Natural and Organic food is becoming more and more popular among the American public, but finding cheap organic food is necessary when you are on a budget. Just like regular grocery shopping, the key is to know where, how and what to purchase when you go organic.
To detail all the ways you can actually spend less, here are nine ways to buy organic food on a budget.
Generic Brand Organic Food
The concept of organics has gotten so big that the big name stores have responded by bringing out their own brands of organics. It works the same way that other store-brand items work. The biggest names are:
Butcher Box came on the scene to offer organic meats delivered directly to your home. The prices are very competitive with your typical grocery store organic meat prices, especially when you add in the time and cost of driving and shopping. Learn more about the service in my full review of Butcher Box.
Brandless is a box of organic products delivered directly to your home.
All the food is non-perishable and they have the unique pricing where everything is $3-$9. My review of Brandless explains all that the site offers when it comes to both food and non-food items.
Simply Nature (Aldi)
Simply Nature is a huge line at Aldi and has been expanding rapidly to include a bunch of organics foods.
What is great about this one is they are clearly labeled as to whether they are actually organic or if they are just “natural”. Since I shop Aldi the most of any local grocery store, I am a big fan of this one.
Nature’s Promise (Stop & Shop and Giant Foods)
Popular in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic areas. This chain of stores has put together a pretty solid brand. Watch out as a few of the products are only “natural” and a few are only free from a list of specific chemicals.
Simply Balanced (Target)
Watch out for the “natural” part of this line, but many of the are organic. All of the are transfat free and corn syrup free.
This also includes a good sized list of chemicals that are not present in this line. (Remember, if you shop at Target regularly, using the Target RedCard debit card will save you an extra 5% off on your purchase).
Simple Truth (Kroger and all Kroger Brands)
As of October 2015 Kroger was selling $11 Billion a year in organic food and most of it is through their generic brand. As with most of the others make sure to look out for the natural products.
Wild Oats Marketplace (Wal-Mart)
You knew Wal-Mart was not going to let the market pass them by. Wal-Mart does more groceries than anyone else and they are going to keep pushing into the organic market.
Since they do the most market research of any company on the planet, expect them to super target stores where organic foods will do the best.
Ready to Cook Meals
There are many services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron that offer a set of organic meals that come to you ready for you to cook them. All you have to do is combine all the ingredients that are in the box and usually about 20 minutes later you have a great meal.
Pretty food is a big deal when it comes to people being willing to buy. We want our produce to look like it does online and in magazines. The truth is you are just going to chew it up so as long as it is really organic the look doesn’t really matter.
This is where Misfits Market steps in. They deliver less than appealing looking but perfectly safe organic food to your door. And because it is not the best looking produce, it is at a steep discount from normal organic produce.
Avoid Scams by Knowing the Lingo
The hardest part about organics is knowing what the heck is and isn’t organic and what it means when you see something labeled organic. If you don’t know the labels then you can end up paying more for an item that isn’t really organic. The USDA has a handy label that does certify foods as organic. What that means is:
- Plants – No nasty stuff like prohibited pesticides, sewer sludge, or synthetic fertilizers.
- Meat (my favorite) – They only have to meet basic health and welfare standards. This means access to the outdoors, no antibiotics, no growth hormones, and only organic feed was used.
- Processed Foods – 5% or less of the food comes from non-organic plant or animal foods.
That is all the reassurance you get. Now there are more than 150 food label claims that appear on health or green sounding foods.
I scanned the list and many were exactly what I thought they would be, but there are others that I had heard of and was a little shocked at how loose they were. Here are a few:
- Free Range – There Is no standard definition for this term. It only means anything for birds and can mean that they spend as little as 5 minutes a day outside. For other forms of meat and eggs this has absolutely no meaning at all. So free range eggs are just eggs.
- Natural, All Natural, 100% Natural – Yeah this has no set definition. The intent is that there are no chemical fertilizers, GMOs, synthetic pesticides, and no artificial ingredients. BUT, the natural label is not something that is certified and each company is free to make it mean whatever. This is probably why I have seen high fructose corn syrup in products marked natural.
- Cage Free – Yeah this does not mean they can roam freely. They can be kept in a barn and technically not be in a cage. That’s better than a cage but not what comes to mind. Also, forced molting and beak clipping are still OK with this label
- Grass Fed – The USDA technically has a definition that states this label means the animal is only grass fed throughout its entire life. Unfortunately the USDA said back in 2007 that they would not limit the practice of grass feeding and animal and the finishing of the animal is done with feed (mostly corn). The only way to know is if it is verified grass fed.
Know Your Niche
Different people have different reasons for going with organic food. If you have a specific reason then you can focus on the organics that mean the most to you. Here are the main reasons I have seen people go organic:
- Saving Freaks – These people want to eat healthy, but they are not willing to spend an exorbitant amount to go green. If you are in this group check out the Consumer Reports organic price comparison to see which foods are cheapest to buy organic.
- Health Freaks – You know who you are with your cardboard breakfasts. In all reality, eating health should be a priority for all of us. These shoppers worry most about chemicals. If this is you then avoid the dirty dozen of produce: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, nectarines, peaches, potatoes, strawberries, spinach, and snap peas. These are the worst foods for chemicals.
- Eco Freaks – These shoppers focus mainly on how our food affects the environment and on the health of the people who work on the farms. For these people you want to focus your efforts on free trade coffee and truly grass fed beef. These are two of the more destructive foods.
- Furry Pal Freaks – Finally, there are organic shoppers who focus on the way that factory farms treat animals. The bad news is that these are the most expensive types of organic food to buy. The best strategy here is to cut down on the amount of meat you are eating. If you are set on eating meat, like I am, then you will have to be prepared to up your grocery budget.
Know the Clean Non-Organics
There are 15 foods that you do not need buy organic. They are called the clean 15 because they are free from pesticides. So if your main motivation is being pesticide free then you can save money by just buying these fruits and vegetables from the non-organic area. The Clean 15 are:
- Honeydew Melon
- Sweet Corn
- Sweet Peas
- Sweet Potatoes
I found three other foods that meet this same bill:
Getting this rabbit food from the non-organic section will net you big savings.\
The natural food stores tend to have spices, nuts, and grains in large bulk bins where you can scoop the amount you want and weigh them. The advantage to this kind of shopping is that you aren’t paying for packaging and the shipping on large quantities is usually less than prepackaged smaller quantities.
The best deal on this type of bulk buying seems to be spices. You can average about 50% off the small shaker style spice bottles. There is no guarantee of them being organic, but I have found that the spices in the Hispanic food section are also less expensive than their American spice section counterparts.
Sales and Coupons
Contrary to popular belief organic food does go on sale pretty frequently. I just picked up some organic apple cider vinegar at Aldi for about the same price as the dirty stuff. The best prices are going to come when you match a sale with a coupon.
The good news is that, just like regular couponing, there are people out there that will help you find the absolute best deals on your organic groceries. One of the best I have found is AllNaturalSavings. They will do the coupon matchups for you and have a pretty cool searchable database. You will find matchups for Amazon, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and other stores.
There are a bunch of online sellers for cheap organic food. My favorite is Amazon because I am a Prime Member and it costs me almost nothing for shipping.
Shipping really is the downside to the online retailers. It eats into your savings pretty fast. One place to try out is Abe’s Market. They have some items you can try for $2 and it has free shipping. Also you can get free shipping for any order of more than $49.
Grow Your Own
If you really want to know exactly where your food is coming from then growing your own is going to be the absolute safest option. If you have the land then you can usually grow a pretty good crop right in your own back yard.
If you do not have enough room then you can find local gardens where you can rent space or some even allow you to plant for free. You can search for a local garden in your area with the American Community Garden Association.
My final tip is to try buying local. Check out farmer’s markets are a great place to find local farmers who are doing the organic thing. Many of them will even invite you out to their farm to see their farming practices. You can find local farmers markets at Local Harvest.
The other option is to find organic farms that let you pick your own. In my area I have a farm that lets me pick my own strawberries and various other fruits. We also have an apple orchard less than one hour away where we can go and pick them right off the trees (they also have AMAZING donuts).
Either way check out your local farms to see what is available.
Buying Organic on the Cheap
The bottom line is that organic food is going to cost you more. You can, however, limit the effects of organic food on your budget by using these simple effects.