This is the second Mary and Martha Moment in a series exploring each of the four pillars of Kitchen Stewardship. Read the others at:
- Earth: Called to Be Good Stewards of the Earth
- Budget (You’re here)
- Health (Be a Body Steward)
- Time (Balancing Time, Family and Food)
Everyone thinks of money when you hear the word stewardship. It’s an obvious step, discussed in Scripture and often from the pulpit. Tithing is a topic of interest: do you tithe 10%? More? Less? Net or gross? There are countless blogs out there about saving money in all areas of life. (top photo source)
That’s not what I’m here for.
I want to talk about stewardship instead of just giving, about careful choices instead of just saving.
- Is giving 10% as a tithe to an organization that won’t use it wisely, for the propagation of the faith or the care of the poor, actually a tithe? (Give food as another option – see here for ideas to give healthy, non-perishable food to charities.)
- Is scrimping and saving for retirement so much that your children are stressed out about money actually saving anything?
- Is couponing and militantly shopping sales frugal if it is to the detriment of your family’s health?
Stewardship is about asking the tough questions.
In the kitchen, good Christian stewardship of your money is a question of spending less vs. spending well. It is much like the Two Paradigms of Healthy Eating that I discussed before beginning the Super Foods series.
What Kind of Provisions to Buy?
Proverbs 31 tells of the “ideal wife” who, “like merchant ships, secures provisions from afar.” Scriptures don’t tell us that she secures the least expensive provisions, or the most eco-friendly provisions, or even the healthiest provisions. She secures them from afar, leading me to believe that they are the best. They are worth the trip. This godly woman’s provisions are exactly what God calls her to get. It is up to us to discern what that means in our families.
Obviously you cannot spend more than you have, but let’s assume that most people have room in their budget to move things around. Spend less on entertainment and more on food, plant a garden of flowers vs. a garden of vegetables, consolidate errands instead of running to the store to catch the sales perfectly…thinking out of the box, and outside the column in Excel or Money, is all part of stewardship. Looking at your food budget in isolation isn’t usually the way to make the choice of spending well in the kitchen.
I challenge you to examine what priority FOOD has in your household budget. Food is the energy for life for your family/self. Are you making sure that it is an essential, after tithe, home, water/electric…and before TV, Internet, cell phone, non-essential clothing, and entertainment?
Say a prayer about it, with your spouse if you’re married. What is God calling you to do? How does He want you to steward the “coins” to which you’re entrusted? Do you need to trade new shoes for organic salad? Skip staying in a hotel on vacation so you can buy olive oil in bulk instead of vegetable oil, and avocados instead of potato chips? See if there are any priority reconsiderations you can make to give yourself more in your food budget to begin with.
Once you are looking at your food budget, stewardship is still more about what you buy and less about what you spend. Say a prayer again, and consider:
- Are you buying processed foods for convenience, taste, or coupons?
- Do you know what the ingredients are in your “good deal”? And is it even less than regular price for a similar store brand item?
- How often are you eating out vs. eating at home? (Note: sometimes eating out is worth it in the big picture, if everyone needs a break from cooking or dishes. Choices, again, aren’t in isolation of money but must take into account the emotional/psychological health of the family!)
- Could you consume less food instead of just fewer calories when dieting? Buying less food could save a lot more than buying fewer calories if you make the food count.
- What kind of snacks do you eat? Are they necessary?
- Is God calling you to buy more vegetables and less breakfast cereal (the former often more expensive than the latter after coupons and sales)?
- Could you save more money and gain more health by planning inexpensive meals rather than making your meal plan around the sales?
Cheap Meal vs. Cheap Shopping Trip
I’m working on that last one. I always buy things when they are on sale, and then sometimes I find myself rushing to make sure I use everything up in a timely fashion. I can look back at a week of meals, and even though everything was on sale, I might not have a meatless meal or a truly inexpensive meal because I had food that needed to be consumed. I realized that I might be better off pricing out some of my meals and making sure I have a “budget meal” or two in the meal plan each week. I need to work on/pray about buying less when I don’t have a plan of what to do with it. I need to make sure I’m not freezing everything to make it last and then never leaving space in the week to eat all the freezer meals!
No Spend Month?
Small Notebook pitches an interesting idea: a No Spend Month and some tips. I’m thinking of trying it on a less intense scale right about now – my freezer needs to be emptied a bit for berry season, so I’m focusing on buying mostly produce and dairy that I have a plan for in my menu. It will be a challenge that takes more discipline than I have – so I need to remember to pray about it. God does care about our kitchens, after all.
Turn on the Thinker: The Cost of Real Food
Let us be cognizant about what we buy, and not quite so hyper-focused on how much we saved over the retail price of a box of X. Do you spend money for nothing? Iceberg lettuce is always my example: it’s easy to get a bag of pre-cut pre-washed super convenient iceberg lettuce for under $1. Organic greens are three times as much, and even standard bulk Romaine is often more pricey than iceberg, plus you have to go to the trouble of washing and cutting it.
Iceberg lettuce, although not devoid of nutrients, is 95% water. Romaine lettuce trumps it in almost every nutritional category. See a side-by-side comparison here, although Jeff Novick disagrees, claiming iceberg is still a healthy option. Healthier than chips, sure. I still find more sources that say it’s more or less a waste of money. So the question is: do you spend $1 on mostly water, or do you spend $2 on nutrients that will help your body build immunity, regulate digestion, grow healthy muscle and bone, etc.? Maybe the real key is to have half as many salads and make them count twice as much.
Good stewardship of our money suddenly crosses into our health. Nothing is in isolation. Show me a receipt on which you saved as much as you spent, and I’ll probably be able to show you some foods you bought that are not food (soda pop) or items that you could make 10x as healthy by just spending a little more time and not much more money (Rice-a-Roni).
(We’ll return to the questions of stewardship of our bodies and our time in the next two Mary and Martha Moments in this series.)
Fixing the Food Budget: Focus on Nutrient-Dense Food
For now, I challenge you again to pray about your food budget. Be sure to pray not just about the actual budget – money bottom line – but about what kinds of food you’re buying and how full or empty of nutrients they are. Make your choices in the grocery store count for more than just a “Total Saved” line on the receipt.
Stephanie at Keeper of the Home had some very thought-provoking posts about her own grocery budget here and here. She breaks her food budget into categories to make sure the money is going towards the kinds of foods she chooses to feed her family, and not just anything on sale at the grocery store. (Spoiler alert: don’t even visit if you have a tendency to compare or be overwhelmed! She’s very on top of her game! Read Grocery Stewardship at The Finer Things in Life for a balanced perspective instead.)
Finding Money in the Couch
One last thought on thinking out of the box when it comes to your food budget: find money for food in unique places. You probably can’t really make an impact on the amount of healthy food you can buy by vacuuming the couch, but maybe you get a gift of money for a holiday…rather than a “fun fund” you could put it towards a bulk food order, or healthy meat. A portion of our tax refund this year went into the food budget. We just got some income from a garage sale and a credit card rewards check. Many families might earmark this kind of thing for a big purchase or a vacation. This year, I’m the kitchen nerd. I’m putting it in the food budget. It reduces my stress at the grocery store and will allow me to buy some of the healthy food that is more expensive than the sale food.
But I Already DO all This!
Many of you may read this post and think, as I often do when reading about frugal food: “I already do all these things. We hardly ever eat out. I am conscious of what I spend my money on. This is all the same information, all over again.” If you’re in a good place, praise be to God. If you’re stuck somewhere with a budget as small and tight as you can get it, heeding every money-saving tip on the Internet, but still left wondering how to get healthier food on the table without going in the red, don’t despair.
It’s really not all about skipping the eating out or growing your own veggies. It’s not all about being organic, either. There are a great many choices you can make to take yourself closer to where you want to be without breaking the bank. Just don’t let yourself be overwhelmed – take Baby Steps. Pray. When you’re not serving the food you want because your budget won’t allow it, Trust in the Promise of Your Meal Blessing. And do come back to Kitchen Stewardship, where we will continue to explore small changes and good choices to make to balance your nutrition, budget, environment AND time without stressing out about it.
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