Eat organic for less money III - Shop outside the box.

Photo by FoodRetro

Photo by FoodRetro

June 17, 2013 By Anne Radcliffe 

This started about “food.” But it’s about more. It’s also about life in general; the joy of learning; re-establishing a connection to the past as well as forging a sustainable way into the future; and growing into being a parent of a precocious little boy.

In the last article, we looked at a few ways to save money shopping in areas that are, for all intents and purposes, standard grocery and big-box stores.  You may find that unless you’re just looking to pick up a couple items, your local grocery store or large-chain organic grocer is one of the more expensive places to go!

Shop with cash: There are two major benefits to shopping with cash.  1) You’re less likely to spend your money as frivolously, and 2) Some people can be haggled into a cash discount.   Discounts for using cash are especially true in Canada, where most people prefer using their cards, and every vendor hates the 2-3.5% premium that gets taken out of their hide by Interac or the credit card companies.

But what about my points cards, you cry.  My friends, it takes a very dedicated and shrewd personality to use points cards to your advantage.  Giving you free stuff is not in a corporation’s best interests, so assume that they are counting on their program not working in your favour.  They are either counting on the average person not collecting, spending more than they’re saving, or trading all of the wealth of their personal info and shopping habits for a small discount.  How does it feel to be considered a source of cheap marketing data?

Your best bet for a (non-cash) rewards program is actually a cash back or grocery points credit card and putting many of your normal expenditures on it (i.e. phone, day care, gas), but this works only if you don’t fall into the trap of spending more than you would normally, and only if you pay the balance off every month.

Am I saying getting good rewards from a points or rewards program can’t be done?  Absolutely not.  You may find, however, that “rewards programs” might require a larger investment of your time than simply being thrifty to make it truly worthwhile.  To quote a popular meme… Ain’t nobody got time for that!  ‘Round here anyways…

Investigate options outside the grocery store: Do a little sleuthing via the internet and your local health store or farmer’s market.  You may be able to join an organic Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) program in your area and buy “shares” of the year’s harvest, for reasonable prices.  Or maybe you can find out where they’re selling roadside.

Make some friends with local farmers themselves.  You may be able to buy many of their products, including meats, directly from them or from a partnered farm-store.    You might find a farmer who isn’t certified organic (the process to be certified is quite rigorous!) but is adhering to the practices of organic farming.

Consider the season: If it’s out of season where you live, it either has to be produced in an artificial environment or has to come from somewhere else, and both of these things will drive up your prices.  Some meats, such as grass-fed beef in particular, might only be found in quantities over 30 pounds during the late fall butchering season.

There are only two ways to avoid being hit with seasonal inflation.  You either change your family’s menus to respect the season, or lay in your own “preserved” inventory at home.  We’ll touch more on how to make the most of the season later when we take on the home front, but for now, be aware that it can change the cost of your grocery bill… a lot.

Farmers’ Markets have some unusual opportunities:  There are no guarantees here, but there are possibilities.  Some farmers’ market managers or vendors may reward volunteer helpers with goods.  Farmers may offer better pricing for buys by the case or bushel, especially if they know you as a good customer.  Sometimes, vendors may discount their goods towards the end of the day rather than deal with the hassle of transporting it.  The rules of some farmer’s market may explicitly prohibit discounting this way, but you can always ask… discreetly.

If you’re preserving, ask about “seconds”:  Seconds, or #2 fruits and vegetables, are visually unattractive and may be slightly marred but are otherwise fine.  Really, if you’re making tomato sauce, do you really care if your tomato has a weird shape?  Just ensure that you’re not being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous vendor.  Slight bruises, off-colour, and malformation are all typical of seconds, but mold and insect infestation is not.