By Elsie, Contributing Writer
What is one of the best ways to save money in the grocery store? Find alternative sources of food.
Here’s a list of six ideas to get you started. And while all of these options take more effort than shopping the usual aisles, the payoff is money saved, quality gained, and the chance to add some variety to your menu.
1. Online stores
When you’re on the hunt for real food “specialty” ingredients, chances are you’ll find the best prices online, not in a grocery or health food store.
Consider coconut oil: in the grocery store, it’s about $8.00 for a little 14 ounce jar, but on Amazon you can buy it in bulk! Maple syrup, sea salt, specialty flours, rapadura, and tea are other items that can be much cheaper online. Vitacost and Amazon are good places to start, and frequently have extra deals attached, such as Amazon’s “subscribe and save” feature, or Vitacost’s $5.00 off referral program.
If you have even a scrap of yard or patio, chances are you can grow something, even if it’s just potted herbs and aloe vera. My husband and I recently moved to an apartment with a small balcony, and we’re itching to get some pots out! Jami’s e-book Apartment Gardening is a great resource for gardening in small spaces. For more ideas, there’s a post that Stephanie did a while back on growing potted fruit trees.
3. Local farmers
Produce at farmer’s markets or through CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) groups is sometimes cheaper than at the grocery store, but there are many more benefits to shopping this way as well. For some great posts on this topic, read Kate’s article on CSA groups and Stacy’s tips on finding local produce. CSA produce is available year round–check local listings for groups that offer winter shares.
4. Ethnic Food Stores
Do a web search to find these stores in your area. Ethnic stores carry “specialty” items for much cheaper than you’d find in the ethnic section of your usual grocery store. Asian markets are great places to find inexpensive curry, sauces, or vinegars. Middle Eastern stores often carry rice, lentils, and couscous in bulk; at a Hispanic store you might find dried chilies or fresh tamales.
Don’t discount foraging as a viable food source! In the last year I’ve foraged black walnuts, apples, dandelions, wild onions, blackberries and black raspberries. My harvesting wasn’t limited to measly snacks, either—I had enough of these wild ingredients to make recipes like crockpot applesauce, pumpkin black raspberry muffins, and quiche with wild onions. Foraging success varies, but it isn’t as hard as you think. Know this, though: you can’t do it unless you get outdoors and keep your eyes open!
See if there’s a Weston A. Price chapter in your area. If so, you’ll likely find someone willing to share kefir grains, sourdough starter, or a kombucha scoby. I’ve also found Craigslist to be a valuable community connection. It can be a great way to find home-raised chicken eggs, backyard fruit trees that need picking, or front yard produce stands.
What are your alternatives to the grocery store?
Elsie blogs at Richly Rooted about food and simple, natural living. She is a co-author of Real Food for the Real Homemaker, a cookbook full of simple, wholesome recipes and ideas for getting started with a real food diet.