Eating healthy and organic can be expensive, but we've got 30 clever, easy ways to help you save money and eat healthy on a budget. Perfect for families, for one, and everything in between!
UPDATE: This post was originally published in April 2017 and has been updated.
Oh man, you guys. I am SO excited to share this post. It's something I've been working on for quite a while, as there's one question that I get asked more than any other: how to eat healthy on a budget?
I get it. Buying healthy, organic food is expensive. There’s no way around it, even if you support it–fresh, organic produce and pasture-raised/grass-fed/wild-caught meats and seafood just cost more money than their conventional counterparts.
But here's the thing: you're going to pay for it one way or another–either up front to nourish your body with healthy food, or later in the form of medical bills. And as the Food Babe says, “I'd rather pay my farmer than the hospital.” And feel good while doing it!
I know it can be tough… in the short-term, real food, organic food, healthy food; it's simply more expensive than factory-farmed meat and pesticide-laden GMO produce and processed junk filled with artificial colors, preservatives, flavors, and other toxic chemicals.
But in the long-run, eating that kind of food will cost you SO MUCH MORE. And, as it turns out, eating healthy, organic food actually doesn't have to be crazy expensive. It IS possible to eat healthy on a budget.
So, if you're ready to feel your best and nourish your body with the healthiest foods, while keeping your wallet happy, let's get into it. Here we go!
30 Ways to Save Money + Eat Healthy on a Budget
- Eat real food that's in season. Not only is food that's in season fresher, more nutrient-dense and way more delicious; it's also significantly cheaper. Ever noticed that strawberries cost upwards of $6 a pint in January, but go as low as $2 in June? Yeah, and they taste pretty bland in the winter, too, right? So shop the perimeter of the grocery store (don't go down the aisles where the expensive, processed junk is) and buy in-season produce. Your wallet and taste buds will thank you!
- Follow the “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen”. The EWG creates these lists every year to help you navigate which foods to buy organic based on which foods have the most pesticide residue. A quick tip is that if you eat the skin or outer layer (like spinach, berries, stone fruits, apples, potatoes, etc.), buy organic; if you peel away the skin (like avocados, bananas, corn, pineapple, onions, etc.) you can usually skip organic if you need to save the money. That being said, I always, always buy organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed meat and dairy, though. The health risks of conventional meat and dairy and just not worth it, ever!
- Buy whole foods, as opposed to pre-cut, chopped, minced, etc. Grocery stores charge a premium to do the chopping, and while it's super convenient to have someone else do the prep work, it's also more expensive.
- Use the whole food. Don't just buy the whole food–use all of it! Don't throw away animal bones–use them to make stock or homemade bone broth. Don't throw away beet greens, carrot tops or vegetable stems–use them to make pesto and other magical green sauces, or add them to your smoothies. Keep a scrap container in your fridge and use it to make soup every week. When you minimize waste, you're honoring the food/animal, being a friend to the Earth, AND saving money!
- Reduce animal product consumption. This is an incredibly budget-friendly option, as animal proteins are often the most expensive items to buy organic (and the most important to buy organic!). I try to eat vegetarian most days until dinnertime as part of my anti-inflammatory diet, which in turn saves me lots of money!
- Buy direct from the farmer. When you cut out the middle man (the grocery store) and buy directly from the source, you can often save tons of money on food. Plus you'll know exactly where it came from, you can ask the farmer questions about their growing practices and ensure that you're getting exactly what you want. And if that weren't enough, you can also buy in bulk to save even more money. For example, buy a quarter of the cow and freeze the meat until you're ready to use it. If you don't have room to store everything in your freezer, get a group of friends to go in on it with you. Even at the regular grocery store, this is a great practice–buy the whole chicken and cut it up yourself rather than paying extra for pieces.
- Buy local. When food isn't being shipped in from across the country, you'll immediately save money because there are no transportation costs to cover. So head to your local farmer's market (find one near you through LocalHarvest.org or the USDA) and create a personal relationship with farmers who you can negotiate prices with. Some farms are organic, but don't have the official certification because it's so expensive. So you can save money buying from them and still eat organic food. I usually head to the farmer's market later in the day as farmers often slash their prices to get rid of everything before they go home.
- Join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture programs connect consumers with small-scale farmers, delivering boxes of fresh, locally-grown produce right to your door (or sometimes a pick-up location). Sometimes health insurance providers will even reimburse the cost CSA memberships (ask yours!). For a list of CSAs in your area, try LocalHarvest.org.
- Shop at Thrive Market. This online retailer is where I buy almost all of my non-perishable food. It's like Costco (think wholesale prices) meets Amazon (it's online–read: super easy to shop in your PJs) meets Whole Foods (it's all wholesome, non-toxic foods and products that'll put you on the fast track to your healthiest self)! Not only are their prices WAYYYY cheaper than almost every other retailer, but they're always giving you free gifts of full-size products and great coupon codes to use on your order. Get 40% OFF your first order and a FREE gift when you join Thrive Market!
- Buy online (and use rewards!). Another money-saving favorite is Amazon Subscribe & Save where you can save 5-15%. If I'm not shopping at Thrive, I'm usually over on Amazon stocking up on healthy favorites like organic coconut milk, cacao powder, flax seeds, chia seeds, spices and Epic bars. Not only will buying online from Thrive and Amazon save you money, but you can also use coupon codes, cash back sites and frequent flier shopping portals to supercharge your savings. Some of my favorites include Retailmenot.com, Ebates.com, Joinhoney.com, EVReward.com, ChaseUltimateRewards.com.
- Comparison shop. Go to a handful of grocery stores and farmers markets in your area with a list of your 25 most frequent purchases and write down the cost of each item at each store. Compare those prices to any online retailers you might purchase from, and determine which place offers the best bang for your buck. Then shop there!
- Buy in Bulk. Though I often buy in bulk from Amazon and Costco, I also often save money by going to the bulk bins at regular grocery stores. Spices are a great way to save money in bulk, and spices lose their potency after a while, so you can also buy in smaller quantities to ensure your spices are always fresh. Plus, you'll minimize waste as you won't have to buy a whole jar of something you'll only use a couple times. Nuts, flours, rice and grains are also great purchases from bulk bins to save money. You can also save money by buying in bulk when you purchase whole animals direct from the farmer (more on this in Tip #6). And when your favorite products go on sale or offer coupons, stock up.
- Cook in Bulk. Don't just buy in bulk, batch cook your meals, too, and freeze the leftovers so you always have something healthy and delicious ready to eat for those nights when dinner sneaks up on you. That way you won't have to resort to expensive (and let's face it, greasy!) takeout.
- Meal Plan. Similarly, when you plan your meals in advance, you'll reduce waste, skip the what's-for-dinner-panic-attacks and thus save big money in the long run. The Fresh 20 and Real Plans are two amazing meal planning services that can help!
- Keep your pantry stocked. Coupled with meal planning, stocking your kitchen with real food is essential for eating healthy on a budget–if you always have good-for-you foods at your fingertips and no processed junk to fall back on, you won’t be tempted to make poor choices and you’ll always have something healthy to eat ready to go. See how I keep my pantry stocked with real food here.
- Drink water. Stop wasting money on bad-for-you, sugar-laden sodas, teas and juices. Just drink water–it's free! Though I would encourage you to invest in a water filter rather than buying eco-un-friendly bottled water. And drink from a reusable glass water bottle that you can bring with you wherever you go.
- Skip Starbucks, and the like. Making coffee and tea at home is beyond easy, so much better for you and SO MUCH cheaper. Check out our recipes for healthier versions of coffeehouse favorites, like Matcha Lattes, Butter Coffee and Homemade Pumpkin Spice Lattes.
- Make as much as you can from scratch. When you DIY foods instead of buying them (think granola, smoothies, pickles, hummus, chips, juices, salad dressing, condiments, etc.) instead of buying store-bought, you'll save big bucks. And you'll avoid all those nasty additives that often pop up in these kinds of foods. Win-win! (Making your own cleaning products and DIY skincare is another great way to save money on healthy products!)
- Buy frozen. Not only is frozen produce often fresher (it's picked at the peak of ripeness and flash-frozen to preserve the nutrients), but it's also usually much cheaper. AND you can eat your favorite fruits and vegetables year-round, rather than having to wait for their season to come around. The same goes for seafood–I almost always buy frozen seafood, unless I'm at the beach where it's super fresh, as it's fresher, minimizes waste and saves big bucks. Whole Foods' Whole Catch brand sells a lot of great wild-caught, sustainably sourced frozen seafood for a great price. Wild Alaskan Company is another awesome sustainable seafood source. Get $15 off your first order!
- Save fresh food for later. Combine Tips 18 and 19 and DIY some frozen produce. Buy local, organic produce when it's in season and freeze it to save for when it's out of season. Or freeze fresh produce if it starts to go bad before you have a chance to use it. Take it a step further and start canning and preserving your homegrown produce and watch the savings pile up.
- Stop wasting food. Go to the store more often, rather than doing one big shop, to ensure you're only buying exactly what you need. There's some great tips out there about how to make food last longer, so be sure to follow those best practices. Freeze leftovers, buy in bulk and freeze the extras until you're ready to use (works great for butter, produce, etc.). And for God's sake, eat your leftovers!
- Use a meal kit delivery service. One of the best ways I've found to eliminate waste in my kitchen is by using a meal kit delivery service. Sun Basket, the best healthy meal kit delivery service, offers organic, gourmet, fresh recipe boxes, including Vegan, Gluten-Free and Paleo meals, in eco-friendly, recyclable packaging. Get $70 off on your first three orders here!
- Grow your own food. If you can grow your own food, you'll save some serious moolah. Even just growing your own herbs (which requires no land!) can save you a lot of money compared to buying organic herbs at the grocery store. And if you have the space, Backyard Chickens are a great way to save money on eggs!
- Skip brand names and go generic. Most grocery stores now have their own organic generic store brands, which are usually significantly cheaper than name brands. Whole Foods 365, Kroger Simple Truth, Publix Greenwise, etc. Shop these brands and you'll likely save money compared to name brands.
- Use coupons + rebate apps. Check brand websites, follow them on social, or even write in and ask them for coupons. You can also check out healthy coupon sites, like Ibotta, All Natural Savings, BerryCart, and Shopkick (Apple ios or Android here) for healthy, organic food coupons. And if you shop at Whole Foods, be sure to download their app, which has tons of coupons and discounts every time you scan the barcode at checkout.
- Join grocery store loyalty programs. Like the Whole Foods app, many stores offer reward programs for shoppers that can add up to big discounts. For example, Fresh Market has their Plus program. Likewise, make sure that if you pay with credit cards, you're using the card that will earn you the most reward points or cash back. This is one of the ways that Matt and I have been able to travel the world in first-class for free! An Amazon credit card gives you 5% back at both Amazon and Whole Foods.
- Eat out less. If you're trying to save money on food, eat at home as much as possible. Eating out at restaurants is always going to be more expensive than cooking at home, which is also healthier and better for you!
- Shop Smart. We've all heard it before, but it's worth repeating. Always go to the grocery store with a list (and actually stick to it!), and never shop when you're hungry. Impulse buys are a fast way to blow your budget.
- Do A “No Spend” Challenge. I read about this over on Mommypotamus, and thought it was such a brilliant idea. For one week, don't go to the grocery store and simply do a “clean out the fridge” challenge. You'd be surprised how many meals you can make with what you already have on hand, especially if you generally keep your fridge stocked (get my tips for that here).
- Buy discounted gift cards to your favorite grocery store. This one is a bit unconventional, but I often save money at my favorite retailers by buying discounted gift cards from sites like Cardpool.com and Raise.com. You could even take it a step further and buy a discounted gift card (usually 5-20% off face value) for the value of your monthly budget and then shop only with the gift card to help you actually stick to that budget.
If you know someone who’s struggling to eat healthy on a budget, please share this post with them. Let's work together to make eating healthy, organic food easier and more accessible for EVERYONE! And if you've got more budgeting tips, please share them in the comments below 🙂