Yes, the conundrum that most families into natural health and wellness will face. On one hand we have the argument that organic, healthier foods cost more and therefore cannot be justified when we have a modest budget.
There is some truth to this no doubt. Organic cow’s milk might cost you $4.99 for a half gallon at the grocery store. The non-organic milk sits right next to it at $2.79 per whole gallon. The raw organic almonds I buy at $12.99 a pound to make breakfast bars with seems extravagant when I could buy Pop Tarts for a couple dollars a box right? Why go buy $15 worth of ingredients at the store to make a good dinner when we can shop the $1 menu at McDonalds?
But then the counter argument is that unhealthy foods and non organic foods will cost us more in the long run. Why? Because food is our medicine. An unhealthy diet will eventually lead to health problems, doctor visits, unpaid sick days, hospitalizations, pharma prescriptions, etc. If you need proof, look at me. My bad choices turned around to bite me in the behind BIG time. I chose bad foods…REALLY bad foods for many years and got lovely colon cancer, $50,000 worth of surgeries, and chemo treatment at $7000 a week for 6 months. Don’t I wish I could go back and buy healthy foods and complain about how expensive it was. ;)
I see both sides of the coin but only one really stands up to tough scrutiny. If we cut corners on a healthy diet due to expense…we may likely be paying the piper later…with interest. But like everything it seems there is no black and white here. Some things we may need to compromise on. How can we cut costs and allow access to better food? Let’s explore some of the ways.
Menu Planning – This is probably the best way to cut costs, good old fashioned planning. It gets really pricey when we shop piece meal and only pick up ingredients for a couple days worth of meals. You also might not know what you already have to work with and that can be costly. It just makes good sense to sit down every month or every two weeks and plan out every meal you will eat. Take an inventory of your frig and pantry to see what you have already and work with that. If you have a 5 pound bag of jasmine rice then plan 2-3 meals each week that incorporate rice. If you have lots of dried or canned beans then plan some meals with beans, etc. And when staples like beans and/or rice go on sale, make sure to take advantage.
Meal planning alleviates stress because you always know what you will be making and that lessens the chances that you will just call out for pizza. And eating raw takes planning cause if I want to use rice I have to allow four days for it to soak! But it is kind of fun to do. If it is not your thing you can also use online meal planners or services. Try Menu Planning Central or the Healthy Menu Mailer.
Also don’t be afraid to eat the same thing multiple times in a week if it saves money. There is no law that says dinner has to be totally unique each night.
Buy in Bulk – Sometimes bulk food warehouses can be a bad deal if we buy stuff we don’t need or want just because it is cheaper. But if you shop wisely they are wonderful. Personally I avoid paying the membership fee at Costco by shopping with my mom. I save money on the fee and my purchases count towards her cash back bonuses.
I like to buy frozen fruit at Costco. I can get a huge bag of frozen strawberries for $7.99. A bag ¼ that size can be found at my local grocery store for $6.99. That is a BIG savings since I can easily go through one bag a week and this is one of those areas where I opt not to go organic due to cost. If I had to pay triple for that amount of strawberries I would not buy them nearly as much and I would not make green smoothies nearly as much so the health benefit in that scenario favors the non-organic strawberries. Same goes with their bag of mixed fruit. But when strawberries are seasonal I buy organic and freeze my own. I just run out pretty quick. :(
Organic Baby Spinach is also a great price at Costco so I stock up on that. Fresh, seasonal fruit is better priced too. Costco it is one of the few places I can find wild caught salmon in our area. They have big bags of baking soda that I use to make my own green cleaners. They also add to their organic offerings all the time. Just don’t buy stuff for the sake of buying cheaper stuff.
You might also look into a food co-op where you join with other people to get bulk food at wholesale prices.
Shop Less – This ties in with meal planning. Frequent trips to the store end up costing us more than if we just plan for one or two shopping trips a month. Of course a diet rich in fresh fruits and veggies might mean more trips but the bulk of the shopping should only be done at certain times. The book America’s Cheapest Family discusses this.
Don’t Eat Out – Just stop it already, it is expensive. Make your own meals and save money. Presuming you don’t shop the dollar menu then value meals at fast food places will run around $25 for a family of 5 and it is crap food! That $25 could be dinner for 2-3 nights if you plan well. And don’t waste money on $4 coffees from coffee houses. Yes, it is easy for me to say since I don’t drink coffee but it seems like such a waste. I had to speak with my hubby about this recently and his iced coffee from Dunkin Doughnuts habit.
Make Your Own – Are you buying bottled salad dressing or salsa? Bags of bread? Think about making your own foods and condiments and save money.
Look for Deals – When staples go on sale like rice, beans, nuts, grains, etc, stock up and fill your pantry. Use coupons when you can but do not buy stuff you don’t need or want just because it is on sale. Wasting food is not cool.
If you find you regularly buy certain brand products then contact the distributor and see if they can send coupons. Join their online mailing list to get printable coupons. Pick up Mambo Sprouts coupon books in front of Whole Foods. Look at online sales flyers to see which stores are having sales and even if you have already shopped this week check them anyway, just in case. Don’t go to Whole Foods to buy your almonds when Trader Joe’s down the street has them on sale. If you use Agave Nectar a lot then stock up when they have a sale. I recently found my favorite brand of raw Agave Nectar for $1.99 a bottle! It was an unadvertised sale and needless to say I bought every bottle they had. Which leads me to a little tip: the little natural food sections of mainstream grocery stores often have unadvertised sales. I guess maybe they decide that no one is buying this stuff so they want to clear it out which is good news for me.
Also start keeping track of your purchase in a spreadsheet so you can get a feel for average pricing. This will help you figure out if something is a real deal or waste of time.
CSAs and Farmer’s Markets – Do the math and see if a CSA membership will be a good deal for you, it usually is. BUT if you end up with veggies you don’t like or use then perhaps not. Also check out Farmer’s Markets at the end of the day when the farmers mark down produce to get rid of it. Also be sure to look for local Amish for great deals on organic veggies and eggs.
Eat Less Meat – Meat is the budget killer so try to incorporate as many meatless meals as you can. If you see my sample rice meal plan above you will see only one of the three meals includes meat. That was deliberate. I have been amazed at how much food I have been able to bring home on the average shopping trip since we stopped buying so much meat. If anything we buy fish now instead for 1-2 fish meals a week. Ultimately I would like to see us move to buying sushi only… at our local Japanese grocer.
Eat in Season – Buy according to the seasons for cheaper prices. In the fall buy apples and persimmons and skip the pineapple and green grapes. In the summer load up on watermelon and strawberries. It might also be advantageous to buy a stand alone freezer and freeze some. You can also dehydrate to extend the life of seasonal foods.
Grow Your Own – Even if you have never gardened or think you don’t have the space I bet you can grow at least ONE thing. Pick one item you always buy and see if you can grow it yourself. Cherry tomatoes, strawberries, or herbs are a great place to start. They can be grown on a patio or at a sunny window. I love this post fro J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly about gardening. He found that for every dollar he spent on the garden, they harvested $1.91 worth of food and the expenses were often one time things like a wood chipper and young fruit trees. That is awesome. Wouldn’t you like to make every dollar go twice as far?
There are lots of ways to reduce costs that I can see. How about you? What tips or comments do you have?