Through some practical tools, and a whole lot of awareness, I hope to show you how you can eat real, organic food without breaking the bank.
Get Wisdom…Become Aware
If you want to learn how to eat real, organic food without breaking the bank, it will take learning how to think differently. The Bible implores you in Proverbs 4:5-13 to “get wisdom” because she will preserve and keep you, promote and honor you. She will be your life. Through some practical tools, and a whole lot of awareness, I hope to show you how you can eat real, organic food without breaking the bank.
Our food budget reached a ridiculous $2000 a month and I was struggling to keep that. Now granted, I have 6 kids, half of them hungry teenagers (one a body builder). I couldn’t figure out how to change this amount without feeling like eating beans and rice was our only option. Clearly, I don’t want to raise my children with a scarcity mindset, but I didn’t want to compromise on real food. Nevertheless, I just accepted that because we were eating healthy, real food, it meant that we would have to sacrifice other things indefinitely. Our limiting belief was that we were investing in good, healthy food now, instead of paying later in medical bills and prescriptions.
It doesn’t have to be either/or
Unfortunately, every month I tried to cut corners and every month I went over on our budget. It felt impossible to eat real food without breaking the bank. Did I really have to sacrifice fun trips with family, investment opportunities, or giving to my favorite charities just so we could stay healthy and eat real, organic food? In my mind it was either/or, when what I learned is that it can be both/and. Undoubtedly, I just needed a little boost of awareness, some creativity, and a whole lot of empowering choices.
I thought the answer was making more money which only made me discontent and frustrated. Depravity also leads to the “diet dilemma”, which is only temporary. You can only suppress for so long and then you splurge, blowing all the efforts and work you tried to do in the first place. Real change only comes with a renewed mindset. God challenged me to change my perspective and be creative with the money I already had.
Getting to the Root of the Issue with Two Life-Changing Courses
Grocery Budget Bootcamp
My friend Tiffany, from Grocery Budget Bootcamp, created an amazing 8-week online course that literally helped transform our finances, especially in the area of groceries. I first met Tiffany on her blog, Don’t Waste the Crumbs. Make sure and check her out here. With a little investment in her course to get wisdom and renew my mind, I was on my way to a totally different way of thinking. Surprisingly, I saw incredible life change in only a few weeks. Consequently, I became more aware of root issues that kept getting in the way of my goals and success as well as mindsets that were strongholds in my life. God did an overhaul and it wasn’t just my food budget that changed, but how I looked at everything in my life. I was especially challenged in areas such as spending, stewarding, my motives and desires, and why I did what I did. As a result, I got a complete overhaul and I am still going.
Wealth with God
In fact, after that I was so inspired to change our financial situation I signed up for another course called Wealth with God with my friend James Baker. God totally transformed my life and the life of my family through this course. So much so, that Jim asked me to write the family/children’s curriculum for it. You can check out the Wealth with God course here. Money is an intimacy issue. When you can get to the bottom of your beliefs regarding finances and also get God’s perspective on money, the sky is the limit to what God can do in your life. A renewed mind is the key to life in God’s kingdom. Woohoo!
Actual Assessment with Actual Figures
Get Honest with Yourself
Most of us don’t really think about budgeting or how much we spend on food. Many of us don’t even make an intentional plan on how to shop and prepare healthy meals. Do you make a grocery list? Stick to it? Do you have a meal plan? How about a food budget? Do you stay in that budget? Are you aware of what you actually spend on food each month? How about how much inventory you have in the house already?
The first step is to get an accurate assessment of the situation with actual figures. This is the “Aha!” moment. The realization. Blinders removed. Truthfully, you have to take an honest assessment where you are before you can get a plan of where you are going.
The 80/20 Rule
First and foremost, I started the process by collecting all my receipts for an entire month and categorizing each type of food (meat, dairy, produce, pantry, miscellaneous). Eating out, alcoholic beverages, and paper/cleaning products are a separate category. I wrote down my top 10 most purchased foods. This would represent 20% of my food budget. Because I purchased these items so much, and in greater quantities, it actually comprised 80% of my food budget. Clearly, these were the items I needed to focus on the most. If I could get the best deals on these or buy them in bulk, over the course of the month, I would save a lot of money.
A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned…Those Dollars Add Up
Eating real food without breaking the bank was something I could actually grasp. For example, I buy a lot of bananas. Typically, I would buy bananas everywhere I went. Sadly, I never looked at prices. I shopped based on need. For instance, at the local farm market, I could get about 8 bananas for $7/8 bucks. At Costco I could get organic bananas for $4. That is a savings of $3 a week or $12 a month. Over the course of a year that is $144. And that is just one of my 10 items. Note: Saving $.30 on a bottle of Worcestershire sauce that I only purchase once a year is really not worth going to another store over.
Best Prices at Each Store
After a month I had an accurate picture of what I spent on particular items and where the best prices were. As a result, I came up with a list for each store. For instance, I buy my butter, bananas, frozen seafood, frozen fruit, and fresh berries at Costco because I eat a lot of these items and the price is best at Costco. I find my rock bottom prices for each item and create a grocery list for each store around these.
My Top 10 Most Purchased Items (20% of my food budget)
My top 10 (just to give you an idea) were bananas, almonds/cashews for milk, oatmeal, chicken/ground beef, eggs, frozen fruit, butter, Einkorn flour, Ezekiel sprouted bread, and peanut butter. We consume these items so frequently and in high quantities (what is it with teenage boys and their obsession with protein?). I learned ways I could cut corners by finding the rock bottom price at whatever particular store, prepare these foods from scratch if possible, buy in bulk, or raise my own chickens. I don’t know if that saves time or money, but raising chickens is just so much fun and the eggs and meat taste AMAZING!
Needs vs. Wants
Furthermore, we delved into what we spent by categorizing what we spent on needs verses wants. This is where my eyes were opened. To my shock and amazement, I spent over $500 in just my wants such as special cuts of meat, excessive amounts of milk for drinking, chocolate chips, ice-cream, special sauces and condiments ( that I could easily make from scratch), crackers and chips. Surprisingly, If I cut back just on the wants alone, I could save $6000 a year and take a family vacation, beef up my savings/investments, or give to a ministry that is on my heart. Or all of the above.
Possibilities Instead of Limitations
What the what??? You mean to tell me I actually had possibilities where before I only saw limitations and restrictions? This got me excited because I realized my goal of saving $1000 from my food budget was attainable and I hadn’t even done anything but evaluate what I spent my money on. I hadn’t even put into practice the methods she was teaching. Given these facts, I was seeing that this wasn’t just beneficial to my food budget but for every category. I started looking at how much I could save verses how much I had to spend. It became a game. As a result, I switched from being a consumer to a saver. Now I had a goal, was aware of my habits, and had a plan to get there. My mind was being renewed. I was getting wisdom. Are you seeing the picture here?
What are Your Family Needs?
As a result of all I was learning, I came up with our official grocery budget based on our needs and family situation. Of course, I want to be a good steward of our time and money and to me that means being aware. My initial goal was just getting our food budget down to a reasonable number without sacrificing the quality of the food we ate. However, I was beginning to see that I could actually create income from our income. There is no need to compromise your family’s values or sacrifice quality. Absolutely, it is possible to eat real, organic food without breaking the bank.
Come Up with a Goal
As a family, we came up with a goal of what to do with the extra money as well as a deadline. I wanted to cut $1000 from our already tight budget. We wanted to take a family vacation and eventually buy a camper or RV so we can travel. Could we do it? Remember I thought the answer was making more money.
The Changes we Made to Eat Real Food without Breaking the Bank
Tiffany, from Grocery Budget Bootcamp, is amazing and oh so frugal, but because she is teaching a budget course, she goes into more detail and pinches her pennies a bit more than I do. For me, I was just happy to actually get a picture of what was going on and start paying attention. You can go all out if you want to. I am only giving you the areas that changed me. My goal was to be able to eat real, organic food without breaking the bank. Obviously, you would have to take her course to get a total overhaul.
- Top 10 Purchased Foods- I came up with a list of my top 10 purchased foods and found the best deals on those items. These items, although they may only comprise 20% of your food quantity, eat up 80% of your food budget, so it is important to find the best deals on these items (see above banana example).
- Make Substitutions– If I didn’t have a specific ingredient for a recipe, instead of running to the grocery store and spending more than planned, I got creative.
- Eat Seasonally- It is fun to anticipate what is available for each season, it is cheaper on the pocketbook, and you can create memories that bind you together as a family.
- Categorize Favorite Family Meals – I made a list of all the meals we love to eat as a family and categorized them so it was easy to make a weekly or monthly meal plan based on the seasons. See my Meal Planning with a Menu Board post here.
- Make a Meal Plan – I came up with a meal plan that allowed for change, was flexible with our family situation, was frugal, and yet gave us opportunities for fun and special meals. See my Seasonal Meal Planning with a Menu Board post here for more detail.
- Consider Total Meal Cost and Save Expensive Meals for Special Nights – I became aware of how expensive each meal costs. For example, to feed a family my size lamb chops cost me $65 for one meal. To feed my family scratch tuna noodle casserole only costs $6 for a meal. Imagine if every meal was a special meal. This is why my food budget was over $2000 a month. I ate what I felt like. If I had meals that costs $65 a night that alone is $1,950 a month and that is not even including lunch or breakfast.
- Shop from Pantry First – I began my grocery list making by shopping from my pantry and freezer first when planning meals.
- Avoid Waste – I created meals that used similar items each week to avoid waste. Any waste I did have went into the compost pile or to feed the chickens.
- Prepare Food from Scratch – I carved out time each week (involving the kids) to prepare things from scratch such as sandwich bread, peanut butter, mayonnaise, salad dressing, ice cream, granola, kefir or yogurt.
- Eat More Plants – I decided to eat more plant-forward meals and wean us off of large amounts of expensive dairy and meat. I look at meat more as a side or something special rather than the center of the plate. Plant-forward is friendlier on the pocketbook, amazing for the body and the environment, as well as much easier to prepare. After a while, you really don’t miss the meat or dairy. Oh don’t get me wrong… I still love my hamburgers and spaghetti and meatballs. I just don’t eat them every day.
- Map out Bulk Item Purchases on the Calendar – I created a separate budget category for buying in bulk so that I was not draining my food budget with expensive bulk purchases all at once. I could plan them out easier. For instance, I buy a 5-gallon bucket of honey each November and use it all year instead of buying individual jars from our farm. It saves me over $150. But if I buy all my bulk in one month I wouldn’t have enough for the week to week. I can map out our bulk purchases and plan for them.
- Go Easy on Dessert – Limited dessert to once or twice a week.
- Create Shopping Lists for Each Store on Smartphone – Finally, I comprised a shopping list on my phone under the notes app for each store I shop and what I buy from them because they have the best price for those particular items. I have all the items listed and when composing my list, I just go down the list and put a little emoji by the item I need for that trip. It makes list making a breeze.
Where I Shop for Real Food
Costco and Amazon Subscribe and Save
We are a large family, so I do a lot of bulk shopping at Costco. They don’t always have the rock bottom prices though and can get you with convenience since you are already there. This is why it is important to have your lists prepared with the items from each store that you know are the best prices. For instance, my son is a weightlifter and we have supplemented his protein intake with a plant-based protein powder for his smoothies. It was $31 at Costco and only $15 on Amazon Subscribe and Save for the same size. That is a savings of $16 a 2 lb tub. He consumes two tubs a month. That is a savings of $384 a year that it would have cost me in “convenience.” Amazing right? Be aware though, prices on Amazon fluctuate.
Costco is tricky. Don’t go their hungry and stick to your list or you can walk out of there and blow your whole budget. Some examples of things I purchase from Costco are paper products, frozen fruit, wild-caught frozen fish, Kerrygold butter, avocados, spinach, organic berries, salsa, pasta, and vanilla. Most of my food budget is spent at Costco, but I pretty much have the same list every time so it makes it a breeze. Trader Joes or Wholefoods is where I go to round out my list after I make my weekly meal plan.
Local Farmer’s Markets and CSG’s
The local farmers market is a great place to get local, fresh-picked and in-season produce. It is also a great way to support your local farmers. CSG’s (Community Supported Garden’s) or co-ops are great at connecting people to their local food source as well as a fun way to learn to eat foods you may have never tried before. We belonged to an amazing CSG in Northern New Jersey called CSG at Genesis Farm. Now we support local farms through a company called Market Wagon. They deliver local products from area farmers and vendors to our door. Check them out to see if they are in your area.
Online Stores and Local Delivery Drop-off’s
Additionally, I have included the stores where I shop occasionally. For instance, I have an online membership with Thrive Market. I love their company. I can trust their products and their customer service is excellent. Their store brand products are great, so I occasionally stock up on things like canned tomatoes, or baking powder. I make an order on the off months that I don’t order from Azure Standard. Azure is a family owned company that delivers items to an area drop-off location. I purchase bulk items like oats or flour, frozen chicken or beans. You would have to check out if they deliver in your area.
Good Old-Fashioned Farm Pick-up or Online
I still can’t seem to break away from my favorite farm up North. The Family Cow had a drop-off close to our home in NJ where we would order our grass-fed beef, chicken, pork, turkey, cheese, raw milk, eggs, honey, and apples. They deliver, so I occasionally splurge and do bulk meat, cheese, and honey orders several times a year and stock up. Another great option is Butcher Box. They deliver grass-fed and finished meat and I have found the quality to be comparable.
Prioritizing Real, Organic Food So it Doesn’t Break the Bank
If money is tight, or even if it is not, save money by deciding your food priorities. On a sheet of paper, rate from 1-10 the order of importance of food quality. To illustrate, if food quality is rated good, better, best, which food categories are most important to you to not sacrifice on quality or values? Food categories include:
- Whole Grains
- Fats and Oils
- Pantry Staples (spices, condiments, etc.)
For instance, if I were going to prioritize dairy, I would rate it as follows: pasteurized organic whole milk is good; organic, unhomogenized whole milk is better; raw, organic, grass fed milk is best. I can’t even put conventional milk on the list personally, so your list may be different. Maybe you don’t even drink cow’s milk and want to prioritize “dairy” plant based style: almond milk is good; organic almond milk is better; scratch made almond milk made with the Almond Cow is best (my newest toy).
Keep Your Goals In Mind When Shopping
Prioritizing was hard for me because I love excellence and the best quality for my money. It took some prayer. If money is tight, you are saving up for a goal, or you are just not wanting to break the bank every time you go shopping, then prioritizing the categories is mandatory. Otherwise, you have already prioritized that your money will go to your food budget and not the goal you are saving for. Ouch!!!
Choose Which Bang Gets Your Buck
Choosing your priorities means ordering them in order of importance in regards to what you choose to spend your money on. For instance, I would rather spend my money on the best quality meat and dairy we eat every day rather than on organic spices or condiments we eat occasionally. One, because I value my local farmer, his practices, the care of the animals, and what they are fed. Two, these items are consumed in larger quantities than say vinegar, cardamom, or mustard. We are cutting back on our animal consumption which is helping the budget, but when we do purchase animal products, they are of the highest quality and care available.
My Top “Spending” Priorities in this order:
- organic, grass-fed meat and dairy (including butter)
- free-range organic eggs
- organic first-pressed virgin oils (oils hold onto pesticides and herbicides)
- unrefined sugars like Sucanant, pure maple syrup, date crystals, or raw honey
- My top 10 food purchases (because we eat these in higher quantities)
- Buying organic produce in the dirty dozen category and conventional for the rest
- Steering clear of any product that contains more than 5 ingredients, trans fats, and highly processed sugars, dyes, or things you can’t pronounce (already prepared foods and most things from the center aisles of the grocery store) saves a ton.
The “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” Lists
If you desire to start buying more organic produce, start with buying organic when it comes to the “Dirty Dozen” and feel free to save money by buying conventional with the “Clean 15”. Just a tip, but if eating GMO free is also important to you, Trader Joes produce is GMO free. Organic is considered GMO free under the organic label, but I appreciate Trader Joes efforts in purchasing conventional produce that are free of genetically modified organisms.
|The EWG “Dirty Dozen
|The EWG “Clean 15”
|frozen sweet peas
|cantaloupe and honeydew melon
Involve the Children
Moreover, I didn’t even touch on coupons or sales flyers or checking your receipts before leaving the store. I am not that dedicated. My time is too valuable. Hey maybe get the kids involved in this and then you can pass on your wisdom by teaching them to be more aware.
Something you can do with your whole family is organize your family favorites, come up with a menu plan, as well as learn the magic of eating seasonally. See my Seasonal Meal Planning with a Menu Board post here. Involving children in everything from the listing out family favorites, creating a weekly menu board, shopping, and preparing food is wonderful life skill practice and brings families together.
Track Your Spending
Tracking your spending is just an awareness tool that will help you see what you spend on items, what categories you spend the most on, help you discover your top 10 purchases, as well as make you aware of which items are really needs vs. wants. Remember this is not about depravity but rather awareness. Gather all your receipts and record every item. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but I promise it is an eye opener and worth every penny to see what you actually value.
Give Value to What You Choose to Spend Your Money On
Is that cut of meat every month really worth $780 a year at $65 a month? How about the soda or potato chips? When you look at something individually, for instance, a bag of chips that costs $4, is no big deal. If you buy 2 bags a week every month, is it really worth $416 a year? If it is, great, if that is eye opening to you, then you just saved a big chunk of change. We were buying 16 gallons of raw milk a month at $7 a gallon. That is $1,344 a year in milk. We quickly changed to drinking more water and brought our milk consumption down to 4 gallons a month, mostly for cooking or cereal. These were small adjustments that made big savings. Processed food and already prepared foods are also big cost offenders, as is eating out, but that is another topic. Don’t forget to total out the savings monthly and yearly to get a big picture.
Preparing Real Food From Scratch Puts Money in the Bank
Taking the time to set aside an afternoon a week to prepare things from scratch has a huge financial benefit. Learning to become aware of where your dollars are going and agreeing with the values attached to those dollars makes you a good steward, more intentional in your purchases, and eliminates the depravity and scarcity mindset because you are changing from the inside out.
Highlighters Ready…Where Am I Breaking the Bank?
Get your color-coded highlighters out and take a month or two to record all your receipts. I suggest highlighting all the wants on your list, or frivolous purchases, just to get a picture. This was my big “Aha!” moment as I realized about $500 was going toward unnecessary purchases. Create a master list that you can then make into other lists if you want. From this list, you will be able to see what your top 10 items (80% of your budget) are and where you purchased them for the best deal. Shop around. It also helps you see which category you purchase and consume the most. Our biggest categories were meat and dairy, which aren’t even that good for you, so going more plant centered gave us a huge savings, not to mention the health benefits alone.
Master Shopping Lists for Each Store
I do this on my phone with emojis, but you can create a master list of which items you purchase at each store. This will save you time in the long run as you can just print out the list each week and highlight what you need. You will have already done the research on which stores you get the best deals on for each item. I do a lot of online shopping as well, so don’t forget these stores.
Take an inventory of all the food in the house from the spice cabinet to the basement freezers. This took me a while. To my horror and embarrassment, I practically had enough food to feed us for several months (minus the produce or dairy items that are perishable) and yet I still went shopping. When you consume an item, mark it on a running shopping list on your phone or refrigerator.
Personally, keeping a running inventory of every grocery/paper product item in my house would make me a crazy woman, but taking an inventory every 6 months is helpful. Doing it at least once in order to organize everything in one place, clean out items that are freezer burned, unidentifiable, and expired is so cleansing. It also is amazing to realize how much food you have in the house. I discovered I must have had a fear of being without peanut butter, because I found it stashed everywhere and yet I was still bringing it home with every grocery visit. Keeping the pantry organized has helped me when making my grocery list.
Shop From Your Pantry First
Now I shop from my pantry first. This is also a good time to take a quick inventory to see which items you are running low on. With everything organized and in its proper place, it is easy to take a quick glance to see what items need to be added to the grocery list. Amazingly, you can decrease your weekly food bill by just shopping from your pantry first. Many times you may think you are out of an item when you are not.
Investing in Yourself is a Good Investment
I hope this will help get you started. It is possible to eat real, organic food without breaking the bank. I combined all I have learned with some ideas from the course, Grocery Budget Bootcamp, and gave you an overview. Like I said, it was an 8-week intensive and worth every penny. I also invested in renewing my mind to understand how God viewed money and stewardship by investing in the Wealth with God course. Both courses revolutionized the way we steward and invest our money now. I took what I learned, set goals, transformed my mind, and now I am sharing it with you. I would say that is being a wise steward.
As a result of my Grocery Budget Bootcamp 8-week challenge, I was able to take my family on the first vacation we had had in years. We would not have been able to do it without this. I didn’t earn more money. I just learned how to steward more intentionally the money I already had. So, I am so thankful for God’s wisdom and leading and help in overcoming a huge stronghold in my life. Bless you on your journey.
*both Wealth with God and Grocery Budget Bootcamp links are affiliate links and I do make a small commission off of them, but know I would not put them in here if I did not believe 100% in the benefit and life change they bring. They are both a worthwhile investment in yourself and your family.