Organic On A Budget

You may have noticed that I only sometimes specify 'organic' in my recipes.  This is because I only specify organic where I believe it to be essential, even though I try to buy and use as much organic food as possible, and always choose it if the price is reasonable.

My standard for 'essential' when it comes to fruit and vegetables is the "Dirty Dozen."  There's a handy wallet guide you can print out from The Environmental Working Group which also includes "the Clean Fifteen."

The Dirty Dozen are:
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

I keep this in my wallet so I can refer to it when in the produce section.  It's hard to remember anything when one's child is repeating "cheese?  Cheese?  Cheese?" with escalating frenzy and backbending from the child seat into the cart basket in an attempt to snag the bag of Veggie Booty.  But I nearly have them memorized.  


I also buy only organic milk.  With the amount of milk (and food in general) children consume compared to their body size, it's important to make sure that their food is as pure as possible.  Pesticides can build up in children's rapidly developing bodies at much higher and faster rates than adults.  

Another reason I strive for organic food is because I find genetically modified foods very, very scary.  They are so scary that many countries around the world are banning genetically modified crops and even destroying crops and seeds that are found to be GM.  If a product is certified organic, it does not contain genetically modified ingredients.  However, there are some non-organic foods, like Silk soy milk for example, that are certified non-GMO.  

Even with the tight grocery budget from which I operate, organic is a very high priority.  Here are my tricks for getting the best prices for organic stuff:

  • Comb Grocery Outlet first (or seek out your local grocery liquidator).  I often find organic milk, children's snacks, cereal, jam, peanut butter, and natural household goods for a fraction of their regular store prices.  These places don't generally take manufacturer's coupons, but at mine, if you ask someone who works there if they take coupons, sometimes they'll slip you one for $3 off.  There are also coupons for $3 or $5 off your total bill in the Community Shopper booklet that comes in the junk mail, as well as in the Chinook Book.

  • Speaking of the Chinook Book, there are a bunch of organic and natural manufacturer's coupons in it, especially on dairy and meats.  Get together with a friend and swap the coupons you don't use in your books.  A Chinook Book is $20.  Bargain.  I keep the grocery store coupons in a little pocket in my purse so I don't have to lug the thing around, but they also have a $10 smart phone version of the book.  I'll get to that level of technology next year.  Maybe.

  • Look for manufacturer's coupons at Mambo Sprouts and OrganicDeals.com.  There are Mambo Sprouts booklets and sometimes other manufacturer's coupon books laying around near the front of PCC where their product info and weekly shopping newsletters are kept.

  • Become a member at PCC (or seek out your local food co-operative if you are lucky enough to have one in your area).  You'll get a 10% off coupon each month in their mailed newspaper. I save up my other coupons and really put that 10% off to work once a month.  You can use your 10% to buy next year's Chinook Book!

  • Buy in bulk.  A well-stocked bulk section that has organic staples can save you a ton of money, especially for things that don't shelve well (like expensive spices) because you can buy only what you need.  Plus, you get bonus karma points for saving the world from unnecessary packaging (bring your own bags).

  • If your favorite store doesn't have many organics, or is missing them in the bulk section, ask for them.  Ask over and over again! 

  • Work the farmer's markets.  They have the freshest and most amazing produce and it's as close to the farm as you can get without actually owning a plow.  Often the prices are lower than grocery stores (no, really!  You may have seen this article in the Seattle Times) especially on less glamorous items like cabbage and onions.  You can often buy in bulk and get a deal, then split the bounty with a friend or can it all up to eat throughout the year. 

With these tips, I'm able to get organic on our table much of the time.  And even if I have to shell out a little bit more for the good stuff, I am happy to do it because I believe that good food should cost something.  A twenty-five cent box of processed macaroni and cheese is a little scary if you stop to think about it. 

What are your best tips for saving money on "the good stuff"?

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