Making ‘Cent’s’ of It: Eating Whole on a Budget

Eating the healthiest, freshest foods is important to me, as it is to a growing number of Americans.  The only problem is, it’s costly.

Often I’m ashamed to admit what our food budget is each month, not because it’s high, but because I see so many young couples with much lower food budgets.  $25 a week for two people?!  You’re kidding me, right?! 

The fact of the matter is, these people are probably eating fairly healthy.  Fruits and veggies don’t cost too much if you buy them on sale, right?  But what about those of us that are interested in organic foods, or whose husband’s are big “meat” eaters? 

I recently saw someone calculate what they spent on a specific meal that contained eggs.  The calculated that for 3 eggs they spent 33 cents.  I immediately knew they were buying the cheapest eggs at the store, something I used to do.  You couldn’t buy organic egg, free-range eggs for that much.  For what I spend on them, the cost would be more like 86 cents.  Not huge, no, but those things add up. 

If I wanted to buy everything organic, I would be spending a lot.  Not to mention those options are limited in my area.  I typically buy all my groceries at Walmart, and the closest Whole Food’s market is 2 hours away.  Not to mention their prices are really high.  What’s a girl to do?

My answer is to do what you can, but don’t go crazy.  I probably won’t be decreasing my food budget anytime soon.  Simply put, as soon as I learn to save money on one item, I replace that cost with something organic.  Here are my tips for buying whole, organic foods without breaking the bank.

1.) Don’t expect to be able to change everything overnight.  Just as learning to save money takes time, so does finding ways to eat organically within your budget.  Like I said, I don’t buy everything organic…far from it.  But I’m working towards it.  And some of that takes more than finding “deals” at the grocery store.  Yes, I’d love to be able to buy all organic, grass-fed, hormone-free meat.  But I can’t pay $8/lb for it.  My goal in the future?  Buy a share in a cow or, better yet, raise my own cow…something that’s very feasible in my area.  I’m also looking into raising my own chickens, and I’m pressuring my man to bring me home a deer this weekend. 🙂

Other goals I have for the future are to grow and can as much as possible (making organic a possibility and saving money), plan trips to Little Rock better so I can visit the Whole Foods market, and finding ways to make more things from scratch.

2.) Spend Money Based on What’s Most Valuable to YouTo me, buying hormone-free, high quality dairy products and eggs is important to me, so that’s where I spend my money.  Even my husband would tell you how easy it is to tell the difference between organic, free-range eggs and the plain, cheap kind.  You can tell just looking at them!

I also buy produce based on this as well.  My mom gave me a little card listing which produce contains the most pesticides and which don’t, and I always keep this handy.  I’m more likely to spend extra money buying organic celery, because regular celery usually contains so many pesticides.  I don’t, buy organic onions or sweet potatoes, unless they’re on-sale, because they typically contain fewer pesticides.

3.) Vary Your Eating Based on What’s On-Sale.  I love apples.  Like I said, however, apples, however, also are one of the top pesticide-laden produce.  Thus, I don’t eat apples all the time.  On occasion when I want to make an apple pie, I’ll buy the cheap ones, but usually I wait until the organic apples go on-sale and then stock up.  The same goes for anything else I buy.  Many things I just can’t afford to buy all the time, so they become a special treat when they are on sale.  Typically, you can find organic produce on-sale when they’re in-season, so that’s the time to stock up and store what you can.  Other than that, focus on the fruits and vegetables that contain the least amount of pesticides and buy them.  You can always supplement a few foods, despite their being expensive, such as organic spinach.  Again, that goes with what you value.

4.) Take the Time to Search High-and-Low.  Sometimes finding places to buy good food inexpensively just takes time.  Don’t be afraid to ask people or look in unique stores.  For instance, at our local farmer’s market in the summer there’s a vendor that sells local raw honey for a much cheaper price then you’d buy it at a store.  So, I stocked up and bought enough to last me through the winter. 

There’s also an Amish country store in town that sells freshly milled wheat flour, fresh-ground peanut butter, quinoa, raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and many other things for very good prices.  If you don’t have resources like this, look online or ask fellow health-food enthusiasts where they buy items.  Search online for coupons on organic foods and produce.  In the different produce seasons, check out the local newspaper to find farms where you can buy produce in bulk.  If you know any older people in the area, ask them where to find wild berries.  Just don’t be afraid to take the time!  It’s an initial investment of time, but it saves so much time and money later!

5.) Learn to Make/Grow Your Own Foods. Milling organic wheat to make bread is still much cheaper than buying pre-made bread that’s filled with junk you don’t need.  Sometimes eating the healthy way just takes a little extra time and effort, instead of extra money.  Personally, I would prefer to spend time rather than money, and often it doesn’t take that much extra effort.

For instance, I cook my own dried beans to replace canned beans.  This way, I can control what beans I’m using, avoid chemicals leached into my food from cans, and save a lot of money.  Dried beans are dirt cheap.  And really, once you get the hang of it, they don’t take too much time.  Soak them, cook them, and you’re done.  Take a Saturday to make a big batch and freeze portions.  It’s great!

If you’re on a budget, don’t give up on eating whole, organic foods.  Let me tell you, you can do it and still be on a budget.  Just don’t obsess about it.  If buying all organic or grass-fed isn’t in your budget, then don’t do it.  Creating stress and stretching the budget just to eat the best you can isn’t worth it.  Do what you can and no more.  Your efforts alone will make a big difference in your family’s health…I promise!

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