Inexpensive Clean Eating Shopping Tips

Being a thrift shopper, I have an aversion for paying full price for anything. Most of the clothes I have were thrifted at Goodwill (wearing a pair of thrifted Kuhl pants as this is being typed) as well as finding some amazing deals on cookware, art, and sporting equipment especially.

While I may be thrifty for most things, and buy most all of my clothes at second hand stores, food is the one thing isn’t skimped on, (well athletic shoes and a quality mattress too).

The reason why is because over the past few years, (especially since becoming a personal trainer) I’ve realized what a direct connection there is between the food you eat and how much energy you have.  I’ve had so many clients make little and large changes within their diet and watched the direct transformation as a result of making those changes.

I had one client lose 52 lbs. in one month for example by making changes with the diet, (in conjunction with personal training just once a week, along with a suggested walking regimen.)

Food become such a passion that (while still personal training) I worked at a co-op for a year and half to learn as much about the food within, (plus a nice discount, as well as free high quality leftovers on food that was about to be expired/dented).

Even though food is one thing I don’t skimp on, that doesn’t mean that full prices are paid unless it’s necessary!  There are a number of ways in which to lower the price of quality food you pay for, but not lessen the quality of the food you’re buying.

First off, I’m not a huge coupon clipper.  You’ll find that when you look at most coupons, largely they are for junk food.  If I have a coupon for quality food though I will use it, and one thing I do consistently take advantage of is the two 10% off coupons mailed every two months from the co-op (a perk of membership, which has more than paid off over time for me.)

The Co-ops

Co-ops can be expensive, and though you often pay for what you get, you also pay more than you should, as the marks up can be quite high.

That’s why you don’t buy some of the things they sell.  Most of what I purchase at the co-ops (besides organic eggs) comes from the bulk bins, or something that is on sale.

I will give a great example of how I’ll use my member coupon to my advantage in conjunction with a coupon and shopping on the first Wednesday of the month (which is “Wellness Wednesday” where you get 10% off any purchase in the wellness section.)  Say I’m buying a bottle of Nordic Naturals fish oil for my arthritic dog (it works amazing for Stella!)(  I will pick up a coupon at some point in the year for any Nordic Natural product (they usually put out coupons for them 3-4 times a year, typically for $3 off) and then on the first Wednesday of the month I will purchase the fish oil using my member coupon and the Nordic Naturals coupon.  Say the canine fish oil is $23 to start with.  The $3 coupon brings it down to $20, and the two 10% off discounts via the member coupon and Wellness Wednesday (equaling 20% off) will bring it down another $2.00.  If I’m feeling really cheap I’ll wait until there is a sale on Nordic Naturals products (typically another $3 off) and then all of a sudden I’m paying $15 for a $23 dollar product.  That is something to wag your tail about.


Besides the arthritis supplement for my furry friend, I also once bought a bag of highly discounted high quality dog food from the co-op, (used in conjunction with my member coupon) that dramatically changed the quality of Stella’s life for the better, (blog coming for that.)  Now for the human deals (no offense dawg.)

As mentioned, when it comes to co-ops I often hear complaint of how expensive they are.

Though there is much truth in that, for the discernible shopper they are numerous deals to be found within co-ops.

The first place you should go to at the co-op is directly to the bulk bins.

Just about anytime you bag something yourself via the bulk bin, you will be paying less than you would have had you purchased the similar product in a box from just about any grocer.  You’re not paying for the marketing, the advertising, the labeling, the pretty colors that all add up to the cost of the product.  If it’s local, (which many times it is at a co-op) you’re also not paying as much for the food to travel there.  Besides just dried bulk bin items like oats, look at the spices, shampoo, oils, etc. and compare the price you pay when buying in bulk compared to buying the boxed version (account for quality too sometimes).

I always buy spices like salt, pepper, and garlic powder at the co-op now and I’ll compare the price of buying that in bulk compared to the price I would pay at Trader Joe’s or elsewhere, and I’m most always saving money by buying the bulk version.  An example is last week I bought black peppers, and then did the math on how much I saved compared to buying the Trader Joe black peppers.  I saved about fifty cents.  Doesn’t seem like a lot, but if you add in buying five other bulk items, and assuming you’re saving a similar amount (usually the case) you’re now saving a few dollars per trip.  Extrapolate those little savings over the course of the year, and it adds up in a big way.

Often the bulk products are fresher than the boxed version as well, and you’re being less wasteful buy not buying a throwaway pepper grinder and the materials that accompany it.  Not only that, my favorite part of the co-op is the ambiance; it puts you in a healthier place mentally, and makes you more aware of more food options and of real food, (rather than the lifeless rows of boxed, processed crap you encounter at the big box grocer).   If you can afford it, I would highly recommend purchasing your meat from the co-op; in most cases it will be less fatty (animals that can move around and aren’t stuck in a factory silo are going to be leaner and healthier, something most don’t think about).  Also think of the Michael Pollan quote, “You are what you eat, eats.”  If you’re consuming food from a factory farm cow that may be confined to it’s own filth, being force fed food it wouldn’t typically eat, not to mention the possibility of additional hormones, antibotics, steroids, etc. etc. you can see where that’s not going to be good for whoever eats that.  Compare that to a pasture raised cow that is free to move around, which often reduces or eliminates the need for the antibiotics, etc.  While on that subject I would avoid farmed fish at all costs.  Even if you don’t care about the animals welfare, think of your own, because there is that direct connection.

That covers the co-ops where I probably only buy about 10-20% of my food from, depending on the week, what’s on sale, what’s in season.

The smaller value stores (ALDI and Trader Joe’s)

These two stores are my favorite for getting the most value for your buck (Costco is definitely tied or a better value for most things, but the only drawback with Costco is can you eat the certain product you can before it goes bad/expires?   With me, if it’s a fresh produce product, because of the amount I usually can’t finish it all before it goes bad, so I will purchase staples from ALDI like chips, salsa, bananas, potatoes, bell peppers, cheese, organic leafy greens (they consistently have the freshest organic leafy greens of any store by far in my experience,) cashews, organic plain yogurt, and unsweetened vanilla almond milk (almond milk is actually cheaper at ALDI than in bulk at Costco.). Then certain organic (and non organic clean fifteen) produce items I will purchase mainly from Trader Joe’s because some items are consistently more fresh and available (organic carrots, organic celery, frozen asparagus, sweet potatoes, organic onions, organic apples when in season, specialty items.) And the difference in price usually isn’t huge anyway if you’re getting it from Trader Joe’s or ALDI instead of Costco.

The Big Box Bulk Buys (Costco, I think Sam’s Club reeks in comparison.)

I like Costco quite a bit over Sam’s Club because I feel like Sam’s Club is mostly discounted boxed food and/or of lower quality, where as Costco has much more organic and “clean ” offerings within their selection.

When I go to Costco (about once a month or so,) I always save a ton of money for what I would pay anywhere else when it comes to:

Canned goods (organic beans, tomatoes, olives, tuna, etc.)

Boxed Goods (Steel Cut Oats, toothpaste, lotion, spices, etc.)

Bulk packages of Nuts and Seeds (Almonds, Pecans, Walnuts, Chia Seed, Flax Seed, Hemp Hearts, etc.)

Organic Coffee (HUGE difference in value over all other grocers; you save a ton on this and it’s always super fresh and varied good selection.) If you drink a lot of coffee, I’m confident you would make your membership fee back on money saved through buying coffee from here alone in a year’s time.)

Cooking Oils and Butter (Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil) Butter (3 pack of Kerrygold butter is the best!)  The difference in price compared to other grocer’s price for quality cooking oil is similar to the coffee value benefit mentioned above, maybe more so.

Frozen Protein (frozen chicken breasts mainly)

Frozen produce (berries, peas, broccoli, etc.)

And, *drumroll* especially the $5 rotisserie chicken, which they actually lose millions of dollars from every year* but sell for such a great price because it draws so much foot traffic.

I’ve also got a great pair of Sankuto “German Steel” knives (made in Brazil) there for only $12, as well as quality sunglasses made in either Italy or Japan (I don’t trust Chinese goods,) and quality, lasting briefs and socks as well.

You’ll pay more on the front end, but you’ll save a lot if you extrapolate the savings over time.  And though I don’t buy much of the fresh produce or meat in bulk because I wouldn’t be able to eat it before some expires, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t if you have a family or can split it up between a roomate, friends, etc. so that it wil be consumed before it expires.

The Regular Grocers (Whole Paycheck, Cub Foods, etc.)

I don’t find much value in these grocers.  Whole Foods is a gigantic ripoff in my opinion (and many others) almost no matter what you buy.  You can find a good deal anywhere though, even at Whole Paycheck.  I stopped at a new Whole Foods in Woodbury (the town where no one ever figured out how to use a turn signal) and there was a deal on Melatonin that was so good I bought it, but then I also treated myself to two tiny underwhelming bakery cookies that cost almost $3 so it practically nixed the good melatonin deal.   When these types of stores have have “sales,” they always seem to be for processed boxed products, often junk food, and if it is quality products that are on sale, they are too often in my experience sold out of them when you go to get them (looking at you Cub.) Even with their “sale” prices I often still get a better deal (at the regular non sale price) from ALDI, Trader Joe’s, or Costco..and the food’s usually better too.

If you want to save money in the short run, (and long run,) avoid these places.

The Dollar Stores

As mentioned with the co-ops you pay for what you get, (or git in dollar speak.) Just say no to processed food and $1 meats; in the short run you may pay for $1 meat with a case of the runs in your buns; in the long run, you’ll hopefully be running as far away from “food” at these stores as possible.

For saving expenses at the expense of yourself is no saving at all.


If you have any thrifty food tips to share, please do!  I’ve picked up some great tip’s and recipes from fellow shoppers, and am always on the lookout for more!

PS Disclaimer: I am not recommending to the reader of this article any diet plans or to follow what I do, just showing an example of how I eat what I consider to be clean and cheap eating. Always do your own research and figure out what works for you (as long as it doesn’t come through a drive thru.)

Image below is a recipe “5 spice fried rice w/sweet potatoes” that costs way under $1 per serving, from the excellent, very fun cookbook Thug Kitchen

Thug Kitchen’s deliciously clean “5 Spice fried rice w/sweet potato”

4 thoughts on “Inexpensive Clean Eating Shopping Tips

    1. Yuppers, thanks! I’m a huge price comparer, and even though the co-op can be a bit pricey for certain things, I find getting things like oats, Turmeric, and black pepper are cheaper (even if just by a little bit) than the packaged version at say Trader Joe’s, which is the next best price. Equally, or more important, is that the bulk goods are most always much fresher, and you’re cutting down on waste by not buying the throwaway packaging!

      Thanks for the feedback!


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