Organic groceries can cost you more than twice as much as conventional groceries. For example, you could get a basket filled with conventional chicken, eggs, milk, zucchini, carrots and apples for $10.68. But if you bought the organic versions of those same products, you might pay $24.21, according to Consumer Reports. Yet many people would like to buy organic, either for the health of their families or the health of the planet.
“When my family began this adventure in eating whole and natural foods, we experienced sticker shock,” said Chrissy Pate who runs the savings website BeCentsable.net. “So, I did some research and found that great benefits could be had from making some smaller changes in the right areas.”
Pate found that you don’t have to spend your “whole paycheck” to go organic. Instead you can graze through a variety of strategies and do quite well. There are simple, practical ways to get deep discounts on organic products.
1. Prioritize your organics.
The Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center says produce is the highest priority thing to buy organic, to avoid pesticide residues. But even within that category you can cut costs with this loose guideline: If a fruit or vegetable has a protective peel that you do not eat, buying organic is less important.
Consumer Reports says organic poultry, meat and dairy are of medium to high importance, to avoid antibiotics and hormones. Lowest priority are packaged foods, since they are highly processed even if they’re organic.
2. Try a regular store.
You don’t have to go to a specialty store for organics. Conventional grocery chains such as Safeway and Fred Meyer have devoted more and more space to organic foods as their popularity has surged. Their organic prices are often fairly close to their regular prices, but shop and compare to make sure.
3. Try a small store.
When Consumers Checkbook shopped for organic produce, it found that prices at Mom’s Organic Market were eight percent lower than those at other Washington-area grocery stores. Trader Joe’s stores are small but carry many organic foods.
4. Try a big store.
Costco boasts that its Kirkland Signature Organics line will save consumers 20 percent. Wal-Mart is now the biggest seller of organics in America. Target has also made a huge investment in organics.
5. Shop online.
I tested online grocers for a “Dr. Oz Show” segment and found that Thrive Market was promising. A month’s worth of snacks for a family of four was $46, compared to $61 at a specialty grocery store. An intriguing newcomer is called Brandless.com. Brandless sells page after page of organics and every product is $3!
6. Go generic.
Regardless whether you are shopping at a conventional, big, little, or online store, generic organics are another way to save. For example, Safeway has it’s “O” brand and Whole Foods’ house brand is called “365.” Consumers Checkbook found that often these generic organics were cheaper than the equivalent name-brand conventional foods.
7. Use coupons.
Yes! Organic coupons do exist. “There is a growing customer base for organic foods and, as a result, companies are competing harder to get your business,” said Pate.
Most coupons offered for things like spaghetti sauce are good for the company’s conventional sauces or organic sauces, even if the conventional sauce is the one pictured.
The other trick is to simply search the name of an organic brand you like and the word “coupons” and see what’s out there. You can also sign up for your favorite organic brands’ newsletter. They often contain generous coupons.
8. Save on non-food groceries.
Get other products for little or nothing and then spend the money saved on organics. This is possible if you match coupons with sales or stack multiple coupons together. Thanks to websites that find the deals for you, it’s not hard.
9. Go natural.
There are three tips within this tip. The first is to shop seasonally because produce, in particular, is far less expensive when it’s in season. Second, why not grow your own? This year I spent $31 on seeds for my small garden, and I estimate it’s generated many times that in organic veggies. The third idea is to join a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
10. Know your labels.
Finally, make sure the food you are buying is all you hope it is. The reliable labels to look for are “USDA Organic,” “Certified Organic” and “100% Organic.” “Made with organic ingredients” means a product has to be only 70 percent organic. Terms like “cage-free” aren’t tightly regulated, so you have to rely on the producer’s integrity. Even the terms “natural” and “all-natural” are misleading because they have no government force behind them.