Mach 28, 2008 -- Buying organic food doesn't have to mean spending more money.
"Good Morning America" consumer correspondent Elisabeth Leamy teamed with Shop Smart, a bimonthly magazine from Consumer Reports, to learn ways to save.
Prioritize Your Purchases
"The key way to save if you're on a budget is to prioritize your organic spending," said Lisa Freeman of Shop Smart magazine.
Because packaged foods are processed, even if they're organic, it's better to focus your organic spending on fresh foods like meat, milk and produce.
"There are certain types of produce that retain pesticide residue more than others," Freeman said. If a fruit or vegetable comes with a protective peel, buying organic is less important.
Shop Smart instead recommends investing in organic peaches, apples, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears and imported grapes. Key vegetables to buy organic include lettuce, spinach, celery, potatoes and sweet bell peppers.
Be aware that misting can spread pesticide residue from conventional produce onto organic produce, and look for displays where the organics are kept separate.
Read Your Labels
Shop Smart says certain "labels" aren't worth the money either. For example, the terms "cage-free" and "free-roaming" on eggs aren't tightly regulated. If a product is described as "natural" that's only as reliable as the company making the claim.
Instead, look for labels that say "USDA Organic, "Certified Organic" and "100 percent organic." Those are claims regulated by the Department of Agriculture and are held to a high standard.
"You're just better off buying "organic," because then you know there are standards that stand behind those products," said Freeman.
Search the Web
Some of the most well-known organic brands, such as Earthbound Farms, Health Valley, Stonyfield Farm and Annie's Homegrown offer coupons right on their Web sites, often for substantial savings.
Many coupon sites have an organic section and let you print out coupons to use in-store.
Skip the Natural Foods Store
Nowadays many mainstream grocery stores carry organic options. Several old-time brands have also started using organic items, such as Prego pasta sauce and Kraft mac 'n' cheese. Cutting out a separate stop can also help you save on gas.
Store Brand and Bulk Discounts
You can also save by going generic, because many grocers now offer their own store brand organics. For example, Safeway sprinkles its O brand throughout the store. Costco says its Kirkland Signature Organics will save you 20 percent compared with leading national brands.
Look for organic items in the bulk bins. It's often less expensive to buy grains, beans and pasta that way, and you can buy only what you need.
At Costco, we also found a wide variety of name-brand organics sold in bulk, so you can stock up. Just make sure you don't buy more than you can actually use. After all, spoiled food can spoil your savings.
Note: Certified-organic labels work for produce, for packaged foods and for meat and poultry. The government has not yet set up rules to certify fish as organic, though, so don't assume you can trust any organic-labeled fish you see.