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
I am not willing to sacrifice a few things when it comes to saving money on food:
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?
For me it is all a nutritional value thing. If two products taste similar and have a similar nutrional label I will go with the generic. I also meal plan and love plantoeat.com where you can even input the average cost a meal. on sundays I look at what is on sale and plan my meals around that. I do have to have a meat at each meal to I really try to use what is lean and on sale.
GE I hope you are going to talk about farmers’ markets in future posts! The super market is a fools game when it comes to the lowest prices and highest quality.
Shopping at Farmers’ Markets, you do have to change what you are eating a bit (eat what is in season), but the end result is a much more balanced and widely ranged diet that is better for you and the environment.
I can get all my produce and meats from local farmers (supporting the local economy) that are truly fresh, grown by people you get to know, and all for about half of the same cost at the super market. Its also a much more enjoyable way to spend a saturday morning than in the super market.
@ Melissa – Agreed. Generics are often times the same manufacturer for the brand names, so if taste is equal, why not pay less?
@ Paul – Agreed. Farmers’ market is definitely a great way to keep costs low, support local business, and cut down on your carbon footprint. I might be touching base with you on this further.
LOL! I actually giggled since I can’t stand any peanut butter UNLESS it’s JIF. Organic peanut butter tastes abslutely awful to my husband and me. But, my husband and I also don’t eat as healthy as you either, so I’m not advocating for JIF…I just think it’s funny how different my gocery cart would look compared to yours:
1. Food Taste – Very important but subjective (obviously)
2. Nutritinal Value – I don’t scan labels for nutritional value, but we do enjoy vegetables like green beans and carrots. We’re adding healthier sides in place of mashed potatoes more often this year. I have always loved fresh fruit for snacks as well.
3. Food quantity – We definitely don’t starve…we’ve even had to cut back on portion size since we were gorging way too often and both of us need to lose 20-30 pounds.
4. Organic Produce – I buy whatever’s cheapest and fresh peaches directly from growers in our area.
5. Hormone Free – I don’t care.
6. Vegetarian – Nope…my husband and I are meat eaters and are trying to add more veggies to our regular meals.
Like I said, I laughed since our grocery baskets look so different. :-)
I think I’d have to agree with you on most of these points. I mean after all you do get what you pay for so I wouldn’t compromise my health to save a couple of dollars.
I have never seen a farmer’s market that wasn’t SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive than the grocery store. Our main strategy is to plan our meals (so we’re not letting things go bad), buy generics when it doesn’t matter (we’ll do a test run to compare sometimes), and of course we are vegetarian so that cuts out a lot of things. In the end, though, as long as we’re not spending more than we earn, we’re not willing to be super frugal about food. It’s one of the things we enjoy most!
The farmers markets where I live cost about the same as the grocery store, and I’d rather buy my fruits and vegetables from them and support the local farmers as opposed to going to the grocery store down the street and not being able to find a single fruit or vegetable grown in the U.S.—literally. I live near the U.S.-Mexico border and it is very difficult to come across fruits and vegetables in my local grocery store that are not from Mexico.
@Honey – the key is finding the right Farmers’ Market:
1) if it is on public property – it will be cheaper as they don’t have over head (like a closed off street once a week)
2) the closer to the farms it is, the cheaper it will be
3) If you live in a major city, be prepared to drive out of town. The farmers that come into the center city core are providing a service to a certain subset of that city’s population. That subset is almost always wealthy and highly educated. The farmers that set up shop (often the same ones, just on a different day of the week) in small towns or small suburban communities they are selling to their neighbors and their price (and quality of products) reflects that. Unfortunately one of the realities of big cities is your produce will never equal what they can get in the burbs and will always be more expensive.
@ Paul – that makes sense, I live dead center in one of the biggest cities in the US (at least, population-wise). Sadly, to drive far enough out of town to get to a cheap farmer’s market, it is probably about the same price once you factor in transportation costs :-(
I do sometimes go to one of the “closed off streets” one because it is RIGHT NEXT to my work. Most amazing pickles I’ve ever had – totally worth $5 a jar!
@ Honey – that is too bad :(
You should team together with other people in your building and get whoever has a wagon/truck/suv to make one run for everyone!
When I went down to the states a few weeks ago, I was shocked and amazed at how cheap the food was at the Walmart supercenter. The problem is… it wasn’t really the right kind of food. First rows being desserts, then frozen foods, then snacks… and many rows of snacks… comeon!
The junk food is significantly more expensive up here (not sure if it’s because of some sort of health tax), but vegetables and such are still around the same price. For us, it makes buying healthy food a no brainer cause not only is it less expensive than buying processed food, but it is a lot better for you as well.
I do enjoy my junk food from time to time, but when you have such easy access to it at a low price, and it becomes all you eat… :S Markets are a wonderful thing in providing goods to buyers, but unfortunately they make no judgments on whether that is good or bad!
I am currently enjoying watching Jamie Oliver’s show on how he’s trying to change the food culture at several schools in the US; it is pretty interesting!
This is a must read on how Wal-Mart actually has (with a good eye) excellent “foodie” foods.
In order to keep costs down Wal-mart uses the shortest supply line possible. Often, that means right to the farmers in our own regions.
Personally, I don’t cut down whatever expense I incur buying foods, I can switch perhaps but not for the purposes of saving but to try out new products. That’s something I don’t want to deprive myself, I can cut down expense on the kind of lotion I buy, clothes I wear, gadgets and all of those stuff but not food. Just a personal opinion.
Paul & Honey:
Regarding the farmer’s market discussion – I agree with Honey. I too have found that the costs are the same or even higher at the farmer’s market. At least our local one here in Overland Park, KS. Now I have a possible lead as to why – the local chamber that runs the market may be fixing the prices to keep them at a “fair market price”. Check out the news story about a farmer who was kicked out after 21 years. Some of the vendors were admonished for selling their produce at too low a price.
By fair market price, I take that to mean that they are protecting the local area’s super markets. I could be wrong, it may be noble attempt, but to me price fixing or price controls are always a bad idea that lead to bad outcomes. I’ll have to find a different farmer’s market.
Just noticed this in the original post:
” I have given myself permission to spend more for foods that meat my health, taste, nutritional, and ideological standards.”
Was the use of “meat” versus “meet” a stealthy pun or a typo? :-)