The other day, I got in a “heated debate” regarding the recent story covering a petition to urge Kraft Foods to remove additives in their US version of their classic blue box macaroni & cheese that are not included in the UK versions due to concerns over cancer-causing ingredients. (Read about it & sign the petition if you feel so inclined here)
To put it bluntly, a user implied supporters of this petition are “on a high horse”, that we “all can’t afford a Whole Foods meal”.
Hold the phone.
I’d like to think we eat relatively healthy, but I’ve never stepped foot into a Whole Foods. Even if I had visited this “designer health food store” as I like to refer to it as, we certainly couldn’t afford to do our regular once-a-month shopping trips there.
Yet, somehow, we manage to budget to eat GOOD food.
I get asked this question more than anything when people want to ask about our more natural lifestyle: “How do you afford the organic food?”
As with any method of saving money, you need to combine methods, mix & match what will work for your own individual situation. But here are some suggestions….
I use coupons. Primarily, they are ones I receive from emailing companies or following my favorites online. Annie’s Homegrown, Earthbound Farms & Bob’s Redmill are all popular natural products that put out coupons occasionally or will send them upon request. I scan sales flyers & check for clearance quick-sale meat & often find salad mix bags or precut fruit cups at 50% off, nearing their expiration date. I use my loyalty rewards from shopping on things that don’t normally have coupons (fruits, veg, fresh meat) & buy from bulk bins.
I shop farmer’s markets & with my local butchers. Two summers ago, I would of paid .59 cents for a conventional cucumber in the grocery store, because the $1.49 organic cucumber was “too expensive” in my opinion. Last summer, I would buy cucumbers at the local farmer’s market for .79 cents each & while not USDA certified organic, the actual harvesters who maintained the produce & were selling their hard work assured me they were not treated with pesticides (USDA organic certification is an expensive & lengthy process, making it unreachable for many smaller scale farms). Draper Valley Farms produces chicken is available in most QFC stores. However, you can also go to the local butcher who works with the same distributors & get the same breasts for a fraction of the price the grocery stores ask.
Know the BIG ones to splurge on: Meat. Dairy. Vegetables. Fruit. Wheat. Corn. Sugar. Soy. & any product that contains any of them. Always aim for local. If not local, organic. If not organic, natural. And print up a copy of the Dirty Dozen. 88 cent a pound broccoli is nothing to shake a stick at, but maybe 99c conventional strawberries may be something to walk away from.
Stop relying on convenience foods. This is the big one. This is where the masses have come under this delusion that organic food is somehow significantly more expensive & thus significantly out of their reach. A bag of Cheetos can run you $1.99 whereas a bag of say, Pirate’s Booty can run you $3.49. But do chips really need to be a staple food in your diet? American “cheese” slices (I use the term “cheese” loosely) are pretty cheap… Say 99c a pack on a good sale. So, why fork out $4.99 for a block of Tillamook? Because… the Tillamook block will give you at least 3 packs of 99c “cheese” plus some shreds. Don’t even get me started on the sheer laziness of using shredded cheese & those adorable baby carrots you can easily cut yourself…
But I can’t! I love my convenience foods! I could never give them up!
Fair enough. While I usually push localvorism, there are a few items that are just easier to buy off a shelf instead of making from scratch or trying to find a vendor for (like ketchup). To which I say… You don’t need to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or heck, even Albertson’s.
Feast your eyes upon the organic, natural & reasonably priced wares I found at “alternative” grocery stores.
For those who aren’t scratching their head because they don’t know what they’re looking at:
Yves vegetarian lunch meat for $1.49
Organic chicken broth for 79c a can
Back to Nature macaroni & cheese for $2.99 for a 3 pack (that equals about $1 a box — Take that, blue box!)
Pacific organic soup starter for $1.29
Stretch Island fruit leathers: 6 for .99!!
The above items were found at two stores: Grocery Outlet & Big Lots.
I shop these stores occasionally (also not my primary source for groceries), but I recall these stores being once upon a time labeled as the “second-stores” or “grocery thrift stores”. This is where cast off dented cans & that one flavor of Kool-Aid went that nobody liked to be sold for pennies on the dollar.
Really? Because from the looks of it these stores meant to serve the under-served are serving up the good stuff that the rest of the population complains are too expensive in their conventional grocery store.
I even found natural-brand leaders in more than just food:
Softlips Organic for 99c
Earth’s Best diapers for $15 for 64 count (that comes to about 23cents a diaper — about a 3cents difference from the Target generic brand)
And don’t give me anymore excuses why you CAN’T change your incandescent light bulb to CFL! 2/$1 energy-saving light bulbs.
A few things to remember about “alternative” grocery stores…
1. Because prices are already so low, most of these stores do NOT accept manufacturer coupons. They often times will have an ad that DOES contain some coupons that pertain to only their store.
2. Inventory is often sporadic & unpredictable & often will not restock. We went into Big Lots to get more Bob’s Redmill gluten-free brownie mix, but ran into only the granola & bean soup mixes… But we did find Earth’s Best organic cookies (“Cookie Monster cookies” as the Spawn likes to call them) for a $1 a box! (These retail for about $3+ a box). I certainly wasn’t looking to find buy one, get one organic Kettle Chips at Grocery Outlet, but I knew they had $1.99 packs of Tillamook cheese (usually).
3. It’s really… really… really… REALLY easy to get distracted & buy something (or 6 somethings) that may not be entirely organic or natural (or of any nutritional value beyond taurine & a mess of B-vitamin supplements). Make a list of things you hope to find & know how much you usually pay for them to know if the deal is worth stocking up on. Also, be prepared for deals you may not know you need because you never know when a wall o’ Monster Energy… err… I mean $5.49 100% organic maple syrup will be in stock or out of stock.
There you have it. How we manage to survive on a peasant’s budget yet eat local, organic, natural — or highly caffeinated.
Now go forth & improve your diets – whether at the designer health grocers or your own back yards!
PS: YES! I know. We need to kick the energy drink habit. They offer nothing to value & are a waste of energy to manufacture, package & ship. But man, having a 3yo & 1yo make for some long nights & sometimes… you just gotta do whatcha gotta do to make it through the day.