Cost Conscious Consumer’s Guide to Shopping Organic

how to shop organic and not break the bank

I posted on Facebook last week a question, asking our FatWallet friends if they shop organic and why or why not. What I learned is that many of you would shop organic more if it weren’t for the cost.

I used to feel the same way, until my mother-in-law and sister-in-law both got cancer and looked into nutrition as part of their treatments. It was quite an education for all of us. We watched movies like Food Matters and read books like Crazy Sexy Diet, plus countless articles in magazines and online.

While I’m sure there are many sides to this story, I learned that eating healthy doesn’t look anything like I thought it did. Five fruits and vegetables a day weren’t going to cut it!

Most of our food is genetically modified. Animals are injected with growth hormones and antibiotics. Produce is grown in mineral deprived soil and contaminated with pesticides and chemicals to yield bionic food that bugs won’t eat. It’s shipped for miles as the nutrition decreases and by the time it gets to our stores, our kitchens and eventually cooked and on our plates it barely resembles the “real food” our grandparents ate.

On top of that, so many of products we use each day and the things we come in contact with in our environment affect the endocrine system. What this means is that our hormones are out of whack so our son’s have lower sperm counts, and our daughters are entering puberty at a much earlier age. And in general as a society we’re plagued with headaches, we’re tired, and bloated after meals. We have skin problems, junk food cravings, mood swings, and can’t sleep.

So while we can’t control many (I should say most) of the toxic we come in contact with, as a family we made the decision to eat organic as much as possible, especially for the kids.

I went on a mission to replace the unhealthy foods in our home with organic. I had so much fun, trying new foods and shopping at new stores. Yes it was more expensive, but I kept telling myself, it was worth it if we were healthier. That we would end up paying a whole lot more if we got sick.

I kept that attitude for a month, until I went to balance the check book and tallied up that we’d spent $1700 on groceries. If we had kept up shopping organic at that rate we would have ended up homeless. So my husband and I started to get creative.

The three big things we did to get control of our organic grocery bill:

  1. We focused on shopping at the local farmer’s market and farm stands near us, buying in season produce in bulk and freezing the extras.
  2. We shopped for the organic store brands of our pantry goods and bought extra when it was on sale. We went to the health food stores and purchased rice, grains, cereal etc. in bulk. (I assumed the health food stores would be more expensive than the Kroger near us, but for many things, they were cheaper.)
  3. We also prioritized what organic foods were the most important to purchase.
    For example, we made sure to stay away from the dirty dozen list of produce that contains the highest contamination. We focused on buying organic for the things we eat most frequently. And we decided that animal products like milk, chicken, eggs, etc. were an organic must.

The Grand Total of Eating Organic for Our Family:

We are still spending more on our groceries than we used to, but we’ve compensated for that in the budget by not eating out as much. As a family of 5 with three kids ranging from teenager to toddler our grocery budget is around $850 a month (including all of our household supplies like toilet paper, diapers, and laundry soap.) I’m sure there is room for improvement.

Eating at home hasn’t felt like the sacrifice I thought it would because we’ve had so many fun family conversations around the kitchen table which has brought us closer as a family and the kids are more open to trying new things.

The challenges for us come into play when we’re eating out or on vacation, and we end up relaxing our expectations even more at those times. Not because it’s impossible to eat organic, but sometimes it’s just not practical. We figure that every meal we eat organic is one less meal with toxins and junk that we’re eating.

My advice if you’re wanting to switch to organic:

  • Start with the things you eat most and give yourself permission to experiment.
  • Track your spending so you don’t go overboard like we did that first month.
  • Prioritize the things that are the most important for your family to buy organic.
  • Compare prices of different health food stores or the organic food at your grocery store.
  • Get to know your local farmers, farm stands and farmers’ markets.
  • Buy in bulk and use your freezer for in-season produce you can store.
  • Remember less than beautiful produce is still tasty and will make awesome smoothies, are great for the juicer, as well as nice items to freeze.
  • Look for areas in your budget where you can compensate for the extra expense.
  • Consider joining a co-op and/or a CSA program which allows you buy a share of an organic farmer’s crop. (There is a tool on the website I linked for you to search CSA farms in your area.)
  • If you have the space and the time plant a garden.
  • Have fun and remember that shopping organic is a lifestyle change and there will be challenges along the way, but it gets easier as you stick with it and it becomes a habit.

I’m sure some of you with more experience will have value to add! Please share your tips on ways you’ve been able to save money shopping organic in the comments below and don’t forget to like the post and share it in social media! :)

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