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Eat Well, Spend Less: When to Splurge, Settle, and Skip

I used to love checking the receipt to see if I could save more than I spent, and I was pretty masterful at getting the great deals and then buying dozens of them. My mom would even share her coupons with me since she couldn’t use them all and I was too cheap to buy a Sunday paper.

Poor mom, she doesn’t even know what to send my way these days. Over the past few years, I use fewer and fewer items that have coupons, from grocery to pharmacy. They’re few and far between for produce, and bulk mail order grains and local farmers don’t really do coupons!

All that whining aside, it is possible to save money and live within a budget while buying whole foods, and sometimes even really well-sourced “real food”, and it’s not that much more difficult than serious couponing. It just may take a little more creativity, the same amount of organization, and a lot of cutting – just not always with scissors.

Where to Splurge Settle and Skip How do you Spend Your Real Food Budget

I make a lot of willy nilly decisions, but there are some places I’ve really thought things through in the area of food budget. It’s 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. I want to show you that yes, you CAN live a more natural life without filing for bankruptcy.

In this post I’ll 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.

This idea is really individual to a family’s preferences, time available to make from scratch, family size, and budget. Many might make different choices, so do read this as simply my personal story.

The Big Idea of Buying Whole Foods

When I think about buying food, if it’s a whole food, I’m happy. If it’s a well-sourced (organic, local, etc.) whole food, I’m thrilled. Those are the litmus tests I apply in general: skip what is fake, always; buy what is real, always; buy what is real and grown properly, whenever you can.

Splurge on Farm Fresh Eggs

I personally splurge on:

  • Meat – grass fed and organic straight from the farm (If you choose to buy through that link, use the code ks10 to get free bacon and $10 off!)
  • Milk – $6/gallon for raw milk, straight from the farm
  • Eggs – $3/dozen for organic, pastured eggs, straight from the farm
  • Butter – I go back and forth on this, sometimes buying the $3.50-4/pound “better” butter – no meds, partially grassfed, and sometimes just sticking with $1.50-2/pound on sale. I would never compromise on a butter substitute or margarine, though. Yikes!
  • Healthy fats – I buy a gallon at a time of coconut oil (use the code STEWARDSHIP to get 10% off) and extra virgin olive oil . They’re always gone before I think possible!
  • Sweeteners – I mourn the fact that I no longer (okay, rarely) buy a 5-pound bag of sugar for around two bucks, but now I get a gallon of maple syrup for $40 or a ½ gallon of local honey for $16-20. Painful, painful. So I have to learn to use less, especially if I find I need to cut my budget.
  • Anytime I buy organic, I feel like it’s a splurge, because so recently I didn’t buy anything organic at all unless it was pretty much the same price as the conventional or for baby food.

I’m a HUGE compromise girl. My tips for the “settle” choices:

  • Produce, any produce, is better than no produce. Settle on non-organics if they’re too hard to find or too expensive!
  • Frozen vegetables and fruits, especially organic ones, are hardly a compromise. They’re usually flash frozen immediately after being picked, so they probably have more nutrient-density than the broccoli that you allow to sit in your produce drawer for 4 days, or the lettuce you buy to last all week because you only grocery shop on Thursdays.
  • Ice Cream: I know how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker, but it’s a little complicated for a regular treat. We love ice cream. I try to focus on the simple ingredients in Breyer’s and eat a small bowl, savoring every bite!
  • Ketchup: Again, I know how to make my own, but my husband didn’t like it and it doesn’t last very long. We use so little ketchup that I just buy Meijer naturals or organic and call it good enough.
  • On meat: If I can’t get to the farm or Farmer’s Market to get the stuff I KNOW is top notch (organic, pastured or grassfed, nearly organic, antibiotic and hormone free, etc.), often I will go to a local butcher’s for “better” meat. It’s a step up from the grocery store because there’s some “local” involved and no antibiotics or hormones. However, it’s not organic, sometimes partially grass fed, and very pricey. Last week I bought conventional store chicken, bone-in breasts, 99 cents/pound. I felt a little twinge of guilt, but today when I bought the same thing for $3.99/pound at the butcher’s and knew it still wasn’t top notch quality, I felt pretty darn good about last week’s chicken consumption! Real meat is always better than processed meat (lunchmeat or bacon, for example), and you can at least get the bones to make nourishing stock as well! I’m thinking I’m going to shoot for the best stuff but compromise for sanity’s sake on the cheap stuff every so often. We all do what we can. If you want to buy great quality meat but just can’t find access to some in your area, Butcher Box is a great option, and if you use the code ks10 you’ll get some free bacon and $10 off your order.
Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing Recipe

What You can Just Skip:

This section includes some “junk food” that you should just skip because no one should eat it, a good number of items you skip because you can make them yourself for less money and more nutrition, and a few high-quality items that we would eat if we had more money, but we swap out for something different.

  • Soda
  • Bottled water and juice
  • Potato chips (except for an occasional fun summer meal)
  • Desserts (except the aforementioned ice cream!)
  • Packaged snacks of any kind (because you have Healthy Snacks to Go, right?!)
  • Packaged frozen dinners (make double and freeze your own)
  • Breads, once you learn to make your own (get that breadmaker for $10 at a yard sale!)
  • Cereal (much to my husband’s deep dismay, the 40 cereal boxes that used to grace our basement have disappeared entirely. We rely on hot oatmeal, homemade granola, yogurt, eggs, or homemade breakfast items each morning.)
  • Salad dressings (I just don’t even keep them on hand anymore. Once a month or so I get dirty looks at the table because we’re practically out of homemade dressings, but I can’t justify the massive amounts of soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup in the store-bought versions. I just won’t do it!)
  • Expensive cuts of meat: steaks, boneless chicken breasts
  • Expensive fish: wild caught salmon, for example, and much other sustainable seafood makes a huge dent in the budget. I grab a can of Alaskan salmon and spicy seasoning and take cod liver oil instead…
  • Super expensive stuff – lard and tallow from the store, sprouted products, ready-made bars (even the high-quality ones), fancy sugars.

Yes, I pretty much avoid the entire middle section of the grocery store, except to pop in for some salsa, spaghetti sauce, canned fish, dry beans, vinegar, peanut butter and spices/baking supplies, and even some of those I’m finding in bulk more often these days.

Main priorities? Get enough meat to plan a week but try to avoid meat-centric meals, fill your fridge with produce, and have lots of oats, rice and potatoes on hand to fill out the meals. When there’s money left, grab some dried fruits and nuts for snacks and treats.

Can You Eat Well AND Spend Less?
East Well Spend Less

Let’s look at each “splurge” above and find one way to splurge less…

  • Meat:

    • Buy only whole chickens, make stock, 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 with seasoning, and put half a pound in sausage, kale and bean soup, sausage spinach pasta toss or savory Greek sausage-stuffed squash, THEN use 1/4 pound in two awesome breakfasts with eggs, peppers, etc. or a grain-free quiche. That’s one pound of meat for three meals…
    • Some people wondered how my meat expenditures from this week’s 2011 real food budget could 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 (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!) 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.
  • Eggs:

    • 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 elimination diet meal planner doesn’t lend itself to eating less than 4 dozen eggs a week…
  • Milk:

    • 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!
  • Cheese:

    • 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!
  • Produce:

    • Buy in season from local farmersask 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.

Here’s Where You Can Save

Save money and make homemade yogurt
  • 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’s my yogurt making tutorial with the Cliff’s notes version of the process, 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 Amazon). 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. Winking smile
  • 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 So You Can Spend More on Food

Homemade Deodorant

Although I do review some spendy items from time to time, like some of the 80 sunscreens my family has tested, 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 activeeach 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 us a bunch each 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 (now banned by the FDA) 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 dish soap and dishwasher detergent. We just have to suck it up, buy in bulk, or buy on Amazon with Swagbucks for those items.

Finding Real Food in Unexpected Places

You don’t have to go right to the farm or shop exclusively at health food stores and mail order specialty shops to eat real food. Whole foods, in their natural form, are more pervasive than we sometimes realize.

Banana past its prime

  • Reduced Produce:

Real food is in your grocery store, all over the produce section. I adore the reduced produce racks, where they sell slightly bruised apples, potatoes from a bag where one went bad, dented peppers, and other less than perfect fruits and vegetables.If your store doesn’t do a reduced produce rack, write the manager and ask him/her to institute one. In these challenging food times, every little bit counts, and I think any wise manager would see your point. Use the draft example here as a starting point.

I sent a letter to my store asking them to forgo the Styrofoam trays, and now they use plastic bags almost exclusively! I even reuse the bags for future produce purchases.

Three KEY tips when buying second best produce:

(1) Don’t get stuff that’s just gross. If it has mold, is so old that it has probably lost all its nutrients (especially for broccoli and greens), or is otherwise unusable (like mushy avocados), don’t be tempted.
(2) Watch your price point – sometimes “reduced” is not even a good deal versus the store sale that week. Know the regular price on everything!
(3) Only buy what you can use or otherwise store in a day or two. Seems obvious, I know, but sometimes the prices are so tempting you end up needing a reduced produce garbage bag because your eyes were bigger than your time and energy.

  • Local Butchers:

You can stumble across some real gems in local butcher shops, sometimes finding sources of grassfed, organic, or almost-organic meats without traveling outside the city limits. You have to poke around, ask people you know, and maybe visit and ask the butcher lots of questions, but it’s a great thing once you find a winner.Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher what they do with organ meats, suet, lard, and chicken feet. Sometimes you can get a super deal (or a freebie) just for chatting and asking the right questions.

If you’re not sure what to ask, start with these 10 Questions to Ask your Farmer (most of them apply) and check out some of my Q&A in Grand Rapids on my Local Resources page. Here’s a little more debate on meat.

My favorite bonus of the local butcher? He’ll cut the meat off the bone when I buy split chicken breasts, so I get a package of boneless chicken breasts and some bones for stock. Smile

Grain-Free Cherry Almond Coconut Crepes
  • Going in with friends:

Sometimes, you really need to get to know the right people. Try a local Weston A. Price Foundation meeting (even if you don’t do all the Nourishing Traditions stuff, that’s a good place to find local food resources), chat up your farmer, or strike up foodie conversations at church. In no time at all, you’ll gather around you a list (keep their emails!) of people with whom you might find deals on:

These are all real bulk purchases I make with friends or that have come through my email. Every other week, someone is emailing offering a deal they found on SOMEthing healthy. It’s awesome to be clued in, and it didn’t take long at all. Start talking. Somebody knows something in your town, too!

  • Via your milk or meat farm, or a Co-op:

I think I’m probably lucky in that our raw milk farm does some bulk orders through Country Life Natural Foods and sends emails about other local farmers and their products. However, there are multitudinous co-ops around the country that do the same thing. You just need to look around, ask around, and see what you can find. If you can’t find anything, start one up and take a little cut for doing all the work!

Real Food on a Budget: When to Splurge, Settle, and Skip
  • Buying Part of  Cow?:

I added the question mark because although many people recommend buying a quarter or half cow to save money, you may have to do some serious math to make sure it’s worth it. If you usually only buy ground beef and cheap cuts like chuck roast and stew meat, a portion of a cow may end up costing just as much or more.From a frugal standpoint only, getting a few steaks for a better deal isn’t really a good deal if you wouldn’t buy steaks anyway. Make sure you compare “hanging weight” per pound, which is what you often are quoted, with the actual per-pound breakdown of the total price. The $2-something per pound might sound awesome, but you have to ask for a list of all the cuts you’ll get and approximate weight of each, then divide your total cost by the number of pounds. If that’s more than you’d pay for a pound of ground beef, stick with your ground beef and skip the steaks! I finally bought a part of a cow last fall, splitting an eighth with a friend (I know, I know, I don’t really have a big freezer though, and even for that had to take a bag over to the in-laws!). I figure I saved a few bucks, but nothing major, and ONLY because I spoke up and asked for organ meats. With our lousy eighth, we got FOUR packages of beef liver, the whole heart, the tongue, 2 packs of soup bones, and the oxtail.

My friend and I are having a food processor party with the heart next week. I kid you not. This is the kind of weird playdate you, too, can enjoy when you make the right friends. However, without those organ meat extras, I would hardly have had any savings over ground beef and stew meat. Ask for suet and render your own tallow, too, if you can. Huge savings there!

Once you’ve bought your food, there are countless ways you can cut costs in the kitchen itself.

Here’s how I use the liver, and the tongue! Mwahahahaha! If you follow on Facebook, you already know a little bit about the results of that.

Top 5 Cost Cutting Measures in the Kitchen

1. Make from scratch:

Surely one of the most obvious – if you do more work yourself, you pay somebody else less and keep more money in your pocket. My recipes page will give you tons of ideas on how to start, and two of the Eat Well, Spend Less ladies are dishing out on homemade convenience and pantry foods as well. Watch for tomorrow’s post, as I’ll excerpt from each of the participants and tell you how to find all of them!

Whole Grain Tortillas

2. Consider the savings:

How much per hour are you saving? Save your sanity, too, and if you need to make cuts, make sure they make sense. For example, I make homemade tortillas because I insist on only the best quality grains recipes, but for many people, making tortillas only save a dollar and takes half an hour. The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t work (unless the nutrition is more important than the frugality).This is one reason my Monday Missions have impact ratings on them – you can see at a glance if something is going to make a huge difference, and you know it’s worth it if it saves you money, increases your nutrition, AND helps the Earth. If it hardly takes any time, you have a real winner!

3. Stretch the Meat:

I have become more and more adept over the years at using less meat and still resulting in tasty meals. Meat is expensive, and although we need to eat it, if your budget won’t allow, it’s an option for cuts. Here are a few ideas from Facebook readers: My best money saving tip is to prepare larger cuts of meat (a chicken, a roast) with lots of side dishes, saving half or more of the meats for other meals (quesadillas, soup, stew, burritos, cottage pie, sandwiches, etc.). In this way, I can stretch $10 to $20 worth of meat into 2 or 3 meals, easily.

  • beans cover adLeanne: My biggest money saving tip is to stretch the meat in our dinners over at least two meals. I buy only grass-fed beef and when I do, we have it grilled one night and then sliced on a salad or in burritos the second night. I cook 2 organic chicken breasts at a time. My husband eats one. My son and I split half of another. The remaining half becomes chicken salad for lunches.
  • EmilyThe Everything Beans Book also has great ideas for using less meat without compromising nutrition.

4. Use it all! Don’t waste food:

This may seem obvious, but between the produce that gets slimy on accident because it was purchased without a plan and the food we serve at the table that won’t fit in our stomachs, I’m willing to bet that your garbage eats more of your food than you’d like to admit. With the high caliber of KS readership, I’m sure you’re all well below the average American, who has a real problem with wasting food. To achieve this, meal planning is of utmost importance. We’ll talk more about meal planning next week as well, so be ready for some challenges!

5. Use a less expensive alternative:

Sometimes you can get a similar result with a more frugal choice of ingredient, such as…

  • Oatmeal and rice – although grains aren’t always the best choice, a breakfast of oatmeal and a rice side dish at dinner will help to cut your budget over eggs and green vegetables, so keep them in consideration, and just make sure to prepare them properly by soaking.
  • Cabbage instead of lettuce – when you’re building a salad, grab a cabbage for $1 or less a pound instead of the lettuce now at $2/pound, and you get as much if not more nutrition for half the price! Mix both together if cabbage alone is too crunchy. (Here’s a good Cabbage Salad recipe.)5 reasons cabbage is awesome
  • Beans instead of meat – for example, did you know you can make tacos with half lentils and no one will know the difference?
  • Fresh jalapenos (or frozen from the Farmer’s Market, even better) over canned chiles
  • Regular potatoes instead of reds
  • What else can you think of? I have a feeling I’m only scratching the surface on this category…
Dish out, readers! How do you prioritize grocery spending?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. See my full disclosure statement here.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

64 thoughts on “Eat Well, Spend Less: When to Splurge, Settle, and Skip”

  1. This is a really good list. Especially for beginners!

    Was just wondering if you have an update, getting more good sourced from local farmers etc.?

    Also, a suggestion. In the ice cream. Is save I jfor a cuisinart. You can make ice cram quickly out if ANYTHING! Slushies from leftover fruits, milk shakes from smoothies. It’s so easy and fun for a quick treat. I’d skips the cost on the bread maker. Making a loaf yourself is so much better and makes a larger quantity–one to eat and one to freeze for a small family or little eaters.

    And have you tried the homemade cereal recipes that are around? I use Sarah Pope’s version. My guys love it!

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Yes, this list is absolutely from my own rookie/beginner days as well! It’s been on my “to do” list for a while now to update it, because I’ve made many strides as well, including an ice cream maker (but I wish I had gotten the Cuisinart). re: the breadmaker, I like to use it to knead my dough and make a big batch of rolls, personally. But that’s another update with a link to that recipe of course! And I did try Sarah’s cereal and discovered you can make it with pretty much any quick bread or muffin (that’s in my breakfast book) but we prefer a homemade grain-free granola around here.

      Thanks for reminding me that this post needs some TLC. 🙂 Katie

      1. This was in no way intended to make you seem “out of date” or anything. (And sorry for I-phone typos! Ugh. Glad you got my gist).

        I had to give up the bread machine (lack of space and too many mouths to feed) so I have a Bosch kitchen machine. Don’t even need a hand mixer anymore with this multifunctional tool.

        It’s still an awesome list as is, really. I just now how far you’ve come. 😉

  2. Laura Jewell

    I wish I could find organic, pastured eggs for $3/doz around here (Dallas suburb). I’ve bought from some backyard chicken owners, but the going rate is $5/doz, which seems reasonable compared to $4/doz for organic cage free at the store, but still. Ouch.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      All my sources are up to $4/dozen (at least) now too…this post needs some 2014 updates! 🙂 Katie

  3. Sherra Kinder in TN

    Thank you thank you thank you for this post!!! It is a keeper!!!! It is so good to hear how you and sort out the “musts” from the “must nots” and the in-betweens. Thank you again!!! Sincerely, Sherra in TN

  4. Julia Skinner

    I made about 4 cups of luscious white bone marrow suet from dog bones that I got from the butcher for $1 each, the stock was pretty sad though. Ever seen a 5 year old beg for parsnips – make them chip shaped and cook them in suet 🙂

  5. suzyhomemaker

    Thanks so much for this post. It makes me feel so much better about some of the things we are buying. Good to know about the oats. I bought organic last time, but if it is not as big of a deal, then maybe I can go conventional for that.

    I also have the EWG Dirty dozen app on my phone. I always refer to that when buying produce. So that way I can balance organic when it is most important.

  6. I just discovered your website and I love it! Just wanted to say thank you SO much. So much good info in one place. We have just decided to try to save money on food without sacrificing nutrition (and hopefully not too much taste…) 😉 and I’m also in the spot of beginning to buy some things organic some of the time. You are lucky to live in a place where organic food is so cheap. The prices you list are half what they are where I live (conventional butter never goes below the “low” sale price of $3.50 a pound here, for example … so I don’t even think about organic butter!!), so it’s always a big decision with much budget-wrangling when I decide to buy something organic. So I especially appreciate the do-what-you-can sentiment I find so graciously throughout your blog! 🙂

  7. FYI, I made NT ketchup once and thought it was expensive and a lot of work. Now I just buy the organic stuff, pour in a tablespoon of whey (that I drained from yogurt/kefir), shake it up, and set it on the counter for a few days. Very easy and I can now better justify when they want to put it on every potato they eat (and some times eggs!)

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      You know, I have read about easy fermenting of condiments, but I always forget to actually do it! Mustard, too, probably! Thanks for the reminder – Katie

    1. Keri,
      I make butter in May and June when the grass is fast growing, and I freeze it. But I’m just snitching half the cream from one gallon a week (2 if I’m lucky). Even our FARM doesn’t have enough cream to make all the butter they need.
      It’s easy, but still takes time…

  8. we do you-pick orchards in the summer as one $ saver and order in 25 lbs bulk from azure standard. haven’t found a way to do the meat prices and afford it, so we mostly eat conventional meat but eat very little meat in our diet. we do eat organic ground beef and i stretch it by making tacos with half ground beef/half lentils… we don’t eat any packaged foods except occasional tortilla chips from costco. i think that is our biggest money saver.

  9. Where do you get maple syrup for $40 a gallon? I’ve looked everywhere and can’t find it for less than $60. Thanks!

    1. Christina,
      Lucky enough to live in Michigan, so a group of us get it right from the farmer. I can’t take credit for discovering the deal, but I know the right people! 😉 Katie

  10. What are your thoughts on the best source of rolled oats? Is it necessary to go organic? Right now I buy the big box of Quaker Rolled Oats at Costco that has two 5lb sealed bags. But I am wondering if I should be looking for something better.

    1. JoAnna,
      I re-make this decision every time I order oats: the $11.25 bag or the $20+ organic bag? Every time, I go with conventional, because I always hear that grains are not that important to purchase organic. ??? Sprays wouldn’t get right on them, and I just can’t pay double for every single food item I purchase, which is pretty much what buying organic only would do. That’s just me, though! 🙂 Katie

  11. Cluttered Mama

    THANK YOU for this post! I just started refocusing on what we’re eating as a family and I like what you had to say here.
    One of the ways I “justify” spending the money at Whole Foods is by trying to buy all my produce– seasonal, locally grown then if feasible, organic– at the Farmer’s Market. I try to do the Farmer’s Market right before the grocery so that I can fill in the blanks if necessary, rather than hoping the Farmer’s Market will have what I didn’t get at the grocery.

  12. Pingback: Eat Well Spend Less Round Up - Week 1 | Good Life Eats

  13. Wow, I feel so free! It has been really hard for me to feel ok about compromising…but this is really encouraging. May I ask where you find slightly better butter for $3.50-4? I am in West Michigan, too. I usually get meijer organic butter for $5, or kerrygold for $2.89 for a 1/2 lb. I do feel like butter is important to get the good stuff…but so dang expensive! (let’s not even mention the pastured butter at the health food store. eek!)

    1. Joanna,
      Cedar Crest, found at Heffron Farms locations and the Fulton Farmer’s Market @ Rakowski’s (and my milk farm stocks it) is antibiotic and hormone free, somewhat grassfed. 🙂 Katie

  14. My husband laments the fact that we no longer have endless cereal. Sometimes he can’t take it and buys the gross sugary cereal at the store when I am not around! Most of our organic prices are higher than yours, but we do not eat beef or pork, even though I know grassfed is good and healthy (at least for beef!) but we can catch enough wild salmon to last for a couple months, and it’s often on sale for 3.99/lb for wild alaskan salmon around here. Not bad! I’ve even seen it for 2.99/lb on occassion! Oh, and do I know those dirty -there’s no salad dressing-looks! Thanks again for posting on this!

  15. Hi Katie,

    I’m not very far on my way to eating whole foods, and I’m currently using Weight Watchers to keep at a healthy weight. When you describe your diet it sounds pretty high in carbs, which tends to cause me to gain weight, whether they’re high in fiber and whole or low in fiber and processed, it doesn’t seem to matter. How do you deal with that aspect of your eating?

    1. Michelle,
      Right now we’re gluten free and were grain-free for 3-4 weeks, so that was definitely lower in carbs! Surely true that high carb foods like grains and potatoes are less expensive, but we don’t eat them all the time – they just help the budget to supplement with them. Focus on healthy fats and veggies, reduced produce if you can find them, of course, for a lower carb diet that still doesn’t totally kill the budget. Then again, our diet right now, with more meat and almost no grains, might be killing the budget! 😉 Katie

  16. Katie – would you mind sharing what your grocery budget is for a month or year? It seems most of your prices are similar to what I am getting here in PA. You are feeding one additional child and probably make more from scratch than me. I’d love to know if I’m even in a similar ball park, if you don’t mind sharing.

  17. I love this list Katie! With baby #2 due later this month, my hubby and I have really talked about the food budget for 2 reasons. 1. costs of food 2. supply/stock up here at home for convenience. We are getting a 1/4 of a cow later this month. No, we don’t typically buy steak bec. we can’t afford it BUT we love it. I was able to get the 1/4 cow for the same price or less than conventional. It is grass fed and finished with some grain but no hormones, etc. Much better than the local butcher offers. We are also joining a CSA this year. Last year, I got a few weeks of a share and felt I always got my monies worth but still hated the thought of the spring sticker shock. Again, this year will be the true test. We have a bread machine and I really need to sour your site and find how to make sourdough bread in it – I’m sure it is probably the healthiest and cheapest bread option vs. the compromised “good enough” $3 loaf bread from the grocery. Thanks for sharing and I’m pretty much at the same place as you. The only big difference is we don’t buy raw milk (DH won’t drink it) but do buy local from the dairy my parents ship their milk from – so I know all the farmers that are making the milk. We buy ketchup w/o HFCS and I just don’t think abotu it anymore. We use too much to buy organic and we just don’t like homemade YET. 😉

    1. Shelly Smith

      Yep, I’ve “compromised” with the Heinz ketchup with NO HFCS, as my kiddos use ALOT of it and have not liked any of the organic brands I’ve tried! (Plus, it would quickly add up, around here!)
      I will also add that we LOVE homemade sourdough bread, and I love the extra “fermented food” benefits!

  18. Michelle @ From the Same Nest

    I have started substituting half sugar, half honey in recipes. I really am having a hard time liking a 100% substitution, but I’m figuring that doing 50/50 is weaning my tastebuds – and it’s getting my budget used to the switch in prices.

    I posted this link on another post of yours today, so forgive me, but it goes well with this topic… I’ve been dividing my grocery costs up according to food group – if anybody is interested, here is the link…

    Thanks for this series!

    Michelle @ FTSN

  19. Two Chicks and a Hen

    Wow, it’s amazing to see how much prices differ. In Montreal, the cheapest generic butter is $5! Organic eggs are $6 a dozen, and organic milk is around $5.50 for a half gallon (although the measurement is slightly different). I agree that those are all worthy things to splurge on. I just wish that they weren’t such enormous splurges for us.

    1. All those prices for me are right from a farm…they would be more, in most cases, at the grocery. ??? 🙂 Katie

    1. Shira,
      Mix up an ice cream recipe in a plastic ziploc bag, freeze, but you have to smush it around really well every 30 minutes or so until frozen like ice cream. 😉 Katie (Google for other ways and details…)

  20. Pingback: Eat Well, Spend Less: Strategies From Eight More Bloggers

    1. I knew we were getting a bargain, our raw milk is $5 a gallon and the pastured eggs are $3 a dozen. I just wish my daughter’s family could use eggs because they’re a big part in keeping the food budget down. Unfortunately, my granddaughter is severely allergic to eggs. Hopefully she’ll grow out of it. We have raised our own lamb and mutton for years now (not totally grass fed) and we’ve bartered lamb for pasture raised chicken grown by friends. We buy some pasture raised beef and pork, I render my own lard from fat purchased at the farmer’s market. Mostly we try to eat homemade rather than processed.

  21. I’m jealous of your $6 a gallon milk and 3.50-4/lb butter! Our cow share is near $10/gallon (worth every penny) and I rarely pay under $5/lb for butter (I can’t always get grassfed…I pay that much for just organic). I pay $11/quart for local raw honey, but we’re hoping to get some honey from our bees this year. We have chickens for eggs. We compromise on cheese. I get Tillamook cheese from the grocery store… Not raw or organic, but they don’t use growth hormones and the cows are mostly pastured. It’s around $8 for a 2lb loaf here, so it’s cheaper than the organic, also non-grassfed cheese from the health food stores.

    1. suzyhomemaker

      Thanks for the tip on Tillamook. I always bypass the organic because of the expense, but it is nice to know there are better options.

  22. Pingback: Eat Well, Spend Less: 8 More Perspectives

  23. I am a scrimp and splurge shopper. I just splurged at the health food store (an hour away, rarely get there) on a couple extras that I know I will never buy again BECAUSE: I want to try them out, remember the ingredients and then duplicate it at home in a more frugal way.
    Here’s one thing I bought: buckwheat granola. 12oz bag for, well I can’t even touch the keys that say how much because it was obscene! But, the ingredients are amazing, including SPROUTED buckwheat, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, plus flax seeds raisins and coconut. Everything is organic and raw and, well, it also has cacao… yes, cocoa bliss buckwheat granola. I’m sure I need say no more.

    How do I fit this into a budget? I buy other stuff in bulk, through a co-op. I buy my coconut oil in a FIVE gallon bucket, my salt and beans in 25 lb bags, etc…

    We subsistence fish (meaning we put up 30 or more salmon every year, mostly into the freezer but some smoked and some canned)

    I bought a side of beef, grass-fed AND finished, for close to the same price as regular feedlot grocery store beef.

    I have friends who needed a loan and for 1% less interest I asked for wild game for my freezer. I feel really good about that deal… I’ve known my friend for over thirty years, her husband is an expert hunter and guide and talk about food security! They’ve been generous in the past with their bounty (moose, caribou, salmon, berries, etc…) and this way it gets acknowledged how valuable and appreciated it is.

    I also shop Costco for: Kerrygold butter and cheese, organic peanut butter, sugar, canned tomato products, brown rice, etc… Spices like black peppercorns and smoked paprika, nuts, some produce like sweet potatoes and onions, organic spring greens and asparagus.

    When our grocery store has organic apples on sale for about a dollar less per pound I buy a whole box, or two. Our garage is heated so nothing freezes but it stays cold in winter and cool in summer. Perfect for storing produce like apples and cabbage as well as bags of grains and beans and buckets and jugs of oils and syrups.

    Another thing that allows me to spend less on groceries is using some of that money for the tools of my trade. This last year I bought an Excalibur dehydrator which we use regularly already and my list of things to dry is growing all the time! This year I’ve just purchased a counter-top, continuous brewing system for our kombucha. Expensive? Yes. But kombucha has so greatly impacted my family’s health that it has earned star status and the rate at which these tools pay for themselves is crazy fast! Cookbooks too. My husband used to roll his eyes whenever I brought home a new cookbook, or three. My reasoning was, and still is: other people subscribe to professional journals in their trade to keep up and improve their skills, why should mine be any less important? If I get even one or two recipes, techniques, etc… that I use regularly, if the people around my table are groaning with deep satisfaction, those books have paid fully for themselves and it is still less than professional development classes! I use a lot of cast iron, which I always buy used and at least relatively cheap but I’ve also splurged (I usually buy myself something like this, or ask my husband or mom for it, on my birthday!) on a couple very expensive enameled iron Dutch oven kind of pots. They are a delight to use, gorgeous to look at plus they are the most healthful tools I know of for cooking in. Need I mention that the kinds of things you cook in a Dutch oven are the simple, inexpensive yet deeply nourishing and satisfying foods like stews, soups and roasted meats?

    Wow… I wax long… I guess it just hit a passionate vein. Bon appetit!

    1. I may need a Cosco membership just for the kerrygold butter!!! We had some gluten-free crackers from there, too, that I’ll have to get if we need to remain GF. GREAT thoughts, Beth, thank you so much! 🙂 Katie

      1. I am soooo excited that I just “stumbled upon” Kerrygold butter at Sam’s Club last week! We have a Sam’s membership because we get a “discount” on the membership fees from my husbands employer. I hear that Cosco has more variety in the organic line of foods, but ours is a further drive (and no discount on membership!) So, suffice it to say I was VERY excited about the Kerrygold butter!! 🙂

    2. We salmon fish…. I would like to know how you can your fish…. would like to do more with it to save money.

      1. Honestly, I am not a big canner. I did can a couple dozen jars of salmon two seasons ago and it is convenient to have in the cupboard and definitely cheaper than the tuna I buy (American Tuna, all single line caught in the U.S. Pacific) and my kids love salmon salad sandwiches and salmon gravy over biscuits. It also makes a nice dip with cream cheese, a splash of liquid smoke, salt, pepper and chives.
        I am planning to do a few batches this summer with the new catch. I leave skin and bones on for more nutrients (I just smoosh the bones with a fork when mixing with other ingredients, you can’t really tell the difference once it’s all mixed up) and fill pint jars with salmon and a half teaspoon or so of Redmonds sea salt. Then follow directions from any good canning guide for processing time and pressure. I have used both USDA and Ball canning guides.
        I bought a super big, high quality canner a couple years ago only to find it doesn’t fit on my stovetop because of the overhead microwave (irritating since I hate microwaves, but it came with the house when we bought it). I ended up using our propane burner outside, which was kinda fun except for the evening mosquitoes!

  24. Thanks for this! Good to know I’m on the right track in what I splurge on and what I skip entirely!

  25. Great, practical post, Katie. I received a wonderful inspiration while reading your post. Did you know grace can reach through a blog?!

    Pretty simple, really, but a gentle tug to take some time to “prioritize” our spending to help our budget. We buy local for our staples (meat, eggs, milk, veggies, grains). However, some folks in our family still buy junk when they go to the regular grocery store. This incongruency really strains our budget. So, I think it’s time to lay down the law and work with my husband to more concretely define our food spending limits. Compromise, sure, but how much of the budget should that occupy? Should be a fun exercise!

  26. Sarah @ Joy on the Journey

    What a great post. I am learning that no matter how much I prioritize our spending, we simply are going to spend a higher percentage of our income on food now that we are eating “real” and “whole”. I’m hoping our summer garden will help bring down the grocery bill!

  27. I needed this. DH and I had a little doosey of a fight this weekend about food purchases due to the amount of organic products in the house. Most people can’t do everything.

    Here’s to shopping the ads now!

  28. I keep my grocery list with me as I walk through the store, and I allow my side dishes to change based on the produce on sale. Last week sweet potatoes were $.99 and this week it’s back up to $1.49! (Should have purchased a few more…)

  29. Thank you so much for this post! I love your site but sometimes I get overwhelmed, so it’s nice to know what you feel is essential and what you’re willing to compromise on.

  30. Jill @ The Prairie Homestead

    I totally compromise on the organic ketchup like you said. We use up a bottle of ketchup about every 6 months. Just not going to make it since we use so little!

    I also buy regular ol’ store butter. The grassfed stuff looks wonderful, but with the rate we use butter around here, it would break the bank. But, we just bought a milk cow, so once she calves, we should have no shortage of grassfed butter!

  31. Barb @ A Life in Balance

    Great topic and always worth rehashing!

    After looking at your list, I’d saw we compromise based on convenience and cost more than anything. The hardest area for me to deal with is the meat. I’ll admit that buying grass-fed meat does take effort since we simply can’t walk into a store and expect to find it there. That being said, I am part of a local buying club that does deliveries 5 minutes from my home. I’m being lazy about using the service.

    We’re still using organic sugar for our family of seven. I cannot get my husband to go light on the maple syrup when he serves it with pancakes. I’ve tried making fruit syrups, but that hasn’t gone over too well.

    1. I had the same frustrating problem with the maple syrup, my kids use way too much if I let them pour. I whipped mine by boiling it (about 240 degrees) and then running it in the electric mixer until it was fluffy. Now my kids get a little spoon full of whipped syrup on each pancake, and it really helps with portion control. Not sure if your hubby would go for that, but my kids were happy. 🙂

  32. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    Great post, Katie. I shop very similarly to you. Yep, still buying organic ketchup. =)
    We’re getting chickens this spring, so we’ll now have our own eggs. Yay!

  33. I was just wondering where you get raw cheese from. I think you can get through Azure but I called them and they dont deliver anywhere in NY. Is there any online sources for cheese?

    1. Lori,
      Mine is from Brunkow Cheese in Wisconsin, and they deliver to Michigan, but I’m not sure how much farther. It’s sooooo delicious! 🙂 Katie

      1. I’m from Michigan as well~ we have a local dairy that makes and sells Raw Cheddar in my city 🙂

  34. Thank you for this post. I am looking forward to reading the next one too.
    I really need to put good meat back on my priority list. Since getting pregnant and starting two babysitting jobs at about the same time I have been so much less organized and therefore less healthy.
    I do get raw milk though I get mine for free from a friend and if the cow gets sick then I get some just minimally pasturized milk from a farm an hour away or coconut milk.

    And farm eggs are really important to me. I am so excited I have a friend who’s daughter is starting an egg business this summer. She just got 35 chickens. So finally the price of my eggs will be going down!
    I also splurge on healthy fats too. I need to order some coconut oil but butter and olive oil has been working for me for right now. And I get sunflower or grapeseed oil ocassionally.
    And I get local honey for $15 for 5lbs.

  35. The challenged cook

    This was great. I’m trying to learn more about how my food is produced, and understand why some items are so much more expensive than others, so a post like this really helps.
    We don’t buy junk food, we hardly eat out, we don’t buy soft drink, and we make almost all our own food, so I justify spending as much as I need to on good ingredients. In Australia (where I live) there was a cyclone recently and bananas are now $1 each. People refuse to pay that much for one banana, yet will pay $2 for a can of Coke. Silly.

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