I recently received a reader question about my grocery budget. I receive variations on this question on a regular basis.
How much do you spend a month on groceries? How do you afford such expensive food?
She went on to discuss price of grass-fed meat and organic produce.
I will be the first to admit that quality, nutrient-dense food is expensive. If you want quality, you are going to pay for it. But there are ways to economize. I afford high quality food three ways: I don’t spend on wants, I get the best prices I can or spend as little as possible on needs and I work hard to get the best prices on the food I buy. The bottom line is that I sacrifice other things so I can afford better quality food. Beyond that, what I can’t afford, I don’t sweat.
I consider having the money for quality food extremely important for our health. My food budget usually varies between $200-500 a month if we don’t have a budget squeeze or temporary lay-off to deal with. It’s that low and wide because we have a local salvage that carries organics and gluten-free foods. The salvage is my first stop. I get what they didn’t have available elsewhere. Because the salvage is hit or miss, we never know what we’re going to find. Some days it’s a jackpot. A couple of times I bought a month’s worth of grass-fed meat and non-perishables for a knock-out price. Other days I spend more in gas to get there than I do at the check-out register. We also garden in the summer, bringing our produce bill down considerably. We bulk-buy our beef and the produce I can’t grow. That is why we have so much flex in our budget.
When I switched to traditional foods, I made the decision to sacrifice on luxuries and non-necessities to afford better food.
- I stick to my budget unless it’s a true emergency.
- I do T-tapp as exercise. One DVD purchase is all you ever need to have a challenging work-out for years.
- No newspapers, magazines, gym memberships.
- No movies or cable. We have streaming Netflix for entertainment for $10 a month and will dump that if things get any tighter.
- All dates are free or cheap, including one-on-one time we spend with the kids.
- No paid entertainment except the rare occasion like the State Fair. When we do paid entertainment, we take the budgeted amount in cash and leave the debit cards at home.
- I don’t buy unreasonably expensive clothes, make-up or personal care. I only purchase classic and well-constructed clothes on clearance that will last and not look dated a few years from now.
- I work hard to keep the power bill as low as possible. The house stays cool. We use a programmable thermostat and heat the living area with wood.
- We don’t waste leftovers.
- We have one older model car and use my parent’s truck as needed.
- I use the library instead of buying books. When I do buy a book or DVD, I buy it used at the best price I can find.
- We garden and keep chickens.
- I cook from scratch, especially when my two are behaving like bottomless pits.
- I re-use things until they wear out. I recycle everything I can.
- I use Pinterest for inspiration on creative crafts, new recipes, saving money and more. Pinterest has saved me a ton on home decor, helped me learn to sew and given me awesome homemade gift ideas and tutorials.
- I make my own household cleaners.
- I use a shampoo bar and I make my own deodorant.
- We use foaming soap pumps for washing hands instead of straight soap. It cuts down on the kids wasting it.
- When I do buy an item I need, I buy solid quality that will last at the best price I can find. I’m not afraid to spend money on quality things that will last.
- I don’t own a cell phone.
- We use rechargeable batteries, silpats instead of parchment, resuable cloth ‘ziplocks’ and mason jars instead of plastic storage containers in the kitchen instead of disposable items.
- My kids don’t have lavish parties or get a lot of money spent on gifts.
- We make memories with family activities instead of spending unreasonable money on toys. My kids talk a lot about our outings, but they don’t go on and on about toys as a general rule.
- Instead of spending money to entertain our kids, we do activities that teach skills and character. Boy scouts, 4H, debate team, and sports are good examples.
- I knit, I sew, I make gifts. No matter the occasion, I try to give something that is nice but handmade. If I can’t do handmade, I go for unique and thoughtful from a local vendor.
- I combine errands to save on gas. Hubby does any errands that are near his office before coming home from work.
- Hubby takes his lunch to work as often as he can.
- I declutter and minimize constantly. I take things to Goodwill and get a receipt so I can take the donation off of my taxes.
- I’m not too good to accept hand-me-downs. I’m not afraid to go into Goodwill or a consignment shop before buying something at retail.
- When people have a need, I give freely if I can help them. Good karma is important.
- We do our own car maintenance.
- We have a timer and a insulation blanket on our water heater.
- We don’t keep up with the Joneses. I couldn’t care less what my friends or my neighbors can afford.
- I’m never afraid to invest in something that will save me money in the long-run. A pressure canner, low-flow shower head, a sewing machine, programmable thermostats, reusable canning jar lids, a quality water filter, a freestanding freezer, the tools to change your own oil, power strip on your computer or TV outlet or a dehydrator are good examples.
- We do not have any debt except our mortgage. Dave Ramsey will teach you how to get out of debt.
- I do a lot of thinking outside of the box.
- I stick to my budget and pray when it seems impossible.
If you can’t find the funds for better food, especially if you have a health problem, look for non-necessities you can cut. My list above is just a start on ideas, and your list will look different depending on your situation. I hope it helps you find some things you could cut or re-arrange to free up more money for better food.
I have mentioned many ideas to reduce your grocery budget on the blog in the last couple of years. Just a few of the strategies I use are:
- Always calculate the cost of food based on price per ounce and pick the best deal.
- Buy in bulk when you find a better price on large quantities. Split it among multiple families, lowering everyone’s price per pound in exchange for a little work in breaking up the order.
- Keep a price book. I’ll post about price books next week.
- I shop online for shelf-stable foods and always compare prices.
- I joined Green PolkaDot Box and they should begin shipping shortly. Their prices are better that other online sources.
- For the items you buy at a store, only buy while on sale and buy enough to get you through until the next sale. Keeping a price book will help you know how often they have sales.
- Store the food correctly so it won’t go bad.
- Know about the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen and base your money on organic produce with that.
- Keep a list on the outside of the fridge or freezer so you don’t have stuff go bad.
- Don’t be afraid to look in unusual places for food, such as ethnic markets or roadside stands. The local Asian market has tapioca starch for 58% less than the health food store.
- Find a local salvage, scratch and dent or discount grocery store. Our local salvages carry organics.
- Know which foods are most important to buy organic/grass-fed and which are less important.
- Plan your meals. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
- Don’t be afraid to ask to barter with farmers.
- Always be on the lookout for good recipes that fit your diet, are filling and don’t cost a lot.
- Grow everything you can yourself. Think outside the box- container gardening and other strategies help maximize small spaces.
- Local farmers might not be cheaper in all cases, but their produce is likely fresher and therefore has more nutrients.
- Can or freeze things that are in season.
If you follow the blog, you know we do the envelope method. I budget $500 each month and any money we don’t use goes into my bulk beef purchase fund. Once we have enough to fund the beef, any remaining money goes to savings.
Don’t go into debt for better food. If I can’t afford it, I don’t get it. I believe the stress from having to struggle to pay for the debt would negate the positive effects from the quality food.
You’ve heard me talk about eating white rice, tightening budgets and endless oatmeal breakfasts. Next week we’ll take a look at my price book and discuss some other things I do to squeeze the budget tight.
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