Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Conscious Shopper Challenge: Shop Smart

It's time for another series of challenges in the Conscious Shopper Challenge. Now that you've worked so hard on going green to save money, it's time to start spending money. Ready to green your groceries? Here's the first challenge:


I've been working for the past two years to shift my grocery spending from conventional products to organic and local products. I admit that shopping this way can be expensive, but I do my best to keep our grocery costs down. Here are a few tips I've picked up along the way:


  • Keep a price book, a book where you record the lowest price that you can find a product in your area. Take your price book with you when you go shopping so you can tell whether or not a sale price is really a deal.
  • Menu plan. Plan ahead so you're not throwing items into your shopping cart that you don't need and/or won't use.
  • Make a list and stick to it.
  • Stock up when items are on sale.
  • Use coupons. I haven't had much success with using coupons on organic foods - the store brand is almost always cheaper, and it's harder to match coupons with sales since fewer items go on sale. I personally think this will change as organics get more popular, but in the meantime, you can use coupons on other things like cleaning supplies, personal care products, and even places outside the grocery store (like oil changes and restaurants) and shift your savings to your grocery budget.
  • Buy store brands. They're cheaper, and they almost always taste just as good.


  • Start with the Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue according to the Environmental Working Group.
  • Waste not, want not. Avoid letting food go to waste before you use it, and eat up leftovers.
  • Find amazing deals with bulk bins, the bins of grains, nuts, and dried fruit at Whole Foods and other natural food stores. I wish I could buy everything from a bulk bin!
  • Buy in bulk. If you can't find it in a bulk bin, buy the largest size you can find. But remember to keep your eye on the unit price! Sometimes, the bigger package has an inflated price.
  • Choose less expensive fruits and vegetables. Around here, greens and sweet potatoes have the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.
  • Eat less meat (especially cow). A serving of organic beans from a can is about $0.30. An organic egg costs about a quarter. A serving of the cheapest organic ground beef I've seen is $0.75.


  • Buy a share of a cow. If you're not keen on going completely vegetarian, you can save money on your meat products by buying a share of a cow directly from a farmer. Search for local farms at I've also heard of cow-shares for dairy products.
  • Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Pay a fee at the beginning of the year and get a share of the farm's produce. Some CSAs are very good bargains.
  • Join a buying club, a group of people who place huge orders directly with food distributers, saving costs by buying in bulk and cutting out the middlemen. The biggest supplier of natural and organic foods to buying clubs is United National Foods. I don't have any experience with them, but I have successfully found some savings on organic grains and legumes through a buying club with members of my church. They order from Walton Feed.
  • Pick your own fruits and vegetables. If you do the harvesting work yourself, you can typically save a lot of money. Find an organic pick-your-own-farm near you by visiting
Do you have any more tips for smart shopping?


The Mom said...

I would say to grow your own if at all possible. Also to eat seasonally. Buying an organic peach from Chile in the middle of the winter does nobody any good.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@The Mom - Definitely! I had the hardest time explaining to my kids just yesterday at the grocery store why I wouldn't buy asparagus whenever they want it. Now that's an expensive vegetable when out of season!

Green Bean said...

I'd also add hitting the farmers' market - at the end of the day. Then, farmers are practically given away fruits and vegetables, especially highly perishable ones. You can get in season, locally grown and often organic (at least pesticide free) produce for a song.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Green Bean - Great tip that I need to take more advantage of!

Shona~ LALA dex press said...

In our area there are random resources for fruit that I call parking lot fruit trees. On my walk to work there is a crab apple tree in the city parking lot. Behind a Blockbuster video is an apple tree and so on. Unfortunately the parkin lot pear tree I plucked from every year was in the path of an F-4 tornado that hit last spring.

Like-minded friends are always sharing their sources.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@Shona - What do you do with crabapples?


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