My friend Dea wrote a post about a month back asking people to share their thoughts and ideas on ways to stretch a limited income further while eating whole, healthy, as organic as possible. For our family this also includes gluten free. This is something that I think about a lot and I love sharing ideas and recipes with others and have been given so many helpful ideas. A lot of things on my list may seem like good old common sense, but I must admit that there was a lot of waste and needless spending happening in my kitchen until I got really serious about doing better. These are all things that I am learning and getting better at. Some months we do so well and other months are much more challenging and still others where we do just plain badly. I just keep trying and these are my top 20 that I have found to be the most helpful. In BC we spent $300-350 a month on groceries, here we budget $400. By groceries, I am also including any cleaning and most body care products that we need each month.
1. Know your prices. Sometimes the stores known for their low prices only have a couple of things in a section that are cheaper than other stores so if you are going to other stores anyways, make sure that the budget stores price of regular items are actually less.
2. Coupons. I haven’t really found them to be that helpful where we are. I have specific times that I need to go into the city and I can’t order it around coupons. Occasionally there will be some great deal on something that I really need and that always makes me happy. What I have found saves some money is that some stores have a certain percentage off one day a month. So one of the main stores that we go to in the city has 15% off on the first Tuesday of the month. We try to do our big shop then and it is always a significant saving (especially when I load up on organic milk and yogurt!).
3. Choose which items are most important to be organic. While we also consider ethical/fair trade in our food choices as well, some fruit and veggies are safer to eat (and grow) than others. There are a couple of lists that are handy to learn. Some things (like bananas) are actually believed to be quite safe in terms of edible toxicity but ethically wise the organic ones are grown in a MUCH safer environment for the workers. That is a choice that each family really must weigh for themselves and make a decision on.
4. Get to know your local area and what foods are available, there may be cheaper and healthier options. For example, I have found an egg source that is competitively priced and free range, although not certified organic (I am okay with this). The down side is that during the cold weather, you can’t make the hens lay so it is harder to get eggs right now. We arranged with a friend to buy part of a grass fed cow and are still going strong with that. My parents live next to a bee keeper so we get great honey for a good price.
5. Look into a CSA or a local organic source for produce. For some it works great, others not so well. For us we are still eating a lot of the produce that I froze from the summer boxes which requires creativity to be sure.
6. Don’t just assume that if you don’t live in a big city or next to a farm that there aren’t options. I am guilty of this but am surprised at what I can get in a rural location.
7. Purchase fruit and produce within season and can, freeze or store it. This way you pay less and are eating higher quality food.
8. Use everything. Trim as little as possible, cut off bruises and bad parts rather than throwing away. Bake the seeds from inside squash or pumpkin and add them to salads. Do you usually peel veggies? Especially if you buy organic, leave the peels on whenever possible. I never peel carrots for example and that saves a lot of waste. Or grate up the outside of the orange or lemon and save it for cooking.
9. Add beans to stretch meat a little further while still adding protein and other nutrients. Mung beans are especially great for this! And on the beans topic, it is much cheaper to buy them dry and soak them. This does mean planning ahead so I usually have a few cans on hand just in case but I prefer not to use them often. Oh and as a side note…the longer you soak the beans, the less gas;)
10. Make snacks and save the bought ones for desperate times or travel.
11. Make sauces, dressing and seasonings from scratch. I started with salad dressings and love my own so much more that I almost never buy them now. Because of gluten being in so many sauces and seasonings, I have had to start making my own. They are pretty quick(although never as time efficient as packaged) and are cheaper although the initial purchases seem like a big deal. Oh and did I mention tasty…okay maybe the taco seasoning that started from chili peppers was a little potent, but it had great flavor!
12. Make your own cleaning and body care products. I started doing this a few years ago and I love my cleaners! I like the smell of the essential oils that I use and they work well. The body care stuff, well some is great other stuff like shampoo not great since moving here so still working on that.
13. Alright, so just make everything that you can from scratch. I even started making yogurt with a friend and figured out that I was paying just under half the price by making yogurt from organic milk as I was buying my organic yogurt. Making my own bread and lard has also saved as well.
14. If you use fresh herbs a lot, consider having a few pots of them growing in your kitchen; pretty to look at, smell nice and so handy to add to a tasty dish. If you buy fresh herbs, keep them in a jar of water to prolong their life a little.
15. Grow a garden. Either on your own or join/put together a community garden. Even if it is just a couple of small pots, I am quite sure that my approach to food has completely changed by growing some of my own. Only with certain produce did we save much by growing in terms of what we actually ate but it certainly raised our awareness and changed our mindset.
16. The next two may seem random, but is an important one in our house. Start with small portions (especially for children) because you can always take more if the first portion wasn’t sufficient.
17. When little ones are having a snack, have them stop and sit to eat. I know that lots of books suggest putting out some food and letting your toddler snack as they play. Never mind that food gets all over and I worry about Aneliese choking on something or Cecily picking up something she can’t eat, I also find that food gets wasted that way. I find myself throwing away a partially eaten apple or picking up crumbled cheese; you get the picture.
18. Meal plan. Seriously. I don’t know why I let myself get out of the habit ever. Not only does it make cooking easier and more fun, we eat healthier and more varied while spending less money. It helps me make better shopping lists and I use up food because I have a plan for all of it. And plan to make extra so that you can have leftovers for lunch or so that you can make a different meal using some of the same ingredients.
19. Keep a running list of food and ingredients that you have, that way you always know what you need. Before we started doing this, we would buy so much stuff only to realize that we already had it in the cupboard or the bottom of the freezer.
20. Eat with others! Do potluck style meals. We have people over for meals regularly and we have meals where everyone contributes. We really don’t find ourselves spending way more because we share meals with others and we love it!
I will clarify that living this way for us has meant that we have had to make certain lifestyle choices. Some that I am still having to adjust to. I have to plan ahead and many things are not quick. I have to be at home for the entire day if I want to make bread, there is no way to speed it up. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like making something from start to finish or I forget to soak the beans, or something goes bad in the fridge that I should have used. Sometimes I have a hard time sticking to a list when I see things that look really tasty in the store or I forget to pay attention to how much I have spent early on in the month. But for the most part, we spend less and eat better than we did just a few short years ago so I have hope that I will continually get better at it.