How to Save Not a Dime on Food

but sleep like a baby.

There are ten people in our family. The volume of consumables that goes through that many alimentary canals on a daily basis can be an intimidating prospect for those who have to procure that much food. Our single-income family grew faster in the beginning than our income did, so I learned to cut as many corners as I could. Couponing, gardening (poorly), eating vegetarian for several meals per week, avoiding restaurants and convenience foods, bargain shopping at big box stores, and buying in bulk were all weapons in my money-saving arsenal. I felt like kind of a genius at saving money, honestly. I even blogged about feeding a large family on a budget back in the day, saying appalling things like “use meat as a condiment, not a main course” or “organic is a rip-off”.

A number of the things I did to save money were both sensible and healthful, though, so it’s not like it’s always a binary choice. A bag of Cheetos costs similar to a bag of apples, and any fool can tell you which one will give you a better bang for your buck. We still avoid restaurants, even more than before, though it’s less about the money now than about the low-quality ingredients they sneak into everything, even in some the high-end establishments.

Alas, most of the strategies I’ve employed to make my husband’s hard-earned money stretch farther have fallen by the wayside as I’ve learned the keys to healthy living. Now, of course, the whole family’s diet is meat-heavy. There are no coupons to be found for the foods we eat now. (Though I did once win a year’s supply of coupons for FREE STEAK back in my sweepstakes days. That was an awesome win.) And I would feel kind of guilty serving vegetarian meals just to save money now, even though I once thought that it was healthy to do so.

Penny wise, pound foolish. Like most penny-pinchers (and I still very much like the sound of loose change in my pocket), I used to think of food as an expense to be kept to an absolute minimum. I’ve come to realize, however belatedly, that food is an investment. It is a very basic fact, and thus one that I’d overlooked in my zeal for perfect budgeting, that every cell in my body is made of what I put into my mouth. Those cells’ proper functioning depends upon being made of the correct components, which come only from real food.

Sadly (for those of us with limited means), real things do cost more than fake things. Real Hot Wheels cost more than the plastic matchbox cars my children spurn; real diamonds cost more than fake ones; and real nutrition costs more than fake food. For years of my children’s growth that I can never recover, I mainly bought food that would give our family some calories and a sense of fullness, but from which our bodies couldn’t extract sufficient nutrition. Almost everything you find in the center aisles of the grocery store, where food is “affordable”, is fake. All of the nutrition has been refined out of it so that it will be shelf-stable. Much of it is made with industrial waste products that we’ve been tricked by underhanded industries into ingesting. You can eat that mac and cheese powder stuff. You may even enjoy the taste. But it’s not food.

I pay about 1/3 more for groceries now than I did three years ago. Some of that may be due to inflation, but most of the increase reflects the higher quality of the food. While I was saving a lot of money back in the day, I was already seeing the ill effects of a poor diet in my children. I just didn’t recognize that fact yet. Focusing on my food-dollars to the exclusion of any other consideration amounted to a storing up of biological debt that my children would certainly have to pay later.

No matter how much I brushed and flossed their teeth, my children were getting cavities, due not to the sugar in their diet, as I’d assumed and stringently restricted, nor to bad genes, but instead because of inadequate fat-soluble vitamins in their diets. Those vitamins come almost exclusively from animal foods. Some of them have needed orthodontic correction because their jaws grew too small in their early years. Their growth was not what it could have been, as I’ve seen in my strapping youngest ones, who have a much more protein- and fat-rich diet than their elders siblings did. One of my children was developing inflammatory bowel symptoms from the overload of grains and fiber. Now that their main source of fuel is fat, their moods are on a much more even keel, and they never crave snacks the way they did when bread was on the menu. Inexpensive industrial seed oils were building up in my children’s tissues, sure to wreak havoc later on in the form of diabetes, cancers, and who-knows-what else.

Y’all, I’m a conscientious mom. I never thought I was harming my kids. I thought I was being a good steward of both our resources, and their bodies. I was doing everything the pediatricians and dentists said I should do, right down to the insanity of six to eleven servings of grains per day. I’m talking about homemade, no-additive, no-preservative, whole grain, lower-sugar food that was made with as much love as a mom can muster. But I was making many of my food decisions based on cost, thinking that it didn’t matter very much, as long as our tummies were full.

Knowing what I know now, I can’t in good conscience make money my priority when feeding my family. Doctors and dentists are expensive. Either I’ll pay for it now, or we’ll all pay more later, in both money and misery.

Love your neighbor by eating well?

Besides the overwhelming financial strain that the burgeoning health-care sick-care industry is putting on every one of us, there is both a spiritual and practical advantage to increasing the quality of your food. The best way to improve quality is to buy fresh, seasonal, local food. Big box stores do offer a better price, and I still use them when local offerings aren’t available. But I’ve come to realize that loving my neighbor means more than treating him nicely and praying for him. It also means frequenting his business and not penny-pinching him to death. I now buy local food, especially my meat, as often as possible, which doesn’t help my budget at all. It does help me in myriad other ways.

You can ask your local rancher how the cows are fed and encourage them to look into better practices. You won’t be getting melamine-enhanced tooth paste from someone who has to look you in the eye the next time she goes out, even if that tooth paste (or powder, in my case) does seem a bit pricey. You also build community allegiances and in-group loyalty that goes far beyond the kind of big-money grants that the corporations use to bribe communities to let them come in and destroy Mom and Pop.

And, perhaps most importantly, you are ensuring that the local food supply will be up and running smoothly, and hopefully ready to scale up when the global system inevitably fails. Local products, especially meat, certainly do “cost more” in fake Federal Reserve notes, but they cost a lot less in real terms than the consequences of continuing to disemploy our neighbors in favor of imported, slave-produced goods.

I won’t even get into the environmental aspects of things. We can go down that rabbit hole some other time. Suffice it to say that I believe we can take care of the world God gave us much more efficiently both by eating more meat, and eating local.

A penny earned is a penny saved.

Let’s not just look at groceries as a spending problem, though. Many people find after switching to a whole-food, or even a ketogenic or carnivore way of eating, that they have a great deal more energy, less pain, and a sharper mind. When you have these benefits, you may find yourself able to produce more and better than you could before. I certainly have. Not long after I started a ketogenic way of eating, I started feeling well enough to do things like building (however amateurishly) my own chicken coop and raised garden beds. I’ve raised meat chickens as well as egg chickens. I can do a better job at nearly everything because I’m more reliably energetic and happy to have honest work to do.

There’s a very good chance that you might find other parts of your budget breathing a sigh of relief as you increase the pressure on the food side of things, just because healthy, community-connected people are more productive.

Of course, I do realize that sometimes the money just isn’t there to go totally local. Like I said, a large portion of our needs are still supplied through freakin’ Walmart. (I have never said the word “Walmart” without “freakin”. I hate it.) But that’s the system we’re in. You can’t break out of it all at once. Our family has been poor. Right now we’re a bit less poor, but we’ve had to make sub-optimal choices aplenty. I’m not trying to make anybody feel badly about what they simply can’t avoid. I wouldn’t feel guilty at all if we ended up subsisting on beans and taters again out of necessity. I can at least grow those without harmful chemicals and get some delicious sunshine while I do it, right?

Poor folks don’t have as many choices, now do they? But when we have choices, we ought to make better ones. If you can scratch together just one locally raised meal a week, or one locally produced tooth powder, you’re making both your body and your community stronger.

3 thoughts on “How to Save Not a Dime on Food

  1. Yes! I’ve always melted butter and poured cream on our soaked organic oatmeal, believing that good fats and proper preparation of grains are crucial. My issue now is the lack of variety that meat provides for kids that are used to homemade waffles, muffins, granola, and pancakes rotated with our meat and egg breakfasts. Sadly, several of my kids don’t even like eggs. Budget aside, and the cost of feeding exclusively meat to seven kids for breakfast is high, there is also just the monotony of it. I’m making baby steps here toward a higher meat ratio in our meals.

    • Sounds like you’re a Weston A. Price fan. Me, too! I’ve considered doing oats that way, but we do so well without any grains that I’m not sure I want to add more carbs. It would be a great treat from time to time, though. My kids are really good about the repetitive nature of meat, meat, meat so far.

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