Frugal Living » Saving on Groceries: When to Buy Organic, When to Skip it

Saving on Groceries: When to Buy Organic, When to Skip it

We all know that organic groceries are more expensive; however, most people do not realize that you shouldn’t buy everything organic. Some fruits and vegetables have such low levels of pesticides in them when conventionally grown that it is a waste of money to buy them organic.

A great rule of thumb for choosing when to buy organic fruits and vegetables is that they should be organic if you eat the skin. These fruits and vegetables include favorites like apples, strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers, and zucchini. 

Saving on Groceries: When to Buy Organic, When to Skip it

The next time you are standing in the food aisle debating over the higher cost of organic foods, don’t fret. It is not always necessary to buy the more expensive organic option.

saving on groceries buying organic

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Everything Organic

The organic movement began early in the 20th century and gained momentum between the 1970’s and 2000’s. Consumers learned that while conventional farmers were using chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to mass-produce the crops that were making it onto local grocery store shelves, organic farmers were using ecologically-based pest controls and natural fertilizers to produce their crops.

People began to worry about the impact that the chemicals on the plants were having on their bodies, and organic eating grew in popularity. However, with organic farming practices came increased costs, and increased costs brought higher grocery bills.

avoiding pesticides budget101

Can you eat organic without breaking the bank?

Yes! Not all organic food is created equally. Only those fruits and vegetables that are most susceptible to pesticides when grown conventionally (The Dirty Dozen) need to be purchased organic. Additional fruits and vegetables can be purchased conventionally.

The Dirty Dozen

Since 2004, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published a list of the top twelve items that you should always buy organic. These conventionally grown items, when tested, were found to contain the highest levels of pesticides. Because of this, they have earned the moniker, The Dirty Dozen.

The Environmental Working Group updates its list each year. According to the list released in 2020, these are:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes

**The Environmental Working Group also gives honorable mention to Hot Peppers and Sweet Bell Peppers as (un)lucky number 13 on this list.

organic produce budget101

Where to Find Cheaper Organic Foods

To find the best deals on organic foods, look to the frozen food aisles, store brands at your favorite grocery chains, or your own green thumb.

Cheaper Organic Options

Organic foods may come at a premium, but that doesn’t mean that they have to. By keeping an open mind and looking into alternative methods, you can feed your family the same healthy organic foods on a budget.

Frozen Organic Foods

Organic foods have notoriously short shelf lives, leading to their higher price points. One great way to save money on organic food is to buy frozen organic foods.

You can find a wide variety of frozen organic foods at most big-box stores, from Walmart to Target, Costco to BJs, and everywhere in between. Where 1 pound of fresh organic strawberries costs $4.89 on Instacart, a 4 pound bag of frozen organic strawberries through Instacart is $12.19 – a savings of 38% off the price per pound.

frozen organic strawberries

Which Grocery Chain Stores Offer the Best Prices on Organics?

Most stores now offer at least some organic options, but which chains off the best organic prices?

Costco

For more than five years, Costco has been the key player in the organic market, offering more organic options than even Whole Foods.
The produce cold room at Costco now boasts nearly 50% organic offerings. Organic options on everything from coffee to fruit snacks to snack chips can be found throughout the warehouse in bulk sizes and at lower prices than the competition.

It is the selection of organic meats, however, that truly sets Costco apart. Affordable pricing on everyday staples like organic ground beef, steak, hot dogs, sausage, fish, and chicken, make the warehouse giant an excellent choice for shopping organic on a budget.

Target

Simply Balanced is Target’s natural and organic line, a spin-off of their Archer Farms house brand. These items pledge to be free of high fructose corn syrup, and many are certified organic.

Among the items that are available in this line are frozen foods, seafood, and snacks.

Target also carries a wide variety of organic brands like Pacific, Amy’s Organic, and Happy Baby, and their produce section boasts several organic offerings. They also offer a wide variety of organic non-food items, like Mrs. Meyers Clean Day.

Walmart

The big-box giant carries hundreds of organics options from dry goods like flour and seeds to frozen foods, dairy, snack foods, and produce. Their Great Value Organic line has some of the best prices in the store.

Aldi

Their Simply Nature Organic Brand introduced in 2014 covers natural and certified organic foods, so you will have to check labels here. They carry fresh and frozen foods in this line, as well as pantry staples. For organic items like lettuce, beef, and milk, Aldi is a great choice on a budget.

Stop and Shop/Giant Stores

Like Aldi, Stop and Shop’s house brand, Nature’s Promise, spans both certified organic and natural foods, so you will want to pay attention to labels to guarantee that the items you are placing in your cart are organic.

You can find everything from frozen waffles to pretzels and cereals under the Nature’s Promise umbrella. Additionally, Stop and Shop carries several popular organic name brands like Amy’s Organics and Pacific, but the best prices will be with the Nature’s Promise store brand.

Growing Your Own Organic Foods

If the cost of store-bought organic produce feels prohibitive, consider growing some of your favorite organic fruits or vegetables at home. Setting up an organic vegetable garden at home is convenient, cheap, easy, and can be a lot of fun. To grow your own organic vegetables at home, follow these easy steps:

Do Your Research

First, do your research and see what you can grow in your region and climate. Then choose the right area of your yard to plant in. You do not want a place that will be too wind-swept or that gets too much traffic from running kids or animals throughout the day.

Choose an out of the way area that receives plentiful sun (six-plus hours per day). Contact your local utilities to ensure there are no wires or pipes in the area where you plan to dig to plant.

Prepare the Area

Plants need moist, well-drained soil to thrive. You can help provide this by preparing the ground 3-4 weeks before planting. Dig 8-10 inches into the soil. Rake the area to remove any debris like rocks, sticks, weeds, grass, and sod. Use compost to enrich the soil.

If your land is not going to provide good soil, don’t fret. You can use raised beds or vertical gardens to grow your own organic garden. For the past eight years, we’ve used homemade hydroponic grow buckets to raise our organic produce.

dirt cheap self watering grow buckets

Plant Your Seeds

Next, it is essential to choose plants that will do well in your region. You can ask at your local garden center or farmer’s market which fruits or vegetables will thrive in your area and choose those.

  1. Purchase organic seeds or starter plants that will flourish in your environment.
  2. Plant these in your garden and water them regularly.
  3. Provide natural fertilizer, such as a mix of banana peels and water.

Maintain Your Garden

Walk through your organic garden each day to harvest fresh fruits or vegetables, to remove any weeds that have popped up, and to monitor the area for pests. Water your plants regularly and care for your plants naturally!

There are various ways to keep pests at bay without bringing any yucky (and dangerous) chemicals near your family’s food source.

How Can I Care for My Plants Naturally?

Companion planting – planting multiple plants together that support one another, like tomatoes and basil, helps to deter pests from one another. There are also a variety of natural remedies for any insect or fungus that might try to attack during your growing season.

companion planting veg budget101These remedies range from sprinkling diatomaceous earth around your garden to keep slugs at bay to using hot chili pepper to keep chewing pests from eating your leafy vegetables. For every chemical answer to a gardening problem, there is a natural and safer alternative.

companion planting budget101

Clean Up Your Garden at the End of the Year

At the end of the season, weed dead plants, leaving the roots to any perennial plants to grow the following season again. Rake the soil of any debris and dead vegetation. Consider having a soil test done to test the PH.

Late fall is a great time to plant next year’s organic garlic crop. Add a layer of compost to enrich the soil over the winter and mulch to suppress weeds. Sit back knowing that your garden will be waiting to provide your family with a healthy, organic bounty again next spring!

The Clean Fifteen – Groceries that Do Not Need to Be Purchased Organic

The Clean Fifteen are a list of fifteen fruits and vegetables that you do not have to worry about buying organic. Paying the premium for organic versions of these fruits and vegetables would be a waste of money because only a very small or trace amount of pesticides reaches the actual fruit or vegetable when these are grown conventionally.

According to this year’s list put out by the Environmental Working Group, 2020’s Clean Fifteen are:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn (that hasn’t been genetically modified)
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet Peas (Frozen)
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupe
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew Melon
  15. Kiwi

These foods have protective skins or husks, which make it difficult to impossible for pesticides to break the barrier and reach the fruit/vegetable below.

 buying fresh fruits veggies on the cheap
Buying Fresh Fruits & Veggies On the Cheap!

If you happen to come across the clean fifteen while shopping for your family. You can rest assured that purchasing the cheaper, conventionally grown versions of these fruits and vegetables is perfectly healthy for your family.

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