My husband’s job is with the US government. His boss has informed everyone (about 1,000 employees!) that the whole building will be subject to the upcoming budget sequestration and everyone is going to be furloughed. Not the kind of news anyone wants to hear, but very common news around the U.S.
We have been doing some serious reflection on our household budget lately. As a result one of the things that has changed is the way I buy groceries. I now have a to last me each two-week pay period. From that envelope comes anything purchased at Publix, Target, Hoover’s Essential Health, Chamberlins, Fresh Market or WalMart. It also has to cover my twice-monthly purchases from the organic veggie co-op, anything I order from our Frontier co-op, and the quarterly grain and honey order from The Bread Beckers. We don’t buy our raw milk from this envelope because, frankly, it’s too expensive to fit within our grocery budget! We are still buying it, however, because it is a deposit on the health of our children and so as long as we can swing it we will still include it. (Florida’s raw milk prices are higher than a lot of other states simply because it is harder to raise healthy dairy cows here through the long hot summers and the very dry winters.)
When my husband first approached me with this new budget I was afraid things were going to have to change a lot, and we were going to be eating less healthfully with lower quality ingredients. I am surprised and pleased to say that for the most part I was wrong! We can still afford to buy organic vegetables because the co-op prices are better than the grocery store prices. We can still buy our more natural body care products because, again, the co-op prices are so much better than the retail prices! I do have to plan purchases much more carefully and be sure to set aside money each week in order to have enough to make the bulk orders, but that is something I should have been doing all along. I still buy nutritional supplements like probiotics, cod liver oil and vitamins but now I wait for sales and I have discovered a place that will give me 10% discount for being a regular customer.
That is the reason I’m taking time to write all this because it is important that people understand eating healthfully and being on a budget are not mutually exclusive propositions! In fact we would probably be able to fit the raw milk into this budget situation more easily if I could manage to do one more thing, and that is to find a source for a half of a grassfed beef. I’ve been calling around and every place that has reasonable prices also has a waiting list. The up-front cost to bulk beef purchasing is daunting. You have to be able to fork over several hundred dollars but in return you have enough high-quality meat to last you six months to a year depending on how much you buy. My local Publix sells grassfed ground beef at $7.99/lb. With a bulk beef purchase I can eat steak, roasts, short ribs and filets as well as ground beef for less per pound than the grocery store grassfed beef price. The same can be said for pasture-raised chickens, lamb and pork.
I am thankful for all the years that I have spent building up my local food resources. When we first transitioned our diet from SAD (Standard American Diet) to a whole foods, traditional diet I had no idea where to find much of the things I now buy. I started out by going to farmer’s markets and just asking anyone and everyone things like “where can I find eggs from hens living on pasture?” or “where can I find someone who will sell me raw milk?”. My persistence paid off and now I try to help others who are just starting out find the healthy foods they need.
The other key to making this budget work is diligence in weekly menu planning. I homeschool a 14 year old and a 12 year old who both play ball, both are involved in the church youth group, both play musical instruments and both participated on a robotics team. We are busy! I was letting the busy-ness be an excuse to plan less when I should have been planning more! Over the last six weeks of this new budget we’ve eaten better and spent less money on food than we have in a long time.
Don’t let your budget be a stumbling block to eating well. Take time to plan, be committed to cooking at home, look for local resources, join or start a co-op for things you buy regularly and you will be surprised how much you can afford!