I’ve learned a lot in the last year about how to shop for healthy foods. At first, I thought eating healthy just meant going into the nearest grocery store and reading nutrition labels. Over the last year, I have been convinced that there is a lot more to it than that.
Shopping for healthy foods is a skill. It is a skill that you can practice and it is a skill that you can improve. Here are 8 ways to improve your healthy food shopping and save you money in the process.
1) Go to Farmers Markets
There’s a reason why farmer’s markets are # 1 on this list. Buying your produce from farmer’s markets can easily cut your grocery bill in half. I inserted a picture of my receipt from my last trip to the market a few days ago. Some highlights from the bill include 3 lbs of bananas for $1.49, 4 cucumbers for $1, $1 per avocado, or how about 14 cents per jalapeno. It has gotten to the point where I will try to buy more food on purpose just to see how much I can possibly spend, and I still can’t break the $50 mark when I shop there. This same amount of food at Whole Foods would have cost me over $100. Farmer’s markets are everywhere and finding a good one is the best thing you can do to save money on food.
2) Review your receipts
Most fresh food is sold by weight, so unless you are walking around the grocery store carrying a scale, it can be difficult to compare prices of foods that weigh different amounts. Take the receipt from the farmer’s market that you see above. The sweet potatoes that I purchased were priced at 99 cents/lb. I used to buy those same sweet potatoes at $2.29/lb at Whole Foods. $2.29 for a pound of sweet potatoes always sounded like a pretty good price to me, but that’s because I didn’t have any reference point to go off of. Once I started looking at my receipts and realized that I was buying between 3 and 6 lbs of sweet potatoes on a weekly basis, it became clear how big that difference really was. This meant that 6 lbs of sweet potatoes would cost me $13.74 at Whole Foods and only $5.94 at the farmer’s market. Seeing this $13.74 price next to the bunch of bananas that only cost me $2 really taught me the value of comparing prices even after your done shopping. Or imagine how big that difference would be on the 8 lbs of spaghetti squash that I bought. Reading receipts may not help you save money on your last bill, but it will certainly help you save on the next one.
3) Focus on Cheap Staples
No matter how much prices vary over time, certain foods just always seem to be cheap. Take eggs for instance. I spend less than $20 per week on a total of 72 eggs for our 3-person household. Sure, I may have to absorb dirty looks from everyone who walks by me in Whole Foods, but that’s a small price to pay for having such a nutritious food for less than $1 per meal. The same can be said for chicken thighs, ground beef, canned fish, and frozen fruits and vegetables. Make these foods the focus of your weekly shopping, and it will be difficult to overspend on your total bill.
4) Buy Sale Items in Bulk
Fresh food goes bad. Whenever stores have an abundant supply of fresh food, they are forced to discount it so most of it doesn’t end up in the trash. You see this a lot with things like seafood. Seafood has such a short shelf life that it is almost guaranteed that there will be a few seafood items on sale every week. Don’t be afraid to stock up on sale items and throw some in the freezer for a later date. Add these sale items to the cheap staples you already have from number 3 and you should be well on your way to an inexpensive week of shopping.
5) Be Flexible
While it’s good to have a grocery list for items that are necessities, shopping without a grocery list can save you a lot of money. Instead of setting my meal plan for the week ahead of time, I like to let the store do it for me. If pork or beef is cheap this week, then it looks like we will be eating a lot of that. If avocados are cheap, then guacamole will probably happen in the next couple days. Don’t get your heart set on making something before you get to the store. You will just end up overpaying for foods that you could get for less money on another day. Be flexible with your meal plan and your wallet will thank you.
6) Utilize Multiple Stores
It’s amazing how much prices can vary from store to store. In any given month, I will shop at Costco, Publix, Whole Foods, and several different farmers markets at least once. Sure, I am lucky enough to have all of these stores within 10 minutes of my house, but I think everyone can take advantage of multiple stores with a little planning and effort. Shopping at multiple stores taught me that the same jar of almond butter that cost over $15 at Publix, only cost me $6 at Costco. I also learned that Whole Foods has ridiculously expensive prices on most fruits and vegetables, but that their prices on eggs, grass-fed beef, chicken, and frozen produce are extremely reasonable. Rotate your shopping trips between different stores to get the best deals from each one.
7) Don’t Obsess over Organic, Grass-fed, or Free-range
Quality sources of food are preferred because it’s better for your health and its better for the environment, but don’t obsess over every single choice you have to make. If organic bananas are 3 times the price of conventional bananas, then buy the conventional ones. If they are having a sale on organic beef, but it is not grass-fed, don’t feel bad about skipping the grass-fed and saving a little bit of money this time. Try to make the majority of your grocery shopping from local, quality sources, and take advantage of the cost savings when the price difference becomes too great.
8) Utilize Amazon.com
Despite a recent debacle over a tea tumbler that I purchased for my girlfriend, I have had nothing but good experiences through Amazon. Most products ship for free and arrive to your doorstep within a few days. I have consistently used Amazon for things like shredded coconut, coconut milk, canned tuna, and canned sardines. Amazon sells in huge quantities, so they usually end up being much cheaper per unit than what you could buy them for in the grocery store. The 54 oz tub of Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil is the cheapest I have found anywhere and it taste so good that I refuse to buy coconut oil from anywhere else.
While I wouldn’t quite put myself in the same category as the people from Extreme Couponing, I have become pretty adept at getting the most bang for my buck. Once you harness your skills as a shopper, it won’t be long before eating healthy will be a lot cheaper than eating unhealthy ever was.