We are often asked how to save money on produce with the accusative tone that you can’t. This seems to be an area that plagues many money savers who want to feed their family healthily for less.
Many don’t realize that there are options outside of cheap cans of soup and store-brand macaroni and cheese.
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, but to be as money smart as possible!
How to Save Money on Produce
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.
Over the years, our family has incorporated more and more fresh produce to our diets. We have been a debt-free, frugal family for many years, and the things we learn in the frugal life are more and more every day. We often think we have reach the “pinnacle” of frugality, only to discover even better ways of saving. It’s really quite an exciting journey.
Well, not only has our budget and frugal journey changed for the better more and more over the years, so has our lifestyle. We have learned to have the lifestyle we want within the budget we have. One of those lifestyle changes is that we are a mostly plant-based family.
I find that funny to say, but we have personally chosen to make the majority of our diets with produce, then healthy grains (like wild rice, quinoa, etc.) and a little bit of meats with some meals entirely meatless. You know that we have talked about a meat co-op that we use and this all works perfectly with our family lifestyle intended goals. Although the meat co-op has sales frequently, we only order a couple of times per year and this is our meat for that 6 months. It has been one of the most surefire ways to keep our grocery budget in check – in fact, averaging about $30 per month in meat.
What is Our Budget?
Well, we actually have a weekly grocery budget of $85 for 8 of us, plus another $50 a week in staple and freezer stock-ups. We also set aside $30 per month for our meat purchases that we make every 6 months at around $150 each time. On a weekly basis, most all of the $85 goes to fresh produce, with the rest of it going towards almond milk, fresh ground almond and peanut butter, eggs, our favorite cereal, Ezekiel sprouted bread and a little bit of cheese/sour cream. The $50 goes towards our staples for the shelves and for the freezer. Most weeks, we don’t use the $50, but generally make our bulk purchases every 6 weeks or so, and it is a big bill of a few hundred. 🙂 Sometimes the $50 gets spent when we find frozen produce, or some other favorite on markdown in bulk.
That’s our budget in a nutshell. But I summarize all of that to say that we spend most of our money on produce. But we are feeding 8 people. So that really isn’t a lot for produce.
Should I Worry about Organic?
I have to be honest and say that I rarely get caught up in the organic requirements. In fact, I prefer to buy it organic, but I have also read that it’s not even a guarantee then based on many articles. I try to fit organic in as much as possible, but I don’t stress about it. If we can’t get it, I don’t stress. If we can, then great! I say this to be an encouragement that fresh produce is MUCH better than not.
A Plant-Based Diet is Cheaper
Although we are on a tight budget for eight people, we have found that making our diets heavily plant-based has actually been cheaper and less burdensome. When you compare a bunch bananas averaging $0.17 – $0.25 each, this is MUCH cheaper than pre-packed fruit snacks or other snacks you can buy for kids, but end up much healthier and filling. We have discovered things like this over and over. And we don’t have to fuss with as many coupons when we are buying so many fruits and vegetables and grain staples! I still love my store’s digital coupons and the Ibotta app which lets me get money back on my healthy purchases, but overall, we are eating healthier and I spend far less time planning and shopping now that we have a produce-heavy diet!
With all of that, we would LOVE to share with you the 30 ways we save money on produce! Yes, we have a LONG list! They may not all apply to you, but this is what we do to feed our family a heavy plant-based diet for CHEAP!
30 Ways on How To Save Money On Produce
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, similar to how we buy higher quality meat for less too. 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.
We volunteer frequently and by doing so, we get free produce.
3. Participate in a community garden
With Spring approaching, consider having your family participate in a community garden. There are far 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!
This has been one of our top ways to save! Even this past fall, we were able to buy spaghetti squash, butternut squash and many other types of squash for super cheap. In fact, we were able to get them all for $0.50 at a pick-your-own farm that is 3 miles from our home. With proper storage, these types of foods can last for months.
We bought 20 spaghetti squash (and a few other of the other types) as we use it as a pasta replacement. It is a food we enjoy, so we have it a couple of times per week. We still have a few left after a few months, but they are close to their expiration and will all be eaten soon. However, on that $10, we were able to save so much money overall the past few months. This is just one of the many examples of how we save big time on produce with just this one option.
So really take advantage of the local farmer season!
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. 🙂
We have done this not only for food, but one of our daughters is majorly into horses. Getting horse lessons was not in our budget. So she made arrangements with a local gal that teaches horse lessons, that also runs a working farm, to help on the farm in exchange for lessons. She has done this for over a year now!
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!
We grow a lot of our own food and then harvest it and prepare it for the winter storage by freezing/canning.
On our site, we have an entire category dedicated to gardening with garden planning downloads and lot sof ideas to make your garden as frugal as possible, while still seeing results. This also includes growing a lot in a small space for urban gardening.
10. Hit the seasonal sales and stock-up
Besides buying from farmers and growing our own, this is another TOP tip for our produce shopping. On one hand, you might argue that it makes for a boring menu, but on the other, it actually makes it exciting.
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!
It also means that our family will eat a lot of asparagus during asparagus season. We get to eat a lot of berries during berry season! But it works to ensure a lot of variety instead of having the same list of produce to buy each week.
11. Watch for markdowns
We LOVE the discount produce section in our store. Seriously so awesome! There is a handful of weekly diet that has been made up from the markdown produce. It’s a fun option to explore because we have gotten so many random and expensive produce items from this one option! We can’t rely on it, but when we find it (we find at least something every week), then it is a huge blessing!
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)!
In addition, check the dates of packaged produce (like salads) and the look of the fresh produce. If something is close to expiration or doesn’t look fantastic, talk to the produce staff and they will likely discount it. Alex does this all of the time. He’s much braver in asking for a discount than me! Note that this doesn’t work at Walmart, but it has worked at every other store we have shopped at.
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, 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.
We most commonly buy frozen corn, green beans, peas and other similar veggies. We also buy berries frozen when they are on sale. Even when they are not on sale, frozen berries are cheaper than fresh and still maintain much of the nutrients.
We actually buy giant tubs of the Nancy’s plain yogurt for our yogurt each week, instead of the individual serving cups. We then add cinnamon, xylitol or honey and frozen berries to this tub of yogurt and make our own berry yogurt version for super cheap! The frozen berries actually test better in yogurt than fresh. So it is a great option! Plus, we use it in homemade smoothies and ice cream too.
14. Watch and examine packaging
While you are shopping for produce, take a few minutes to carefully check all product packaging. Here are three common examples we find:
- 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 $0.99 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 full price
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 items, they will 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, especially if you are feeding young kids!
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. 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 do a google search. You never know what you will find. However, if you use apps like Ibotta or the Kroger app, you will always have digital produce coupons. There hasn’t been a week yet where we didn’t have at least one produce coupon.
Most of the other coupons are for packaged produce like salads and clementines. You can find them out there.
20. Use Facebook or visit sites of companies that sell produce
For another coupon or discount possibility, visit and like the Facebook pages or the sites of produce companies. If a company does put out a coupon for produce, they often release these coupons to their Facebook fans. If you are following the page, you will be notified to when a coupon is available! We have seen this for avocados, Dole fresh fruits, Earthbound Farms produce, Fresh Express salads, etc.
21. Price match
For any stores that price match in your area, this is a huge benefit as you can shop at one store. You can then take advantage of the prices of produce all around town! We do this quite frequently!
22. Freeze leftovers for a soup or vegetable broth
Whenever there are veggies left over from a meal, keep adding the cooked ones to a container in the freezer. 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. You can eat them in their dehydrated state, but some can also be rehydrated in water. You can just google this too for the specifics for the types of produce you are looking to dehydrate and rehydrate.
We actually buy dehydrated apples, potatoes and corn in bulk 25 lb. bags and rehydrate them. This has been a perfect solution!
26. Extend the life of your produce with special baggies
There are a variety of fruit and vegetable life extenders you can invest in. These will help extend the life of produce in your fridge. 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. 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. It also means 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. This is an awesome alternative, instead of throwing them out. What does this do? Well, it perks 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. Regrow your own green onions, celery and lettuce
Did you know that you can regrow veggies? We do this primarily with green onions and lettuce. We have done it with other veggies too, but the green onions and lettuce are the easiest.
Learn 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 and other veggies. It is a fun project too. 🙂
30. Finally keep up with the produce savings on our site
If you follow our site closely, especially our Facebook page, 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?