I was thrilled to recently meet Stephanie of KeeperoftheHome because she is an expert in a topic I want to know about: eating organic on a budget. From comments, it seems readers want to know her secrets, too! Here is how Stephanie, who is based in British Columbia, keeps five bellies full of organic food for $450 a month.
Is it really possible to eat organic food cheaply? It really is. We eat about 80-90% certificated organic or non-certificated organic or natural foods. We do that on a pretty low budget for a family of five.
How much is your monthly grocery bill? $450 CAD [$430USD], including all our household and cleaning supplies. At the beginning of the month I start by listing all the firm parts of the budget. I always get $30 of eggs from an organic farmer and I always pay $40 for my organic raw milk and I always pay about $140 for my co-op purchases. From there I start to say well I’m probably going to need about $70 of produce and I’m going to need to go to Costco to stock up on butter and fish. When it’s gone it’s gone. We start eating beans and rice. I’m kidding, but we would do that if we had too.
What are your tips for saving on organic food? It comes down to being really eclectic with how you do your shopping. If I shopped at one store or just used coupons it wouldn’t be enough. I actually shop at five or six different places. I go to my meat store in the country once a month and stock up my freezer. I go to my big produce market every two weeks. There are weeks when I never go to the store, then there are weeks I go to three stores. Shopping that way makes a big difference. I can focus on the best prices at each place.
Do you have a price comparison list? I don’t because I’m one of those geeks who memorizes the price of a can of tomato paste. But I do really recommend it.
Organic meat has a higher markup than organic produce. How do you get organic meat at affordable prices? I don’t buy certified organic meat. There are so many farms where families are raising the animals in an organic method but they don’t get the organic certification because it is too expensive.
How do you know if a non-certified farm is raising animals using organic methods? I ask really good questions. How are you raising these cows? What are you feeding them? How much time do they get on pasture? Do they receive antibiotics or hormones? Once you get a farmer talking about what he does, he’s likely to be really passionate and share with you exactly what he does.
Can you talk a little about buying shares of meat? Yes. The most cost effective way to buy your meat is to buy it in large amounts. I go out to this farmer in the country and I make a really big purchase of a side of beef or a front of beef. Because I am purchasing in such large bulk he is willing to give me a really good deal. If I were to buy out of his deli, I would pay $3-7 a pound depending on the cut of meat. But because I purchase it all at once and I buy it frozen, I am able to buy it for between $2.20-$3 a pound, and that includes all my cuts: my roasts, my ribs, my steaks. For our family, my last side was 120-130 pounds. But you don’t have to do that. You can go in on it with four other families and you can get 25 pounds each.
Do have books or websites you recommend for more info on eating organic on a budget? Well I have my own book that I recommend, “Real Food on a Real Budget.” [See below to win a copy– contest has ended.] It’s 13 chapters and each chapter covers a different element: buying local, seasonal, bulk, preserving, couponing. I would also recommend reading blogs that are in the healthy, organic food niche. Most of these bloggers are quite frugal, actually. I would recommend TheNourishingGourmet.com and NourishedKitchen.com. [Organic grocery coupons]
What do you buy non-organic? I use the dirty dozen list to help me prioritize which fruits and vegetables I should always buy organic and others that aren’t as important to buy organic, like broccoli and onions. I really wish I could buy organic potatoes but the prices are just a little too high for me. There’s also the odd condiment. I don’t buy organic mustard. I don’t buy organic vanilla, or things that we use in a small amount.
How much more is your monthly grocery bill because you buy organic? I think that if I didn’t buy organic we would spend between $300 and $350 dollars [$287-$330 USD].
Anything else you want to add? The other main things that I would mention is buying in bulk, joining a co-op or using Amazon Natural & Organic grocery. Buying in bulk saves 10-50 % off the retail price of food.
If you’d like to win a copy of Stephanie’s eBook, “Real Food on a Real Budget,” comment with how much you spend each month on groceries.
UPDATE: Comment by Aug. 18, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST to win. Thanks!