As I talked about in my 4 Reasons Why Even Backyards Need a Permaculture Designer article, grocery prices keep going up.
And I don’t know about you, but my grocery bill has more than doubled in the last 10 years.
Since we’re trying to be sustainable, we try to reduce how much we spend on necessary purchases like groceries.
One way some people do this is by clipping coupons or signing up for manufacturer or store-exclusive coupon programs.
Though many people are very successful with it, personally, I find coupon-ing annoying. So we almost never use them.
Plus it’s usually for highly process so-called “food” products we don’t eat anyway.
Hardly ever do they have a coupon for organic bananas or grass-fed beef or summer squash.
So here’s 17-ish ways to lower your grocery bill without using coupons.
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Organic grocery is too expensive?
Or, why “I can’t eat organic because it’s too expensive” is a cop-out.
We try to buy most produce, especially the “dirty dozen”, as organic or locally grown as possible.
Now, please know that organic != sustainable. Organic is certainly not the ideal way to produce food.
Most certifying organizations allow some extremely destructive “organic” practices.
Many organic farms also liberally spray BT (a bacterium that kills many different types of insects), so it’s in the food you eat. You can’t wash it all off.
Organic is not a perfect standard, and some companies don’t have sustainable/regenerative practices even though they are organic.
Many farmers also grow organic or better than organic, but choose not to spend the huge amounts of money and time to get certified.
This means they can’t legally say they are organic. So these producers may be hard to find, but well worth it.
Farmer’s markets are one of the best ways to do so.
But until we have better food labeling in the US, organic is better and an easier way to find cleaner food.
And “better,” as I always say, is a relative term.
Organic isn’t the only way to ensure the food you’re eating is non-GMO and relatively free of pesticides and industrial fertilizers.
But it’s probably the easiest to find. Other ways are growing it yourself, and knowing and buying from your local farmers.
Is it more expensive? Of course!
The labor needed to offset not using petrochemical insecticides and herbicides makes the cost of production higher.
Plus organic food is becoming more and more popular, and this increases the cost too.
But let me ask you this (in the words of Paul Wheaton) – have you priced cancer lately? It’s not cheap!
What is your pain and suffering worth (not to mention medical bills) to have a lower chance of developing cancer?
The most expensive groceries first
Meat & dairy are the most expensive items in most families grocery budgets, except vegans, of course.
1. Do yourself a favor: find reputable local butcher, and buy meat packages.
This is the least expensive way we’ve found to buy meat. I’ll also talk about other ways of getting meat.
2. “Farm out” animal raising.
Ask a responsible and sustainable local non-CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation AKA feedlot) farmer/rancher to raise animals for you.
3. Raise your own small meat animals (ducks/chickens/quail), and animals for milk
This is the lowest cost option available, assuming you can set up the systems.
For milk a very popular option is goats, though I have to say – my time with goats was not pleasant.
This was mostly due to the lack of proper infrastructure and our poor selection of goat breed.
There are also dairy breeds of sheep if you’re interested. Sheep’s milk produces some of the best cheeses in Europe.
Or if you have the money, space and knowledge get a small cow. You could even sell milk or cheese!
4. Next, find a reputable meat packer/processor.
Preferably one who will give you back your processed animal. This is important, because some shady businesses will actually steal your meat.
We’ve had it happen to friends. Sad but true.
Tip from a reader: Ask for the bones and fat. Most people don’t know you can ask for these.
Absolutely! This is nutritional gold!
You can render down the fat to make your own tallow, and use the bones for soups/stews and bone broth.
And giving your dog a yummy treat, of course.
5. Some producers will let you buy a whole/half cow.
Meat packages are good, but this is a better deal. You must have a place to store all that meat, and can afford to buy that much at once.
This could be all the meat you need for 6 months to a year.
Make sure to get grass fed (and finished) meat where possible.
Get a good sized chest freezer and a lock.
When we did this, I felt very wealthy knowing I had all that meat available.
6. Learn how to cook “weird” meat cuts
And make sure to get the liver, heart, tongue, and soup/marrow bones. This goes back to #4.
Learn to use as much as possible of the animal who gave up its life to feed you. This is both responsible and more sustainable.
Traditional recipes and techniques will be helpful here. Also, and adventuresome spirit and willingness to try new dishes can enrich your ho-hum menu plan.
Also, learn about what is in the animal, and different meat cuts that are available. Get all the meat back, again going back to #4.
7. Use an on-farm service abattoir
Awesome. Use this service if available in your area.
They will come in and do the slaughtering and evisceration, while you need to do the skinning and butchering AKA cutting up.
This is usually for cows, but the same goes for lamb if not doing it yourself.
It saves having to transport animals to the processor, which lowers their (and your) stress levels. Plus you know all the meat (and other parts) is yours.
So you get to learn a new skill. Yay!
8. Hunt for deer, elk and other wild game and fish
In many parts of the US, fall hunting of big game is an annual ritual.
Several hundred pound of essentially organic free-range meat will sure help offset the cost of groceries.
In parts of the country, maligned fish species are largely an untapped resource. Some species considered “trash” fish have no (or large) limits on harvesting, and they are healthy and provide good meat.
Concentrate on these and fill your freezer!
Combine this with the next tip to max out what you can legally harvest. Get creative and it will reap large rewards.
9. Have a relationship with local farmers and ranchers
This helps with #8, getting a place to hunt, and #2, because friendly customers can often get deals and special products.
You also get to know how the food is grown, what is sprayed on it, and who to thank for the great-tasting food.
This is one of the best ways to get organic-grade produce without paying organic store prices.
They can let know you know about excess produce or get a chance to learn a skill from them.
10. Join a CO-OP or CSA
These are co-operative food production operations or Community Supported Agriculture farms where you pay a fee and then get the food produced over the year that the farmer makes.
Many give a weekly “box” to their members, which the content varies seasonally.
Some have work scholarships that allow you to help with farming in exchange for some or most of cost of the membership.
This is another way to get organic-grade or better produce for much less than buying at the store.
You’re helping the farmer to keep their costs down and so benefit from the lower overhead.
11. Garden for fresh veggies
Start a garden, or make the one you have bigger.
Or if you don’t have space, join a community or church garden. They are always looking for people to help grow food.
Fresh tomatoes and basil are so good together with some Mozzarella cheese, crusty French bread and olive oil.
This food production directly offsets what you would normally buy, and tastes way better than the store.
Plus it’s very cheap if you start your own seeds.
12. Process extra produce
In that garden, put in a few extra plants. Try tomato, pepper, cucumber, cabbage, and pumpkin/squash plants.
You can preserve those extra veggies into pickles, pies, salsa, chow-chow, diced tomatoes and peppers, and tomato sauce.
Not to mention sauerkraut, kimchi, homemade ketchup, ginger carrots (amazing), and salsa.
Wait, that’s salsa twice. Well, it’s really good. Especially roasted tomatillos made into salsa verde. Yum!
Now you have to go to the store less often.
Speaking of which…
Up to now, we haven’t even start with the grocery store, but here we go:
13. Shop the outside of the grocery store
Food staples are usually on the outside of the store’s aisles: meat, bread, fruits and veggies, milk/butter/cheese.
Highly processed “snack foods” are often on the inside aisles, along with candy, ice cream, soda, sugary breakfast cereals and crackers/chips.
No one needs to regularly consume these so-called foods.
So stay on the outside of the store when possible.
14. Buy seasonally
For best prices, don’t buy tomatoes in January.
Anything available at the grocery store has either been in cold storage for months, been shipped from Central/South America, or is from a greenhouse/hothouse.
Buy what is normally available in the season when harvested. This is easiest to see fi you’re buying from a local farm/coop like I suggested in #10.
So buy asparagus in spring, strawberries/raspberries in summer, apples in fall.
Depending on your local producer, you may be able to get a better price by buying meat in late fall when they butcher extra animals.
15. Learn how to cook
Contrary to the back of the store-bought box, cooking is not just about combining ingredients.
Cooking is an art and a science. It’s helpful to know the basics of the science behind cooking baking.
For this I like chef Alton Brown’s Good Eats TV show. Entertainment, science and art combined!
He also has several books, like EveryDayCook.
But to perfect the culinary arts, get a mentor. Best to find someone aged and knowledgeable but still able to do the work, like a tough Grandma.
And make sure you like to eat what they cook.
One book I highly recommend for healthy recipes is Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.
16. Buy in bulk
If you buy staples like dry beans, peas, lentils, rice & pseudocereals (quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat), and other grains in bulk, you can save a lot of money.
When you go from buying a prepared small serving to buying by the pound, the cost usually drops 3-4 times.
Here’s one idea: instead of buying a loaf of $5.99 organic bread, grind your own wheat with grain mill and bake own bread.
It tastes way better, your house smells like fresh-baked bread, and it costs less than $1 per lb for organic wheat.
You can do the same with fore-mentioned pulses, grains, and pseudocereals.
Also, buy whole drier herbs and spices, then grind and use as needed. Freshly ground nutmeg has so much more flavor than when it’s been ground for months or years sitting in a jar.
Also consider small kitchen plants of rosemary, thyme, basil, or whatever other herbs you use.
Keep them on the counter and use them fresh.
17. Stocking up, calendar buys, and loss leaders
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I don’t like coupons. But when you plan to go shopping, it’s a good idea to look at the store’s sales pages.
In this day and age most of them are online, and you can get them emailed to you if desired.
Sometimes the grocery store will have what’s known as a “loss leader”, which is when they sell an item at very little profit or a loss.
They don’t call it this on the sales page, but they do it to get you into the store to spend money.
They assume that you will buy more than that one item and so will make back the loss.
Sometimes it’s a useful product or grocery item, and you can stock up to take the most advantage possible.
Outside of loss leaders, you can still stock up whenever the store has a sale on food or other items that will store for a while.
Remember though, it doesn’t make sense to stock up on fresh veggies or fruit unless you will can or preserve them right away.
We once bought a 20-lb bag of organic carrots to make ginger carrots with. Unfortunately it went to the chickens because we didn’t get it done.
Make sure to take advantage when prices fall after regular calendar events. For example, excess turkeys and other seasonal items after Thanksgiving (get an organic one) are often much cheaper.
Also, baking supplies right after fall/winter holidays, and sometimes canning supplies after canning season (though they don’t always go on sale).
Here’s a few others:
- January – all things Christmas, health foods like diet bars, protein drinks, “healthy” cereals
- February – chocolate after Valentine’s Day
- March – is frozen food month so watch for sales, just make sure it’s a good deal
- April – springs seasonal items – asparagus, strawberries
- May – Memorial Day, so BBQ related foods, also broccoli, cabbage, spinach
- June – more BBQ stuff, summer squash, carrots, cucumber, onions, green beans
- July – blackberries/raspberries, peaches, cantaloupe, sweet corn, peppers, watermelon
- August – peanut butter & jelly, blueberries, grapes, pears, tomatoes
- September – winter squash, eggplant, late tomatoes
- October – soups, gravy, broth, canned fruits & veggies
- November – turkey! Baking stuff, beets, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, turnips, spinach, cabbage
- December – soups/stews, canned fruits & veggies, lots more baking stuff is on sale
There are lots of ideas here. Implementing them you should see a huge drop in your grocery bill, and probably make you happier too. Now go try some of them out!
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OK, that’s all folks! Do you have any questions or comments about saving money on groceries, sustainable homesteading, permaculture design or anything else? Ask your question down below and let’s talk! You can also use the contact form, or email me at info at thepermaculture dot life.
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