Tips from The Kitchn

How to Not Spend Your Retirement Savings at the Farmers Market

Image Credit: Arina P Habich/Shutterstock

How many times have you gone to the farmers market and then come home with a few purchases but an empty wallet? I've totally been guilty of that. While it's great to support local producers and farmers, you also have to balance that with staying within your food budget.

Instead of avoiding the farmers market for fear that you'll overspend, here are five tips that I've followed over the years that have helped me shop a little wiser!

Image Credit: Christine Gallary

1. Make a generic shopping list.

It's so easy to get sucked into buying way more gorgeous fruits and vegetables than you'll be able to eat. Instead, take a few minutes before you head out to think about your upcoming schedule and meals, then think about what you need to buy from the farmers market for these meals and make a shopping list.

The list doesn't have to be super specific; a lot of times mine just says "a vegetable to go with spaghetti and meatballs" and "salad greens and toppings." This kind of generic shopping list helps me purposefully shop and buy things that actually fit in with my other food plans. At the same time, I don't have to decide on something specific beforehand and can enjoy shopping in the moment.

2. Limit prepared food purchases.

Besides produce, farmers markets now have so many other prepared food options, from baked goods to locally made jams to breakfast sandwiches. These things are usually pretty expensive, so if you're on a budget, it's best to stay away from them.

But sometimes part of the fun is eating at the market and enjoying being outdoors. Bring your own picnic and supplement with some farmers market fruit, or if you're allowing yourself that breakfast sandwich, bring your own coffee or tea in a travel mug to avoid hitting up the pricey pour-over coffee stand.

3. Comparison shop.

As with shopping in general, comparison shopping can really help you decide what's worth buying. Take a quick loop around the market first to check out prices so you know who's offering the best deals before purchasing.

It's also good to know how much the same produce goes for at the grocery store so you can figure out where to make your purchases. I've always found that leafy greens, like kale and chard, cost about the same at the grocery store or farmers market, so I don't feel guilty buying them at the farmers market.

Image Credit: Erin Gleeson

4. Skip the staples.

I usually just buy staples, like onions or garlic, at the grocery store since I don't find the quality there all that different from what's sold at farmers markets. Instead, I buy fruits or vegetables where I'm really relying on the expertise of the farmer to grow and harvest things at the right time so they're at their best.

I find this especially true for delicate fruits, like berries and stone fruit, and there's the added bonus that you can usually taste at a farmers market before you buy! I also like to buy harder-to-find items, like green garlic, fiddleheads, or stinging nettles, at the farmers market since I know it's unlikely I'll find them at the grocery store.

5. Stick to cash.

More and more farmers market vendors are accepting credit cards, which is convenient but also makes it easier to lose track of how much you're spending. Stick to the original form of farmers market payment, cash, and it'll be much easier to stay within your budget!

What tips do you have for not overspending at the farmers market?