10 Affordable Alternatives to the Grocery Store


Are you sick of taking weekly trips to the grocery store? Maybe you'd like to try to save some money, buy fresher produce, support your local farmers, or even grow food yourself. Here are 10 affordable alternatives to that hectic and tiring grocery-grind.

1. Contact farmers directly

If you know a farmer or rancher, consider approaching them directly about buying their goods. Personally, I have found this method enables me to purchase certain cuts of meat, or other things I need at a discounted price. It's also nice to know the source of your food and be assured that it is truly organic or grass-fed. If you don't know someone, try calling your local agricultural extension, 4-H Club, or FFA (National FFA Organization) chapter.

2. CSA shares

CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture. When you become a member of a CSA, you purchase a share of vegetables, fruits, eggs, or other agricultural goods from a farmer (or several farmers) in your regional area, often for less than you'd normally spend in the grocery store.

If you like a challenge and to learn about how to cook things, a CSA box is going to be right up your alley. I have cooked and eaten things I never would've tried. CSA boxes are a fun way to support local agriculture, save money, and learn how to cook new things.

3. Vegetable or fruit stands

During family road trips when I was a kid, my dad would take back roads in the California central valley in our family station wagon. Along the road, we'd stop at numerous fruit stands. We'd load up on peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, dates, and nuts. Everything was sold in bulk, in big flats, but at a huge discount from the grocery store. My mother would spend hot summer days canning, but what a treat when those jars of peaches came out, midwinter. I'll still hit the brakes for a fruit and vegetable stand, where I know I can get farm-fresh, locally grown produce.

4. Farmers markets

Farmers markets seem to be everywhere these days, and with good reason. Besides being a great place to stock up on fresh local food, they often offer food tents, music, plants, and crafts. Farmers markets have made shopping fun again.

5. Co-op grocery stores

You don't usually have to be a member of a grocery co-op to shop at one, but if you join, you will get a vote — and some input — on how the co-op is run. For a fairly nominal fee, you will become a member who can give input about the items purchased or carried by the store. While the prices may not be rock-bottom, you'll usually find high-quality organic and natural foods. During profitable years, you may receive a dividend. Co-ops tend to be very community-minded, and some have delis and household goods, as well.

6. Ethnic food stores

A Chinese exchange student, missing food from home, took me to our local ethnic grocery. Not only was it fun to have her explain the interesting selection of foods, but I was shocked to see those same foods at my regular grocery store at a considerably higher price. Similarly, when I make Mexican food, I head to one of those specialty stores to get ingredients. You may also be able to locate hard-to-find spices there.

7. Online Delivery

Online grocery delivery was something I pooh-poohed until our daughter moved to Brooklyn. I've stopped teasing her about it after she emailed me copies of her lists so that I could see the prices. Surprisingly, it's not unreasonable. Yes, she does pay an add-on price for delivery, but I pay for gas to drive to the market, so the difference is a lot closer than I assumed. With online delivery, you also avoid the lines and parking hassles. If you want to try it, do some comparisons between services to see which delivery policies best suit your lifestyle. Also be aware that ordering at "peak times" may result in not being able to get everything you need. Services such as FreshDirect even offer special deals and savings on specific items from week to week. (See also: 6 Ways Having Your Groceries Delivered Can Save You Money)

8. Trade

I have too many bananas, and my neighbor needs to get rid of avocados. (I get the better end of that deal, honestly.) It's great to be able to trade produce. Do you have an overactive orchard, or did you plant too many hills of zucchini? See if you can trade produce with a neighbor.

9. Discount outlets

Some outlet stores carry things that just didn't sell, but are still perfectly edible. Maybe the packaging was just too strange, or the label was off-putting. One of our friends carried a corkscrew and would just try some wines out in the parking lot of the local wine outlet after purchase. If they were good, she'd go back in and buy a case.

There are no bells and whistles in outlet stores, so come with an open mind. It's not Whole Foods. There are some amazing bargains at outlet stores, which can offer goods sometimes at 50-80 percent less than grocery stores. Cereal is usually a good buy, as are frozen foods. And don't forget a corkscrew.

10. Your own garden

I don't have the greenest thumb in the household, but I can handle growing green beans, carrots, beets, and tomatoes. Even if my carrots are misshapen, they are delicious. To get the best results, check out your soil. We took a soil sample to our local college's agriculture department, where they analyzed it and told us what to add (your local co-op extension may offer this service, too). Even a small garden plot is a very rewarding thing. Plus, the fresh air, vitamin D, and exercise are essential to your overall health. (See also: 10 Most Valuable Things to Plant in Your Garden This Spring)

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