Eat Well, Spend Less: Budget for Lots of Fresh Produce

fresh produce

source: NatalieMaynor

This month I’m participating in the Eat Well, Spend Less series with eight other bloggers. Each week we’ll be sharing tips from our own experiences to help you eat well on a budget.

To kick it off, I’m going to sharing my method for stretching our grocery budget to include lots and lots of fresh produce without using coupons, shopping the sales cycles or stockpiling:

I am neither a foodie nor a frugalista, and admittedly, we’re just starting out on this healthy eating journey. I still buy white flour (although these days I often mix it with whole wheat), and frozen pizza makes an appearance during especially crazy weeks, but we’ve pretty much eliminated high fructose corn syrup and most artificial food dyes, and I’m making more and more from scratch each week. I also don’t use coupons unless I happen to have a free product coupon, and I buy what I need, not what’s on sale.

That said, the first concrete step we took toward improving our diet was simply to increase the amount of fresh produce we eat each week. I did this before I started reading ingredient labels and before I started focusing on any other specific changes.

I’ve been doing most of my grocery shopping at Walmart almost the entire time we’ve been married. Whatever you say about the store (and we’ve always had new, clean stores to shop at), their prices simply can’t be beat if you don’t want to shop with coupons. Because we live in the boonies and I work full-time, time is at a premium, and I don’t want to spend time couponing or shopping the best deals at multiple stores. So for us, Walmart works.

However, over the last six months, I made a decision to buy all of my fresh produce from the nicer grocery store in town (and now that spring is here, I’m trying to find a good local farmer’s market or CSA, and I’m hoping to grow at least some of our veggies in our backyard). Making the second stop takes additional time, and produce now makes up between 35-50% of our weekly grocery budget, but I bring home bags of fresh produce that looks and tastes great, and I know that we’ll have healthy sides, snacks and meals all week.

To make room in our budget for this “luxury” (which is what it feels like when I check out, even though it’s not really), I’ve become even more conscious about what I buy at Walmart. Here are my strategies for spending less:

Buy generic.

If you don’t want to do coupons, generic is almost always cheaper. There are a few items that we prefer the taste of the name brand — or where the generic contains one or more ingredient we try to avoid — and in those cases I go with the more expensive option, but for the most part, I buy Great Value.

Meal plan.

I plan my weekly menu and print a detailed shopping list of what we need for the week, and I only buy what’s on the list. When I’m buying produce, I’m a lot more flexible about what I buy, but I stay disciplined at Walmart.

Be careful with bulk purchases.

Although buying in bulk can make a lot of sense, if you are absolutely sure you’ll use it all, it can also waste a lot of money if your stockpile goes to waste. I know my own limitations, and I end up wasting more than I end up saving, so I avoid bulk purchases for the most part.

Only walk through the grocery side.

Walmart — and other superstores — are designed to encourage shoppers to spend more money. I avoid the “Walmart effect” by only walking the grocery aisles. Most weeks, I don’t even visit the rest of the store.

That’s how we do it! Be sure to visit Jessica, Aimee, Shaina, Katie G, Alyssa, Carrie, Katie K, and Tammy for more strategies to help you eat well and spend less.

How do you eat well on a budget?

 

  • Fromthesamenest

    I just blogged today how I break down my grocery budget to ensure we are eating more whole foods, especially produce. Thank you for doing this series!

    Michelle @ FTSN

    http://www.fromthesamenest.com/2011/04/breaking-down-my-grocery-budget-by-food.html

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      I really love that you’ve put so much thought into your grocery budget by
      category. I think I need to take the time to do this as well!

  • http://www.simplebites.net Aimee

    Oh that first photo makes me yearn for summer! Mandi, this post rocks. You know how Michael Pollan encourages us to eat more plants, well this is right on track. Keep it up, girl! I can’t wait to see how your gardening venture works out.

  • Waggie

    I too am just starting this more healthy eating thing. I have found a store called H-Mart. It is an Asian market, but they have quite a few locations all over the country. Asians eat LOTS of produce so you will always find a great deal and the produce looks great because of the high turn over. I regularly get organic apples for $.80 $.90 a pound! And last week I got a bunch of asparagus for $2.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Great tip — thanks, Waggie!

  • http://www.happychristianhome.blogspot.com Becky H.

    We just recently joined a co-op! I got the idea from another blog somewhere, and just did a Google search for co-ops in my area. I found Bountiful Baskets which is in about ten (western) states (and if not in your area, you could organize a group to start one in your area). We pay $15 a week for about 12 different kinds of (conventionally grown) fruits and veggies. We could opt for organic produce for only $10 more per week, but we haven’t done that yet. We are ecstatic with the selection we get. We get a ton of stuff! I blogged about it a few weeks ago. But that is way cheaper than any other way we’ve purchased produce. Cheaper than a CSA, conventional grocery store, health food store, fruit stand or even a farmer’s market (the one in my area seems over priced to me).

    • Heather

      For anyone living in the western states, or even (just starting) the Midwest, check out http://www.azurestandard.com I’m not affiliated, just a happy customer. They have excellent prices and outstanding quality. And you don’t HAVE to buy in bulk, so you can buy a small amount one month, to try a new thing, and then buy in bulk another month if you like it. You’ll have to make an account to see the prices.

    • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

      Great suggestion, Becky — I’m anxious to visit our little town farmer’s
      market and get to know some of the farmers there as well!

  • http://livingthebalancedlife.com Bernice Wood

    We are also trying to add more fresh fruits & veggies to our diets as well. There is an AWESOME international farmer’s market 40 miles from us, so we don’t go often, but our favorite Italian restaurant is down the street, so we go maybe once a month!
    On a more regulary basis, I shop at 3 stores. Kroger for most products including produce (our WM produce is not very good or cheap) Aldi for some staple items such as eggs, milk, lean ground beef, fro chicken, canned goods, paper goods and I buy pasta and rice there as well, even though I am trying to cut those down in our diet. Aldi has helped me cut our food budget over the past few months. They also have some pretty good prices on tomatoes!
    We are preparing to grow a very few things ourselves for the 1st time. We have some herbs, some peppers, zuchinni and we’ll have tomatoes as well.
    I am looking forward to reading more!
    Bernice
    Learning to turn work OFF

  • http://savingbymaking.com Diana

    When I shopped Walmart, I didn’t look for sales, either. (Do they even have weekly sales? :) ) Now that I shop Kroger/Publix, I do think stocking up during a sale is more important. And I totally agree–having lots of fresh produce on hand makes it so much easier to eat well! (And I wash all the grapes at the same time and put them in a large bowl. So much easier to grab for a snack that way :) )

    • Heather

      Wally World doesn’t do weekly sales as such, but they will (or at least used to) price-match the other local stores’ weekly sales, if the item is the same. I seldom go into a “regular” grocery store at all anymore, except to shop “loss leader” sales, usually on meat (till we can get our freezer out of storage & go back to buying that in bulk!). Most of our stuff comes from Costco or Trader Joe’s, or CSA’s

  • http://asimpletwistoffaith.typepad.com/a-simple-twist-of-faith/ Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith

    I shop once a week, have a menu and shopping list ,buy generic, and right now that means Wal Mart. I do not even go to the retail side of the store unless I absolutley need something like deodorant or tooth paste. Gas is just too expensive these days to shop hop for me. Several of my friends give me a hard time about shopping there, but it seems to be the only way to keep on budget of $400 for food and consumables.

  • http://lifeyourway.net/ Mandi @ Life Your Way

    Thanks so much, Ivonne!