There’s also a $50 bonus for the person who starts a group. It’s a win-win for everyone. Here’s the link to get you started if you are interested.
(7) Participate in a buying club.
Maybe you do not want to do the work involved in coordinating a group of your own. You should search out groups in your area and join. Companies like Wholeshare and UNFI likely have established groups in your local area.
There are so many sites available it can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve streamlined my online buying to two sites: Amazon and Vitacost. Amazon has many benefits and frequent sales, so it worthwhile to stop by and browse. Their Subscribe and Save service offers additional savings. Even if you opt to subscribe to regular deliveries of an item, you can cancel out that subscription at anytime.
My favorite site to go to is Vitacost. Hands down, they have the best prices on organic and all natural foods. They run sales regularly and offer codes for additional savings nearly weekly. Again, check out their prices, then wait. I can almost guarantee that the item you need will go on sale in short time. I also like the fact that Vitacost offers a sign up bonus on referrals. If you open an account at Vitacost using a referral link (like this one) and place an order, both you and I receive a $10 credit. Nice for everyone.
How to save money on meat.
(9) Buy in bulk directly from the farmer.
There is nothing like sourcing your meat directly from the farmer who raises it. You have the ability to talk with the farmer about how he cares and feeds his animals. Your direct purchase from the farmer supports that farmer, his family, and his livelihood. The quality of meat that comes from small farms is superior to that of large, commercial farms. There is just no comparison. The prices are often better than you will find at the grocery store or local butcher shop.
We view a purchase like this as an investment. The price up front is high, but in the long run, there are great savings to be had. For this venture, it is great to have a group of friends to go in with. It lessens the financial strain, and you won’t have to worry about where you will store six hundred pounds of beef!
How to save at the grocery store.
(10) Little tricks.
- Use coupons. Go directly to a company’s website for coupons that you can download. This way you are saving money on the products you already use. You can also call up companies and simply ask them to mail you coupons. I’ve done this, and most companies are generous, sometimes even including coupons for free items. You can also sign up for free coupon services like Mambo Sprouts. They offer coupons for organic and natural products.
- Buy in bulk at the store. Certain stores like Whole Foods offer a 10% discount when you purchase a case of a particular item. If an item that I regularly use goes on sale at Whole Foods, I purchase a case, if I can, to stack the savings.
- Shop for meat when the store opens first thing in the morning. I have found that the best deals in the meat department are found in the morning. The shelves are freshly stacked. Often times meat that is marked at clearance prices is widely available. Our store marks down meat when it is within two days of the sell by date. That mark down meat is still perfectly good (but do be sure to double check the dates). Take it home and pop it in the freezer. Mark downs on meat are hit and miss, but it is always worth a look.
PHEW! That’s a lot to digest.
Do you have any tips to share?
Disclaimer: Some of the above links provide me with a credit/bonus if you sign up and make a purchase. As mentioned, each link also provides a bonus to you as well.