MyPlate on My Budget: Spend Less $$ on Fruits & Vegetables

MyPlate on My Budget: Spend Less $$ on Produce

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that fresh produce is one part of the grocery bill that can add up very quickly. Jenny shared her frustration with the cost of produce on week one of the MyPlate on My Budget project. She went to the store and carefully selected fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors and textures. When all the shopping was tallied she discovered that the bounty was less than the recommended servings of produce her family would need for the week. Unfortunately the cost pushed the upper end of her budget. I felt Jenny’s frustration but I was curious about her methods.

Jenny did her weekly shopping at Trader Joe’s a store. In the spirit of full disclosure she included a picture of her grocery receipt in the post. For whatever reason I generally include Trader Joe’s among high end grocery stores. After scanning her receipt I was sure her purchases would be more budget friendly at a larger national chain grocery store. So I went on a pricing expedition.  Armed with her receipt and my trusty notebook, I went out to see if my assumptions were correct.

Well color me surprised! I did my best to price like for like items and when I added up my choices the total exceeded Jenny’s by a whopping $7.01. Okay so maybe not a huge difference but enough to make both Mr. Second Helpings and I pause to reconsider our preconceived ideas about Trader Joe’s and our local super market.

Here are the numbers:

Produce Comparison tj-sfwy

Now I’ll let you in on my little secret. At least a couple times a month I try to visit one of the produce markets in my area. Just like the supermarket these carry a wide variety of fruits and vegetables both local and well traveled. I don’t expect to find organic options at these small markets particularly during the winter. I do find produce that is generally less expensive than my supermarket and use the savings to off set the cost of the organic items I may buy later. (These markets may not be common in all regions and the prices are certainly subject to change by region and availability.)

MyPlate on My Budget: Spend Less $$ on Produce

In addition to produce some of the markets specialize in grocery items specific to Middle Eastern, Latin, or Asian cuisine. In these larger markets I like to poke around the shelves and look for interesting ingredients while I shop for fruits and vegetables. There are a few that only open during the warmer months of the year. These tend to offer produce that is grown in our region. They are more likely to offer some organic options as well as a few local speciality items like honey, or eggs.

Armed once again with the shopping list and my notebook I set out for one more pricing expedition. Once again I did my best to choose like for like items though organic varieties were not available. This time the results were more in line with my expectations. Excluding the tomato soup I was able to check everything off the list for the reasonable sum of $24.43. A savings of $9.59 from Jenny’s bill or $16.60 over the supermarket prices.

Produce Prices at a Neighborhood Produce Market

You’ll recall that Jenny’s frustration was with both the cost and the volume of her purchases. With the “extra” money I did a little more shopping and added a few more items to the cart.

  • broccoli 1 additional pound $.99
  • Roma tomatoes 2 additional pounds $1.98
  • D’anjou pears 3 lbs $2.67
  • yellow onions 3lbs $1.49
  • butternut squash 3lbs $2.37

Total added produce = 12 pounds!

New grand total: $33.93

I realize this shopping trip omits the tomato soup. My intention is to use alterations and additions to make a big pot of vegetable soup and more than replace the boxed version.

What I hope readers see in this exploration are new and different ways to approach shopping for fruits and vegetables. If you do have produce markets in your area and have never stopped in to see what they offer I encourage you to take a few minutes and check one out. Not all will be the same. I have some I prefer and others where one visit was plenty. This exercise challenged my assumptions and I hope it challenged yours too.

Do you have ways to save money on produce? Share them in the comments!

The MyPlate on My Budget Project

Don’t forget to check in on Jenny’s blog to see how she is managing her limited food budget.

AND follow all our posts and thrifty ideas on the MyPlate on My Budget Pinterest Board!


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  2. My big problem with Trader Joe’s is all that plastic they use on produce! It’s ridiculous! This can apply to lots of other grocery stores in America, but I will spend slightly more to be able to put my produce in reusable produce bags than to come home and just throw away a bunch of plastic.
    I haven’t been able to come up with a way to save on produce in a major way. I will spend more to buy quality produce because what good is spending money on food if it’s no good?

  3. My sister and law have been talking about doing a similar study so thank you for sharing. I was really surprised TJ’s has cheaper produce as I too was under the assumption they were more spendy. We are looking into trying out a co-op for produce. Pro’s- locally grown and $15 for a whole basket; Con’s- pickup is one time a week and pre-selected items. We will see how it works out!

  4. I recently went to Hau Hau Market: 412 12th Ave S at King Street. What a find. Produce was amazing but note, if you are used to the pristine super high grade of produce from QFC or Fred Meyer, these are more bruised and lower grade. Still the same nutritional value but a little less pretty. Amazing varieties of things that I have never heard of. It is like taking a trip to Hanoi without leaving home. We are buying honey mangoes by the box and eat them for snacks and with meals. I love getting produce at TJ’s. It is next to my gym so pretty convenient. Milk prices are quite low as well. Great article.

    • Thanks. It’s true the produce market selection tends to have a slightly shorter shelf-life. It motivates me to buy in moderation and get in those servings of fruits and veggies.

  5. My wife, who is arguable the best shopper in town, says “You have to know your prices.” What that means is that she knows that some things will be reasonably priced at TJs or even the Co-Op but usually not. She hits all the hot spots in town and picks up what is that best value (coupons/Organic or not/ etc. factored in).

    I save money by spending most of my time across the street from the best store in town (if it isn’t at FMs, then I don’t need it!). They do a fine job of usually having a good selection of fresh food at a fair price: so I save money by not driving all over town. I choose Organic according to a list thoughtfully created that strikes a balance between safe, healthy and budget friendly. I know it sounds like a man thing, and for me finding what I want when I want it is the definition of a great deal:-)

    • Thanks for you comment – I don’t think it is a “man thing” at all. I really appreciate when I can knock out my list at one store. I am often in Fred Meyer for that very reason. If you view time as currency it is often worth it to just knock out those errands and move on to other things.

  6. Its good to hear about TJ’s since I love shopping there so much. I really enjoy their frozen veggies and think they are a great deal, especially if you want organic. I always stock up on their frozen shrimp too.

    There’s a place called Top Banana in Ballard across from the high school that is open year round and sells cheap produce like the ones you were mentioning above.

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