[Guest Post by Susan West Olvera. ]

Saving Money On Food

Our weekly food budget (for a family of three with food intolerances) is about $30.00 a week.  Our food is not all organic, but we do our best. I will not purchase conventional apples, strawberries, or tomatoes.  We try very hard to make ethical food choices.  We don't use coupons.


1.) First rule of thumb is we always try to purchase veggies and fruits from local sources or grow it ourselves in our small garden. We learn to eat mostly in season and how to preserve food for longer storage. An example would be canning, freezing, fermenting, or dry storage. For us, the best source for purchasing inexpensive local produce has been Craigslist, by far. I've purchased huge heads of cabbage for $1.00 each, only treated with organic plant based topical pesticide. Found large heads of organic broccoli for .50 cents each, purchased organic pears for $3.00 for a five gallon bucket. The list goes on. Learn how to research and think outside the box.


2. ) Joining a homesteading or gardening group is also very helpful. It doesn't matter if you live in an apartment and just want to learn. Join. It's about networking. You will find people who have an excess of produce who will give it away. This year we were given about 15 pounds of green peppers ( easily frozen ) and the same in eggplant ( freeze it in dips ), all organic, as well as at least 150 lbs of sweet potatoes which we handed out to neighbors and did keep some for ourselves. You will also find people who have big gardens and may want someone who can help out a few times a month in exchange for a big share of fresh produce. 


3. ) We haven't done this, but many have luck going to the farmer's market at the close of the day, negotiate and get very inexpensive produce. I love farmer's markets, but in general find their normal prices to be too high. 


4. ) For produce, with the exception of avocados, all produce we purchase is grown in the United States. We do this for several reasons. There is more nutritional loss the longer a plant is transported. Although not perfect, we have more regulations regarding the application of pesticide and treatment of employees. Most states have people employed by the Department of Agriculture to visit migrant farms to ensure they're using the proper personal protective equipment to protect workers, have housing mandated by law, and are in compliance with pesticide laws. Work still needs to be done, but some real atrocities take place in other countries regarding pesticide application. 


5. ) Learn the difference between what's necessary and what's a "goodie" . When I found out that chocolate made by the world's' three biggest cocoa producers was probably harvested by children who are beaten and may have been kidnapped and how it's all part of a huge human trafficking chain, I decided it was a goodie and I didn't need it anymore. Same goes for coffee. We made cuts in our food budget so we could purchase fair trade coffee from Sam's. We both want to make food choices we can live with and knowing the chocolate bar I'm chewing may have come from a small child's calloused hands isn't one I can live with. 


6. ) Make a price book. Seriously. Do it. Make a list of the things you purchase at grocery stores and then visit those stores and write down the prices. You'll be shocked at the differences between them. I learned that I really don't need to purchase any staple items at Food Lion, Harris Teeter, or Lowe's Foods. The only thing I purchase from Walmart is wild canned mackerel at $1.47 per large can and also wine for cooking. I discovered prices for herbs and spices are inflated grossly in grocery stores. You'll find lower prices at local spice shops or online. Great prices for things like garlic powder or granulated garlic in the Hispanic section. We learned in our area Trader Joes has the best price on Kerrygold butter and offer raw Gouda at a reasonable price as well a inexpensive canned coconut cream.


7. ) You've probably heard this, but try to only make purchases from the outer aisles of the store, all the other ones typically contain more processed food. In other words : If you don't know how to cook, learn. :)


8.) Buy in bulk, but make sure you check prices. Buying in bulk can be a great option. We just bought a 20 lb bag of organic masoori rice at Costco for $12.00 a bag. When we ate grains regularly, I used to purchase our oatmeal from a local grain mill in 25 lb bags at a killer price. We also purchase organic tomato paste from Costco and it's much less expensive that conventional paste. If you think space is an issue, think of using unconventional places as storage. Under the bed, bedroom closet. We use our guest bedroom closet to keep bulk foods. 


9.) After you've made your price book, set a "buy" price. For us, dried pinto beans need to be less than .75 cent s a lb, black beans less than $1.00 a pound, on the rare occasion that we purchase store bought chicken, it must be .69 cent a pound or less. 


10.) Consider canned fish. We purchase canned salmon, mackerel, and clams. We've made delicious tasty chowders, soups, and croquettes. 


11.) Buy a freezer for storage. Our first was a small used freezer that we bought on Craigslist for $40.00. We put bulk cheese, meat, and veggies in it. When we decided it was time for a bigger one, we sold it for what we paid for it and then bought one 2.5 times bigger (secondhand) for $75.00. This means cost of owning a freezer for the past 4 years has been $35.00. We don't include the small amount of energy used to operate it as we've found ways to cut energy use in our home. You can freeze meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, milk, butter, and more.


12.) Consider a membership to a warehouse club. It's not for everyone, but weigh the options. We chose Costco because they have a grain free dog food at a savings of $18.00 a bag and that alone paid for the membership. They also have more organic/paleo options and have a money back guarantee on membership, you can cancel when you want and get your membership fee back. We went with the executive membership because we were credited the $55.00 upgrade, get cash back, and made our membership fee back in the first visit. Our neighbor has a Sam's Club membership and they pick up fair trade coffee for us. Warehouse clubs almost always have better prices on cheese, eggs ( we have chickens who aren't laying, with eggs you want to make sure the yolks are a deep yellow or orange, a pale colored yolk is as good as garbage in my opinion ), frozen veggies, butter, rice, etc. Cheese at our club is just over $2.00 lb. But know your prices, bulk isn't always a good deal.


13.) Portion control. When we buy in bulk, we use Ziploc bags to control the portion size. Cheese is measured out in one cup portions and frozen in small bags. I've found if we don't do this, we use way to much of the product. Our small family of three went through 14 lbs of cheese in a month the first month! FYI : You can purchase Ziploc bags at a warehouse store for a very low price, lower than dollar stores. We reuse the bags. Anything that didn't contain meat is washed out, turned inside out to dry and then packed away in a storage container for later use.


14.) Food preservation. It will save you money. When I came across fresh carrots for .25 cents a pound, I bought 10 pounds. I lacto-fermented some, froze some, and left the rest in the fridge. Carrots last a very long time in the fridge. Think about it this way : If a 12 ounce bag of frozen carrots costs $1.25-$1.75 at store x, would you pay that if you can make a 16 ounce bag for .25 cents? When onions went on sale for .33 cent a pound, I bought 15 lbs, ran them through the food processor and froze 80% of them. We also can, but but depending on my schedule, I may opt to freeze instead. 


15.) Make a monthly menu. We do it and I LOVE it. I spend about an hour looking at recipes. I've learned how to cook some new foods (I never would have tried clam chowder if it wasn't for this and now it's a favorite), we know what we're eating every night, and we have all the ingredients we need. My husband loves the variety. It's been a big fun adventure. We cross out the ones I don't like and highlight the ones we'll make again. 


16.) Make a monthly trip to the grocery store. I was skeptical about this at first, but it works. We've saved money in gas and groceries ( because we created a price book ). Plus, if you have small children, this is a great excuse to hand them off to your significant other and spend a few hours by yourself in a little blessed peace. If you think fresh fruit is an issue, it's really not. We purchase bruised bananas on clearance and let little guy eat some very sparingly ( because of tooth decay ) and once they get really soft, we freeze them and they go in paleo bread or muffins. Soft apples become lacto-fermented apple sauce. You can still purchase avocados once a month. Buy some that are soft, and some that are really hard. When you're running low on ripe ones, grab a hard one, wrap it in newspaper, stick it in a dark spot ( like a cabinet ) and wait 1-4 days, viola...it's ripe. 


17.) Really look at your food budget, analyze it and make cuts where needed. We were purchasing a gallon and a half of fresh goat's milk a week at $12.00 weekly plus the cost of driving 50 miles round trip in a older model V6 sedan. We estimated total cost to be over $1,000.00 a year. Our lovely milk lady agreed to go down to 3 gallons a month and we pick it up monthly, at a yearly savings of over $600.00. 


18.) Now we come to the subject of meat. We all know the importance of fat soluble vitamins but we also know how much meat marketed as "organic" or "free-range" can be. This subject really requires some creativity and it may vary on your demographic and ethical opinions. Our family vary rarely purchases meat from the grocery store, yet we live on what some would consider a meager income. We actually raise our own chickens and rabbits for meat and process them ourselves. It doesn't require a large space. Our animals are happy critters who live a happy life, as close to nature as possible..especially our chickens. If you asked me 5 years ago if I could kill animal I would have sounded off with a resounding "No!". In fact, I am a former vegetarian. But, I had no children and especially not a very sick, anemic little boy. Life changes and a mother will ultimately do what she needs to provide for her precious child. I have never taken lightly taking an animals' life. My faith tells me this animal is created by God and has a spirit and has value. Ultimately, it has provided me with a huge respect for animals and nature, we use all of the animal, never waste food, and eat a vegetarian meal once a week.


 For other animals, we have farmer friends that we met through a homesteading meetup ( see, you should join one! ) we purchase animals live ( at a low price on Craigslist, always pastured, and always owned by families ) and process ourselves. We've done this with goats, sheep, turkeys, pigs, and cow. It requires a half a day or day or work, but it's worth it. Organic, grass-fed goat ended up being $1.25 a lb, pork about the same cost, beef, the same cost. That's cut and in your packaging of choice. You need not live in a rural area. Our home is in a rural area, but we're 15-30 minutes away from three very diverse, busy, creative minded cities. In fact, the woman who owns the electric meat saw lives in one of those cities in a very nice neighborhood. Seek and ye shall find. Because you'll share similar values with these people, they will ultimately become your friends and you'll end up with wonderful freebies. I have about 20 lbs of free organic, pastured "soft fat " that I'm rendering into wonderful lard for baking and frying. 


If that's not your thing, call your local butcher and ask about odd cuts of meat. Sheep's neck has tons of meat on it, is almost always pastured and can be had for at a lower price. I know one woman who gets it for $1.99 a pound. It tastes like the best pot roast you'll ever have. Sheep and goat have yet to be widely commercialized. Also ask them about the price of organs. If you don't have a lot of ethnic diversity in your area, you may be shocked at how inexpensive it is. 


You can go in on a live cow with several other families. It need not be one from a marketed grass fed farm. It could be a family selling one on Craigslist for a great price. The term"grass-fed" is a marketing term. You will find most families that own livestock don't use that term or "organic" but indeed it still is. See if they'll provide transport to a processor for a small fee. This can result in a significant savings. I will always tout Craigslist as a great source for meat/animals. I found a woman that sells already processed ( USDA stamped ) grass-fed ground beef for $3.00 lb. 


A very surprising, but great idea is to look on yahoo groups or meetup groups for people that feed their pets raw meat. These people are creative detectives and truly scout out the best price on meat. In our community, there's apparently a source for chicken backs from a local butcher ( meat and bone for lovely bone broth ) for about .19 cents a pound purchased by the box. These people know the deal on organ meats, muscle meat, and just about anything you can think of. If pastured/organic/free range isn't in your budget:  I know one woman who has a contract with Walmart and once a month she picks up all the meat they don't sell and it's oftentimes still in date. She does pay for this privilege, but it's extremely reasonable. She often has excess and gives it away, but I wouldn't mention you're eating it. You may find someone like this in your local raw feeding group. 


If you're purchasing meat from the grocery store, you need to set a "buy" price and purchase in bulk. You'll never find yourself in a bind without meat and you'll save tons of money! 


Become friends with your butcher! They oftentimes have organs they can't sell and you can get them at a steal. We have 3 frozen beef hearts in our freezer and they cost .50 cents a pound! 


19.) Look online for staple items. We purchased Bob's Aluminum Free Baking Powder for $3.00 and some change for a lb. Much less expensive than paying $1.99 for 3-4 ounces. I typically find that most gluten free/paleo products are less expensive online, so research them. 



20.) Consider bartering. Can you sew? Knit? Crochet? Fix a car? Carpentry work? Babysit? Bake? Clean Houses? You'd be surprised how many people are open to it. I bartered quince fruit from our bush for fresh caught fish, wild foraged edible plants, and grape vines for next year. i also bartered homemade baked bread and muffins for lots of organic fresh produce. My sister crocheted some hat for her beef supplier's children and ended up with a good bit of free grass fed beef. You'd be surprised how many people are open to it. When my husband was filing for permanent residency, our lawyer wanted to waive his $1,500.00 fee if we'd cut down three trees in an open area in his yard. But, my husband no longer worked in tree removal and didn't have the equipment.


21. ) Hunt or get to know people that do. We met a man on Craigslist that wants to fill his deer tag, so he's dropping a deer or two for us. We're picking it up and processing ourselves. If you're not comfortable with that, take it to a processor and you'll end up with healthy meat for about $2.00 lb. Don't have a truck to pick up an entire deer? Borrow one from a friend and offer a small portion of your meat for payment.


22.) Garden! Even a bright sunny window or patio can grow herbs. Dry or freeze them, you'll save a bunch. We grew over 100 lbs of organic tomatoes in three 4x4 raised beds. I know. Even we were were shocked.


This may sound like a lot to do, but it's really not the time consuming. When you think about much time we spend in front of TV "unplugging" every night, it's small in comparison. I spent a few hours making my price book and about an hour making our menu, and about 2 hours doing the monthly shopping.  


These are all things that are common sense, but they never occurred to me before. I was given the book "The Tightwad Gazette" and the ideas come from there and I'm forever grateful for it. 


We've managed to cut our grocery bill by more than half and save money in gas. Not to mention, it saves me time and headache because I always know what's for dinner. 


One the surprising aspects of this is developing wonderful friendships and a sense of community among friends and neighbors. When we were given free sweet potatoes, we loaded them into a wheelbarrow and went door to door and let our neighbors take what they wanted, while our two year old helped fill bags. We knew most of them well, so it was well-received.

Views: 25101

Comment by Pat Robinson on November 19, 2012 at 8:22pm

Another blogger friend has a bunch of real food recipes on a very tight budget: http://www.cookingtf.com/real-food-real-budget-real-food-storage/

Comment by Pat Robinson on November 19, 2012 at 8:22pm

Here it is: "Real Food Storage Recipes contains an overview of how to store foods without going off of your traditional foods diet plus over 200 recipes to get you started.

All of the recipes have been kid-tested and are family friendly. Recipes include sourdough baked goods, breakfast, quick breads, side dishes, main dishes (meatless, chicken, beef, salmon, turkey, lamb), packaged and processed replacements and desserts."


(no financial affiliation) I know this woman can cook~! :-)


Comment by Sarah Thompson on November 21, 2012 at 3:54pm
I would love to see your menus, and maybe even your price lists! This is a very enlightening post for me. I am planning on living on a boat soon, so I have to make it translate to that environment; we'll see how I do!


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