As anyone who has stepped foot into a Health Food Store knows all to well anything that is touted as healthy, natural or the humdinger of them all organic is going to be significantly more of a drain to the budget than the bargain fare that can be found in the sale papers of the local grocery store. Unless one is very desperate to try anything and pay an arm and a leg with all fingers and toes attached for last straw health improvement purposes, or else is very well educated about nutrition it’s enough to deter even a semi frugality conscious individual from wanting to have anything to do with this whole natural food movement. (See? I promised marathon sentences with poor grammar. More to come.)
MyMan and I are diligently working to dig ourselves out of a rather hefty pile of debt that we in our naive excitement over earning more money than we ever thought we would managed to accumulate. “But it’s an investment!” (Ever heard that before??) It isn’t as bad as some but we are definitely of a mindset now that we want no personal debt at all except perhaps some purely investment based debt. So, yeah, digging out of debt hole = living on a budget. A totally sufficient but not a whole lot of wiggle room or extravagant purchases budget. This is the one crimp in my high flying fancies of living the all natural organic foodie life daydreams are made of. After talking and talking and talking some more (our favorite way of spending couple time) we finally decided that we would set our food budget higher than shoestring and lower than all organic. We have both known families to go hardcore “Dave Ramsey” on life as we’ve come to call it, living on dried potato flakes and ramen noodles for years at the expense of their families health. We desire to eat as healthily as possible while not going overboard on food extravagances at the expense of the War on Debt.
So, here are my foodie- budget-keeping tips-tricks-ideas-and otherwise obvious statements.
Electricity where we live in central TN is pretty dadgum cheap. Not that this is an excuse to leave the lights burning 24/7 but it does mean that energy efficient chest freezers do not incure an unreasonable monthly expense. When purchased at a couple of years old off of craigslist or a local dented appliances warehouse one can obtain chest freezers without too much cost. There is of course the space issue…Right now I have oodles of space so that is not a deterrent. For those with tight quarters there are some relatively small chest freezers that can be found. If it is possible at all to chisel some space for one they are totally worth every lost inch. With shelves put above them it isn’t a total loss of space, just the floor part! Freezer space allows me to bargain shop and bulk buy without worrying about having to eat 80lbs of apples before they go bad. Another thing that is invaluable if you are into culturing food like I am is an extra fridge. Or cellar if you are lucky. Anything that stays consistently cool year-round. My goal is to replace canning as much as I can with culturing and for me this entails a second fridge. Again, if you can spare the space and afford the extra bit of cost energy efficient models will probably pay for itself before too long.
My favorite thing to do is buy in bulk. We live a hefty drive from The Big City where most of the healthy bargains live so for me it is a more frugal move to stockpile what I can vs. frequently buy small quantities. Our gas budget and the environment should thank me. Requires advance planning but enough trial and error and even I eventually figured out how to do it. If there is insufficient storage space start looking for a network of local individuals that can go into large orders with you and split it. Buying clubs can also be a great way to get fantastic organic/all natural dry goods savings. Right now I have four people I split my organic oil orders with. Grassfed Beef orders are also divided. Same goes for bulk organic fruit orders.
God failed to give me the math in the head ability that most penny pinching bargain shoppers are blessed with. Have a friend that can keep a running tally of price per ounce or lb. standard pricing from 5 different stores along with the accompanying sale price. My blood pressure goes up just thinking about that and a surreal out of body experience begins to happen. So, I’ve created some basic buying rules for myself. I set a “maximum” and “fantastically incredible” price per lb/ounce of specific items. Some examples:
Grassfed/pastured/organic/all natural meat: $3.00 lb maximum $0.80 per lb. fantastically incredible
All natural/organic fruits and veggies: $2.00 lb. maximum $0.25 lb. fantastically incredible
Wild caught fish (from safe sources, very hard to find): $5.00 lb. maximum $2.000 fantastically incredible.
All natural/organic Beans and Grains: $1.50 lb. maximum $0.35 lb fantastically incredible
So on and so forth. Shopping farmer’s markets in season is an excellent way to stay on the low end of my set price ranges. This spring for the first time I am purchasing a share in a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. It’s been a long time goal of mine to support local agriculture and I finally figured out how to finagle it into my budget.
For those that are able a garden is a marvelous foodie saving way to spend time. Plus it gets indoor pasties like me outdoors! My black thumb perpetually gets in the way of the lovely garden that lives in my imagination but I pursue it as a worthwhile activity anyway.
Planning meals around whatever I have bought up at my cheapo prices allows me to usually fly under my set budget. The occasional once a week splurge on foods that are on my “high” range of price allowance is the current game plan that seems to be working out pretty well. Nothing makes me want to beat my chest and holler “I AM DA WOMAN!!!” more than handing over an extra chunk of money back to MyMan for extra to fuel the Debt War momentum because I was able to keep us under the food budget for a few months.
Last but certainly not least is the ages old principle that cooking from scratch is always and forever cheaper than buying pre-mixed, pre packaged, pre-pretty-much-anything. You pay for it in time but depending on where you are in life it can be totally worth the savings.
Time for me to run off and do some essential oil experimentation for the cold caused stuffy Doodlebugs. Will break out the frozen chicken broth from the freezer and stuff her with chicken noodle soup tomorrow. Recipe’s forthcoming.