The cost of buying groceries every week used to totally stress me out. I knew that eating healthier meant spending a little more on food. I felt great while I shopped, choosing healthy ingredients to make meals for me and my family.
But then I’d stew in a mixture of anxiety and guilt as I drove home from the health food store with the amount on the receipt looming over my head.
One of the biggest obstacles that many of my readers face when eating healthy is the cost. Buying all of your groceries from a health food store can really break the bank. It can be impossible to find truly healthy foods that are up to your standards at your neighborhood supermarket (although it’s getting better and better every year!).
Since I, like you, do not have an unlimited grocery budget, I thought I would share my top 5 strategies for saving money on healthy, whole foods.
1) Get A Warehouse Club Membership
If you do not already shop at a warehouse club like Costco or BJ’s, do yourself (and your finances) a favor and get a membership!
When I lived in Chicago, I was a weekly visitor to Costco and I saved a ton of money on both fresh and frozen, organic produce, as well as pantry staples like brown rice, quinoa, chia seeds, raw nuts, and almond milk.
Now that I live in Upstate NY, I shop at BJ’s (the closest Costco is 2 hours away). BJ’s is pretty much just like Costco but with (at least in my store), a much broader selection of organic products, and even grass-feed and humanely raised meats. I get one-pound tubs of pre-washed, organic baby spinach, baby romaine, and mixed greens, as well as organic apples, oranges, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, plums, tomatoes, and potatoes.
I also get tropical fruits like pineapples, mangoes, papayas, kiwifruit and bananas, as well as avocados and watermelon – all at much better prices than I would find at my local grocery store. They even have large bags of frozen, organic strawberries, cherries, and mixed berries.
I also get large bags of organic brown rice and organic quinoa, and can often find large containers of chia seeds. While Costco carries both eco-friendly dish and laundry detergents, I haven’t found suitable alternatives at BJ’s.
Both Costco and BJ’s require an annual membership in order to shop (usually starting at $50/yr), but it is well worth the small annual fee, and it pays for itself after just two or three visits. I recommend getting the upgraded Costco Executive or BJ’s Perks Rewards membership. The annual fee is double, but you earn cash back. For me, that means several hundred dollars each year automatically deducted off my bill, on top of the savings I already receive as a member.
Pro Tip: Get a Costco Executive or BJ’s Perks Rewards membership and pay your grocery bill with a cash back credit card to score extra cash back. I do this to get a combined 3.5% cash back on all groceries I buy at BJ’s.
2) Purchase Groceries Online (& Save)
Okay, I’ll admit that shopping for groceries online felt really weird at first. But I quickly got over it when I realized just how much money I can save.
There are two places I shop online for groceries – Thrive Market and Amazon.com.
I just started using Thrive Market and I LOVE IT! Imagine walking into your local health food store to find that everything in the store is 35% off all the time! Well, that’s what it’s like to browse the Thrive Market website. They offer tons of organic, all-natural, and GMO-free products that you can typically only find at expensive health food stores, but at wholesale prices (and you do not have to buy large quantities of product in order to get these savings!).
Thrive Market does not sell fruits and veggies. However, they carry a good selection of healthy pantry staples like brown rice, quinoa, beans, nuts, seeds, spices, and many of the canned and boxed, minimally processed foods that make eating healthy quick and convenient. They also carry a wide selection of eco-friendly, non-toxic hair and body care products, household supplies, supplements, and even pet foods!
Thrive Market is a great option for getting certain brands that I love that are either too expensive at the grocery store, or simply not available at warehouse clubs. You can save a lot on organic spices and sauces – two things that are expensive at health food stores, and have limited availability at standard supermarkets.
There is a membership fee of just under $60, but it pays for itself after just two or three orders. Plus when you sign up, they donate a free membership to a low-income family!
Amazon.com has a huge selection of healthy, organic foods for sale from a variety of brands. What I’ve noticed, however, is that a lot of the specific products I buy are either only available by the case, or the shipping charges negate the money saved. Not everything has free shipping for Prime members, either.
Either way, it’s quick and easy to search for products that you regularly buy to see if you could save money and get free shipping through Amazon.
3) Don’t Buy Organic
Wait! Did I say DON’T buy organic? Yes, I did!
Here’s the thing – a lot of the cost of eating healthy is from buying organic fruits and vegetables. However, you can save a lot of money by purchasing (or not purchasing) organic produce based on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists.
Fruits and vegetables with the potentially highest levels of pesticide residue (according to the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list) include: strawberries, apples, stonefruit (peaches, plums, apricots, cherries), grapes, tomatoes, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, and leafy greens. I always buy organic versions of these foods.
However, the Clean Fifteen list includes: avocado, mango, pineapple, papaya, melon, kiwifruit, grapefruit, cauliflower, eggplant, cabbage, and corn. These foods have been shown to have low or no pesticide residues, and so you can save money by getting non-organic versions of these foods.
4) Look For Sales & Buy In Season
Unfortunately, coupon clipping isn’t a good money-saving option for those of us who primarily eat a whole foods diet. Most Sunday papers and coupon flyers offer discounts for, well, junk food.
However, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for sales on fresh produce. Be sure to follow your local grocery store and health food store on social media, or sign up to receive sale announcements. That way, you’ll be the first to know if your favorites fruits or veggies will be discounted.
Produce that is in season (IE: strawberries and zucchini in summer / oranges and pomegranates in winter) tends to be less expensive. Plus, fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown locally are fresher, and likely have higher nutrient levels.
When you do find a sale, buy extra. Buy as much as you can and then freeze for later. It makes a lot of financial sense to buy up a bunch of discount strawberries or kale when they are on sale, and then freeze them for later use. While it makes your grocery bill a bit more when you purchase them, the savings are long term when you do not have to buy them later when the price is higher.
5 – Plan Your Meals In Advance
How many times have you opened the refrigerator to find that you have nothing to make for dinner? Perhaps you’re hungry and you don’t have the patience or the energy to make a healthy meal. So you order takeout. Or you go to the grocery store while hungry (which is a huge diet and budget buster!). Then you do the same thing the very next day.
Saving money takes planning, and that is especially important when it comes to buying groceries. I plan my meals up to a whole month in advance. Then I make sure that I have my cupboards and pantry stocked with everything I need to make my meals.
Speaking of planning, I never go to the grocery store without a shopping list. Every time I do, I end up buying things that I don’t usually buy. Having a list keeps me focused and reduces impulse buys.
I hope that these five strategies for eating healthy on a budget help you out. I actually use all five of these. I have a BJ’s membership, as well as a Thrive Market account.
I don’t exclusively buy organic, I am always on the lookout for sales on fresh produce, and I plan my meals in advance.
These tactics have dramatically reduced my spending on food.