I’ve been living on a strict grocery budget for the past five years, using a specific amount of cash each week to cover my groceries. I withdraw the cash once a week, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Living on this restricted budget keeps me from overspending, but I’m not eating ramen every week. In fact, I buy the bulk of my groceries at my local farmers’ market.
This might sound counter-intuitive to you because farmer’s markets have a reputation for being expensive or only for people with a lot of disposable income. While that may be the reputation that farmers’ markets have, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Farmers’ markets are incredibly cost effective if you have the right strategy in place. Below I’m going to share my tricks for buying your fresh, local food at a farmers’ market, without spending hundreds of dollars per week.
Buy In-Season Vegetables in Bulk
The key to buying inexpensive vegetables at the farmers’ market is to buy them when they are in their peak season. At that time, the prices will be lowest, and you’ll get the most bang for your buck. You can buy root vegetables by the sack and store them for long periods in a cool dark place. More perishable veggies like red peppers, zucchini, and broccoli, can be blanched and frozen for the winter. Tomatoes can be bought by the bag and dried or turned into tomato sauce. Finally, berries can be turned into jam or frozen for smoothies. If you are going to consume vegetables year round, you might as well purchase them when they are at their lowest cost. You may even find some farmers deeply discounting their overproducing crops just to get rid of them before they go bad. Deep discounts don't mean there is anything wrong with the produce – it’s just supply and demand at work.
Buy Cheap Cuts of Meat
Buying inexpensive vegetables at the farmers’ market is as simple as observing when they will come in season, but buying meat is a little different because it doesn’t have seasons. Instead, meat is priced according to how much processing is required to obtain that cut of meat. The trick to buying inexpensive yet high-quality meat from the farmers’ market is to choose the cuts that don’t require a lot of processing.
Stick to ground beef and pork, chops, and whole chickens. Avoid highly processed items like boneless skinless chicken breasts, bacon, and smoked meats.
While choosing what meat you buy will reduce the cost, buying meat for every meal will add up. Instead of eating meat at every meal, load up on healthy and cheap vegetables instead, and only eat meat at dinner, or better yet, only a few times a week. Reducing your meat consumption is healthier and less expensive.
Avoid Prepared Foods
Just like processed meat, value-added foods tend to be very expensive at the market, and you should avoid them. Pastries, bread, jams, cheeses, and other prepared foods do not give you the most bang for your buck and will quickly drain your limited funds. There are a few exceptions to this, including yogurt (which is produced in bulk), and milk.
Avoid the Crafts
Another area of the farmers’ market to avoid is the arts and crafts section. While the artisanal works are admirable – that’s all you should do – admire them. Buying paintings, leather works, knitted items and other handmade goods will eat through your budget before you know what happened. Purchasing those items are better done as Christmas gifts or with birthday money – not your weekly grocery money.
Shopping at the farmer’s market is a great way to support local farmers, reduce your carbon footprint, and eat healthfully on a budget. If you follow these tips, you can make your dollar stretch far enough to feed your whole family on the local delights of your nearby farmers.