Monday, November 30, 2009

Ways to save money on healthy foods, Part 1

I am a person who loves a great deal. Nothing gets my heart pumping like scoring a quality item for a bargain, and I am constantly scouring websites, blogs, newspapers, and coupon circulars to make sure I get the best price on whatever it is that I need (or want) to buy. Some of my recent successes include $25 worth of cold & flu meds for $2, $140 worth of wine for $50, and a pack of 40 diapers for $3.

I am also a person who goes to Whole Foods and easily blows $100 on two measly bags of groceries such as frozen organic flax waffles, dairy-free pesto, and Kefir probiotic smoothies.

This may seem incongruous to some, but the unfortunate fact is that there are rarely great deals to be had on healthy, natural and/or organic foods. Sure, you might stumble across a sale here and there at your local health food store, but it's nothing like you'd find in the mainstream stores with their coupon doubling, BOGO promotions, and rewards cards. Technically that's a good thing - it shows that the companies and farms producing the good stuff aren't willing to cheapen their products (and thereby cheapen their prices). However, it sure hurts when that $100 tab rings up and you've only got 3 meals worth of food to show for it.

So what's a deal-loving, trying-to-eat-healthy gal to do? Well, I'd love to offer up a secret website or coupon code that can get you a year's worth of organic produce for $10 a month. But unfortunately there's no such thing. What I can offer, though, is what I've learned over the past few years about the best ways to save money on groceries without compromising on quality. Here is tip #1:

Know what things should cost

Grocery stores are fantastic at making things look like a great deal when they are anything but. They are counting on the fact that people will be lured by the big displays, overuse of exclamation points, and words like "savings!" "sale!" and "bargain!" and not pay attention to the fact that they're only saving 15 cents off the regular price. Even the crunchy, natural foods stores are guilty of this.

If you don't know whether a carton of OJ should cost $2 or $5, you're not only susceptible to grocery stores' slick advertising ploys, but you're also less likely to notice a truly great bargain. The other day I saw a huge sign touting "$3.49 Calcium-enriched Orange Juice! Price Reduced!" at my local grocery store. Because I know that I can get this same OJ at a different store for $2.49 every day, I didn't bother buying any there. On the flip side, when I see my favorite OJ selling for $1.99 a carton, I know that it really is a good price, and I stock up.

It is especially helpful to pay attention to produce costs since they can vary so much depending on region and season. In Arizona, an avocado can cost anywhere from 75 cents to $2.50 depending where and when you buy it. Knowing this, I've set a rule that I won't ever spend more than $1.25 on an avocado unless I absolutely have to, and I make sure to stock up when they are at the low end (guacamole...yum!).

To increase your "price awareness," write down a list of 15 or 20 food items you regularly stock in your house...snack foods, bread, fruits, cereals, frozen foods, meats, etc. Now, see if you can name the average price of each item. If you can't, make sure you pay attention to what it costs the next time you go to the store. Once you've done some research to find out the average prices for the foods you buy, do some comparison shopping at your local stores. I've discovered some great deals on certain organic foods at Target and Costco. For instance, my daughter's favorite burritos (Amy's Organic Non-Dairy Burritos) are regularly priced at $2.24 each at SuperTarget, whereas they're about $3.50 a piece at Whole Foods and other grocery stores. Clif Kids Zbars (snack bars that are dairy free) are also way cheaper at Target than at the natural foods stores and mainstream grocery stores.

I also recently found a 6-pack of Amy's Individual Organic Vegetarian Frozen Lasagnas at Costco for around $13. (These are delicious BTW, and are my go-to meal when I'm eating solo). At a cost of around $2.25 each, that's a fantastic deal since they're usually $5 a pop at the grocery store.

Becoming savvy about prices helps you know when to stock up and when to hold off. It also helps you determine when a sale is truly worthwhile and when it's just a gimmick.


  1. And this is why I just eat out for every meal! Then I don't have to worry about it. :)

  2. I just read your latest post as I ate my Costco-purchased Amy's lasagna. Delicious!!!

    Thanks for these good ideas - I have just begun this process. Started with my favorite non-dairy beverage -- Unsweetened Original Almond Milk, ranging in price from $1.99 to $2.69. -Jessica

  3. Hi Jess! I recently saw rice milk at Costco for cheap, so maybe they'll start selling the Almond Milk too. I love Amy's...