Budget Series: Saving Money on Produce
Are you looking to trim your grocery and household budget? Even though I’ve learned quite a bit about trimming things up with our budget, I am always wanting to hear MORE ways to save money! We can really learn from one another. So even if you’re pretty savvy with your wallet, I’m hoping some of these tips will help you out.
In this series, I’ll be sharing some of the ways that we have LEARNED TO SAVE OVER $600 A MONTH ON GROCERY AND HOUSEHOLD ITEMS, KEEPING OUR MONTHLY BUDGET FOR A FAMILY OF 5 UNDER $450.
That includes everything. Food, toilet paper, beauty products, cleaning supplies, etc.
To be completely honest here, I don’t stay at home with my kids because we can “afford” it. My husband has a good job (that we’re very thankful for) but it is not a two-person income by any means. We have had to learn to be good with the money we have and to steward it wisely. We’ve had to make some sacrifices and give up some unimportant extras to keep me home. And I’m eternally grateful.
It was a choice that was important to me and my husband for our family, so we make it work.
I hope that this blog series gives you some applicable ways to keep your budget lower each month so that you are able to provide the things that are important for your family.
I’m going to tackle areas where I’ve learned how to save money and keep our grocery bill reasonable, while still eating well, eating healthy(ish), and eating gluten-free.
Today’s topic is produce. If you want my top 8 tips for saving money on meat, check out the previous post in the series HERE. And stick around for tips coming up on gluten-free specific foods, beauty care items, and household cleaning products.
(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase, but you will not be charged a penny extra! And mama, I never recommend products I don’t love or believe in. I so appreciate your support)
Here are some practical ways we save on produce and keep our grocery and household bill for our family of 5 under $450 a month.
1. MEAL PLAN TO REDUCE WASTE
I wrote a whole blog post on how I save money by meal planning. This is especially vital to save on produce because if you don’t have a plan for every ounce of produce, it will rot.
Which always feels like throwing perfectly good money in the garbage.
Who does that?
I try not to, usually.
Meal planning for a couple weeks at a time has proven to be the most effective method for me. I plan four weeks at a time, which helps since most produce items will only last a couple weeks to a month at the most anyway, so I can get the whole plan laid out in front of me.
Since I wrote a detailed post already, I will only hit some main points here.
- Have a meal list with the top 3 main ingredients listed
One of the biggest ways I save with produce is knowing the main ingredients in the meals I’ve planned, and seeing what other meals use those same ingredients.
I keep a meal list that just has the top three ingredients that will definitely spoil if not used quickly (or frozen before going bad). That way when I write down a meal that sounds really good, I can scan my list of meals, find ones that use that same ingredient, and plan that meal within a day or so of the other meal so that I’m getting the most use out of my produce!
- Only buy what you’ve planned to use for 1-2 weeks out
If you have a meal plan, it’s easy to browse at it at the beginning of the week and make note of which produce items you’ll need, and how much. Then just buy what you need and know it will keep before you use it.
Which brings me to the next point…
2. KEEP PRODUCE FRESH BY STORING IT PROPERLY
This is huge! To save on produce, you need to keep produce crisp and fresh.
Again, wasted produce is wasted money.
Properly storing things makes a ginormous difference in the life expectancy of that produce and allows you to enjoy what you’ve purchased.
If you want a cheat sheet on how to store the main vegetables we keep in our home on a regular basis, jump over to this post. There are lots of tips and tricks so that it takes some guessing out of the crap-shoot that is produce.
Here are some quick tips I suggest to help use up produce before it goes bad
- Dice or mince things like fresh onion, garlic, and ginger in large quantities and put them in tightly sealed containers in the freezer. It’s not good for fresh salads, but great for grabbing a handful out for soups or any dish where you’d be sautéing them
- If your spinach or kale just can’t get eaten fast enough, stick it right in a freezer-safe baggy and place directly into the freezer. No need to par-boil or anything! Then just pull out handfuls for sautéed dishes or smoothies.
- Prep veggies and fruit for snacks in larger quantities at a time so that you are more likely to eat them throughout the week. Apples don’t brown when in a container of lemon-water. Just sayin’.
- Bananas, avocado, peaches, etc, that are starting to brown too quickly can also be peeled, chopped, and frozen on a tray, then placed in baggies in the freezer for smoothies later.
3. SHOP WEEKLY FOR PRODUCE
This is really almost too simple of a “tip.” But this really did change things for me. When I shop weekly for produce, I actually save a lot more money on produce.
The reason is straight forward: I only buy what I need for the week, so I waste less produce.
I used to have a bad habit of just hoping my produce would last for a couple weeks so that I could use it in “that one meal that’s coming up.”
Especially if I found something on sale that I knew I needed in, say…three weeks.
Unless it’s something I KNOW can last that long, I have stopped buying it too far in advance.
Scheduling a weekly trip helps me remember that I’ll be back at the right time for the right item, and then I’m not tricked by a low price.
Even a produce item on sale wastes money if it rots before I use it. Fact.
Most grocery stores have an area with discounted produce items on it. It is definitely worth walking by and taking a peek to see if something you need, like, tomorrow, is on clearance. Sometimes you can find great clearance items! But don’t buy those clearance mushrooms if they’re not on your menu plan for another week.
Extra tip for the eco-friendly shopper: I bought 4 packs (they come in packs of three, so I got 12) of mesh laundry bags from the dollar store to use as produce bags. So cheap and easy to wash when needed!
4. BUY ORGANIC WISELY
Here’s what I mean by that:
Not every produce item needs to be organic, unless that’s what your own convictions are (totally respect that). But some produce items are less harmful when they’re not organic, and thus aren’t worth spending extra money on, in my opinion.
Here are some produce items that you should always try to buy organic if possible:
- Lettuce, spinach, kale, and generally all green leafies
- Soft fruits like peaches, nectarines, plums, pears, and apricots
- Green beans
- Winter squash
Some produce items that aren’t as critical to buy organic:
- Onions and sweet potatoes
- Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes
- Sweet corn
- Melons with a thick exterior like watermelon and honeydew
- Pineapple and papaya
Each year the different plant diseases and pest problems play a role in how much non-organic farms are spraying pesticides. It’s a good idea to check out the EWG’s guide every year to see what they recommend splurging on organic for. You can find that by clicking here
Organic is something I really do love to buy, since pesticides can cause nerve damage and myriad of other health problems, but if the price difference is huge on items that aren’t as critical to be organic (like bananas), I save money and get the cheaper option.
Everyone feels differently on this topic, but I choose to use moderation in the arena of organic. I’d rather eat a butt-load of regular vegetables than a tiny amount of organic vegetables. But again, I BUY AS MUCH ORGANIC AS I CAN!
Now, bonus points if you can grow your own and keep them organic!
We recently moved and left behind our raised garden beds, but that was a great way to save some money on produce!
We had pretty good success growing our own kale, zucchini, lettuce, arugula, and snap peas. It didn’t save us a TON of money because our garden beds were small, but it was something.
And I loved knowing exactly how they were cared for and what was sprayed on them (aka, nothing).
5. SHOP FROM LOCAL PRODUCE STANDS
We are massively blessed to have a great, local farm stand! (If you’re from the Olympia area, Jay’s is one of the best places to buy local produce at a great price). They almost always have organic apples for under 99 cents a lb. And they give you a 10 cent per lb discount if you buy more than 20 lbs at a time. This is a great option for us because I can buy a box of apples and make organic apple sauce, organic dried apple chips, organic apple butter, organic apple pie, etc etc, AND have apple for snacks and straight up eating.
So check out your local stands! Ask if they offer any discounts if you buy in bulk.
Also, buying local is a great way to, obviously, support your own community. Win win.
Not to mention, it’s POSSIBLE that local produce is not sprayed as heavily as the larger corporations. This isn’t ALWAYS true, but most local farmers don’t need to over-spray. Some may actually BE organic, but just haven’t gone through the certification process.
On top of that, most local produce is going to be more nutrient dense because it is generally fresher than large corporation produce that’s shipped from out of state or country.
The best way to get the full scoop on produce at ANY store is to ask a lot of questions. If you see a curbside stand, it’s worth stopping by and chatting to find out their growing practices and build some relationships.
6. KNOW THE BEST PRICE FOR AN ITEM AT DIFFERENT STORES
It can be easy to just stick to shopping at one or two stores as a mama. Stopping by multiple places gets to be a giant inconvenience. And is it just me, or does it get more and more like wrangling a circus with each kid you have?
With three littles, going grocery shopping can feel like a full on production.
It’s amazing what just becomes normal with motherhood. I totally expect the chaos, the exercise, the buckles, the never-ending-questions involved in a grocery shopping endeavor.
It’s really hard to know if something is a good price when you aren’t paying attention to the pricing at all the other stores.
Ok, not ALL, but It’s good to know the prices at a good handful of places.
So I shop at about four stores (and a farm stand) regularly. Not all in one trip, but you know.
My husband is a huge help and will go shopping for me OR will put the kids to bed one evening a week so I can go to a store (or 5) alone and leave the circus-wrangling out of it.
Since my brain doesn’t remember things like it used to, I write down the prices of items at stores for various produce items. This fluctuates with seasons, for sure, so it’s good to make note of changes.
I keep track of the item, store, and price. I leave space around each item for multiple store pricing.
When at least 4 items are cheaper at a different store, it’s worth it to me to make a trip.
7. USE PRODUCE THAT IS IN SEASON
Because prices do fluctuate depending on season, it’s a good idea to buy produce that is IN season, which generally means less expensive.
Sure, asparagus is delicious, but when a small bundle costs more than 6 zucchinis, I’m going to be having zucchini instead.
Pay attention to when prices on something start to go up, and look for other options that work well in place of it. Or if you’re needing a specific vegetable for a meal, make a note that that meal may need to be less frequent until that vegetable is in season again.
For example, I’m a huge fan of brussels sprouts, and I make a brussels sprout, turkey, sweet potato skillet meal that is one of my favorites. When brussels sprouts are in season and really cheap at our farm stand, I make this dish every other week. But when brussels sprouts get expensive, guess which meal I make less frequently? Yeah. Bye, brussels sprout skillet.
8. LIMIT THE PRICIER PRODUCE AND BUY INEXPENSIVE OPTIONS REGULARLY
We all know that there are produce options that are cheaper than others.
In my area, asparagus, avocados, mangoes, and eggplant tend to be a pretty pricey options all year long. Even when they’re in season or on sale, they’re usually still more than carrots, apples, or lettuce.
Another way to save on produce is to find some consistently less expensive produce items and fill your meal plan with them!
It’s great to splurge on some variations every so often, but that will eat up a lot of your budget quickly, so do so with a bit of caution (and a plan! Meal plan. See tip #1 ;)).
Here’s some produce that is usually a less expensive option on a consistent basis:
- Potatoes (including sweet)
Some produce items to buy sparingly might be:
- Winter squash
- Brussels sprouts
- Corn on the cob
- Bell peppers
- Soft fruits, like peaches/nectarines
We do love variation in our meals, so here are some tips to still incorporate some of these foods in a budget-friendly way
- Buy them frozen
This is often a cheaper option, especially with fruit. I buy organic frozen mangoes and berries, and it costs half the price, if not more. I can use them in smoothies or thaw them for a snack…or just eat them frozen!
I also buy almost all of my organic broccoli frozen because it’s such a money saver.
- Buy your produce when it’s in season or cheaper, and then freeze it yourself
This is especially great with zucchini and bell peppers since we personally LOVE these vegetables! I’ll dice up a bunch and save them for omelets, sautéed dishes, etc.
This summer I got local un-sprayed (but not certified organic) blueberries for WAY cheap. I bought 16 lbs, froze them, and we’re still enjoying them in October. Blueberry pancakes for cheap, man!
- Pick one meal a week where you can incorporate a more expensive vegetable item you like, and then make sure you have a plan to use it all
An example: if you’re splurging on brussels sprouts out of season, you could make a delicious skillet meal, and then chop up the rest for a salad the next day, or roast them as a side with whole chicken.
- Pick one fruit a week, or every other week, to splurge on
I don’t want to ONLY eat bananas and apples, and neither do my kids. We pick one fruit a week to splurge on, whether it’s fresh peaches, mangos, pears, or berries. I don’t buy enough to eat every single day that week with every meal. Just enough so we all get to enjoy it a couple times throughout the week, along with other less expensive fruit options.
Extra Money saving tip: Buy more produce that doesn’t require a lot of prep to eat it.
Grab and go options like apples tend to be eaten quickly verses a mango (unless you know a trick to peeling mangos quickly…).
Also, I’m more apt to grab a carrot verses a handful of asparagus. Just saying.
This saves money simply because the produce is more likely to be eaten as a snack before it goes bad. Win.
There you go. Those are some ways we save money and keep our grocery and household bill under $450 a month. Stay tuned for the next part of this series: Saving Money on Gluten-free Foods
What are your money saving tips? What are your favorite vegetables and fruits to incorporate into your meals?
Want more ways to save? Check out the previous post in the series: How to Save Money on Meat