We are often asked how you can save money on fresh produce with the accusative tone that you can’t. This seems to be an area that plagues many money savers that want to feed their family healthily for less but don’t know another option outside of cheap cans of soup and store-brand macaroni and cheese. Finally, the perception many people have of budget-savvy shoppers are those couponers that have showers dedicated to orange soda (an episode from Extreme Couponing) and that ultimately you can’t save money and be healthy at the same time.
Well, truth be told, you usually can’t find rock bottom deals or even FREE deals on fresh produce very often. It is a special treat when you can find a deal like that. It certainly isn’t often enough to meet the needs of a single person, let alone a family. But the good news is that our goal isn’t to get absolutely everything in life for a rock bottom deal!
Our goal is to stick to our budget. What this means is that we may have to sacrifice some items in different weeks in order to fit our needs within our budget. But we prioritize what is important to spend money on, to stock-up on and to meet our family’s needs in a healthy way. Produce is at the top of our priority list. But often, in order to fit produce into our budget, you have to think creatively and outside of the box.
We are going to list just 30 ideas on how to save on produce that we have discovered and used ourselves to share with you so that you can include produce in your family’s diet while at the same time sticking within your budget!
1. Buy from a co-op
We have posted about buying our produce, both conventional and organic (whatever our budget allows for the week) through our local produce co-op quite frequently. This is often our “go to” source for a fresh batch of produce as often as once per week! We actually share the results of what we get in our co-op basket on the weeks that we decide to get one! This is a year-round way to save each week!
2. Volunteer at a Co-op
Another way to stack the savings is not only buying from the co-op, but actually volunteering your time. This often means volunteering at the distribution site in some way. In exchange, you can usually get FREE produce or at least extra produce in your basket! For our specific co-op as an example, we pick up our baskets around 7am, which means those that offer to volunteer that day are there a couple of hours before to distribute the produce that came in.
3. Participate in a community garden
With Spring approaching, consider having your family participate in a community garden. There are almost too many different ways this is implemented to mention here, but the general idea is that gardening as a community is often easier and takes less time than trying to tackle the garden plot in your own back yard. You can find out more about how to participate in a community garden here and find one in your own back yard – to turn a phrase! 🙂
4. Buy from a local farmer
During the Summer and Fall months, we are able to buy from the local farmer’s directly as they will have stands or even signs attached to their home/farm advertising their produce sales. This is a great way to get very fresh (often organic depending on the local farm) for much less. If you also know a local farmer, consider establishing a relationship with them so that you can be some of the first to get first picks. This is a seasonal way to save depending on where you live!
5. Offer to be a farm help (or help with their stand) a couple of hours a week in exchange for produce
As you develop that relationship with a local farmer see if you can donate some of your time to help around the farm or with the produce stand. Many farmers will give you free produce (and other products like eggs, meat, etc.) if you donate an hour or two of your time as often as they have availability. This can also be a good way to establish a solid work ethic for the whole family. 🙂
Yes, this is directly derived from the Biblical Principle of the farmer not over picking his field but rather allowing the poor to come pick the leftovers (Lev 19:9-10, Ruth 2). Although the true meaning is for the widow and poor, many farmers will offer a “gleaning” opportunity to the community as a whole. When I was a child growing up in Idaho, I remember my family going to the potato farms after the harvest and the farmers allowing the community to go into the fields and pick their own remaining potatoes from what was left over. I would imagine that these types of offers from local farmers are all over the country. Some will be free (as it is also a service to them to get the remaining produce that their trucks did not pick up that would just be tilled back into the ground anyway) and some may charge, but either way – it could be a great way to save. It was very memorable and fun for me as a child too!
7. Buy extra produce from a neighbor or offer other services in exchange
If you have a neighbor with a large or lush garden, they usually have way more than they can handle themselves. They will most likely be willing to sell you some at a large discount, but you can also consider offering services in exchange for fresh garden produce (including helping them weed and take care of the garden throughout the summer)!
8. Focused and exchanged gardening
Coordinate with several friends, family members or neighbors with good soil to each grow one or two items in mass quantity in your own gardens and when you harvest have a big exchange party. It ends up being cheaper when you can grow and focus on only one or two food items in bigger bunches rather than a bunch of small sections of different varieties! Let’s face it – some of us can’t grow a tomato if it killed us while others can’t help but growing them by the bushel! This gardening technique allows you to forgot those vegetables and fruit that you just can’t grow. Plus the likelihood of full and lush growth is better when you can treat the crop with the same care all around!
9. Grown your own
With that, if you do not have friends, family and neighbors to participate in a focused and exchanged garden, then just grow it yourself! It will still be cheaper that buying it from a grocery store, plus much more rewarding for you and your family. Kids seem to eat and enjoy something more when they themselves grew it!
10. Hit the seasonal sales and stock-up
Buy produce in season at your local stores. If anything, this assures that year-round you will get a nice variety of produce! Grocery stores will usually have 1-2 fruits and vegetables at a rock bottom price each week and then a handful on sale each week! This is the most basic and easiest way to save as you can also just make one stop for your groceries and sale produce!
11. Watch for markdowns
This is also a very common way that we save. Although you can’t count on a specific fruit or vegetable and likewise can’t establish your menu and grocery shopping, it is definitely worth checking and watching for those markdowns. Annually, we save hundreds grabbing markdown produce. The nice thing about it is that it adds variety, even on the non-seasonal produce. We either adjust our menu to incorporate our markdown produce over the next few days. In addition, we end up freezing a lot of markdown produce for future use (you can search on how to freeze different types of produce)!
12. Establish a relationship with local grocery store produce staff and get the almost ready to throw out produce
This is a secret tip, but it is a useful one! Grocery stores are required to pull produce on their shelves at a certain point – which is usually right before it goes bad. Sometimes if you are really nice to the produce staff you can request to pick up a box of all of the produce that they have pulled, especially if you promise to come get it quick. We know a few friends that do this and the local produce workers will often just give them the box instead of even discounting it. Now you may be asking, “What would I do with the older produce like that?” Well, most of it will probably not be very tasty for consumption as is, but we ourselves freeze turning or very spotted bananas for the best banana bread (we will share the recipe if you would like!), you can turn berries and many fruits (and veggies for that matter) into smoothies and juices. You can use older apples and pears for a homemade apple/pear sauce. If this idea intrigues you and you research this, we would love to hear your creative ideas that you find as well!
13. Buy Frozen
Buying produce in the frozen foods section is a great alternative way to save as it can save quite a bit of money all year round – especially when you can catch those frozen produce sales with coupons. We will sometimes buy frozen to fill in the gaps in our menu to prevent us from overspending on our grocery budget on those weeks it could be an issue. When there is a frozen produce sale or produce sale with a coupon, we will also stock-up at those rock-bottom prices to have produce for the future! Most of them are flash frozen and with a little steam heating, doesn’t come out much different than the fresh produce.
14. Watch and examine packaging
While you are shopping for produce, take a few minutes to carefully check all product packaging. Here are three examples:
- If apples are .97 a lb., but the 3 lb. Bag of apples is $2.58, you might want to consider going with the 3lb. bag to save a little more. If you have extra time on your hands in the produce department, those 3lb. bags are approximate and so you could grab a few and weigh them and get the heaviest bag as you will still just pay the $2.58 price 🙂
- We like to eat a ton of celery in our family. At our grocery store, the celery can be quite pricey at around $1.25 – $1.50 each bunch on the stalk. But there is a bag that sells for $1.98 that is the just pre-washed, cut and packed without the celery hearts or extras that usually get disposed of anyway; the package (for $1.98) is equal to two bunches of celery ($2.50- $3). We buy this as we save a little more.
- If you typically only use the crowns of the broccoli, consider buying just the crowns instead of the whole pieces with stems. You might see that the broccoli with the stems sells for .99 a lb. while the crowns sell for $1.19 per lb. But if you are going to throw out the stems anyway, then just buy the “more expensive” crowns – but as the crowns weigh significantly less than the stems, you will save money just buying the crowns!
Each of these examples will hopefully demonstrate that by just spending a bit of time in the produce section and considering how different produce types are packaged can add up over time.
15. Don’t buy wet produce
Water is quite heavy, so when you buy produce by the pound you can actually find yourself buying some water as well! Either find produce that hasn’t been rinsed recently or at least shake them well before checking out.
16. Be very selective when you buy your produce
How often do you buy your produce and then just a few days later open your fridge to them out the item to use in your meal to find that it has already spoiled? If you take the time to carefully select the under-ripe, quality items then the amount of unused produce you buy will decrease significantly!
17. Buy your produce items smaller when buying by the pound
Often when you cut your produce item they need to be consumed right away. When you buy smaller sizes you ensure that the leftover portions not used in your recipe aren’t simply discarded. For example, if we are buying apples by the pound we will pick out the smallest apples so that there is portion control and none of it is wasted. We have found the same principle works with fruits like bananas. Once they are cut or open there really isn’t much hope in saving it. Purchasing the smaller sizes prevent you from throwing away your money!
18. Buy the largest produce you can when the price is per item
If you are going to buy certain items sold individually, then by all means buy the largest item you can find (assuming good quality of course). You might as well as you will pay the same no matter the size you buy.
19. Find those rare produce coupons
To find potential rare coupons on produce, always check our coupon database to see if there are any available produce coupons that you can use to lower your out of pocket costs. They do exist and are typically on the pre packaged produce and salads.
20. Use Facebook or visit sites of companies that sell produce
For another coupon or discount possibility, visit and like the Facbook pages or the sites of produce companies. In the times we live in now, if a company does put out a coupon for produce, they often release these coupons to their Facebook fans. By already being a fan, you will be notified on your wall as to if and when a coupon is available! We have seen those most recently for avocados, Dole fresh fruits, earthbound farms, Fresh Express salads (and the list goes on)… 🙂
21. Price match
For any stores that price match in your area, this is a huge benefit as you can shop at one store, but yet take advantage of the prices of produce all around town! We do this quite frequently!
22. Freeze leftovers for a soup
Whenever there are veggies left over from a meal, keep adding the cooked ones to a container in the freezer and then when it is full, you can make a nice veggie or veggie beef stew/soup! Those soups already contain quite a combination of veggies, so it will just add to a yummy and unique soup not found anywhere else!
23. Can your extras
Can your supply for the off-season or when you can’t find a deal. Then you can have those produce deals and specials all year-round.
24. Freeze your supply
Almost all veggies and fruits can be frozen to use in the future. We actually freeze quite a bit of produce. Most fruits can be frozen in the state you bought them in. For veggies, you will typically need to do a light blanching and or steaming. The process will be different for each type. We suggest just Googling “how to freeze fresh ______ (fill in the blank)” and follow the instructions to freeze your fresh produce deals!
25. Buy dehydrated produce to rehydrate or even dehydrate your own produce
If you have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate quite a bit of fruits and some veggies. They will then be preserved for quite a while and you can eat them in their dehydrated state, but some can also be rehydrated in water – just google this too for the specifics for the types of produce you are looking to dehydrate and rehydrate.
26. Extend the life of your produce with special baggies
There are a variety of fruit and vegetable life extenders you can invest in to help extend the life of produce in your fridge. Depending on whether you use it, it can be worth the initial investment to buy some of these to help your produce life stretch further than it does now. It makes those weekly specials worth stocking up on because you will know that they will last a little longer than normal. Check out the fruit and vegetable food saver and preservation items on Amazon to get some ideas!
27. Store fruits and vegetables correctly
Research (Google again:)) how to properly store the specific fruits and veggies you bought. Some types of produce will last longer stored on the counter and some will last longer stored in the fridge. Again, helping your produce last longer is going to save you money because you can buy more on those weekly specials!
28. Revive those veggies
Perk up veggies (like broccoli, celery, carrots) in a bowl of ice water instead of throwing out to perk them up again and help the “limpness” disappear. This will allow you to use those vegetables that day as if they were fresh veggies.
29. Grow your own green onion
Don’t forget about the ever-growing green onion that will regrow over and over again. We usually just let them regrow 2-3 times before replacing. But even if you only regrow one time, this saves you 50% on Green Onions!
30. Finally keep up with the produce savings on our site
Just as we mentioned to follow the produce companies on Facebook and print off those rare coupons, if you follow our site closely we will tell you when those awesome coupons are available as soon as we know ourselves! This way you don’t have to follow hundreds of companies but rather just one – shameless plug added! 🙂
Finally, what tips did we miss and which of these have you used to save on produce?
Photo Credit: Fords Produce