How to Afford Organic Foods on a Budget


So many people have a misguided idea that the only way to eat healthfully is to spend exorbitant amounts to do so. If you live in Alaska or some remote part of the country, this may be the case, but in most areas, you can feed your family natural, unprocessed foods without spending hundreds of dollars each week to do so.

Sure, you might spend a little bit more than someone who is eating a diet composed mostly of processed foods, but it really doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg as some people will make you think — especially if you’re willing to get creative and think outside the box.

Here are eight ways to afford organic foods on a budget:

1. Plan a Menu Based Upon What is In Season and On Sale

If you want to feed your family on a budget, you need to have a plan for what you’ll be eating. If you can make your menu plan mostly based upon what is on sale at the natural foods store, what is in season at the Farmer’s Market and/or what you’re reaping in abundance from your garden, you’re going to significantly reduce your grocery bill.

If you don’t have the time or energy to mess with planning a menu, but you really would like to benefit from the organization and cost-savings of having a menu plan, I’d recommend checking out eMeals. They offer budget-friendly Paleo, Clean Eating, and Natural & Organic menu plans. Best of all, all the work is done for you — you just print the grocery list, shop, and cook! Find an EMeals coupon code here to make it even more affordable!

2. Practice the “Buy Ahead” Principle

If you happen to come upon an incredible sale on tomatoes at the Farmer’s Market, or the health food store has organic frozen vegetables on a great sale, stock up. Buying items you routinely use when they are at their lowest price is another surefire way to savings.

3. Plant a Garden (Or Barter With Someone Who Does!)

If you can pull it off, plant a garden. Produce is typically only pennies per item from your own backyard, it’s tremendously fresh and you know exactly what you did or didn’t spray on it. Plus, you can can or freeze your extras — or bless your friends and neighbors with them!

Have a brown thumb? Find a friend who loves gardening and trade services (babysitting, breadbaking, car maintenance?) in exchange for their garden excess.

4. Stick With Simple Meals Using Inexpensive Ingredients

When you’re planning your menu, think about how much your recipes will cost you to make. It doesn’t have to be a scientific to-the-penny figure, but just having a good idea that there is a $10 difference between the price of making one meal as opposed to another meal can help you decide whether you can afford to make something or perhaps should save it for a special occasion.

5. Serve Meat as a Condiment

I shamelessly stole this idea from Family Feasts for $75 Per Week because it’s so brilliant. Serving meat in soup or on pizza is going to be a lot less expensive than serving roast and sirloin, especially if you’re buying high-quality meat.

Need ideas? Laura shows you how to make six meals out of one chicken.

6. Buy in Bulk

It is usually much more cost-effective to purchase meat and staple ingredients in bulk. Call around to local farmers and see what they would charge you for purchasing half a cow. In many cases, it’s at least $1 cheaper per pound to purchase in bulk. Buying grains, beans, as well as many other basic ingredients with long storage lives in large quantities will almost always save you at least 20%, if not more.

Costco, as well as many bulk foods stores and local co-ops, offer great pricing. You can also check with your local health food store to see if they’d offer you a discount for bulk purchases.

7. Consider Joining a CSA or Co-Op

If there is a co-op or CSA in your area, check into pricing and details for joining. You might find that it is an affordable and money-saving option for your family. If you can’t find an affordable co-op in your area, you could consider starting your own co-op.

8. Use Coupons on Non-Food Items

I know a number of my readers don’t eat processed foods, but they use coupons to save money on toilet paper, toothbrushes and other non-food items which they purchase. Your savings might not be so exciting as others who use dozens of coupons each shopping trip, but even saving $5 each week by using coupons can start to add up over time.

What tips do you have for saving money on organic food?

Adapted from a post I originally published in February 2011

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Comments

  1. Leighann says

    These are all great ideas! My grocery bill has gone up considerably since I started buying natural and organic, but at least I know I’m still getting a good deal on the items. I also started my own garden, so hopefully in a few months we’ll save lots of money on produce because we won’t be buying carrots, lettuce, cantaloupes, tomatoes, etc. from the grocery store.

  2. says

    I’ve discovered recently that Kroger has a particularly good selection of natural and organic foods. And much to my delight, they also have the habit of clearancing out their products at half price–organics included. I try to drop by periodically in the middle of the week (they seem to send the little clearance sticker-person around sometime after 9am) and browse through to see what’s near-ish to it’s sell-by date. This has worked quite well for me with organic milk, fruit, and yogurt–all of which I can take home and freeze immediately if I don’t need to use it right away. This works even better if I use coupons on top of everything. :)

  3. Jessica M. says

    Azure Standard doesn’t deliver to my area- I wish they did! I actually started a co-op in my area to split good quality food in bulk with great prices. It’s easier than I thought, but still a lot of work. There just is not many options here in Northeastern PA, so I made my own!

      • Jessica M. says

        Jen, I joined a co-op called Wholeshare. I’m the drop off point for my area.The web address is- http://www.wholeshare.com/join/1121 .It explains it all on there. We have access to great prices on organic and natural food. We can also split large bulk orders for better prices. It’s free to join and checkout. If you have further questions after checking it out, my contact info is on there (I’m the coordinator). I love all of the access to local farms- like dairys!

  4. Tricia says

    If you have a Trader Joe’s in your area, they are WONDERFUL and reasonably priced! I purchase a lot of organic products there for a fraction of the cost of similar products at the grocery store. I really wish they made a baby food line though… (I know I can make my own, but working 40+ hours a week outside the home makes that difficult.)

    • Andrea Q says

      Babies don’t need pureed baby foods! Once they can sit up and use a pincher grasp, you can give them little pieces of soft food liked cooked sweet potatoes, avocado, banana, etc. Google it — it’ll save you a ton of time and money!

    • Mary G says

      I agree. I don’t have a Trader Joe’s near me, but my husband passes one on his way home from work, so I give him a list every couple of weeks. Nuts and some cereals are fairly good there. Produce can sometimes be good also. The also carry some Applegate meats at reasonable prices. Also, their store brand products are non-GMO, which I really like.

  5. Catherine says

    Can someone please explain to me why organic foods are so much better for you? Is it just that they don’t have pesticides sprayed on them? Am I missing something? Is the use of the word “Organic” regulated somehow?
    Sorry to be so ignorant, but it all sounds like a big scam to make $$$ to me.

    • Ana says

      Catherine: there is absolutely a reason to eat organic, and the term “organic” is regulated… So no, it’s not a money making scam. With that said, there is no need to buy everything organic. The most important thing to buy organic and/or local, in my opinion, is meat and certain produce. There are tons on resources on the subject, but the only two I can think of are the movie Food, Inc (highly recommend, on Netflix instant), and the book Raising Baby Green (your local library should have it). We don’t have kids yet, and I still found the book helpful because it addresses a lot of things from a pretty general level, not baby specific.

    • says

      Catherine, the organic label is strickly regulated. Some farmers use organic practices but don’t want to go through the hassle of the regulations so you can get their produce cheaper. It is more than just pesticides though. Often the nutritional value is much higher in organic produce. Many processes foods contain harmful additives such as Red 40, high fructose corn syrup and many others than can really poison your system.
      We save money by doubling coupons at Whole Foods, baking from scratch, and checking the clearance sections at all stores when we are there.

    • Emily says

      As Ana said, the word “organic” is regulated, with the highest level of regulation coming from the USDA’s “certified organic” seal. One of the biggest differences between organic foods and non-organic foods is in the varying levels of pesticide residues that are found on produce. Conventional produce consistently is found to have higher levels of potentially harmful pesticide residues than certified-organic produce. The Environmental Working Group releases a list yearly of the top twelve produce items that were found to contain the highest levels of pesticides (commonly called the “dirty dozen”) and the fifteen with the least pesticides (the “clean fifteen”) (they also list everything in between). One concern is that research has shown a strong correlation between the levels of organophosphate pesticide residues in children’s urine and the tendency for children to have ADHD. There is a plethora of information out there……some of it accurate and some of it not. I would encourage you, if you’re interested, to do some research for yourself. You’ll quickly find out, though, that there are a lot of opinions out there and claims that are not necessarily correct (on both the organic and the conventional sides of the argument) and that it is not always easy to find satisfying and correct answers.

      • Sakura says

        I’m ignorant about “organic labeled” products also. Does this cover any genetically altered goods? I just watched a show call Food Inc. and found it very interesting.

        • Amy says

          organic foods cannot be genetically modified…this is part of being organic. great question!

        • Emily says

          Yes Sakura. To gain a USDA “certified organic” seal, a food must contain no genetically modified organisms……it is prohibited in the USDA’s national organic program. I also found Food Inc. to be very interesting and very eye-opening. I will never again purchase chicken from Tyson or Purdue or pork from Hormel. And I have a new found love for Chipotle!!

    • Amy says

      I used to have the same question as you. My husband and I would laugh at the idea of organic foods…and now we have a small organic farm. Joke’s on us! :) As the other commenters said, organic is regulated. To be certified, farmers have to prove how crops have been raised, animals cared for, etc. Another benefit to organic produce is that it is more nutritious. Plants grow by pulling nutrients out of the soil, so it makes sense that plants growing in a soil with more nutrients would also contain more nutrients. Many conventional crops are just sprayed with fertilizer, not planted in soil with healthy compost. Another worrisome aspect to conventional dairy and meat is the hormones and antibiotics that are given to the animals and are absolutely passed to us when we consume those products. Like Emily said, there are false arguments and scare tactics on both sides, but if you do some research, you can start to sort through it all. Hope that’s helpful!

    • Amy says

      My husband and I used to wonder the same thing. We laughed about people buying organic food…and now we have a small organic farm. Joke is on us, I guess! There is reason to eat organic. It is regulated. Farmers have to prove how their crops have been grown, animals treated, etc.

      Another reason to choose organic is that organic produce is more nutritious. It makes sense if you think about it. Plants grow based on nutrients in the soil. A plant that has just been sprayed with fertilizer to make it grow (common with conventional) is not in as nutrient-rich soil as one that has grown in healthy compost. The products from those soils are very different.

      A concern with conventional dairy and meat products is that the animals have been given hormones and antibiotics that are absolutely passed to us through their meat/milk. Organic foods cannot be produced with hormones or antibiotics.

      Like Emily said, there are false claims and scare tactics on both sides of the debate, but if you do some research, you can figure out what you think. Hope that is helpful.

    • says

      Hey! Just wanted to say that they also don’t water the fields with sludge water (which is how non organic spinach can get ecoli).

      Eating fats and dairy should be #1 organic because most toxins are stored in fat and dairy often has lots of good wonderful (serious) fats that help your brain to function well. But if there are antibiotics (given as routine, not need based as in past farming practices), artificial growth hormones and if the animals are being fed ground-up dead animals and corn…then your non-organic dairy would be pretty yucky. So after fats and dairy, buy your meats organic (same reasons above) and then focus on produce.

      Food Renegade is a blog that I have found very helpful lately.

      Blessings to you for being open!

  6. Ana says

    We eat zero processed food, only organic and/or grassfed meat, etc and our grocery budget is smaller than most people I know. The biggest way we save is using meat IN something, never as a main dish on its own (like you mentioned). Also, if there are products I buy regularly, but can’t find a coupon for, I simply email the company and ask for some. More often than not, they’re happy to mail you a couple.

  7. says

    I think one of my biggest “splurges” happens to be on produce/organic foods. However, I am not ashamed of that because I know these foods are packed with nutrition–and to me, it makes the food worth it, and may even save on doctor bills in the future?!?

  8. Shana says

    I live in Alaska and it is spendy, and we don’t live in an area that offers a farmers market (Mat Su Valley has some great produce!), but we do what we can- I check sales and focus on the dirty dozen. I am thankful for Costco- though they do not offer as much organic as their stores do in the lower 48, but when they do we buy what we can. *My only other tip is to wait until the milk and eggs go on reduced price as well as chicken and buy it to freeze!*

    I figure it’s worth to pay the extra as we are talking about the health of my family- I’d rather spend money upfront to help prevent health issues later!

  9. says

    Great tips! I use them myself. Along these lines, I just recently posted Organic Dinner for $1.50, which details how we ate organically every Friday night for $1.50 per person. It saved us so much money! (Especially considering we used to order pizza delivery every Friday night.)
    -Viva

    • Rachael Waller says

      This post made me smile. I used to make myself mac and cheese every Friday night in college and it was such a treat after eating dorm food all week. My children would love this idea!

  10. Sporksoma says

    A CSA is more expensive up front, but it’s worth it to support your local businesses.

  11. says

    I think it’s expensive if you are into buying cute organic packaged treats, sodas, and frozen meals.

    I had to switch to organic and didn’t see any change in our food budget because my doctor also insisted we cook from scratch and give up all processed foods. I’m off most of my meds now (except a natural thyroid supplement) and that was a huge savings too. My sinus infections stopped and that was another big expense (plus meds for those too).

    You can also save money by knowing what doesn’t HAVE to be organic. Walnuts, almonds, and produce with thick skins (bananas for example) are good examples. That way you can put your money where it really counts.

  12. Rachael Waller says

    I’d really like to switch to organic milk (we drink about 3 gallons of milk a week at our house–former farm girl!), but the price is so high. Any tricks on this?

    • Jessica S says

      I get mine from BJs and they have their own line of organic products (including the milk). In PA I pay about $5.80 for 2 1./2 gallons. The sell by date is usually longer on organic milk too.

    • Andrea Q says

      Drink less! We used to drink two gallons each week, now our family of six drinks only about 1/2 gallon weekly. The kids eat organic yogurt and some cheese, plus there’s plenty of calcium in green leafy vegetables and broccoli.

    • Catherine says

      We only drink organic milk and we drink ALOT! If you have a wegmans near you, try their house brand org milk. It is around $5/gallon but that is cheaper than $4.78/half gallon for horizon or organic valley. I’ve tried almost every organic milk out there so, if you tell me where you are/stores around you I can let you know your best options.

      • Rachael says

        We’re in Montana. The grocery store chain is Albertson’s, which I don’t shop at on a regualr basis because they are really high here on everything. But we also have a Target, Walmart, Sams Club, and Costo.

        • Catherine says

          Id suggest taste testing. Start with horizon or organic valley which I have found both taste great. Then try a different brand that is lower priced and see what you think. I have not liked Costco or Safeway (I think albertsons group) organic milk because it seemed thin and had a weird taste. We tend to drink 1% in our house. Once you find a brand you like, see if it is sold by the gallon since that tends to be cheaper. Also, I’ve poured a bit less on my kids cereal and they don’t notice a difference but I have less waste :-). I buy 3 gallons a week at around $15-20 and my grocery budget is $75 a week (2 adults 2 kids). I just put the milk in the cart first and make all the other groceries fit into what’s left :-) I do also have a $100/month Costco budget that is separate – just FYI. I shop once a week and if we run out of milk we just skip cereal for that last day and drink water til I get back to the store. Try it. I think you’ll see that somehow it works out. Good luck!

      • says

        With the ever-increasing food prices, we went back to nonorganic milk now that the labels state that farmers pledge to not use growth hormones….hoping they keep their pledge.

  13. says

    These are really great tips. It can be hard on the budget to try and really fit in the organic and least processed foods but this posts shows that it is possible AND it helps to get you to cook more from scratch too.

  14. Me says

    The vegetable CSA I joined years ago mostly provided leafy greens – which is something my family does not eat. I spent more time trying to figure out how to get through it quickly!

    The meat CSA we joined was fun at first. The meat was processed strangely, so when I would do a recipe calling for “short ribs” the short ribs I had were cut awkwardly. Half of our meat would be ground beef. I accepted this because that was apart of being a CSA – being creative, and not always getting the prime cuts. However, when I got 20+lbs of bones we decided to end our membership. Yes, bones are good for stocks, soups and stews but 20lbs! We were paying by the hanging weight! Not a savings.

    For us, buying in bulk, shopping every two weeks, and having left overs 2 nights a week has helped us cut costs. We also do not eat preprocessed foods.

    • Andrea Q says

      As CSAs have become more popular, they’ve changed. It might be worth checking in to it again (or checking a different farm).

  15. says

    I participated in a grass-fed meat CSA last year and it asks for a fee up front. I emailed and asked if I could pay monthly and they said yes, which worked out far better for us on a monthly budget. I also used it sparingly like grilling all four sausage link and serving it on pizza, with beans and rice and other entrees. I simply froze the cooked portions in smaller quantities.

    Wal-Mart and Ingles carries a store brand organic milk and other organic products.

    I also make simple meals in advance with freezer cooking like Crystal, which saves me time, money and energy (in the end it equals $ when you go out to eat instead of eating healthy at home).

  16. Allyson says

    I try to buy only organic fruits and veggies from the “dirty dozen” list. These contain the highest pesticides if not bought organically. There’s also a list called the “clean 15″ that will give you fruits and veggies that you don’t really need to buy organic due to low or no pesticide use.

  17. says

    My biggest tip for saving money on organic food is to always buy fresh. I never buy processed food anymore, not even organic. I’m learning how to make things from scratch. I also look for the sales.

    Also sometimes those giant bags of carrots, for example, are cheaper per pound then the loose carrots. Check the prices. I always do…and have been surprised many times.

    Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  18. Katherine says

    Our local farmer’s market works together with a another local organization that allows EBT users to get $2 worth of goods for $1. So everything is basically half price for EBT users. It’s a great program to get much healthier food into the homes of those with fewer resources!

  19. Houston Heather says

    Our family has lots of food allergies and special eating needs and we are very health conscious. I have found Costco to be a great source of organic foods. They have huge bulk bags of organic frozen vegetables, and they usually have fresh organic vegetables as well. They always have organic carrots and mix salad greens at a great price. My favorite is summer time when they have unbelievable prices on organic berries, which I buy a ton of and freeze for making fruit smoothies. My Costco almost always has organic ground beef and chicken breasts and thighs. I do all of my grocery shopping (pretty much) from Whole Foods and Costco. Although Whole Foods is in general a pretty expensive grocery store, I’ve found they are the best price around on some things – for example, I haven’t been able to find a better price on organic dry beans or organic brown rice, even on the internet, than the regular in store price at the whole foods bulk bins. Speaking of which, rice and beans is a huge way our family eats organic without breaking the bank. I use these as a foundation for most of the meals I make, and we eat very little meat. I also go to EWG.org to find their list of the most and least pesticide laden produce, so I know when to buy organic and when I don’t need to. Onions are always the lowest pesticide produce on their list, so I never buy them organic — I buy the cheapest bulk bag of onions I can find at Costco.

    • Denise says

      I’d love to know some of the rice/beans recipes (or ideas). I really want to make meat less of a focal point and use more rice & beans, but I don’t have a lot of ideas. It’s hard to make a big switch with 3 active teenagers.

      • Momof5 says

        We have a houseful of hungry, teens, too. What helped me cut down on meat is to wrap things in tortillas. We have burrito nights at least twice a week, more often during especially busy sports seasons. As they get accustomed to adding more beans to their diets (it is an adjustment, don’t just jump in all at once), the amount of meat in the bean, rice, cheese burrito options can be reduced. Some of our favorites are Arizona chuckwagon beans (easy recipe to google), which stretch a chuck roast a long ways, or any variation on that. Chili, pot roast, even stir-fry (thinly slice beef – a little goes a long way – in teriyaki or the Panda sauces, short grain rice, maybe some steamed or stir-fried broccoli or carrots, all wrapped up in a tortilla to eat on the way to the next activity) can go burrito style as well.

        Tortillas have the added advantage of calories. Teen boys, especially, really need those extra 500 calories during growth spurts and sports seasons, and if they don’t love the beans/rice right away – one of mine struggled with the texture for awhile – their calorie intake can drop off. Makes them crabby – not a great way to keep them on board with a meal plan change. Plus, I can eat my supper mixed with salad veggies instead of in the wrap (I’m less likely to be eating in the car), so I can save myself the calories while keeping theirs up.

      • Houston Heather says

        Here are some of our bean meals:
        Chili (you can vary the type and amount of meat easily. I even make it completely meatless). You can serve it in a bowl, in a sour dough bread bowl, over baked potatoes, or over a salad.
        Jambalaya – main ingredients are onions, celery, green bell peppers, red beans and diced tomatoes. Add cajun seasoning and any type of meat. I like jalapeno or anduille sausage best, which you can get made from all sorts of different meats (beef, pork, turkey, chicken).
        Taco Soup – Our family loves this and every guest I’ve served it to loves it also. I got the recipe from here: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2286
        Mexican Salad – this is great for a quick and hearty lunch. Salad greens, salsa as the dressing, black olives, black beans, diced avocado – optional cheese and crushed corn chips.

  20. Abby says

    I don’t really have any barter-worthy skills, so I’ve found the best thing I can trade is toiletries. I get things like toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc. for pennies on the dollar, and I’m able to trade those things for the services of others. Most of the people I know don’t coupon, so when I pay for babysitting with a bag of personal care items, everyone wins.

  21. says

    We focus on our fats, dairy and proteins being organic. I found that buying non-organic produce has helped us to eat more produce. Eventually we would like to be 100% organic – which is why I’m so hopeful about our garden full of seedlings!!

  22. Pat says

    I would suggest reading or watching ‘Forks over Knives’. I started incorporating the idea of a plant strong diet and my food bill has dropped. I’ve cut out meat except for fish every now and then. I drink unsweetened almond milk on my cereal now – it tastes great. My husband said he’ll never use cow milk again on his cereal. Because I’ve become conscious of what I’m eating I find myself not buying processed foods and junk food like I used to which saves me money. It takes more time to plan/prepare/cook meals but so worth it. I never felt better.

  23. Robin says

    Check out Bountiful Baskets (bountifulbaskets.org). They operate in 18 states, and if you are lucky enough to have one close to you as I am, you join and get a lot of fresh produce each week or every other week. There is no commitment either. You sign up and pay only the weeks you want to participate. You go to a specified location and pick up your veggies and fruit. Non organic costs $15 and organic costs $25. You never know what you’re going to get, but it’s really a money saver and we’ve tried some things that were new to us.

  24. Jessica says

    Crystal- Thanks for this post. I love your site, esp. when you post tips/tricks/deals/etc. that deal with natural and organic products.

    Using all the methods you listed, except for gardening since we are renters, we keep our family of 5 fed an all-organic diet with a very small grocery budget.

    For readers who wish to by inexpensive organic milk, it pays to ask around your area (i.e. employees at health food stores) to see if there are dairy farmers who sell milk “on site.” We buy directly from the bulk tank and get very high quality grass-fed organic milk for 2.50 per half gallon. In my area, organic milk is 4.50-5.00 per half gallon in the store.

    • Emily says

      Is the on-site milk pasteurized and homogenized? I’ve thought about doing some research in my area to see if I can come across an organic dairy farmer, but do these farmers actually do the pasteurization and homogenization themselves on-site?