Shop Local on a Budget: How Intentional Food Shopping Saves Money

Shopping local on a budget. It’s a myth, right? When people think of independently owned bakeries, seasonal farmers, and artisanal food shops, they see $$$.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve talked about food budget and buying local here before, and, when I polled my Instagram community on the types of posts they’d like to see, y’all said  budgeting. And, since shopping local is a recurring theme, particularly on my Insta stories, let’s start here.

Shopping Local On A Budget

First, a caveat. Yes, almost all grocery shopping is shopping local. There are always employees that live locally and any grocery store helps the local economy. However, most of us want to limit sending all our dollars towards Amazon grocery deliveries and Amazon-owned Whole Foods.

That’s why I’ve worked on creating a system that allows me to shop local without spending $1,000 a month on groceries. I buy particular items locally and others from bigger grocery chains, focusing on the items where I think the local touch makes the biggest impact. For example, freshly baked bread from a local bakery is worth the markup, while hot sauce or rice is just fine from a big box store. And, I also add in orders from Imperfect Foods every once in a while to stock up on dry goods and specialty items (I was doing this more often during the early uncertainty of the pandemic).

Does it take a bit more coordination and more frequent, smaller trips? Yes. However, since I’m typically not driving to the grocery store, it makes it more manageable for me to get groceries home (I do all the grocery shopping in our home — maybe that’s a post for another day), plus, it gives me an excuse to get outside and get some steps in in the morning, at lunch, or right after work.

So, here’s where I get each category:

  • Seasonal produce at the farmer’s market (Fresh produce from the farmer’s market actually lasts way longer than produce from Trader Joe’s)
  • Fresh bread from a local bakery once or twice a week
  • Meat, poultry, and deli meat from Eastern Market (Spoiler! My order at the meat counter is often cheaper than it would be from the big name grocery store)
  • Local whole bean coffee for pour over…but cheap coffee from Trader Joe’s for my flavored drinks
  • Speciality spices from a local shop
  • Ice cream from a local ice cream shop
  • Dry goods, baking goods, and condiments from Trader Joe’s or Harris Teeter
  • Dairy from Trader Joe’s or Harris Teeter
  • Out of season produce from Trader Joe’s or Harris Teeter


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How Intentional, Local Food Shopping Saves Me Money

Beyond the feel-good, taste-good advantages of shopping small, I found as I started to buy more seasonal produce and locally made food products that I actually spent less. If I go to Target or Harris Teeter, I’ll load up on items that I may not need just because they’re there. That yogurt that’s on sale? Sure! 2 for $7 gallons of ice cream? Load me up! Before I know it, my cart is filled with food that, okay, yes, I’ll eat it…but did I need it?

When I shop locally, I’m intentionally buying only the items I know I’ll use that week for a particular meal or that I’ll decide to plan a meal around. For example, at Eastern Market on Sunday, I bought brussels sprouts, peppers, onions, and apples. From the meat counter, I’ve bought chicken thighs and ground beef (fresh butcher-ground beef is life changing…you’ll never go back to packaged grocery store beef). I’ve also picked up a loaf of fresh bread and deli meat. So, this evening, we made garlic-butter chicken thighs and brussels sprouts. Tomorrow, we’ll make sweet and spicy ground beef, peppers, and onions over rice. We’ll have sandwiches with an apple for lunches.

When I’m buying everything purposefully at the market, there’s nothing extra and it all tastes so much fresher. Whereas a sandwich could be unexciting, when it’s made on mouth-watering asiago bread, it’s something I look forward to all morning.

Plus, when it comes to items like ice cream from the local ice cream shop, yes, it’s more expensive. But, I find that I eat less. It’s so much richer and I’m satisfied after a couple spoonfuls rather than eating a full bowl.

It seems that eating locally translates into eating intentionally which then translates into less food waste and buying less food overall. Which is all to say, that my food budget hasn’t increased even though I’ve committed to buying so much more locally.


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My Favorite Local Food Purveyors in DC

So, I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite places when I’m shopping local on a budget. Here are the go-to stops I make each and every week,.

  • Eastern Market: Inside the market, you’ll find meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, dairy, fresh pasta, and a bakery. I regularly buy meat, deli items, and poultry. Occasionally, I’ll spring for the pasta (so, so much better than dry pasta from the grocery store).
  • Eastern Market Farmer’s Market: Open on Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, this is where I buy produce, bread, honey, and, occasionally, coffee.
  • Ravenhook Bakehouse: I buy at least one loaf a week. The jalapeño cheddar is addicting, but a good harvest grain is a versatile choice. I’ll often pick up a scone, too, just to treat myself.
  • Moorenko’s: My favorite ice cream spot because it isn’t ridiculously expensive (seriously, half of what Jeni’s is!). And, yes, ice cream is always a must-have in our fridge.
  • Wine and Butter: If I’m buying a baguette, I’ll walk up to this spot at Lincoln Park (where Doug Emhoff and Chasten Buttigieg were spotted a few weeks ago!).
  • Paraíso: I’ll stop by this gourmet market to pick up their freshly made hummus. Don’t miss the pickled jalapeño flavor.
  • Souk: When I’m in need of a specialty spice or item, like za’atar or cardamom or rose buds, I’ll place a pick-up order at Souk.


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