Real food costs money. And many people have the impression that real food costs more than processed food. Sometimes I find myself agreeing with them; sometimes not. But what I do know is that it is possible to save money on real food if you try. So below are twelve different ways. Some of them you might even have never thought of before. By following some of the below suggestions, you will see a difference in your grocery bill.
So here are 12 Ways to Save Money on REAL Food:
1.) Start a garden
A lot of people think that having a garden is too time-consuming or expensive, but that’s not true. One of the most useful books I have read is The Edible Balcony by Alex Mitchell. It is a great book that teaches you how to have a garden with very little (money, space, or time). My family lives in a home with a tiny yard and so we have a balcony garden. Confession: we have self-watering planters because I am a bit of a black thumb and there was a huge learning curve for me, but Alex encourages you to use old coffee containers, bottles, etc. Again, spending very little money to grow food. If all of this still sounds too daunting, you should, at the very least, consider growing your own herbs. Herbs are expensive at the grocery store (especially the ones in the little plastic containers), and no one should have to buy them.
2.) Ask for food
Once we were at a church member’s house for dinner, and I couldn’t figure out where Erik, my husband, had gone. When I found him, he was in the front yard picking lemons off of her tree. I was mortified! But it turns out that he was actually doing her a favor. Many times once trees or plants become well-established, they produce too much food. That’s why you see so many people on forums asking what to do with too many tomatoes or zucchini or whatever. If we hadn’t picked this church member’s lemons, they would have just fallen to the ground and rotted. We now have friends who give us their leftover fruit. It keeps us from having to buy it at the store, and it keeps them from wasting it.
This isn’t true everywhere, but in our area, there is a collaboration called Fallen Fruit that has made it their mission to design maps, outlining where different fruit trees are. In California, if part of a tree is hanging over the sidewalk, it is public property, and anyone can pick the fruit and eat it. If you don’t have similar maps for your area, consider being the Good Samaritan who makes them.
4.) Join a CSA
Sometimes CSAs can be expensive, you just need to research what is available in your area. LocalHarvest provides a great list of CSAs in each state so you can compare and contrast. The CSA that my husband and I were a part of in South Carolina allowed families to come and work at the farm for a certain number of areas and in exchange, the cost of the produce box was lowered. This made it extremely affordable. If you are interested in participating in a nationwide CSA, consider joining Farm Fresh to You. If you sign up and use the code MILL4986, you’ll get $10 off your first box (and yes, I get a discount too).
5.) Pick your own
We haven’t done this as a married couple yet, but I used to do it all the time as a kid. Some of my fondest memories as a child are of running through an orchard picking peaches. Google “pick your own farms” along with your zip code and see if there are some your own locations are near you. Because you are doing the work of harvesting, the price per pound is usually cheaper than at the grocery store. You can then take whatever you pick home with you to preserve or freeze.
6.) Visit the farmer’s market
These are a great place to buy real food. For starters, it is okay to haggle. It is expected, just like at the car dealership. Secondly, try to always go right before the farmer’s market closes. Yes, you won’t have as much to choose from, but many farmers lower their prices at this time because they would rather make a lower profit than have to pack it up and drive it back home.
7.) Join a co-op
A co-op is short for cooperative, a group of individuals who choose to come together for their mutual benefit. Food co-ops are local stores owned and ran by members. Members pay yearly dues (I have seen $20 frequently), and then are free to shop at the store. Members have a say over what food is available for purchase at the store, and usually, the prices are cheaper than elsewhere.
8.) Participate in a food exchange
My family frequents a nursery that offers a food exchange every Saturday night. Got too many tomatoes? Come to the nursery and exchange some of them for cucumbers or whatever else is up for grabs! Look to see if there are similar programs in your area. If not, and you have a garden that is overflowing, consider starting a Meetup group in your area to exchange produce. I bet you’ll get a really good response.
9.) Buy in bulk
This means buying large quantities of something as well as visiting a store with bulk bins. My family and I go to Costco once a month to stock up on certain items. But it’s important to keep in mind that not everything is a deal just because it is at a warehouse store. Rather, you should do your homework first and price out the items you are interested in to see how they compare to other stores. Still, there are deals to be had. Just a couple of days ago, I saw the exact brand of avocado oil my family uses for sale at Costco. The bottle was twice as big as the one I had a home, but the price was the same! You better believe I snapped it up!
Buying in bulk also means visiting the bulk bins at your local store. We buy all of our nuts this way and also all of our spices. When you visit those aisles at a regular supermarket most of what you are paying for is the container they come in. By buying in bulk, you are forgoing the container (you take your nuts and spices home in a little plastic bag instead), but you are also able to buy just what you need. I mean, think about it. The cardamom in your pantry is how old? Because you bought it to make what? You can’t remember? Oh, okay… You are just like me:)
10.) Shop loss leaders
The items listed in the grocery store circular each week are referred to as “loss leaders.” The idea is that you will go to the grocery store to deliberately buy some of the items you see advertised. But while you are there, you will succumb to temptation and fill your cart with additional things. In other words, loss leaders are priced low to get you into the store. But if you make a grocery list of just those items and demonstrate a lot of self-control, you can save a lot of money by just shopping the loss leaders and leaving.
11.) Look for online deals
I don’t buy food online too often because real food is highly perishable, but certain things like cooking oil or Larabars can be bought online. One website that has helped me to save on food purchases is Hip2Save. A woman named Colin runs it. Geez, do I want to be friends with this lady! She is so fun! But not only is it a delight to read her posts and watch her videos, but if you sign up for text messaging, she will also send you text alerts on hot deals. Many, many times have I been notified of Larabars being on super sale at Amazon, and I always make sure I buy them. Erik and I only eat one a day (per the Whole 30 rules), but that is still a lot of bars.
Another great website is Thrive Market. Thrive is an online store committed to making healthy food more affordable for everyone (a subject very near and dear to my heart). It is a great resource if you don’t have that many health food stores in your area. I have even noticed that some of their prices beat the price at my local store, but it’s important to spend time comparing. You can join Thrive for a 30-day free trial, but after that, it costs $59.99 for the year. That’s $40 less than a Prime membership through Amazon.
12.) Raise Giftcards
I love Raise! It’s a website where people can sell their unwanted gift cards. I haven’t ever sold a gift card, though. Instead, I use the site to purchase gift cards to grocery stores and restaurants. Simply type in the name of the store you are wanting to shop at, and it will tell you what gift cards are currently available. All of them will be at a discount, meaning that the price of the gift card will be less than the amount on it. (i.e., a $100 gift card selling for $98). Sometimes the amount you are saving in buying a gift card is just a dollar or two, but every little bit helps. You can even set an alert so that you get email notifications every time a gift card from a certain store becomes available.
Well, there you have it! 12 different ways to save money on REAL food. I can’t wait to hear about your experiences!
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