Author Topic: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic  (Read 11444 times)

mechanic baird

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Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« on: July 02, 2012, 02:31:50 PM »
The "cutting food bill" journey hasn't been easy for us. We are on month 5 of our "change" and made quite a bit of progress, but still got room to improve.

We used to consume $1200 a month for family of 4. In January, we made up our minds that we needed to change that and spend less. Finally, last month, we got down to $600 ish. And we still stick with our "all organic/nature" approach when buying groceries. Please keep in mind we are still in the "working progress" stage.

Our last month's spending in food category were:
$480 - grocery
$88 - eating out
$45 - coffee beans
$19 - alcohol for party

It used to be $700+ for grocery, $400 for eating out and $100 for coffee and drinks.

The methods that worked for us are:
1. We switched to local farm share and door to door organic delivery services so we plan our meals carefully without any chances of impulsive buy. We designed the menu for the week, pick our produce/meat/cheese/bread, put into the online shopping cart and they delivery our food once a week in our cooler by the front door. pretty nice service. I compared the price and it was very reasonable, some items are cheaper than our store's organic section.
2. Bag lunch everyday..
3. Cut meat consumption. Meat has caused most of the wallet leak before. So we now share one steak with the entire family than eating 3 steaks a meal. And increase the veggie consumption. We also eat more tofu now.
4. Eating out is a special occasion now. We did one birthday dinner date last month and one family gathering with grandparents, that was it.
5. If we do go to the store, stick with the shopping list. No list, no shopping.

We had trouble conquering two issues in our 5 months journey:
1. eliminate "what's for dinner" question.. It did take a while to learn how to meal plan and plan the meals that we can actually execute each day. In the earlier months, we plan the meal and it was so complicated to make, we just gave up.
2. eliminate the urge to eat out.. That definitely took a while.. Now, we don't really miss it much. Eating at home has it's advantage for sure. And I think because we eat at home more and we only consume organic and nature ingredients with mostly produce and fruits, it has improved our mode and we don't argue much anymore. Don't know if it's a myth? But definitely feel better personally.

We still have rooms to improve.. I'd like to achieve "zero waste" that we eat everything in the fridge and nothing gets wasted. Organic doesn't keep long so I need to learn how to store them better.

We may try to learn how to garden.. but that's a bit of daunting to us since we are the famous brown thumbs in the hood and we could hardly keep our only indoor plant alive.

If you have any good tips on how you eat healthy and reduce the cost the same time, please share! If you are also working on "cutting food bill' project, please share your experiences too. Love to hear about it.

Jamesqf

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #1 on: July 02, 2012, 04:03:21 PM »
Learn oriental cooking, so that one steak becomes same weight of a less expensive cut going into say beef with oyster sauce.  This also helps with using leftover veggies, as you can chop up almost anything and stir-fry it with decent results.

$45/month on coffee beans?  I go a month or two on one can of ground coffee that's under $10.

mechanic baird

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2012, 04:29:58 PM »
$45/month on coffee beans?  I go a month or two on one can of ground coffee that's under $10.
we drink way too much coffee a day..I drink about 3-5 cups a day (12oz a cup)... My better half drink about 2 cups a day I think.  Though we brew at home and take a pot to work each day.. I buy Peets coffee and grind them at home and brew fresh.. Very much developed to its taste.. Tried to go without for about over a year, was utterly miserable..I went back on coffee again..
Figured that we make enough to afford $45 a month on something we like. You just have to pick your battle. Coffee battle is not something I would pick again..


Gerard

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2012, 05:04:22 PM »
Even if you're a brown thumb, you might want to try growing some herbs, in pots or in an actual garden. They're harder to kill than most vegetables and flowers (because they're not that far removed from their weed ancestors). Plus, they're really expensive at the store, and you never need the whole bunch at once, so there's a lot of waste that way. Maybe try some mint in a slightly shady and/or moist part of your yard, and the grey-green herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage) in full sun. As  beginner, you should probably start with plants, not seeds.

Also, you don't say how old your kids are (I assume you have some because you said "all the family"), but I'd get them involved in food prep as young as possible. I held off on this with my kids (too protective), and I regret it.  Even really young kids can snip up fresh herbs with a pair of scissors, or shake together ingredients in a well-sealed container.

Do you wonder if your mellower mood comes as much from eating together at home as it does from eating better stuff?

AJ

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #4 on: July 02, 2012, 05:54:32 PM »
2. eliminate the urge to eat out.. That definitely took a while.. Now, we don't really miss it much.

For us, it  is less about taste or even convenience as it is about habit. When we are in the habit of meal planning and eating at home, we do it without thinking and don't miss eating out at all. But if things get busy and we do take out a night or two, its all downhill from there. We're a work in progress as well...:)

travelbug

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #5 on: July 02, 2012, 09:44:11 PM »
Great post.
we are streamlining our eating habits here too.
I am trying to have a minimalist pantry. It's tricky as we are still in the cleaning it all out phase. It's just crazy how much stuff I have there that we keep topping up without eating what we have.
I am good with fruit and veg, we have ours delivered as well.
I menu plan 6 meals a week for dinner and then choose as I go as I may or may not feel like cooking that particular thing on a specific day. I like to have a looser regime, but still be prepared and organised. It tricks me enough to be creative. And the freezer is your friend. I love making a huge batch of thai curry, or whatever else, and freezing enough for the next week so I can have a night off.
The seventh evening we have leftovers or an easy dinner (usually weekends), or DH cooks!
We also bulk buy snacks for the children, like organic sultanas or nuts by the kg... and I cook most things from scratch.
C

liquidbanana

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #6 on: July 02, 2012, 11:41:38 PM »
Good post...thanks for the tips.

I don't have the money to, but if I did, I could easily spend $1200 on a food a month. I love expensive food...dangit!!

I've been brainstorming how I could save money on organic produce. I love eating salads of baby greens and tomatoes, but that easily costs $3/day just for me...just for the produce. I also love green smoothies which require a lot of fresh spinach.

I've came across this on pinterest:http://pinterest.com/pin/116530709078791363/ I don't have a green thumb by any means, but I think it might be a doable option if I can somehow put some of these gutters on a big piece of plywood and set it against a wall either outside or inside. I'd probably need some led grow lights, but they aren't too expensive and use very little electricity. Then I could grow fresh greens year round with minimal effort and expense, especially if I make my own compost. Anyway...a possibly idea for you too...

mm1970

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #7 on: July 03, 2012, 06:57:31 PM »
Meal planning, leftovers, fewer items in the pantry, eating in season, keeping a price book.  Those have been a big help to me.

That and cooking from scratch and minimizing snack foods/ processed foods.

I'm really into eating frugally, and over the years have morphed into eating more organically, so my costs have gone up.  Here are some resources that I turn to when my bills start creeping up.  I also have a frugal food blog, and it helps me to go back and figure out what I was doing last year when my spending was lower.

http://frugalhealthysimple.blogspot.com/

If you go to the Frugal Food Resources page, you'll find links to places that have  helped me, including Cook for Good and The Grocery Shrink.

Sometimes it's just calculating the cost of your various meals (oatmeal vs. eggs for breakfast, bean burritos vs. chicken curry for dinner), and increasing the frequency of the cheaper meals.

Worsted Skeins

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #8 on: July 03, 2012, 07:24:23 PM »
I've been brainstorming how I could save money on organic produce. I love eating salads of baby greens and tomatoes, but that easily costs $3/day just for me...just for the produce. I also love green smoothies which require a lot of fresh spinach.

So much depends on geography, but my produce bill is reduced by eating seasonally.  You mention tomatoes--I only buy fresh in season.  Have you tried other greens in your smoothies, maybe kale or chard or whatever else you can get from a local farmer? 

We subscribe to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which has forced us to push the envelope and try new things.  Again, whether this is a bargain seems to depend on geography. 

mm1970

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #9 on: July 04, 2012, 04:32:29 AM »
Saving money on produce:

http://frugalhealthysimple.blogspot.com/2008/08/pinching-pennies-on-produce.html

Warning, some of the tips involve choosing what produce you are eating and adjusting that to the season.

carolinakaren

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #10 on: July 04, 2012, 09:22:36 AM »
We are also trying to decrease spending in this category......and it's been the most difficult challenge for us.  We like to eat out and realize that this is our weak point.  I used to use an organic food delivery service and can't say enough good things about it.  The produce was fresher and less expensive than the grocery store, plus if I didn't go to the store I couldn't buy extra stuff!  I have a small garden now....mostly herbs and salad greens, but some friends of mine have a huge garden and are so generous that I rarely buy any veggies in the summer.  Mechanic Baird, you might want to try using Debbie Meyers Green Bags to store produce.  I bought mine at the dollar store.  They help produce stay fresh longer and they are reuseable.  I've been using the same box for 1 1/2 years (there are alot of bags in the box).

liquidbanana

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #11 on: July 04, 2012, 06:58:54 PM »
So much depends on geography, but my produce bill is reduced by eating seasonally.  You mention tomatoes--I only buy fresh in season.  Have you tried other greens in your smoothies, maybe kale or chard or whatever else you can get from a local farmer? 

We subscribe to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) which has forced us to push the envelope and try new things.  Again, whether this is a bargain seems to depend on geography.

Good point about eating seasonally. I'm still partial to certain veggies though. In reality, I don't buy expensive, out of season vegetables that often, but it's a goal to eat them more which is why I'm trying to figure out how to grow them myself year round.

I've been wanting to try out a CSA for a while. We've been moving around too much to do it yet, however. It doesn't look like it will save much money, however.

Another thing I've done in the past that I need to do more of is buy fruits/veggies from "you-pick" farms. One time I spent a few hours at a berry farm and came home with a years worth of organic blueberries for about $20.

mechanic baird

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #12 on: July 05, 2012, 10:11:28 AM »
Really great suggestions guys!! I will have to try out that green bag, thx for the tip karen!

We also started learning crockpot cooking. We will prep dinner (chopping, washing, etc) at night. In the morning before work, we dump the veggies, herbs, seasoning in the pot and turn it on.. It's been quite nice and we do that three nights a week. the other two work nights, we will do something simple like grilled fish with sides and bread, or Asian cooking (stir fry, dumplings with egg drop soup, etc). On weekends, we will make more sophisticated dishes that involves long hour of baking. It's been a trial and error period, but we really enjoy the food at home now.

Great posts guys!

Nephi

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #13 on: July 05, 2012, 08:01:23 PM »
I've seen a lot of people on here talk about eating organic foods. The concept is new to me. What exactly are organic foods and what is the benefit over regular food?

liquidbanana

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #14 on: July 05, 2012, 11:10:38 PM »
Organic foods are grown with stricter standards than conventional...using no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. My reasons for eating organics are mostly environmental....as it's the lesser of two evils. USDA organic standards aren't very strict however. If I grew my own organic food, I would be more confident in it.

"The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture in Switzerland in 2009 concluded that “there is broad agreement on two points: there is no proof that organic food is more nutritious or safer, and most studies that have compared the taste and organoleptic quality of organic and conventional foods report no consistent or significant differences between organic and conventional produce.”
-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food

Worsted Skeins

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #15 on: July 06, 2012, 05:19:18 AM »
I've seen a lot of people on here talk about eating organic foods. The concept is new to me. What exactly are organic foods and what is the benefit over regular food?

The conventional food industry will argue that pesticides are safe.  The benefits of organic may not be agreed upon by all camps, so I view this as a choice.  For example, when my son was young and drinking lots of milk, I did not see the need for him to consume the bovine growth hormone that is in the traditional store product--despite claims that it is "safe". 

Organic foods are grown with stricter standards than conventional...using no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. My reasons for eating organics are mostly environmental....as it's the lesser of two evils. USDA organic standards aren't very strict however. If I grew my own organic food, I would be more confident in it.

Near me there is a fifth generation farmer who does not want to jump through the USDA hoops to be officially organic.  But I trust him. 

Since I am not going to grow my own, I feel like part of this boils down to "know your farmer".  This can mean chatting with someone at the farmer's market or being a regular shopper at a farm stand if there is one nearby.

One of the other things that has happened with the organic/small farm movement is a return to some of the heirloom varieties of fruits and veg.  For example, there are some tomatoes that may not be perfect spheres but they are so tasty, varieties like Cherokee Purple or some of the striped tomatoes.  Of course, any home grown or farmer's market tomato has to be better than those Florida tennis ball things that are shipped to groceries and restaurants around the country.

My preference is local and organic but when I can't get both I choose local. 


grantmeaname

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #16 on: July 06, 2012, 05:36:55 AM »
Near me there is a fifth generation farmer who does not want to jump through the USDA hoops to be officially organic.  But I trust him.
Perversely, he can't sell his food as organic without the certification process, which is designed for big agribusiness. Meanwhile, the ideals of organic food are lost and the boundaries are toed over by the certified organic TV dinners, and the most "organic" food you can get is from an uncertified local farmer.

Quote
My preference is local and organic but when I can't get both I choose local.
Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

Worsted Skeins

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2012, 07:27:20 AM »
My preference is local and organic but when I can't get both I choose local.

Yeah, my thoughts exactly.
In the case of produce, my local options are often less expensive than conventional, certainly superior in quality.  But there are other cases in which going local does not appear Mustachian on the surface--but is it in the big picture?

For example, I live in a coastal community where people have bumper stickers on their cars reading "Friends don't let friends buy foreign shrimp."  Frozen shrimp from Asia are cheaper than the freshly caught local product (although some of us think that the former is tasteless with a watery texture).  Here is a case where I will spend more not only for the superior product, but I am also helping to keep the local economy afloat.  When I buy shrimp (as I will do later today), the guy who owns the boat and my local fishmonger are all benefiting--as is my local tax base. 

Perhaps not relevant to this thread, but I do think it is important to put our economic choices into some sort of framework.  For me, I'd rather put dollars in the hands of the local guy with a boat than the corporate big box coffers.  Maybe those of you who have been on this forum longer than I can point me to a discussion or MMM post addressing this issue.  Thanks.

mechanic baird

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #18 on: July 06, 2012, 09:08:21 AM »
I definitely choose to buy local if I am given the choice. The local farmers can pull out the veggies from the ground and turn around sell you. vs. stuff from California have to be shipped in days to reach my hand.. My choices here in Colorado may be limited since our soil doesn't grow certain foods, but I can tell the local fresh food taste so much better...

PaulM12345

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #19 on: July 21, 2012, 07:36:49 PM »
I just want to echo what someone said way up about herb gardening. This is counter-intuitive, because herbs don't actually replace grocery costs (unless you were buying a lot of expensive fresh herbs at the store, which we weren't), so let me explain my situation. We moved into a house with a yard after 10 years in apartments, so I decided it was time to start a vegetable garden. I planted about 50 sq ft. of vegetables. It has been an enjoyable learning experience, but the truth is that so far we're not getting a huge bounty. All things considered (counting tools, starts, soil, mulch, etc.), we might be saving $20 a month (results of course may vary).

What I AM surprised by is how much I love my fresh herbs (which currently have only 6 square feet, or 10-15% of the garden - Cilantro, Basil, Oregano, Majoram, Thyme, Sage and Mint).

Fresh herbs make cooking at home so much better. Toss some fresh sage into your black beans and they become something you might buy at a restaurant. Put some thyme or oregano in your omlette (and maybe some collard greens, which I also appreciate), and it becomes a fancy dish. There's just no comparison with the dried stuff.

My point is, consider starting with herbs and seeing how you like it. I kind of wish I hadn't devoted so much space to things like brocolli and radishes (I could buy my whole year's harvest of radishes for less than $10 and the seeds cost $2). Herbs don't save me money directly, but they make eating cheap foods so much more pleasant, which means less dining out, less prepared food, etc.

Theoretically tomatoes would be a good gardening investment, since good organic tomatoes cost a ton, but my tomato plants are not doing well so far, and require more attention than I can give them. Herbs, on the other hand, just seem to grow.

kisserofsinners

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #20 on: July 24, 2012, 05:39:27 PM »
$45/month on coffee beans?  I go a month or two on one can of ground coffee that's under $10.
we drink way too much coffee a day..I drink about 3-5 cups a day (12oz a cup)... My better half drink about 2 cups a day I think.  Though we brew at home and take a pot to work each day.. I buy Peets coffee and grind them at home and brew fresh.. Very much developed to its taste.. Tried to go without for about over a year, was utterly miserable..I went back on coffee again..
Figured that we make enough to afford $45 a month on something we like. You just have to pick your battle. Coffee battle is not something I would pick again..

For needs like this i keep track of the sales and buy the limit when my items go on sale. this can be combines with manufacturers coupons. With the new owners for Pete's you might see more of those coupons. ;o)

kisserofsinners

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #21 on: July 24, 2012, 05:54:33 PM »
Our family is digging in to cut as much as we can too. Our goal is to get the two of us to $500/mo average for food/booze/sundries. We're pretty close...

Buy booze on sale and in bulk (not at costco, they do a shitty job of storing their boozes. Corks are dry every damned time). Drinks are jiggered to ensure we don't just drink it all over the weekend.
Buy all conventional/prepared things the same way.

I also love those green bags!!!

All portions are weighed. Every dinner preparation usually yields an extra serving thins way. Sundays are spent cooking a big pot of lunch which is also weighed and portioned.

Meat, cheese, and other expensive items have been halved via weight. For meats, i find shredding them creates enough volume that the wife didn't notice the change until i told her.

Be willing to make many stops. As a child, my mother started at the bread store where we got to pick one bag of cookies with our needs, hit the canned food store for whatever they had that was on the list, and everything else was bought at the regular store. It took half a day, but she saved.

Don't overlook Asian, Mexican, and Indian grocers if you eat those foods for non-import prices (usually at least 50% off).

These techniques tend to be considered hard core:
Whey milk powder 50/50 mix with regular milk
Make your processed stuff-Yogurt, bread, etc

Melissa

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #22 on: July 25, 2012, 08:56:47 AM »
Do you live in an area where many people farm, or garden?  We know a 60 year old, single farmer who raises grassfed beef, wheat, has a one acre garden, and produces maple syrup, and has a large green house.  He offers a number of CSAs for garden produce but our family has found that he is willing to give away some produce in exchange for some farm work to help him out.

We had a great time as a family one afternoon weeding the garden and picking produce for him to take to the Wednesday Farmer's Market.  In exchange I got 4 pounds of freshly ground whole wheat flour and enough beans to can 18 pints.

I think it's always worth checking out ways get get your organic produce for free.

CNM

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Re: Cut food bill by half and still eat organic
« Reply #23 on: July 25, 2012, 10:09:02 AM »
When I am motivated (sometimes I slack on this) I find the best way to reduce the food bill is to meal plan and to cut out as much food waste as possible.  When I don't plan ahead, I tend to let food items expire and have to throw them out.