I got an email last month that really got me thinking:
Hi there, I love your blog! I have known about clean eating for years and have practiced it to a certain degree but you bring it to whole new level. It is overwhelming.
I have a new sense of urgency to incorporate “real” stuff in my home because I have recently be diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. I have had to cut my hours as an ER nurse a great deal so frugal living is important. I started couponing last May to try and help with budget but there is just a bunch of junk out there in regards to what you get with coupons and it is a ton of work.
I would much rather spend the time in the kitchen/home than in the stores and on the net trying to find deals. Do you coupon at all? A lot of your suggested personal care items are pretty spendy. I’m assuming you make up for it in the kitchen and with a tight budget? I am just wondering.
I am trying to wrap my brain around this and if it will actually help with a budget verses destroy our budget.
I felt kind of badly that it seemed KS was focusing on “spendy” personal products, because it is always my goal to help people balance their care for their family’s health with the environment AND their budget, all while trying not to spend forever in the kitchen.
If I’ve strayed into spending more, it’s time to turn the ship around and show you that yes, you CAN live a more natural life without filing for bankruptcy.
Here was my answer to the email:
I’m so sorry I took so long to answer your message! I read it right away, and you got me thinking. You see, most of the personal products I actually use regularly are super cheap and/or homemade, but I get to try out a bunch of fancy things as a blogger. Some, I’d spend the money on. Some, I honestly wouldn’t, or at least I wouldn’t have 4-5 years ago.
So really, just about everything I recommend on a basic level is just that – basic, and also inexpensive.
I thought so much about your question and worried that maybe things weren’t as clear as they should be at KS, that I decided this was the perfect topic for the year anniversary of the Eat Well, Spend Less series. If you haven’t seen that one, check them out here.
A post that will get you started on the food end is here: When to Splurge, Settle, and Skip.
To answer the rest, watch KS in mid-April and you’ll have a whole post (or two) detailing what things I do that cost less than the conventional lifestyle, what costs about the same and where you have to spend more to get more. Thank you so much for the inspiration!
For now, try things that are homemade on the list of green body products and skip the expensive stuff.
I used to coupon a bit, not with a huge binder, but definitely saving money every time I went to the store. I also got hoodwinked into buying things I didn’t need and didn’t love. Every step I take in the natural living journey, both in the kitchen and the rest of the house, seems to decrease the possible coupons I use. It got to the point where my mom would send me coupons for the select items I might use, and now, literally, I’m down to toilet paper.
I don’t even bother taking the time to skim the coupon booklets anymore, because there’s nothing there for me. I notice that when I’m in the store, my cart is FULL of produce, and potentially a few other items. It’s so incredibly different from other carts in the checkout line, and I’m always a bit proud of my fresh foods. I hardly ever enter a Walgreen’s or Rite Aid anymore, and they used to be weekly stops.
So thank you for the great inspiration, and I hope I’ve given you some budget hope and will share more in a few weeks!
My goal in this post is to list all the real food practices and foods that you really should be eating, no matter what, and divide them into those that will save money over a conventional diet and those where you must spend more to get more. Along with some cleaning and personal product frugality, you can trim here and spend there and still stay within a budget while eating a super healthy, real food diet.
Here’s Where You Save
- Homemade yogurt: I save $700 on 12 jars/2 weeks with conventional milk/conventional yogurt, pricing both yogurt 32 oz. and 1 gallon milk at about $3 apiece, or I save $780-1092 using organic raw milk at $6/gallon vs. organic yogurt at $4-5/quart. Because it only takes me 20 minutes or so per gallon, I’m getting “paid” about $35/hour to make yogurt. Not bad for a stay-at-home mom! Here are the new yogurt making updates with the Cliff’s notes version of the process, more pictures, and testimonials from people other than me that it really is easy! Also see the new troubleshooting guide for homemade yogurt and how to make creamy raw milk yogurt.
- Homemade chicken stock: it’s practically free. I probably spend maybe a buck more to buy the bones themselves, another buck in onions, carrots and celery (if that), less than a buck, hopefully, on power for the stove, and I get at least 1-2 gallons of stock. For organic, no-MSG broth at the store, that would cost $12-25 easily, maybe more. Since it does take a good hour to complete all the parts, I only earn about $20/hour. “Only.” And of course, if you use the bones more than once…you’re saving even more by making food from garbage!
- Cooking with dry beans: I paid $1.35/lb. for 25 lbs. of organic black beans from Country Life. Cans cost over $2 if you get good organic ones, about $0.69 if you get conventional on a really good sale. I won’t spend more than $1/lb. on dry beans at the store. One pound of beans generally makes the equivalent of about 4 cans. My organic beans cost 50% less than conventional canned beans, and they save almost $7 vs. organic canned beans without BPA (Eden Organic brand from Tropical Traditions). Shave off a few cents for stove energy (always cook at least a pound, if not two, at a time, and you’ve got enough to buy The Everything Beans Book after just a pound of beans! 😉 Or, you can say you “make” about $6-30/hour by taking two 5-minute sessions to cook dry beans. For me, because I do this far too often and have to spend 15 minutes cleaning it up, my pay is docked down to about $5/hour, but it’s my own dumb fault.
- Picking and freezing your own fruit IF you live in the right area: A friend of mine just moved to Virginia and discovered (after picking) that peaches were less per pound at the store! Here in Michigan, we can save a ton of money on U-pick apples, blueberries, and strawberries, and by buying peaches and organic peppers to freeze and organic tomatoes to can at the Farmer’s Market.
- Fermenting vegetables (and fruit) is definitely something I need to do more of. Not only does fermentation wildly increase nutrients, but it’s quick, easy, and super frugal, helping to preserve the harvest and allowing you to buy cheap veggies like cabbage and make them into a superfood.
- Buying in season and in bulk. I’m so excited to have our own house again so I can do things like buying 50 pounds of oatmeal or 25 pounds of beans. I’m also saving up for an upright freezer instead of my very small chest freezer so I can really tank up on the summer peppers (and other things) even more and maybe buy a quarter of a cow or something. (Do you get jazzed about silly things like that too?) I wrote extensively last year on midwest food sources and buying in bulk; that post is definitely worth perusing as you seek to trim your budget on real foods.
- Make from scratch: You kind of have to in order to eat real food, but just remember that your time in the kitchen is saving money! Here are some considerations when cooking to make sure you’re saving money (the second list of 5). You can try my real food donation printables for some inexpensive and filling meal ideas for your family.
- Be sure to check out 5 frugal tips for purchasing food from last year, including the reduced produce section, local butchers, buying in bulk with friends, and buying a portion of a cow.
Save on Personal Products to Spend More on Food
Although I do review some spendy items, like the reader above pointed out, I really mainly use super inexpensive cleaning and personal care items. Use these to save in one category so you can splurge a little more on food:
- Homemade deodorant (incredibly cheap)
- No poo shampoo method (even more incredibly cheap)
- Vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and baking soda for most day-to-day cleaning
- Soap nuts for laundry – they are lasting me forever, partly because I know the trick for how to tell if soap nuts are still active – each load costs pennies. I do buy oxygen bleach for soaking stains and Biokleen Bac-Out for spraying stains, but I dilute the Biokleen 3:1 with water and it really does last a long time as well.
- Shaklee Basic H, about a Tablespoon diluted in a whole foaming pump for hand soap. Expensive to buy a big jug (maybe $35 for 32 ounces?) but it will last us forever. Castile soap or other natural liquid concentrates work well also, but the foaming pump is the key. This has to save at least $50 a year, based on the one bottle of “natural” foaming soap I bought when we were living at my in-laws and how FAST it needed a refill! This practice also helps you avoid triclosan and artificial colors that are in many soaps.
- Homemade baby wipes (I probably spend $12/year on baby wipes for a full time diapered kid)
- Oil cleansing method to wash your face (EVOO is expensive, but you use so very little, it’s cheap in the long run)
- Zit treatment and acne cream: I’ve been using Redmond Clay, and you can be economical by buying it dry and mixing it with water yourself. (Here’s a You Tube video showing how.)
- Why use body wash? Just buy regular soap, or nice homemade soap if you have a local supplier (or try MadeOn‘s goat milk soap). Erin also posted on an easy, non-toxic homemade body wash that is great for babies or adults.
- My hard lotion (also from MadeOn) may cost more than the super cheap stuff I used to buy, but it also works better and I don’t worry when Jonathan sucks on my hand after I’ve put some on. For me, MadeOn products are not that much of a splurge, and I always buy the refill packs, which are less expensive.
- The only two places I can’t find an inexpensive alternative are dishsoap and dishwasher detergent. We just have to suck it up, buy in bulk, or buy on Amazon with Swagbucks for those items.
- What did I miss?
And Here’s Where You Spend
There’s no getting around it – high quality animal products always cost more, as does organic produce. It’s a bummer, but you can still balance the budget while eating well if you focus on spending more here:
- grassfed, organic meat
- pastured eggs (or raise your own chickens, but do the math – I know people who found they spent as much on chicken feed as they would buying high quality eggs down the road!)
- raw milk
- real organic cheese
- organic produce
Can You Eat Well AND Spend Less?
Let’s look at each “splurge” above and find one way to splurge less…
- Buy only whole chickens, make stock as above, and use them for multiple meals. You should be able to get 3 dinners with leftovers for a family of 4 with one chicken, if meat is not the centerpiece of the meal.
- Use half or three-quarters of a pound of ground beef or sausage in recipes that call for a pound, like soups and casseroles. Cut taco meat or sloppy joes with cooked lentils.
- Make “meat-centric” meals rare. Bacon becomes a seasoning.
- Strrrrrrrretch the meat! I use one pound of ground pork, make my own homemade sausage, and put half a pound in sausage, kale and bean soup (top photo), sausage spinach pasta toss or savory Greek sausage-stuffed squash, THEN use 1/4 pound in two awesome breakfast with eggs, peppers, etc. or the grain-free quiche from Real Food…Real Easy! That’s one pound of meat for three meals…
- Some people wondered how my meat expenditures from this week’s 2011 real food budgetcould possibly be so low. I use the strategies above, plus
- we bought 1/16 cow in December 2010
- we get venison from my brother from time to time
- I made some cheap grocery store compromises
- lots of beans
- lots of soups
- a meatless meal or two per week
- On a related issue, we bought about 60 pounds of almonds in fall 2010 (for $2.99/lb!!!) that lasted us pretty much through the summer, so our nuts expenditures were much, much less in 2011 than we consumed.
- There’s not much you can do here, honestly. I console myself that eggs are super healthy and pound for pound generally cost less than meat. But we’re pushing a dozen for scrambled eggs, so that’s a $4 breakfast, and certainly not frugal! The grain-free lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to eating less than 4 dozen eggs a week…
- Obviously, make your own yogurt, and only buy what you can afford. My kids know that they can choose milk as a drink for one meal a day. If we use too much, we run out before milk day. It is what it is… When I make a cream of potato soup nowadays, I use more broth than milk, and it’s more nutritious, just as delicious, and more frugal. Try water instead of dairy in biscuits or pancake recipes – you’ll find you can often get away with it!
- I do buy a decent amount of store cheese and just decide I’m not going to worry too much about it. I’m trying to focus more on raw milk and organic cheeses, but this has been as our budget gets more wiggle room. If I wanted only organic and was on a budget, I wouldn’t eat very much cheese.
- Use a microplane grater to grate cheese directly on someone’s plate rather than incorporating a cup of shredded cheese into or onto a dish that calls for it. The eater still sees and feels the cheese in the mouth, but you can use a LOT less with similar taste.
- If you don’t have a source for raw cheese, I just found this one online with pretty good prices and sometimes free shipping. I just got it in the mail and will let you know how it tastes!
- Buy in season from local farmers – ask your farmer questions to find those that grow organically but don’t pay for certification. That saves you money, too.
- Grow your own – here’s the organic gardening series at KS
- Focus on the dirty dozen – don’t worry as much about conventional broccoli, cauliflower, avocados, onions, etc. Splurge a bit on potatoes, apples, greens.
- Watch for reduced racks and learn what day your health food stored reduces their slightly older produce, then use or freeze it right away at home.
You can do it! I mentioned on last year’s real food budget that as we started switching over, I prioritized real food so much so that I put tax refund and garage sale money into the grocery budget instead of somewhere like entertainment. Make it important, spend some time cooking and meal planning, and you CAN stay within a normal budget and eat almost exclusively whole foods, and hopefully even good, real, well-grown food.
Remember than an apple, even a conventionally grown one, is always better than a jar of applesauce with X chemical on sale with a coupon.
It’s the last day for the Simplify Your Family Life eBook sale, over $350 in ebooks for $29! Check out my recommendations here.
The rest of the team is wrapping up this week, too:
- Alyssa from Kingdom First Mom
- Carrie from Denver Bargains
- Jessica from LifeasMOM
- Katie from Good Life Eats
- Mandi from Life Your Way
- Shaina from Food for My Family
- Tammy from Tammy’s RecipesDisclosure: There are links to Tropical Traditions, Amazon, and gnowfglins from which I’ll earn commission in this post. I received a product for my review from realmilkcheese.com. See my full disclosure statement here.