Of all the things people ask me to help them find deals on, produce ranks right up there at the top. True, we don’t usually find many coupons in the paper for fresh kale or organic grapes – but that doesn’t mean you can’t save on produce. Today’s post is long, but I wanted to offer up one place you can come back to where I’ve shared all my best ideas for saving on this sometimes harder-to-save on category.
Why Flexibility Matters
The more flexible you are, the more money you’ll save. If you shop at Safeway and only Safeway, only a small fraction of what I’m about to share with you today will be helpful. If, however, you are willing to try new things, go off the beaten bath, and tackle saving money on produce from a number of angles, you’ll be able to do more for your budget. You’ll also be able to do more for your diet!
I’ve said it before, but I cringe whenever I hear people set these arbitrary and often ridiculous “rules” for themselves:
“I will ONLY buy items I have coupons for.”
“I must save 75% or more on my groceries.”
“I only buy produce that is $0.29 a pound of less.”
Such narrow-minded thinking limits your ability to explore other avenues to saving. Don’t become a narrow-minded couponer.
17 Ideas for Saving on Produce
Are you ready to explore a number of ideas for saving on produce? If so – let’s dive in.
#1. Store Sales. QFC and Fred Meyer sold pineapples for $1 each at two points during 2012. Albertsons put out a store coupon for $0.99 bag of 10 lb potatoes. Fred Meyer regularly puts greens on sale (including organic). Grocery Outlet has been known to have screaming deals on avocados and peppers. You don’t need coupons to recognize these are good deals! Pay attention to your store ads. Sometimes the ads will contain coupons for produce, but usually what you’ll find are great sales.
There are some rough cycles to produce as well. Around Easter and Christmas, watch for fresh pineapple, Around Cinco de Mayo and Superbowl, avocados. In the summer, watch for grapes, cherries, peaches, and berries. In the fall, apples, and in the winter, citrus.
#2. Buy produce Seasonally. This is smart both for your budget and your diet! Learn to adjust your diet and meal plan based on the produce you’re finding on sale that week. For instance, if potatoes are on sale, throw a potato dish or two into your meal plan. If oranges are on sale, add that chicken citrus dish you make. Be adaptable.
#3. Bountiful Baskets. Many of you have vouched for using Bountiful Baskets as a way to save. Bountiful Baskets is a weekly co-op service that allows you to take home a lot of produce for less. For more information, please read Lori’s post on How Bountiful Baskets works.
#4. Asian Markets. Have you ever visited your local Asian market? You might be surprised by some of the low prices – not to mention exotic eats – you’ll find in the produce department. If you’ve never been to your local Asian market, make it one of your goals to do so this year and see what you can find.
#5. Local stores. Many of us like to shop at the bigger chain stores, but when it comes to produce, sometimes local stores can offer better value. I’d like to mention two such stores in my area (Tacoma/Puget Sound), so you might have to do some research to figure out what’s near you if you’re not in my same neck of the woods.
a. Tacoma Boys Markets. This store has both a Tacoma & Lakewood location and most of the store is produce! You can follow them on Facebook and get weekly ads. They often have phenomenal prices on select produce. They posted end of December that the beautiful Fujis pictured below would be $0.60/lb and Honeycrisp would be $0.99/lb.
b. Summit/Tukwila Trading. This is another store I like to remind you guys about from time to time. The best values in the store? Produce and meat. Each Wednesday they run a produce sale with jaw-dropping prices (such as pomegranates for $0.67 each recently!). You can keep an eye on their ad online or request to get on their mailing list.
#6. Learn how to Preserve and Use up your Produce. You got tons of apples for super cheap? Awesome – do you know how to make applesauce and can some of them – or store them properly to keep them good for as long as possible? And those bunches of cilantro and parsley you got – did you know you can chop up the leftovers and freeze them in ice trays with water? How about dehydrating some of your fruit in the oven to turn it into a snack? You get the idea. Learn methods for saving produce that you’ve gotten in excess or that’s about to go bad.
#7. Try new Produce. The more fruits and veggies you know how to prepare and eat, the more options you’ll have available to you. Fred Meyer has eggplant for $1 each. If you’ve never cooked with eggplant you could be missing on a savings opportunity! This week, I’ve added this awesome Beans & Bulgur recipe into my rotation – it features eggplant and most of the other items are already in my pantry. Chayote squash is usually sold for $0.99 each and it makes a delicious soup (among other things). Sure you always buy kale for your smoothies – but what if you notice Lamb’s Lettuce is on sale this week? Learn to be adventurous with your produce choices.
#8. Farmer’s Markets. This option is often suggested as a great way to save money, but in my experience, not everything at the Farmer’s Market is a deal. Last year I noticed that some of the value was to be found towards the end of summer, when farmers were experiencing bumper crops of produce. I ended up buying a HUGE zucchini at my local market for $1 last year. I decided not to grow zucchini in my garden as it takes up a ton of space (and quite frankly, I didn’t care to process 50 lbs of zucchini or anything) – but I did want a single zucchini for breads. For $1? I’ll take it.
#9. Grow your Own. Another suggestion that I think is thrown out there without nearly enough caveats. Want to save on produce? Grow your own, they say. This is another one of those instances where sometimes it’s cost-effective to grow your own and other times not so much. I’ve written extensively about gardening and will be resuming some posts as I finalize my 2013 garden this week, but I will say – consider how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to gardening. I think the best example of this would be to grow your own fresh herbs, which are often costly to buy at the store. You can usually buy herb seeds or even starts really inexpensively and they can grow easily both in- or outside. (For more on this topic, please read my post How to Decide What to Grow.)
#10. Buy Directly from the Farm. I went in with a few friends this past summer on buying boxes of produce. Now I didn’t personally drive to the farm(s), but I had friends that did. We went in on a huge order of apples, pears, and peaches that I then canned. I want to say I paid around $9 for each box of produce (about 40 lbs each). Some farms offer u-pick berries in the summer too, which may be discounted. For produce you want to buy a lot of (say for canning or preserving), consider researching this option more in 2013.
#11. Forage and find Free Produce. Some of this is going to depend on your comfort level and how adventurous you are – but chances are, you can find some produce for free. Last summer I picked tons of blackberries. Many of these were eaten fresh, but we’re still enjoying some of the ones I froze in our smoothies and I made enough jam to last us through next summer with the rest! I even made my own blackberry vodka.
I also attended an urban weed foraging class last spring that was very eye-opening. A good source of organic greens might be growing in your backyard! Our instructor told us she rarely even goes to the store anymore.
I’ve also heard you can sometimes find free produce on Craigslist! I would do this around the time apples are ready. Turns out some people are more than happy to have you come and pick their apples and get rid of them than deal with it. Maybe you have friends, neighbors, or family with gardens or fruit trees as well?
#12. Leverage rebates and store credit. Back to a “tamer” suggestion, whenever you get store credit (such as “save $5 off your next purchase” coupons), consider using it on produce. I love saving on harder-to-save on items this way. If you shop at a Kroger store, you can play this Instant Win Game (through mid-January 2013) for a chance to win money off your next shopping trip. Some of you have won $5 and $10 off! That could be a great savings on your weekly produce!
#13. Buy Manager Markdowns. I regularly buy my smoothie bananas from the manager markdown section of my store. I also like to check it for items that might fulfill a need in my meal plan. Most grocery stores (even local and specialty ones) have such a section. Find where it is and poke around. Sometimes you can ask the produce manager if they have any they are willing to sell at a discount. My mom established a relationship with her local produce store and they will call her when they have a bunch of slightly-browned bananas to sell.
#14. Create Money Elsewhere in your Grocery Budget. One of my best tips for saving at the store is to bring cash. I don’t always do this perfectly myself, but I notice the times I do, a couple things happen: 1) I stick to my budget better and 2) I’m more likely to put what’s most important to me in my cart FIRST. If you have $50, you are not probably going to start down the chip or ice cream aisle. (At least, I hope not.) I encourage you to try this one thing for your shopping trip this week and see if it doesn’t make a difference in not only helping you stick to your budget, but making better food choices.
#15. Get on Store Mailing lists. If you have store loyalty cards, make sure they have a current address for you! Just last week I received a coupon from Fred Meyer good for $1 off organic salad! I’ve also loaded some great produce e-coupons to my Safeway card. While this may not be a reliable way of consistently saving on produce, it can help.
#16. Consider all options for a Given produce. Suppose you have a recipe that calls for strawberries this week. You have several options: you could buy organic, you could buy conventional, you could buy frozen, you could buy freeze-dried, you could consider substituting with another berry that’s on sale (or one you already have in your freezer at home).
#17. Compare at Warehouse Stores. Sometimes, but again, not always, club stores can offer great prices on produce – particularly if you want a lot of one type of thing. Always compare by unit price to ensure you’re getting the best deal.
I hope these ideas have gotten you started thinking about the many ways you can save on produce. It doesn’t always start with a coupon – in fact, it rarely does in my opinion. The more open-minded, adventurous, and flexible you can be when it comes to buying your produce, the more likely you’ll be to save on this category was well as enjoy a varied diet.
What other ways have you been able to save on produce?