Shopping the Organic Aisle on a Budget

by Wendy Allen

March 6, 2020

by Wendy Allen

Want to choose organic but need to balance your grocery budget? Organic foods tend to cost a little more, so which ones will give you the most bang for your buck?

I totally get it, so here are a few realistic tips to get the most out of your organic food dollars. Not every one of these suggestions may work for your family, but once you know the info, you can choose which will help in your grocery list planning.

#1: Start with the foods you eat the most.

Families with kids tend to consume a lot of milk, eggs, and bread. Choosing larger sizes of these could be a good idea for growing families. Cheese might be high on the list for adults as well as kids. Hot dogs and half & half could be high-volume options for many people too.

Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Choosing Organic for tips on easing into organic if you’re just getting started, or for a refresher if you’re feeling like a reset.

In short, starting with the foods (and meals) you eat the most can be a really easy way to narrow down which organic foods will give you the most value for your money.

#2: Sign up for email coupons from brands you love (like OV!) and from your local supermarkets.

Like nearly all brands today, organic brands usually offer coupons in one way or another, whether they’re downloadable or sent straight to your inbox. To get Organic Valley coupons, sign up for our e-newsletter here!

Many grocery stores also have loyalty programs or email lists of their own. I sign up for everything I can, then the emails get auto-filtered into a “promotions” section of my inbox (some email services do this automatically, others may need you to create a filter). That way they’re out of my primary inbox but available when I need them. When I’m planning a grocery run, a quick search and perusal of these emails beforehand can add up to good savings.

#3: Take advantage of in-store coupons and app-based deals.

An easy-peasy one is to pay attention to in-store coupons and sales, often posted near the product or on a sheet hanging by the door.

And who can forget that we live in the age of technology? Many supermarkets and big box stores have their own apps where they post offers: Trader Joe’s, Publix, Wegman’s, Kroger, Albertson’s, SuperValu, Walmart, Costco, Target, and so many more. If these apps have deals on organic products, it can make a big difference in eating organic on a budget.

Shopping online through the Ibotta app and/or using a browser extension like WikiBuy or Honey that prompts you to try promo codes will give you additional rewards.

Finally, if you live in an area that offers grocery delivery services like FreshDirect and Instacart, these can be a good way to combine deals from your local supermarket while also sticking to your list and avoiding those pesky impulse purchases.

There’s a lot to choose from, so I’d say downloading one or two apps for the stores you shop at most and getting familiar with how to use their offers, and adding a promo code browser extension for online shopping would be good places to start.

#4: Opt for the most nutrition for your dollar.

Shopping organic on a budget isn’t only about finding money-saving options — it’s also about making choices that will give your family the most nutrition for your dollar. Whole foods are much more nutrient dense than processed snacks full of empty calories. A couple pieces of nice strong or salty organic cheese can be more satisfying than a bag of chips, and organic fruit will fulfill those sweet cravings just as well as candy, but with nutrients included.

Remember, organic junk food is still junk food. Even organic cookies and chips (while delicious) are still occasional treats. With that in mind, you can focus your organic spending on nutritious and meal-worthy items like milk, eggs, cheese, bread, produce, pasta, and other items that factor into family meals and better-for-you snacks.

#5: Make and stick to your list ... and Don’t. Shop. Hungry.

Ah, the universal tips that we all know yet always forget. But you know what? We’re all human. Shop on, friends.

Next-level Organic Shopping on a Budget

Ready to level up? Maybe you’re starting to think about your impact on the planet or you have a bit more time to work with bulk foods. These ideas may or may not work with your lifestyle or where you live, but I’m putting them out here in case they do.

A: Use resources to avoid pesticide residues.

If you’re concerned about avoiding pesticides in your food but buying everything organic is difficult, the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce or Consumer Reports’ Pesticides in Produce Special Report are good resources to check out. These list which foods typically have high pesticide residues and that you should consider always buying organic, and which ones have fewer residues that you could get away with choosing non-organic if you wish. The Shopper’s Guide is a downloadable list, whereas the Consumer Reports site provides a lot of additional education. 

Just keep in mind these lists aren’t perfect. Some scientists have criticized how the data was analyzed, and others say that even a rind or peel doesn’t protect a food from certain types of pesticides. But if you’re in a position where you need to make choices, these resources will help you make informed decisions.

B: Choose organic produce when they’re in season.

When produce is in season, it’s locally abundant, and abundance means supply is up and prices are down. It’s the perfect time to buy!

For instance, summer and fall asparagus tend to be more expensive than spring asparagus because it’s coming from Central America and not as plentiful. (It’s also not nearly as tasty!) Oranges are available year-round, but they’re particularly abundant during their season — which is amazingly midwinter, perfect timing for when we need a little color and vitamin C. And Brussels sprouts are at their best in late fall just after a frost.

Another bonus to purchasing in season is getting larger quantities for the same price. If you’re not sure you can eat it all before it expires, consider small-batch preserving. Canning is a fun hobby if you’re interested, but freezing is easy and more realistic for most of us. It doesn’t require special equipment and hardly any additional time. In-season frozen produce, stored properly, will keep for six months to a year. (See these trustworthy and FREE resources from the National Center for Home Food Preservation: fruits, vegetables.)

PS: Did you know you can freeze butter, yogurt, and raw beaten or pre-cooked eggs?

C: Visit farmers markets toward closing time.

Farmers markets thrive on local and seasonal produce, so the above may apply here too. Plus, try visiting toward the end of the market’s hours. Sometimes farmers may be open to bargaining and sell you additional food for the same price so they don’t have to take it home with them.

This isn’t always the case, and it may depend on the farmer and how successful they were on the day, but it can’t hurt to try if you have a market with a good selection of organic vendors and you take time to get to know your farmers. However, we do think organic produce prices are worth every penny.

Nearly every family sets a grocery budget these days, and taking a few moments to make informed food choices and take advantage of money-saving tips can be worth every penny.

Not to mention, when you choose organic foods, you’re supporting a method of farming that’s good for animals, good for the land, and good for people — you, your family, and the farmers too!