Grocery Geek Presents: Fitting Organic Produce Into the Budget

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As is normal for me in the fall, my focus turns from getting the best deals to saving the most time. Both are limited resources; both have “costs.”

Looking toward upping the nutrition in the things I buy, I am finding that I’m using a lot fewer coupons than in months and years previous. I know that I can find great coupon deals on healthier foods, but the time investment is a little sketchy. I’m not guaranteed a great return on my investment. Plus, it’s sometimes simpler to just buy the bulk box of something at Costco or Trader Joe’s or pick up straight ingredients and make my own.

That said, grocery shopping has been all over the map this past couple weeks. A stop at Walmart here, a run into TJ’s there. The one thing that has been constant has been our weekly produce box from Abundant Harvest Organics. You can read my review of our first week’s box here.

Crunching fruit

Our box from week two was amazing! I’ve never eaten plums that were so delicious. My kids didn’t know what they were since the store plums I’ve purchased have been awful by comparison. These were so crisp and the perfect blend of sweet and tart.

Week three seemed a little smaller in size, but I think it was just because those amazing plums were gone.

It’s been fun to get a box full of goodies and see how creative I can be with what we get. It’s been easier than last year’s CSA experience in part because the box includes such “normal” foods. I’m not feeling stretched to use the items in the box because, for the most part, they are things I would buy anyway.

This week’s box included: basil, lettuce, arugula, radishes, cucumbers, three kinds of summer squash, two kinds of tomatoes, melon, green beans, grapes, red potatoes, cucumbers, and jalapenos.

I’ve also purchased an extra ten pounds of grapes each week which has been a wonderful way to keep us supplied with fruit for snacking. They’re so fresh, you can hear them crunch!

Crunching numbers

Each picture’s contents cost $38.80, for all organic produce, fresh from the farm. I think that this is comparable to the organic sale prices that I see in my local stores — and the quality (of most things) has been better than what I would buy in the produce section.

My grocery expenses have averaged $750/month this year to feed a family of 8. Last year I averaged $624/month. This number kind of surprised me. The USDA projects a 3.5% to 4.5% increase in groceries. So obviously, this is a bigger increase than that. My spending is less than what I spent in our more extravagant days and definitely below the national average, but still seems like a marked increase.

And yes, I’m probably comparing myself to families who get by on $50 or $60/week. Honestly? It’s just not realistic for our family. It never was. Even in my cheapest, most driven couponing days, I allowed myself $100/wk to feed my family. My kids are growing, I have four BOYS, I have limited time, and I’m trying to buy better quality food. Something’s gotta give.

All food budgets are not created equal. Or as my friend Amy puts it, what you spend is irrelevant.

If I stick to a $750 budget, my produce costs will take up $155.20, leaving me a little under $600 to spend on dairy, meat, and canned or non-perishable items. As I think long term about this and how it fits in our budget, I’m thinking this is doable.

Overall, I am just ecstatic to have found great tasting, fresh produce at prices we can afford.

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  1. Thanks and I appreciate the comment that not all food budgets are created equal. I am increasing our budget a bit because food prices have gone up and the matching coupons just aren’t there like they had been. On top of that – while we pay $2.50 for a gallon of milk, many of our prices are never as low as those I see posted in some of the Southern states.

    Just thankful that we have plenty to eat and lots to choose from. Too many blessings to count.

    1. You are so right. I hope that I didn’t sound ungrateful. I am very, very thankful that we were finally able to pay off our debts and to be able to have this wiggle room in the budget. I don’t take it lightly.

      1. I absolutely did not think you sounded ungrateful! I just have to remind myself from time-to-time, when I watch the prices rise again and again, that I am extremely blessed. You always sound humble and thankful. And I am very thankful for your encouragement through this blog and the example that you set.

        1. Oh, I’m so glad. I can kind of geek out over numbers and the last thing I want to do is be ungrateful or make anyone feel bad. Thanks for your kinds words.

    1. We have increased our budget from $60 per week for a family of 4 to $100 per week so we can support our local farmer.

      After watching Food, Inc., I felt like I HAD to support our local farmers as much as possible.

      Right now we cannot buy all our meat locally, but I try to buy a significant amount of it.

      Priceless, I agree!!!

    2. Is that MICHELLE from Hello? Are you back on line? Oh girly, I miss your great stuff from Minnesota!

      1. Jan – You are so sweet – you completely made my day. I am online reading my favorite blogs, like this one. I also contribute at (twice a month). Thanks for thinking of me!! I am busy as ever, so no full time blogging for me 🙁

  2. I have been getting veggies from a local CSA this year and have really enjoyed it. Alot of the items I have been able to freeze to have veggies during our ND winter too. As part of our membership we also get to go pick our own certain times. I picked 15 gallons of peas, 10 gallons of green beans and 120 ears of corn which are all in my freezer.

    1. I’ve been doing the same thing. I’d feel stressed if I tried to prepare all the corn and beans we had. I have been blanching and freezing it for later in the winter when we won’t have those things available.

  3. I think grocery prices here in Arizona have increased by more than 4.5%! Between rising prices and kids who are eating more, my grocery spending has increased by 20% over Aug 2010. I hate to spend $$ but high quality food is totally worth it.

  4. Always great things to think about, thanks!! We also eat a lot of fresh fruits & veggies- not organic. I am always trying to find new ways to save but still eat as healthy as possible. I was just curious, does your number for dairy, meat, non-perishable items etc include things like paper products, or other non-food consumables for your house or is it just food? Thanks 🙂

    1. Typically, those are included in these averages.

      Much to my husband’s chagrin, I don’t buy much in the way of paper plates or paper napkins. I do buy paper towels for some cleaning tasks. And definitely toilet paper! I don’t use many different cleaners, usually vinegar and baking soda, though I do have some heavy duty products occasionally. I buy laundry soap, dishwashing detergent, and Dawn on sale or at Costco, but those are included in the groceries totals.

  5. Honestly I don’t really know how you can do it for $750. I remember my mom moaning about how much food my brothers consumed. They literally ate 6 full meals a day (not those 6 300 calorie meal the diet people say we should do). 4 boys are definitely budget busters!

  6. Just like you, I have been turning to more and more organic food, and I have noticed my grocery costs going up. However, as you say, the food tastes better, and I feel better feeding it to my family. I recently shared 10 Ways to Get Organic Food on a Budget. It can be done, and it is worth it to keep you and your family healthy! Thanks for keeping it real.

  7. I appreciate you being transparent about your grocery spending! I feel like unless you’re getting something for super cheap, no one likes to talk about how much they’re spending, so it’s a bit of an encouragement to know that while I do manage to get a bunch of great deals on some stuff, there are others like me who spend “a lot” on their fruits, veggies, organics. For some reason, it makes me feel better about it!

  8. Check out the actual July 2011 food inflation…a lot of foods are up 10-15 percent over last July, which is a lot closer to your increase :).

    I just can’t believe milk in Pennsylvania is now more expensive per gallon than GAS!

  9. Jessica,

    Our family also gets a weekly produce box from Abundant Harvest. My friends have heard me rave ad nauseum about this very well-priced and diverse box of organic produce 🙂 Their add-on options are fantastic. We like the grass-fed ground beef, which is comparable in price to Trader Joe’s although sourced in central California rather than New Zealand.

    I’ve been enjoying following your journey on reducing processed foods; we have a similar experience with balancing healthier food choices on a budget. Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. I, too, appreciate your transparency.

    Sometimes when bloggers post their grocery totals, we (blog readers) forget that we are not comparing apples to apples as every family’s situation is unique. Some of us feed our families 3 meals a day, plus snacks, 7 days a week. Others have shared meals with extended family on a regular basis and only have to contribute a loaf of bread or a salad to each weekly gathering. Some eat out regularly and do not count that cost toward feeding the family (which is fine if they have it budgeted somewhere, but some of us tend to forget that their grocery totals will be lower because they are cooking less), let alone the variables of family size, ages of children, special dietary needs, location and deals for various locations, etc.

    I have to remind myself when I get down about how my grocery bill compares to others, that it is not a competition between me and others, it is a “competition” for me to see how much bang I can get for my buck and still feed my family nourishing, hopefully tasty, food. Thanks for your inspiration to do that!

  11. I just started working on lowering our grocery budget again. We eat whole foods, not organic, but try to buy all meat locally. I rarely use coupons.

    I am finding that I do much better on a weekly grocery budget rather than a monthly budget.

    My goal the next four weeks is to buy only the items I need for my family to eat for one week. After I see how low I can go, then I will start budgeting a small amount for loss leaders.

    Previously, I was able to get my budget down a lot by buying groceries weekly. I look forward to the next few weeks to see how low I can go (maybe I can afford some organic!)

  12. I live in the Philippines, where organic produce is almost double what you’d pay in the supermarket or the regular wet market. Up until two years ago, only a few farms were going the organic path, and even fewer priced their produce “attractively.”

    Fortunately, things have worked out well for our family food budget. Since working from home as a writer (a choice I made after I gave birth two years ago to my firstborn), I have been able to generate enough income to support our desire to eat organically. Since I save on gas, commuting, uniforms for work and other aspects, I am able to afford the produce that we know partake of every week. And I can afford them without scrimping on other things that need taking care of.

    Eating well does mean making some changes, and I’ve accepted this. For me, the returns are priceless: more time with family, more time to create healthy meals, etc.

    Thanks for this entry! I’m new here to your blog, and I’m looking forward to reading more (and back-read through the archives as well!)


    1. Welcome, Martine! And thanks for a great perspective about using savings from one area to offset the costs of something else. Great finanicial strategy.