Groceries on a Budget aka Why We Don’t Eat 100% Organic

I had a reader ask me to share any tips or advice that I have for keeping your grocery bill low.  At first, I felt completely inadequate to answer that request.  This is an area that I have yet to  master completely, although our budget generally forces me to be very frugal(I have a $300-350 budget monthly for our family of five, sometimes less, including paper products and toiletries).  What’s hard about that for me  is to actively be mindful to not let “frugal” turn into “utterly unhealthy.”

I know, I know, there are plenty of people out there that will positively insist that you can grocery shop for all organic, grass fed, cage free, chemical/hormone free food on a small budget and still be satisfied.  Maybe you can.  I have yet to be able to do it on the budget that we have and believe you me, I have tried. If I try to follow that sort of diet on our budget, we’d only eat every two days.  Regardless of what the naysayers will tell you, it really is easy to save a massive amount of money using coupons that pair up with sales on processed/prepackaged food and so many people with limited means tend to go this route. Every family is different, so you have to do what works for your own individual family.

I believe there is a balance to be found.  Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and are not our own.  We should be good stewards of them, but I also think we can go too far and begin to put too much emphasis on them.  When there is a tone that implies you are a more spiritual Christian because you grow all of you own food, grind your own wheat, wouldn’t dare touch a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese with a ten foot pole, there is a problem.  Food is a tool, it is not something to obsess over. More importantly, food has nothing to do with your standing with the Lord…your heart does.  If your heart is haughty and judgmental of others, even if it is only over food, then all the organic food in the world isn’t going to make you “healthy.”   I find it sad to read and hear people carry on about how they brought their own food to another child’s birthday party while they disdainfully proclaim that the “other family eats horribly.”  Barring food allergies and medical conditions, I find this rude and elitist behavior.  If I attend a party/event and the food there is something I or my children prefer not to eat, we politely decline to have any and eat later or graciously accept the hospitality and eat it anyway.

We absolutely should eat as healthfully as possible within our means, but I also believe that we should not be so burdened with this duty that it consumes us and causes us to cast judgement on others who don’t eat as we do(whichever side of the fence you fall on). 

What does this look like for MY family?

Well, I try to cook from scratch at least 95% of the time, but we on the occasion indulge in convenience food.  I incorporate veggies into as many meals as possible, but it isn’t always fresh produce.  When we have used up our stash from our garden in the winter months, I rely heavily on frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables sometimes maintain even more nutrients than fresh if they are flash frozen soon after they are harvested and are cheaper, especially during times when certain things are not in season.  I don’t use canned vegetables very often, except for tomatoes.  When I purchase fruit, I tend to try to only purchase what is in season at the time.

I buy only hormone free milk and chicken, which is easy to find here and is generally the same price as it’s counterparts.  I use ground beef often and purchase the leanest grade that is on sale.  I substitute ground chicken/pork/turkey when I can as well. I buy other cuts of meat when I get an extremely good deal on them.

I avoid high fructose corn syrup in it’s many shapes and forms as much as possible.  We drink only real fruit juice, not things like punches or fruit cocktails.

I buy whole grain breads(although I make my own bread often), cereals, rice, and pastas.

I substitute honey or pure maple syrup when possible for processed sugar.

When baking, I generally substitute unsweetened applesauce for oils.

I use real butter as opposed to margarine for most things.

We eat fruit, veggies, cheese, crackers as snacks.

We limit candy and sweets (although, I have to be honest and say that I have a serious chocolate addiction 😛 ).

The children drink only milk, juice, and water. Heavy on the water.  I’m working on breaking a soda habit of my own now, but we are trying to start our kids off on the right foot.  I even dilute their juice half water/half juice until they are around 4-5 years old.

I’m sure there is more, but those are our general guidelines.

So, how do I save money at the store while maintaining these guidelines?

-I try use coupons as much as possible and pair them with the sales at the store (I don’t use many coupons though because I only use them for something I would ordinarily buy and we don’t eat too much in the way of processed, prepackaged foods)

-I shop from my weekly grocery circular ad. I do make a loose menu plan, but I usually base my meals on what is actually on sale in the stores. I do my grocery shopping between 4 stores, but they are all within a short distance, so it isn’t wasting gas to do so for us. I shop the best deals at each store.

 -When there is a great deal on something that I use regularly, I stock up on it if we can afford it.

 -I’ve been trying to incorporate more meatless meals (this is something we are just recently starting to do more as Alec is a carnivore with a capital C, so we are slowly adding more of these to our weekly meals)

 -When I do serve meat,  I’ve been making the switch to make it a part of the meal, not the main course. Meat is EXPENSIVE, and we really should eat more of the veggies anyhow!

 -We have begun to eat casseroles, pastas, and soups/stews/chilis more often. For us, these meals stretch further than the traditional meat and sides dishes.

 -I try really hard to never waste a leftover! We eat them for lunch, or I build another meal out of them when I can(Shepherd’s Pie anyone?) My husband also takes them to work for his lunch/dinner there.

 -I’ve stopped buying prepackaged snacks/treats for the most part. I know it takes more time, but it is healthier (most of the time) and way cheaper to make your own (granola, crackers, cookies, etc). Somethings I do still keep on hand.  My husband LOVES Townhouse crackers and snacks on them regularly, so I tend to keep those readily available.  The kids also love Goldfish crackers. (these are items that are great to get when you can use a coupon!)

 -I try to shop early! I learned recently that a few of the stores near me mark down the meats that are left from the day before first thing. You can get great deals and freeze the meat!

-I make my own bread as much as possible. We are sandwich eaters.  This helps a ton because we don’t run to the store two times a week to buy a new loaf.  I do this more at sometimes than others though.

-I don’t shop hungry! It leads to more impulse buying or what I call “Mmm, that looks good syndrome.”

 -Generic brands are mostly just as good as brand names, so make the switch if you can. My husband is brand specific about a few things(Duke’s mayo especially.  I don’t know what it is with Southerners and Duke’s, but suggesting they use something different is almost akin to swearing in these parts!), but mostly I go for the cheaper option.

-I’ve been told that the local farmer’s market can be a venue that helps some save at the grocery store, but here that is not the case.  The last time I went to the farmer’s market, they were charging $3 or more for ONE cucumber.  I did meet one generous woman who gave us a ton of blueberries and some other produce for FREE because it was the end of the day and she didn’t want to cart it all back  with her. This is the kind of thing that might vary, so it would be worth it to look into it.

-When the seasons come, I go to U-pick farms.  Most of the time, you can pick your own (strawberries, blueberries, etc) and get a TON more than you would in a grocery store for a better price.  You can go here to find pick your own farms near you. I STILL have strawberries in my freezer from when we went last year and we plan on going this week to pick some fresh one

-The most important thing for us, is that I don’t buy things that we don’t need.  I don’t peruse aisles, looking for something to suit my fancy.  I make a list and I stick to it.  The only time that I stray on this is if there is wiggle room to stock up on something.

I’m sure you’ve heard most of this before, but I hope it can be a help to someone out there who is struggling to feed their family on a budget and to encourage those out there who feel guilt because they can’t fit their family’s diet into the “all organic” mold. 🙂  Just do the best you can with what God has provided you with—that’s what makes you a good steward!

Do you have any tips to add?

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  1. Thank you so much! I have had months where I just get so obessed with buying the healthiest thing that we run out of grocery money. Thanks for the balanced perspective.

    • You’re welcome! I know what you mean and have had my own time when I put myself in that position as well. I try to remember that we each have to do what is best for our own families, and sometimes that looks nothing like what another family does!

  2. Thanks for this. I sometimes feel inferior for not eating all organic but we too try to be balanced. I haven’t started making my own bread though.

  3. Where I live organic is much more expensive so I pick and chose what I buy organic. I have switched to organic eggs and raw honey and trying to use more honey when cooking rather than white processed sugar, but that isn’t always possible. I make my own bread which is much cheaper and try to stay away from cans. I have started to make my own condensed milk and that has been a small saver. Meat however is not cheap and organic is expensive, so that depends on cost. I think it is a gradual move to organic.

    • I didn’t know you could make your own condensed milk. How do you do that?! You do many of the things that I do. Organic can be terribly pricey. :/

  4. What a thorough article! I don’t eat fully organic, but I am in the process of deciding which organic things I want to purchase. I’ve switched from margarine to butter, and am considering other changes. Cooking from scratch is a great source of savings.

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