It’s no secret that organic foods and products are better for health because they don’t contain chemical fertilizers or pesticide residues. But sometimes the high cost of organics puts them out of our reach. What to do? In this article, we share our best tips for how to buy organics on a budget, especially when you can’t afford the retail prices.
It always amazes me that the more simply one wants to live, somehow, the more expensive it can be! You’d think the opposite, but sadly, it is often not so. We want organic products that are made from ingredients that leave out synthetic chemicals… but they end up costing more.
Jay and I been able to eliminate many high costs of living by doing without some of the bells and whistles that most people take for granted in western life, but some things… essential things for living more naturally, like organic products… are off the charts expensive.
Organic food and skin care products have evolved over the many years we have been into organics. In some ways they’ve gotten better, with much more availability and variety, but the sticker shock keeps increasing every year. When we shop for organics now, the cost of even basic ingredients is almost absurd!
A Bit Of History About Organics
If you don’t have time to read about how we got where we are today, just skip to the list below. 🙂
In the beginning, organics wasn’t an “industry” like it is today. It started as a localized home-grown movement of people who just wanted to eat something without synthetic chemicals. Something pure. Something wholesome. Back to nature. It was a simple concept, and in those days you were lucky to find a little basket of worm-holed and spotted organic apples on the back shelf of a corner market.
But organics have become a lot more complicated over time. Even the accepted definition of organic has evolved (and devolved in some ways) over time… for more complete information on what constitutes “organic” these days, please see my article on natural, vegan and organic cosmetics that goes into more detail.
The original organics “movement” has ballooned over the decades to become a corporate-driven capitalistic industry. Not to mention that somehow… even though organic farming was the original way that agriculture started around the world since the beginning of agrarian society… somehow marketers pulled a switch on us and started referring to chemical agriculture as “conventional” and natural (original) agriculture as “organic.”
Did you ever watch those iconic Bugs Bunny cartoons where Bugs would always fast talk Elmer Fudd out of whatever he (Elmer) was thinking and get Elmer eventually to agree with Bugs Bunny’s viewpoint? It was funny in a cartoon, but not so funny in real life where society has somehow been convinced that organic is “alternative” and chemical is ”conventional!” Ugh.
I could write (and probably will!) a whole article on the capitalization of organics, because it’s such a shame (sham?)… but for now, I will just say that on the one hand, there are certainly more organic products available… and that’s convenient!
But on the other hand, as soon as corporate entities discovered that there were millions to be made, (this was years ago – it has since become a billion dollar market!) the focus moved away from the simplistic idea of eating wholesome food. It shifted more to stripping areas of their local resources, providing those products to international consumers at a premium. And, with the idea of international consumers, came the idea of mono-cropping for maximum profit.
We witnessed this firsthand when we lived in India. Being from the USA, we were accustomed to purchasing high quality Basmati rice easily in the States. But when we were in India, it was difficult to find, because that same basmati rice was considered “export quality” and was often not available on the local market because the farmers could make SO much more money when they contracted with foreign exporters! Which is a truly sad state of affairs, when average Indian citizens do not have easy access to their own high quality Basmati rice.
In the USA today, the original small companies that were founded by individuals with a strong sense of health and wellness have been systematically scooped up by multi-national corporations. The idea of ‘bigger is better’ truly has been ruling the day.
In the midst of all that, one thing is for sure… organic vegetables, nuts, fruits, grains, eggs, meats and dairy, plus organic skin care products all come at a very high cost these days.
What to do??
Fortunately, there are a few solutions that I will share with you, so you can buy organic food products and ingredients at less than the untenable current retail rates. 🙂
Granted, you can sometimes get good deals on organics by just cruising the aisles at your local natural foods market looking for the best weekly deals. However, when I do that, I am sometimes tempted to buy something that I don’t really use or need, just because it’s a good deal. But if you plan ahead, using some of the methods listed below, you can save hundreds of dollars each year on the foods you regularly use.
So, I hope you take advantage of these suggestions, because healthy organic food should be available to everyone!
Check Out The Bulk Aisle in Your Local Grocery Store
Most grocery stores these days have a “Bulk Foods” aisle with rows upon rows of bulk bins that contain raw food ingredients, including candies, nuts and seeds – many of them organic. They usually also have shelves of glass jars filled with bulk herbs and spices. Buying in bulk and serving yourself to whatever quantity you want can often save you some money.
Once I discovered the bulk aisle in my local natural supermarket, I never bought one of those expensive little spice jars on the baking aisle again! Have you ever noticed that your spice jar spices can go flat and lose their essential oils and flavor over time? Sometimes I’d make a special dish that only required a teaspoon or so of an exotic spice and it was often months or years before I needed that spice again. By packaging my own on the bulk aisle, I could buy just a few teaspoons at a time, instead of a whole spice bottle that might go flat.
When buying bulk, be sure to check the per pound prices of each item because occasionally a packaged item might be on sale and will provide a better deal.
It’s also worth looking for closeouts and sales on organic items that have a high price point in grocery stores and stock up on those products that you know you will use over time.
Buy From Organic Distributors
The good news: These days it’s possible to purchase organics from distributors who sell organic goods at reduced rates to individual consumers and buying clubs, as well as to restaurants, stores and manufacturers.
These companies provide a wide variety of organic products for less than retail – sometimes at savings between 20-40%! Depending on the provider, you can purchase everything from ice cream to fresh seafood, meats and cheeses to fresh vegetables to bulk grains, nuts, seeds, beans, packaged goods and more. Most of these companies also carry personal care items too, which include cosmetics, skin care products, shampoo, soap and home cleaning products.
If you can go one step further and buy your basic food staples in larger quantities and store them, you will find that you can save so much on your food bill! It requires some initial investment up front, but you can start a bit at a time and grow your own organic ingredient repository. Even the savings on a bulk purchase of one or two items – grains, flours, nuts or dried fruits, for example, will save you many dollars over time. Plus, it is better for the environment to save all of that packaging waste that is incurred through multiple purchases of smaller packaged items.
Even if you haven’t been into “prepping” before 2020, food shortages have recently been announced in the USA (and many other parts of the world) so it might be a smart idea to have some of your favorite items on hand – just in case. If you have space, you can create your own mini-warehouse so you can store bulk staple items that you always use. Some of my friends have their basements converted into an organic foodie’s warehouse heaven!
Their storage spaces contain lots of new plastic garbage cans that hold 50 lbs or more of flour, grains and other non-perishable items. Shelves line the perimeters, filled with 10-25 lb. boxes of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and sealed one lb. packages of bulk herbs. Glass jars filled with dried herbs, spices and baking ingredient take up additional shelf space… maybe not as pretty as the photo below, but you get the idea. 😉
Most items like rice, for example, which is aged before selling, will never go bad if stored properly.
So, it makes sense to buy larger quantities and store them, bringing a manageable quantity into your kitchen pantry for everyday use and then replenishing from your own bulk supply. In this way you will definitely save in the long term on your grocery and household bills.
There are numerous organic distributors in the US… spread throughout the country. With a bit of research, you may find a distributor in your area. If not, Essential Organics or Thrive Market may get you started. Both of these companies sell non-GMO organic products and ingredients at way below retail rates.
For international orders, I can also suggest iHerb ✓ a USA based online company that sells a huge variety of organic products (foods, herbs, snacks, beauty and skin care products, vitamins and more) often at discounted rates. In addition to shipping throughout the USA, iHerb is especially good for those living in countries where it is difficult to find specialty organic items required for paleo, keto, vegan and gluten-free diets. Their prices may also be less than organic off-the-shelf shop prices throughout Europe.
Start a Food Buying Group
If you are interested in getting discounts by purchasing bulk food stuffs, but don’t have enough room for storage of large amounts of raw materials or packaged goods, you can create a buying group of your friends and neighbors who share the same values. That way, you can put together a large order from an organic distributor and divide the goods between yourselves.
If any member of the group also happens to have a business license that allows them to purchase wholesale items, you could take advantage of even further savings by purchasing at wholesale rates.
Creating a food buying “club” is also a great way to meet like-minded people and make new friends. Take advantage of online neighborhood social programs where you can connect with others right in your area who might want to join into a new healthy food buying group.
Join a Food Co-Op
Look around in your area for a natural and organic food co-op. Food co-ops function like regular grocery stores, but offer memberships (where you actually become a share holder in the business!).
For a (usually) minimal annual fee, members can purchase items from the store throughout the year at discounted rates. Each co-op has its own rules… some may require that you put in a certain number of hours work per month for discounts, and/or that you attend shareholder meetings every so often.
Joining a food co-op is not only for saving money (which it will do!) but for meeting other like-minded people and becoming part of a “community” that supports natural, organic, non-GMO, raw foods and oftentimes, local farms… whatever is the focus of that particular group. People who join co-ops are usually friendly and helpful and in our busy schedules, it’s not always easy to find others with the same food values to connect with locally.
Join A CSA For Farm-Direct Organic Produce
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a fantastic way to get involved in your local farming community and also save money on organic produce.
The idea is simple yet may vary from farm to farm. In essence, you might pay for a seasonal membership (a base fee that is often (but not always) collected before the growing season to assist the farmer in getting his veggies planted. Then, you pay each month for a variety “bountiful basket” of fresh produce. The “bounty” will vary each month, as you receive the produce as it ripens and is most fresh.
Some CSA’s offer single or family package options and some offer additional produce (if there is a bumper crop) at further discounts. With a CSA, you are obligating yourself to pay for and receive a veggie box each month of the seasonal program. There are often arrangements that can be made to resell or trade-off months if you are going to be out of town, etc.
The produce may come with substantial or lesser discounts, depending on the size of the farm, number of members, etc, and you are always getting the freshest food possible! Plus, you are giving your purchasing dollars to the local farmers in your area (instead of buying organic produce from a farm halfway across the continent or across the world!). In this way you can help farmers to continue the often thankless and heavy work of providing fresh healthy organic produce to their community.
Joining a CSA is a great way to meet like-minded people and you can also get together with your friends and share a membership if you choose… the possibilities are many!
Join A Community Garden and Grow Your Own
Ok, technically, this isn’t a tip on how to buy organics on a budget, but many urban areas offer a community gardening program where you can work your own designated plot and grow whatever veggies you want. These programs also vary from area to area and may involve fees, work trade or some other details. If you don’t have space to grow your own veggies where you live, you can definitely save $$ on your food bills by growing some of your own in a community plot. You may not be able to cover all of your veggie needs, but you will cut out some expense and also meet some amazing people who are into growing their own food, too.
Lastly, Let’s Not Forget DIY
There’s nothing that saves money more than making something yourself instead of buying it ready made. Plus, your food will be fresher and more nutritious. Even organic pre-prepared foods (packaged, frozen, etc) are not as healthy as what you make fresh, because they were produced weeks and sometimes months prior to when you buy them off the shelf at a natural food store. If you take advantage of some of the tips above and purchase your organic ingredients at a discount, you can save further when you make your own finished products.
Regarding savings, take bread, for example. I recently saw a loaf of artisanal bread selling for $10.00. Ten dollars!
That same loaf of bread can be made at home with all organic ingredients for under $2.00! Your bread will be fresher, you can be 100% sure of the ingredients. And…you can infuse it with your own happy zen vibes and love while you are preparing it and enjoy the divine scent of homemade bread aromatherapy while it is baking. 🙂
Aside from foods, you can also save so much by making your own skin and body care salves, balms, soaps and creams. Even organic, natural and vegan body care products that are produced in a factory require some form of preservative (natural or not) to keep those items from spoiling during distribution, time sitting on store shelves, etc.
If you embrace DIY and make a small batch of anything for yourself, use it up and make again, you will be doing your health and pocketbook some huge favors.
You can also make your own tinctures and herbal tea blends for a fraction of the cost of buying these items pre-prepared. Making tinctures is so easy and doesn’t require any special skills other than the patience to wait for the finished product to incubate after preparing. If you’d like to read details on how to make your own herbal tinctures, please see my post on echinacea; it includes a DIY recipe (near the end of the article) that gives clear instructions.
And while you are saving money, you may discover that DIY creation is a fun and enjoyable process!
Note: Regarding Farmer’s Markets
You may have noticed that I did not mention shopping at your local organic farmer’s market on this list of how to save money buying organics. I used to love shopping at farmers markets…. while it used to be a great way to save money. However. Over the last 10 years or so, our experience in many parts of the USA and Europe has proven that urban farmer’s markets have become so “gentrified” that it is often difficult to find reasonable prices for the (albeit) gorgeous produce and products at farmer’s markets anymore.
Instead of simply being a locality where farmers meet up to sell their wares to local families, farmers markets have turned into upscale venues, sometimes including live music (I saw a harp once!) and beautiful people milling around. This somewhat elite group is able and willing to pay inflated prices for organic veggies and gourmet or specialty items – a far cry from the humble “farm stand” of the past that really offered fresh organic produce at discounted rates.
This type of farmers market is lovely to attend (if only for browsing and enjoying the refined atmosphere; they can be quite charming!), just be aware that while you may find beautiful produce among the beautiful people, your urban farmers market may not be the place where you can find beautiful discounts on organics anymore!
That said, if your local farmers market is more down to earth, go for it… and you’ll probably get some good deals on organic produce.
And if you want to purchase a bulk amount of produce or dairy from a local organic farmer that you encounter at a farmers market (maybe for your buying club?) you might be able make a deal for a discounted rate if you offer to go and pickup your bulk order at the farm or at the next week’s market. Bulk purchases, might be attractive and less labor intensive for the farmer, if he has supply on hand; there’s no harm in asking!
It shouldn’t be prohibitive for everyone to have access to healthy food, herbal and skin care items!
As the cost of organic food and health care products is rising around the world, (along with all products worldwide) the good news is that there are several options you can utilize for savings. With a little bit of creativity and planning, you can find ways to shave off some expenses, when you buy from distributors, buy bulk, support local farms and dairies, get into DIY or join others in your area who also want to save.
Thank you for reading! If this post has piqued your interest… or if you find it useful, inspiring or otherwise magical, please pin it and share it… And we’re always happy to hear from you via the Contact page.