Saving Money on Organic Groceries

I spend $175 a month on groceries for my small family of three.  I wrote about spending less on groceries in this post about eating meat-free.  Several people (okay, two people) asked me how I manage to pull this off.  According the USDA’s “thrifty” meal plan, a family with a man, woman, and three-year-old would spend $414.20 per month.  (We’d spend $800 on the “liberal” plan!)  So it seems that we are spending less than half of what other “thrifty” eaters are spending–and we eat mostly organic food!

This is a bit puzzling to me, as we don’t do anything too extraordinary to save money on food.  I haven’t planted a garden since two summers ago (and it was a failure), I don’t clip coupons, and I don’t shop at Costco or other huge warehouse stores.  I also buy many expensive ingredients, like olive oil, nuts, and fancy cheese.  If I had to, I could save even more money if I got better at gardening, stopped buying organic foods, and cut out a few costlier items on my grocery list.

So here are my only real “tricks” to spending less on organic food:

Eat Vegetarian.  Going meat-free is the main way I save on groceries.  Now, most people do not want to cut out meat from their diets, which is why I wrote about Meatless Mondays a while ago.  Cutting out meat just one day a week can still save you money!

According to this article, “How Much Meat Do We Eat?,” the average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year.  Now, I know you can buy cheap meat at the grocery store, but let’s say I wanted to eat mostly organic/free-range/hormone-free stuff.  I just looked at the sale prices for meat at our natural food store: $5.99 for top sirloin, $3.79 for ground chicken thigh meat, and $6.99 for tilapia filets.   With that average of $5.59/lb, we’d spend $279.50 a month on meat if we bought 600 pounds a year–which would more than double the amount I spend on all of my groceries now!

Know my prices.  I never buy butter for more than $2.00 a pound (it’s usually around $4.00/lb, so when it goes on sale, I stock up.  It lasts at least six months in the fridge and longer in the freezer.  I also never spend more than $2.00/lb on natural peanut butter.  I can get it for $1.50 at Grocery Outlet.  It costs more than $4.00/lb if you buy it from the machines at Whole Foods or other grocery stores.

Limit convenience foods.  Looking at my receipts, I see that I did buy a few convenience foods: tortillas, boxed macaroni and cheese, pretzels, and jarred applesauce.  All of those are fairly inexpensive.  The organic applesauce cost $2.29 for 25 ounces–that’s about $1.47/lb.  Fresh organic apples often cost more than that.   Organic shells and cheese cost $1.29, or about $.40-$.60 a serving.  That’s a pretty cheap–albeit no-frills–meal.

Cut back on household goods. I am not sure if the USDA’s meal plans included household goods or not.  I know that many people include things like paper products and cleaners in their grocery budget.  In the six weeks I was tracking expenses, I spent nothing on household goods.  We buy recycled toilet paper, Biokleen laundry detergent (I wrote about how it’s actually cheaper than conventional detergent here), dishwashing liquid, soap, and baking soda and vinegar when we need it.  I bought the Biokleen detergent almost a year ago for $11.00 and still have a lot left!

Make things from scratch.  I make most of my own baked goods, including bread, cookies, and other snacks.

Don’t eat too much. Our caloric needs are not very high, which allows us to spend less on groceries than–say–a 200-pound body builder or an avid marathon runner.  This isn’t exactly a tip, but it does partially explain why we spend less on groceries than other families our size.  Some of our meals probably seem down-right insubstantial to others.  We regularly eat nothing but a bowlful of soup or a salad for dinner.

Those are my main cost-cutting tips.  What are yours?

Stay tuned for more posts on this subject.  I’ll show what, exactly, I was spending that $175 on and give some examples of what I made for dinner.

This post is a part of the Works for Me Wednesday blog carnival over on We are THAT Family. This is a themed edition, where we share our favorite frugal ideas.


  1. Great article Rebecca. Wow! You really thought about the details of your food budget. Your 175.00 monthly food budget is the thing of dreams here. Then again, we have 3 children, oldest now at college. But when all three were teens and at home, we never wanted to know our monthly food bill!

    Thanks for the link to my article. As I noted in it, the 200 pounds per year is even more amazing when you consider this… That is the average for all U.S. residents, including vegetarians, vegans, those of us that eat only a little meat, and the big meat eaters. The average being 200 pounds means some people are probably eating 400 or more pounds a year. That is over a pound a day every single day of the year. Hard to believe.

  2. Meat really is such a budget buster. Pre-packaged foods are a lot of money, too. I think we saved a lot of money with our kiddo with breastfeeding and making her baby food. Since she never got used to Gerber, she eats a huge variety of flavors and textures.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Wow!! I am really impressed! I am curious…the butter for $2/lb, are you able to purchase organic butter for that price? I’m lucky if I can find it for less than $5/lb!

  4. Fantastic post! Thanks for the info. I am at the point where we are just trying to eat healthier… working towards organic but this is a huge encouragement!

  5. My 3 kids are a little older, but we eat less per serving than most, too. I try to stick to a grocery budget of $100-120/wk. We do eat some organic, but not all. You’re doing a great job!

  6. VeggieMomma says:

    I recently reviewed my family’s grocery spending over the past 3 months. I used Microsoft Money and added everything purchased from grocery stores on our debit cards under the ‘grocery’ category. I was BLOWN AWAY! We eat vegetarian and try to eat mostly organic. My average monthly grocery spending is $499/month for two adults (average weight), a 6 year old and an infant! I am nursing, adding 500 calories/day required to make milk–however this does NOT explain this huge bill. I live in Canada and I think many things are more expensive here (milk, bread, eggs, etc.). I know that many of the grocery purchases were my husband buying lunches (convenience), a mop, sometimes clothing (sold at the ‘super’ store here where I buy our food). Is this normal??? I have no idea how this happened. I need help getting this number down to a more reasonable $250-$300!

  7. I love that someone else is a grocery saver too! Our budget is for $200 a month for a family of four (plus I am pregnant). We are able to stay in this by making out weekly meal plans and (as you said) making our own bread, snacks, etc. I have found that it is cheaper to make our own yogurt/granola/peanut butter/bread than it is to actually buy it. I will state that we are not vegetarians and love meat! To keep costs down here, we buy bulk from a family member who raises pigs and cows. We shop for convenience items at our local bargain grocery store as well and try and grow our own veggies in the summer. Love your website and I will be linking it to my blog!

  8. I’m shooting for $200/month, right now we’re at about $250ish. I also cut meat to once a week, but that’s just because I really, really don’t like it and my husband isn’t willing to give it up altogether.
    I don’t buy everything organic, I try to do mostly the stuff that’s usually treated with a lot of pesticides and root vegetables. I don’t buy regular milk, though.
    We also don’t buy convenience foods, but we do buy whole grain pasta, bread, etc. We make our own delicious whole-wheat pizza. Yum!

  9. $175 a month? I am impressed! I buy most of my groceries online and typically spend $70-80 per order which is usually once a week or so (and delivery is free), and is supplemented by trips to the organic co-op or Trader Joe’s for things the online service doesn’t carry (maybe another $10-20). My family is like yours, mom, dad, and (almost) 3-year-old. Plus a cat, but a bag of food and a bag of litter will last two months @ $20.

    Because I work full-time, though, I rarely cook from scratch, though I will do something like cook up a box of mac & cheese, saute some fresh vegetables, and throw in some smoked salmon and mix it all together. (I did cook more often when I could put my son in a bouncy chair or exersaucer so he could watch, but now that he wants to “help” chop with the big knife or flip the tofu frying in hot oil, I am less inclined to cook around him.)

    So the convenience foods add up, plus none of us eats the same things (my husband eats meat; I don’t; our toddler currently has a limited list of what he will put in his mouth) so that probably contributes to the overall cost too.

  10. As your sister I can certainly vouch for your frugality and dedication to organic foods. I even thought of one other thing that you do to save: you mostly drink tea instead of coffee. While tea is more expensive per pound than coffee, it is usually less expensive per serving, and you usually buy it on sale. You can also use good whole-leaf tea for more than one pot. Savings!

  11. I’m so glad I found your site :) I too have just been laid off (I’m a teacher), and we’ll have to make do on my husband’s salary because I’ve decided to be a SAHM. (At least for a year) (Or until my husband makes me go back to work). (Or maybe until I go batty from lack of adult interaction…)

  12. That’s amazing. However I don’t believe you. I have been shopping for organic for many years and the food and prices you mention don’t make sense if they are organic. I don’t think 175 a month for all organic is doable, even if you do make all your own bread.

  13. Well, Dan, I admit that not every single item I buy is organic! I itemized everything I bought for the six week period I tracked my prices so you can see how I arrived at that average. It’s in another post around here somewhere. . . . Okay, I found it!

  14. I still don’t get it.
    I do all of those things and my bill is way more. Of course, adjustments have to be made because I have 3 kids and 4 pets.
    I’ve baked bread before on a semi regular basis but I can’t imagine taking a hiatus from it would make my grocery budget sky rocket.
    And I buy generic where I can.

  15. I just read your list…could you tell us what the amounts are of things? That might be helpful. For instance, the flour you purchased…how much flour was it for that price?

  16. Carolyn, I will answer your question over on the post about my shopping lists.

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