If your household is similar to ours,
the grocery slice of the budget pie is sizable enough to get your
attention. Most “experts” recommend budgeting 14-20% of your take home
pay for food (groceries, lattes, eating at restaurants, etc.). A recent study
shows however that Americans are spending less on average than ever
before on groceries – 11% of income. That might sound like good news,
but consider the story behind the numbers.
A separate study from 2012
shows that while prices – for meat in particular – have gone down,
American consumption has in fact gone up or remained the same. What
happened? The advent of the factory-farm has succeeded in pushing the
price of meat way down. A 2012 article by Tom Philpott (The American Diet in 1 Chart) explains the phenomenon well:
have gotten a windfall from the the era of cheap meat that dawned in
the early ’80s. Meat prices tumbled as small farms shuttered, to be
replaced by massive factory-scale farms that stuffed animals with cheap,
subsidized corn and soy and kept them alive and growing to slaughter
weight with daily doses of antibiotics. Regulators looked the other way
as these gigantic facilities created messes they didn’t have to pay to
clean up. Meanwhile, as Mother Jones’ Ted Genoways showed in his
blockbuster piece last year on Hormel, corporate meatpackers managed to
bust unions, speed up kill lines, and drive down employee wages. It all
added up to bargain-priced meat.”
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR
Consequently, our consumption of
processed (read: cheap) food has skyrocketed. In 1982, 11.6% of a
family’s budget was spent on processed food and sweets. Today processed
food tops the budget break down at 22.9% of the budget, followed by meat
(21.5%), fruits and veggies (14.6%), Grains and Baked goods (14.4%),
beverages (11.1%) and dairy products (10.6%). So in layman’s terms, we
spend less money on food now because the bulk of our diet is ‘food’
processed and engineered with more regard to its cost than its quality.
Save Money, Eat Healthy
So what do you do if you’re interested in saving money AND eating healthy? Don’t despair – here are some tips.
Cook at Home
When you buy
pre-packaged food or eat at a restaurant, you’re paying for more than
just the ingredients you consume. (Someone has to pay to keep the lights
on, right?) With practice, cooking at home can be just as delicious
(sometimes more delicious!) than eating out. Eating at home can save you up to $2,600 a year!
And with some savvy, budget-friendly tips (like the tips you’re about
to read) you can save even more money! If you’ve never been much of a
cook, don’t let that stop you. (Everyone has to start somewhere, right?)
I recommend beginning your journey into homemade meals by using a crock pot. It’s so easy – I promise – and the great-tasting meals you produce will give you a boost of confidence to try something new!
Make a Plan
Like a lot of things
in life, it’s hard to win without a plan. Your grocery plan starts long
before you jump in the car to head to Meijer. Here are some tips.
First, keep a pad of paper in an accessible area (on the side of the
fridge?) so that you can keep track of grocery needs on an ongoing
basis. Did you use the last of the olive oil? Write it down now so you
don’t forget it later. The next two tips go hand-in-hand – make a menu
and check for sales. Making a menu
(meal planning) helps you make purchases that will form complete meals
rather than buying a bunch of things that sound good but don’t add up to
a complete meal. Having a pre-made meal plan
saves time as well because you don’t have to figure out what to make
each night. Planning a menu around what’s on sale will naturally save
you money. The next tip is to take stock of what you already have so you
don’t buy unnecessary duplicates. All of this should be complete by the
night before you’re going shopping: Menu created (check!); Inventory
taken (check!); List created (check!). Now when you get to the store,
you’ll be able to stick to your list without worrying that you’ve
forgotten something, and perhaps with a little more resolve to skip over
impulse buys! (You can also decrease impulse purchases – like a candy
bar at the checkout aisle – by having a small snack before you go
Buy (and Preserve) Produce In-Season
There are lots of great reasons to buy
produce when it is in-season. First of all, the taste is so much better
than out-of-season veggies
that you may never want to go back! Second, buying in-season, local
produce (check out your local farmers market) is great for your
community and area farmers. And third of all, it costs less to buy food
in-season than it does to buy it when it has to be grown hundreds of
miles away and shipped to you through the snow. And if you team up with
tip #9 below, you could save even more money at the farmer’s market;
Many sellers are willing to give you a discount for buying large amounts
of produce if you ask politely. Worried about what you’ll do with all
those [fill in the blank here]? If you can’t eat it all now, preserve
some of it! Can it, freeze it, dry it. Don’t be intimidated – you can
find tons of how-to help on the web
(or by asking your Grandma). Then in January when you want wholesome
[fill in the blank here] you can skip the trucked-in-from-California
produce section of your grocery store and turn to your pantry instead.
Use Sales and Coupons
I confess – I missed
the Extreme Couponing movement. I’m not coupon-wielding expert, but I
do know that the Sunday paper is full of coupons. As long as those
coupons are for things you will actually use, you can save money by
using them. Consider taking advantage of frequency type clubs for items
you usually buy or places you usually shop (i.e. “buy 10 get the 11th free”). Meijer has a great website (and a great app for your mobile device)
for looking up sales. Planning meals around what’s on sale can save you
big bucks. If you can swing it, try keeping a “Sale Fund” set aside
(perhaps $50 or $100) so that when a great sale comes up, you can stock
up and fill your freezer. (Earlier this year we scored some unbelievable
Buy One, Get Two type deals at Harding’s… our freezer has never been so
full of meat!) Just remember – using a coupon to buy something you
otherwise wouldn’t buy doesn’t save you money, even if you get 10% off.
Buy in Bulk
Our favorite place to buy in bulk is from Country Life Natural Foods
in Pullman, MI. It’s quite a drive (about an hour) from our home in
South Portage, but if you buy several things at once, the trip is
worthwhile. We’ve saved money on organic Quinoa (a year’s supply for
$30), a year’s worth of honey (1 gallon for $38.50) and 7 pounds of
coconut oil ($12.90). They have practically everything you can think of
and some of it is Michigan-made. Check out their catalog here.
To save even more money, carpool with a friend (thanks Darci!) or take
orders from each other and take turns doing the pick up. I’ve never
tried it but apparently they also deliver for certain order sizes. We
also now save money by buying our herbs and spices in bulk at Sawall Health Foods in Kalamazoo.
Leftovers? What Leftovers?
A great way to save
on food is to avoid wasting it. Plan your meals to make the most of
leftovers. Here’s an example from our life: Every other Sunday we have a
roasted chicken for dinner with carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, onions
or other in-season veggies. Monday I use the leftover chicken and
veggies in a meal like chicken salad over spinach or a chicken pot pie.
After that, I turn the chicken carcass into stock and make soup with it
(sometimes using remaining veggies from Sunday’s roast). Even sour milk can be saved from going to waste!
You can’t stretch everything that far, but there are lots of leftovers
that would go great in an omelet, a salad or soup. If all else fails,
send unwanted leftovers to the compost bin rather than the garbage can.
Brown Bag Lunch
great way to bloat your food budget is to eat out for lunch every day.
When my day job involved working from an office instead of working from
my living room I discovered some tips to making the brown bag lunch
work. I don’t know about you, but there were typically three reasons why
I ate lunch at a restaurant instead of from a lunch bag. The biggest
hurdle to jump is just remembering to bring a lunch. If you’re serious
about saving money, taking a few minutes the night before to pack
tomorrow’s lunch is key. Another issue: What’s in the bag just doesn’t
sound appetizing. The simplest way to avoid that conundrum is to bring
food you’ll look forward to eating! My main way of addressing this was
to make fabulous dinners and make sure there were always leftovers for
tomorrow’s lunch. The other reason I skipped a bagged lunch was because
I just needed to get out of the office! In warm weather, you can
accomplish the same thing by taking your lunch to a nearby park. In
yucky weather, sometimes just sitting in your car provides enough peace
and quiet to count as “getting away.” I also made sure to bring or keep
healthy snacks at work to curb my desire to buy a little something in
the afternoon. I always had something sweet (yogurt, a cucumber, dried
fruit, etc.) and something salty (crackers,
mixed nuts, etc.) on hand to keep my snacking healthy and cheap.You
could save more money by stashing homemade snacks like granola.
Frozen and Dried
Frozen and dried
fruits and vegetables are less expensive than fresh and in some cases
contain the same amount of nutrients. Resealable packaging helps you
avoid waste. For tips on how to store frozen vegetables so they keep as
long as possible, click here.
Use Cheaper Protein
Meat is expensive.
If beef and chicken are choking your budget, try getting your protein in
other ways such as beans, eggs, quinoa or legumes. If you grow your own
(including raising backyard chickens for eggs) think of all the money
you could save by opting for non-meat alternatives. For fabulous egg
recipes, click here.
Shop at Home
this spring, we hope to transition to a family that produces more of
our food rather than buying it elsewhere. What if you could remove
vegetables, fruit and herbs from your grocery list because you’re
shopping in the backyard? Now think about what a difference it would
make to take eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, bread and maybe even
meat off the list? We may not all be able to raise our own meat birds or
raise goats for milk, but almost everyone (even apartment dwellers) can
grow fresh herbs and vegetables. By using an intensive planting method (like Square Foot Gardening)
you can grow a surprising amount of food in a small space. Start small
with a garden size you’ll be able to easily manage. I think you’ll be
amazed at how much you get – and how much you’ll save!
Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.
Posted by Katie
@ 05:05 PM EDT