Some expenses in life, such as food, are fixed costs. You can only get them down to a certain point if you’re going to be able to eat and be healthy. At least that is what I thought when I first made a budget for my groceries. Much to my surprise I found that, just like every other expense I have, my grocery budget, too could be even more dramatically reduced without feeling like I sacrificed. In fact, I began to notice that none of these ideas where all that new, most of them had been around for quite a long time. They were things our grandparents knew and we had forgotten. Things like…
1) Growing your own food.
You’re going to hear a bunch of alarmists talk about how it’s not economical or practical to grow your own food. Don’t listen to them. Most of them have never tried it and their fear should not limit your abilities. It does take a large effort and some startup cost the first year. After that it’s simple maintenance. It is entirely possible to grow a large portion of your food, even on a patio or small piece of land if you are calculated about it. I like the “square foot” gardening method. It takes less water, fertilizer, labor, and space. Simply grow as much of what is in season as you can, harvest most of it, freeze most of it, and then eat the rest off the plant gradually while it’s still alive and in season. Then when it’s out of season, start using your frozen items as reserves to carry you through to the next season. Now plant a new crop of whatever is next in season, rinse and repeat. Viola, you have home grown groceries. You’ll meet other garden minded friends along the way that you can trade with. Maybe you had a great harvest with your broccoli and they have more carrots than they can use. Make it a win/win situation and trade them some of your excess. If you’re really pinched for space, see if there is a co-op garden in your city where you can plant on a piece of land. This is more common than you might think.
2) Combining healthy foods to save on meat costs (rice and beans).
Meat and protein can be one of the highest cost items in a grocery budget. It contains a complete set of amino acids; the things that your body uses to rebuild, repair and grow muscle. You can get some of these amino acids from vegetables and your body can make some, but ultimately you need a complete set of amino acids to be healthy. This is where combining different types of foods can pay back dividends. Rice and beans are a classic example. When combined, they give a complete set of amino acids that your body can use to heal itself.
3) Don’t waste anything ever again (Food saver).
‘Waste not; want not’. That’s what the older generations use to say. It seems like a bit of common folksy wisdom that no longer gets applied to our modern lifestyles, but every time something gets wasted it’s money you just lost. Next time you put a dish in the fridge that you know you’re not going to eat tomorrow(because you don’t like left overs), simply freeze it and come back to it when you’re pallet has had a break from it. If you can afford a foodsaver, the flavor will not age while in the freezer. This ends up doubling as a time saver because you can simply pull out healthy meals when you’re in a rush.
4) Backyard chickens.
Two words: Free…..eggs. Well almost free. I’m never going to guy eggs again. I don’t have to drive to the store as often giving me both time and saving on gas. The nutrient dense eggs I get now cost me about $1.20 a dozen. The fact that chickens make great manure for my garden, eat any food scraps, eat and control bug populations, and weeds is just a bonus.
5) Stock up when items are their cheapest.
I almost feel guilty when I use this technique because it feels like I’m robbing a grocery store. Here’s what I do. When there is a massive discount on ham, turkey, chicken, etc. usually around Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter, I buy as many as my freezer will hold and use them for the next 6 months. For example, rather than paying $2-$3 per pound for meat, I’m paying 68 cents. It’s like a getting a 60-70% discount.
Can you imagine our great ancestors running through the drive through to have a bag of processed mystery ingredient nutritionless food handed to them out of a window? Can you imagine them waddling from their cubicle to a Plexiglas box, filling it with quarters to have a paper mache’ sugar treat mechanically dispensed? Me neither. This isn’t some rant against modern technology. It’s meant to be a wake up call, that a lot of what we eat in our modern diet isn’t even real food. It doesn’t have the simple nutrition that a human needs to maintain muscle, hormones, and normal blood sugar. It’s stuff most people wouldn’t even feed their dog if it didn’t have sugar in it. Make yourself a promise today that you’ll start using your conscious mind to decide what you eat, not impulses and poor planning.