How To Go Organic On The Cheap

I know you keep hearing that it’s a good idea to go organic, both for the planet and for your family. But if you’re like me, you’ve stopped yourself from doing it because of the price tag. I even ran a little test at one time a few years back and made comparisons. I went to two different stores with the same amount of money and bought ordinary inorganic food at one store and then organic at the other. I had to do it at two separate stores because only one health food store in our area has everything organic. The grocery didn’t have a lot of stuff that I would ordinarily buy as organic items. The organic cart was really tiny compared to the “regular” cart. So I always wanted to go organic, I just didn’t think I could afford it.

Well, I came across some great ideas on the web that I thought I’d give a try. Many of the ones I found didn’t apply to me or were impossible for me to do but there were many that did help me a lot. I decided to add them to a post and put them on the blog, including the ones that didn’t work for me as well as the ones that did. No two people are alike. I hope you can use some of these ideas to help you buy more organic without blasting your bank account.  Here are the ABC’s:

A. Stay away from the regular supermarket when you’re buying organic food. Traditional supermarkets tend to command a premium price for organic food, as evidenced by my earlier experiment. There are some health food stores and local grocers who will carry organic and not charge as much. Take a look around and see if there are alternatives. They could cut the cost by 1/3.
B. Shop locally during the growing season and you will find the prices lower. There is less trucking and manpower expense when food is carried in from the local area and this results in a lower cost on the shelf. As a rule, buy organic produce from local growers when it’s harvested and you’ll pay less for it. You can buy canned or frozen organic foods in the off-season if you must have certain items.

C. And here is a great idea, even if you don’t decide to go organic. Buy in bulk and split the bounty with friends. If people can just get this together, they would save a bundle. I always lived alone and bought these little tiny packages of everything and paid out the nose. Now I live with other people and we buy a lot of stuff in bulk. Sometimes my friends go with us and we buy really big packages and split them up. That’s what freezers are for! The only problem we’ve come across is freezer burn if the food isn’t eaten fast enough so one of my friends came up with a great idea. We pitched in together and bought a bag “sealer” which forces all the air out of the bags and lengthens their life. Think about that. It’s a great money saver and now we buy more organic than we were able to buy before.

D. But you should not buy everything organic! Not every food is laden with pesticides and chemicals. There are a number of foods that are considered to be low in pesticides so you should check on the products your family loves to be sure. If the foods are not usually subjected to pesticides or if they are rated as “less toxic”, then, even if you buy cheaper, conventional versions of them, you should be safe. It pays to do a little research and make wise choices.

E. Now, here’s one of my favorites, because I am a garden girl. Grow your own! One way to be sure your food is organic is by growing it yourself and not using chemicals and pesticides. Seeds are cheap and you can reuse soil and pots so that you can often do it for cheaper than you’ll find at the store. Currently I am growing Squash, Cucumbers, Beans, Tomatoes, Basil, Catnip and Hot Peppers. As soon as the heat down here backs off just a smidgen I’m going to start Lettuce and Broccoli. And I live in a small apartment with a cubicle backyard mostly taken up by a clothesline. If I can do it, you can!

F. Do your own prep work and don’t buy precut meats or vegetables. When you buy “cleaned and cubed” you pay a lot more. Those salad trays, melon slices and chicken wings are a lot more than buying each item as is. So, buy whole chickens instead of boneless, skinless breasts, and peel your own carrots. It should save you a bunch of money. I know it’s a little work, peeling and chopping, but heck it’s between that and your wallet. You need that extra money for gas to get to work or for your savings so that you don’t have to be working at 75. It’s worth a half an hour at the counter top.

G. Just like with clothes, you can also buy “seconds” with food! When you shop for clothes and you get a deal it’s often because the clothes are factory seconds. They have a crooked neckline or a shorter sleeve. Same thing with fruit and veggies. But, heck, you don’t have to wear fruit or veggies and once they’re in the meal, who knows what they looked like? So, when you’re at the farmer’s market (which is where you should be shopping instead of the supermarket), ask for misshapen, ugly produce that’s just as good as the rest, but cheaper. I’m not kidding. Just ask. You’ll see what I mean.

H. Eat less meat, more fish. Oh, I know you’ve heard this from the doctor and I know you’ve also heard on the news that “farm fish” are full of mercury and other toxins. But fish that’s organic isn’t toxic and hasn’t been raised in mercury. Consider this also, organic beef is expensive, but organic fish isn’t. It makes no difference in the price of seafood and I don’t know why. I only know this is a fact. So if you make the switch from organic meat to organic fish you’ll see a savings.

I. Here’s a great idea! Check in your local area and see if there are “agricultural programs”. If you can’t find out from City Hall then try the County “extension” program. And if there is at least one, join it! The idea is that you’ll pay for a portion of the farm’s operating expenses and get fresh produce from the harvest. Seriously. You pay a portion of the expense year round and get fresh, organic produce when it comes in. Nothing better. And the cost is proven to be less per volume.

J. When caring for your yard, you can also make organic changes for less than you think. First of all, mow high! Let your grass stay reasonably high so that it will shade and cover weeds and even crowd them out. A healthy, bushy lawn is the best weed preventative. Then you won’t have to use so many weed killers and this means less toxins in your atmosphere and less toxins in the run off.

K. Ration your water. Set a watering timer to water infrequently. By watering less you force the roots of the lawn to dig deeper, in search of water. This makes them stronger and thicker. Weeds up top die off from no water but your grass will be fine. Often when watering a lawn you are just watering weeds. Grass does not need that much water and when it gets dry it comes right back after a few days of rain. Rely more on nature and let the weeds fend for themselves.

L. Another idea I’ve talked about on this blog is adding compost to the yard. If you scatter it over the grass you soften the texture and make it more receptive. The grass grows thicker, crowding out weeds. Also, the layer of compost over the smaller, lower weed growth will suffocate it. In areas where there is little grass, try covering the area with plastic mulch and plugging in some new grass. The grass will reach down and take root; weeds coming up from seed will smother and die.

M. Support the growth of natural weed killers like earthworms. You can buy a few and toss them into the lawn or just dust the soil with lime. They will feed and take over the soil, killing off weeds in the process. But all this talk about killing weeds doesn’t include those weeds I’ve discussed on the blog. Those weeds should not be killed as they can be added to food or used for remedies, again saving you a lot of money! And they, too, can be organic if you don’t use pesticides or weed killers around them.

N. You’ve probably never thought much of it but you can go organic in other ways, too. Such as in your health and beauty products. Be more curious about the products you buy. Check them for chemicals and additives that include plants grown with pesticides or toxic chemicals. You can greatly limit your exposure to chemicals and toxins by carefully choosing your personal care products.

O. And if you’re into it, you can even make your pet stuff organic. You can make homemade food for you animals, saving money and toxins in the process. You might get sick if you knew what was really in the pet foods you feed your kitty or dog. I have a cat who is allergic to fish and can’t eat most of the commercial food so I make her a lot of stuff here at home. It saves us money because it’s mostly leftovers that would just go in the trash anyways. Consider what your cat or dog likes to eat and if you can do it, you should make it from scraps and save some money and the landfill at the same time!

P. Another organic pet idea is to make their toys yourself. Cats and Dogs don’t require plastic toys and rubber balls. They don’t know the difference. They just want to have fun and they want to play with you. You are really all they care about. So make toys out of items you already have in the house or buy organic materials and make new. I have a crazy toy I made out of weed eater line, feathers I found in the yard and pieces of cloth. They chase it around like crazy, sometimes all 5 of them at a time! It’s a lot of fun, safe and cheap. Try it.

Q. Shop around and think about what you buy. Some of the junk food and trinkets you buy now can be forgone in favor of higher quality, organic products. Leave off the chips and ice cream and put that money towards organic items of higher quality. But don’t buy stuff just because it’s supposed to be good for you. I’ve done that and ended up tossing it in the trash. And of course you’re not going to buy organic chips if they cost a lot and cut into your meat or vegetable budget. So think it through. Some stuff is worth the switch. Other items are hard to give up. You should always buy what you think you will eat.

R. In the same mode, you should be flexible in your choices. Don’t get “stuck” with certain, high priced low quality items just because they’re “comfortable” and you despair the change. Sometimes a little experimentation will end up saving money and making you happy. But do it in baby steps, of course. Don’t run right out and buy a cart full of high priced organic food just to find out it goes in the trash. That would be a disaster. So balance is the key. Try various things as you go along and remake your diet within the limits of your lifestyle.

S. And of course, use coupons! Not very many people do, I’ve come to find out. I have always used them, as far back as the 1970s and I’m aware of the stares and giggles I’ve received in line while the cashier counts them. It seems that Americans don’t like to use coupons because it makes them “low life” or seemingly “poor”. Everybody wants to pay as much for something as possible so they can look “rich”. But in fact the rich don’t do that. They are rich because they watch their money. So use those coupons and save that money for something truly worth it. Like a new home or a vacation in Tahiti.

T. And last but not least: shop online! Believe it or not, you will save money this way. I have been doing it and discovering how great it is. The stores are competitive because there are so many of them. Not like in your neighborhood, where there is one of this and one of that. But online they are all competing for your dollar and lowering their prices to do that. Also, you save on gas and travel time by shopping at home and you will find “free shipping” specials all over the place, saving you even more. And the best of it in my opinion: a world of goods! Some things you will never find in your neighborhood or even your county. On the Internet, you can find anything! I am always looking for quality vegan and vegetarian food because I don’t eat meats or eggs. The selection in my local area is dismal and high priced. Online, I have found stores all over the place willing to sell me these “rare” items at a reasonable price. So try it. I think you’ll be pleasantly amazed.

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