In almost 2 and a half years of writing posts for 20somethingfinance, I just realized that I have never written a post on saving money on groceries. Seriously?? Shame on me!
Next to our mortgage, grocery items are the biggest expense on a monthly basis for my wife and I – and I’m willing to bet that it’s the same for most of you. This assumes that you don’t eat out all the time (in which case, saving money on groceries should be a secondary concern).
So over the next week or so, I’m going to write a series of posts on food and finances.
And I thought I’d start from the beginning with what I am not willing to sacrifice for grocery cost savings and some ideological considerations that I make toward food consumption. Frugality and personal finance and quality of life can often be a trade-off. And that is certainly the case with food. I have given myself permission to spend more for foods that meat my health, taste, nutritional, and ideological standards.
Saving on Groceries: What I’m NOT Willing to Sacrifice & My Food Ideologies
1. Food Taste Quality
I love food. Who doesn’t? If there are any areas of expense in my life that I’m not willing to downgrade for frugality’s sake, it’s food quality. You will never see me putting Jif peanut butter (slam on Jif, sorry if you like it) on Wonderbread (everyone knows Wonderbread is god awful). However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t shop wisely or pay up for overpriced foods. More on that later.
2. Food Nutritional Value
I’m going to throw Jif and Wonderbread under the bus again here. I’d much rather eat natural peanut butter that is not loaded with sugar and hydrogenated oils. It tastes better, it’s more natural, and it’s healthier. Unfortunately, it is more pricey. Same goes for a whole grain bread vs. one that was produced with refined sugars and tastes like cardboard. You will pay extra for quality in most cases.
3. Food Quantity
I am in good health and I eat HUGE portions of food. Saving money via self-chosen starvation sounds like hell. I’m not willing to do it. I don’t care if there are starving kids in China (well, I do, but it’s not going to impact my food consumption habits). And I don’t care if I can save a few bucks via shrinking my stomach size. I’m 6’4” and 190 lbs. As long as I stay lean and healthy, I’m going to eat, and I’m going to eat a lot.
4. Organic Produce
I strictly eat organic produce that has externally exposed edible surfaces. For example: apples, tomatoes, grapes, celery, lettuce – it has to be organic for me. I want to avoid pesticides at all costs. I’ve read a number of testimonials from farmers that use pesticides on produce and they won’t touch the food that they are producing. If the manufacturers of these food products won’t eat this stuff, why would you??
I don’t care if an orange, pineapple, or squash is organic, since I’m not going to eat the outer surface of the produce. To a lesser extent, I have ideological concerns towards unnatural food production and the negative environmental impact it has. I care about it, and it is a consideration, but not as strong.
If you’re concerned about pesticide usage on your produce, the Daily Green has posted their dirty dozen, or 12 items that they recommend buying strictly organic versions. I’m sure there will be people who disagree on this point, but if you don’t have to assume the risk of eating foods doused with pesticides, why would you?
5. Hormone Free/Free Range Dairy & Meat Products
I also have ideological and health concerns around eating meat and dairy products that have been augmented with growth hormones, such as bovine growth hormone, aka BGH. I’m willing to pay extra for hormone-free food. I’ve heard all of the arguments that there is no true regulation going on to prove the producer’s organic/free-range claims and that there is no adverse health impact for eating steroid swollen foods, but I have the feeling that those claims were originated by those on the other side of the stick.
When possible, I’ve tried to make the switch from animal product to non-animal product. For example, I made the switch to soy milk from cow milk. I didn’t like it, so I made the switch to almond milk. And I love it! It tastes better, it’s healthier, and the thought of drinking something that originated in another species teat just doesn’t sound appealing anymore. Come to think of it, I don’t know if it ever did, but I got more disgusted with the idea over the years. I’ve also switched to a vegetable version of butter, called Earth Balance (sold at Trader Joe’s), and it’s great!
Other than dairy products and fish, my wife and I are pretty much vegetarians. I’ll occasionally have Turkey and chicken, but not often. And I’ll rarely ever eat beef or pig products. It’s a combination of health, taste, ideological, and financial reasons why we just aren’t big fans of meat and animal products.
We aren’t super strict about the ideological reasons for being vegetarian (think PETA), for the most part we actually strongly prefer the taste and health benefits of meals that are based in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Once you drop the belief that a meal should focus around a portion of meat, it opens up a world of new taste and variety. I was raised on meat and potatoes and it wasn’t until post college that I reluctantly made the shift. And I’d never think about going back.
The good news is that veggies are often times cheaper than meats.
– Stay tuned for more on how I’ve been able to keep my grocery costs low in spite of these ideological, taste, nutritional, and other food preferences.
Food Preference Discussion:
- What ideological, taste, and other preferences do you take into consideration when purchasing food?
- Are you willing to pay more for certain food characteristics?
- Do you think the additional cost of organic/free-range food is not worth it? Why?