I spend $175 a month on groceries for my small family of three. I wrote about spending less on groceries in this post about eating meat-free. Several people (okay, two people) asked me how I manage to pull this off. According the USDA’s “thrifty” meal plan, a family with a man, woman, and three-year-old would spend $414.20 per month. (We’d spend $800 on the “liberal” plan!) So it seems that we are spending less than half of what other “thrifty” eaters are spending–and we eat mostly organic food!
This is a bit puzzling to me, as we don’t do anything too extraordinary to save money on food. I haven’t planted a garden since two summers ago (and it was a failure), I don’t clip coupons, and I don’t shop at Costco or other huge warehouse stores. I also buy many expensive ingredients, like olive oil, nuts, and fancy cheese. If I had to, I could save even more money if I got better at gardening, stopped buying organic foods, and cut out a few costlier items on my grocery list.
So here are my only real “tricks” to spending less on organic food:
Eat Vegetarian. Going meat-free is the main way I save on groceries. Now, most people do not want to cut out meat from their diets, which is why I wrote about Meatless Mondays a while ago. Cutting out meat just one day a week can still save you money!
According to this article, “How Much Meat Do We Eat?,” the average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year. Now, I know you can buy cheap meat at the grocery store, but let’s say I wanted to eat mostly organic/free-range/hormone-free stuff. I just looked at the sale prices for meat at our natural food store: $5.99 for top sirloin, $3.79 for ground chicken thigh meat, and $6.99 for tilapia filets. With that average of $5.59/lb, we’d spend $279.50 a month on meat if we bought 600 pounds a year–which would more than double the amount I spend on all of my groceries now!
Know my prices. I never buy butter for more than $2.00 a pound (it’s usually around $4.00/lb, so when it goes on sale, I stock up. It lasts at least six months in the fridge and longer in the freezer. I also never spend more than $2.00/lb on natural peanut butter. I can get it for $1.50 at Grocery Outlet. It costs more than $4.00/lb if you buy it from the machines at Whole Foods or other grocery stores.
Limit convenience foods. Looking at my receipts, I see that I did buy a few convenience foods: tortillas, boxed macaroni and cheese, pretzels, and jarred applesauce. All of those are fairly inexpensive. The organic applesauce cost $2.29 for 25 ounces–that’s about $1.47/lb. Fresh organic apples often cost more than that. Organic shells and cheese cost $1.29, or about $.40-$.60 a serving. That’s a pretty cheap–albeit no-frills–meal.
Cut back on household goods. I am not sure if the USDA’s meal plans included household goods or not. I know that many people include things like paper products and cleaners in their grocery budget. In the six weeks I was tracking expenses, I spent nothing on household goods. We buy recycled toilet paper, Biokleen laundry detergent (I wrote about how it’s actually cheaper than conventional detergent here), dishwashing liquid, soap, and baking soda and vinegar when we need it. I bought the Biokleen detergent almost a year ago for $11.00 and still have a lot left!
Make things from scratch. I make most of my own baked goods, including bread, cookies, and other snacks.
Don’t eat too much. Our caloric needs are not very high, which allows us to spend less on groceries than–say–a 200-pound body builder or an avid marathon runner. This isn’t exactly a tip, but it does partially explain why we spend less on groceries than other families our size. Some of our meals probably seem down-right insubstantial to others. We regularly eat nothing but a bowlful of soup or a salad for dinner.
Those are my main cost-cutting tips. What are yours?
Stay tuned for more posts on this subject. I’ll show what, exactly, I was spending that $175 on and give some examples of what I made for dinner.
This post is a part of the Works for Me Wednesday blog carnival over on We are THAT Family. This is a themed edition, where we share our favorite frugal ideas.
This idea is so simple, but it has changed my life! Okay, not my whole life, but that tiny part of my life that was dedicated to rooting through the freezer in search of a stray tortilla or wondering what mysterious sauce I’d frozen in a jar five years ago.
After digging through the freezer and finding four bags full of bread heels, a half-empty jar of graham cracker crumbs, and a three-year-old tub of ice-encrusted raspberries, I knew I had to do something to keep more organized. I simply made a list of everything in the freezer by category (sauces, vegetables, and bready things seemed to fill the bulk of it). If I add something new, I simply write it down on the list, along with the date. (Nothing in my freezer is labeled.) If I take something out, I cross it off the list.
I’ve been doing this for just a few weeks and already I have reaped the benefits. It means I’ll stop buying tortillas (already have three different kinds in the freezer) or I’ll take out some frozen rice to use in a stir-fry rather than make a new batch. I’ll end up using food I already have, which means less will go to waste.
How do you keep your freezer stash organized? Has anyone kept a freezer inventory for longer than just a few weeks? I plan to keep this up, but you never know. . . .
Keeping a freezer inventory works for me! For more Works for Me Wednesday tips, head on over to We are THAT Family.
Here’s my confession: we’re not buying an organic crib mattress for my second child. It might not seem all that shocking unless you read my long-ago post on organic crib mattresses. I lamented not buying organic with my first child and declared that I would do differently with my second.
Why then haven’t I bought a new organic crib mattress for my daughter who will be arriving in just a few months? Honestly, I have been wrestling it for months and finally ended up with a compromise.
The thought of spending nearly three hundred dollars on an item that my child would use for a little over a year was tough to swallow. Our first son slept in our bed with us until he was nearly six months old and then was in his toddler bed before the age of two. Since we now have two children, I can imagine that our little one will co-sleep with us longer just for convenience and because we haven’t yet figured out where to put her in our small house.
We also considered the that non-toxic choices aren’t always earth friendly. It might be less toxic to rip the carpeting out of our baby’s room, install bamboo flooring and repaint the walls with soy based paints, but it wouldn’t be as good for the planet as living with what we have. The thought of throwing out our perfectly functional crib mattress made my chest ache. We could give it to a thrift store, but we’ll do that anyway once our daughter is finished using it.
So, I’m planning on buying a wool soaker pad, or making one from a full sized wool blanket we rarely use. It will provide a natural barrier from the mattress surface and also soak up liquids that sometimes flow onto those crib sheets.
Does this mean I now recommend used crib mattresses? Hardly! I still wish I would have purchased a new organic mattress for my first child. Then I would have had the chance to use it for several years with both children and it would have easily paid for itself. What have you done to accommodate your desire for non-toxic products on a budget?
Cutting back on meat even one day a week can have tremendous economic and environmental benefits. For more details, check out Rebecca’s post on this very topic. Many American dishes are meat-free, but we’d love to hear your family’s favorites. Do they love bean burritos, spaghetti and marinara or something as sophisticated as eggplant parmesan? Help inspire us with your meat-free favorites—and feel free to list recipes as well!
Mildew is my nemesis, but I much prefer it to the fumes of chlorinated bleach. Even though chlorine is very hard on the environment and our health, it’s found in a wide variety of household cleaners—all of which I’ve now replaced with homemade versions. The one hurdle we hadn’t quite overcome was bleach. So the last time we desperately needed to clean out the shower I asked my husband to purchase chlorine-free bleach to save the environment and my nose.
If you’d like to skip our expensive mistake, just follow the simple directions below.
This mixture isn’t officially considered a disinfectant, but it will clean wonderfully. Enjoy!
If you have a simple budget-friendly, eco-friendly tip we hope you’ll join us this week. Read here to learn how to jump right in and add a link to your themed blog post. Also, please read each other’s blogs and comment. It makes it more fun for everyone!
For those with newborns and young toddlers, we apologize. It’s tough to involve tiny ones without having them consume handfuls of dirt or pull new plants out of the ground. But they can be plunked into a sling or onto a blanket and admire your handiwork as you cultivate a table garden. And your older children will benefit from all the ideas in today’s post.
Caitlin Blethlen, works with the Youth Gardening division of Growing Gardens, an innovative non-profit that supports urban gardening for low income families. She has all sorts of tricks and tips for involving children in your backyard farming efforts.
GBG: Do you have any tips on how to get children involved in the gardening process?
Caitlin: Get your child(ren) involved in dreaming and planning the garden too. One fun activity is to look through a seed catalog together and cut out pictures of what you would like to grow. Consider growing both what you and your child like to eat, and what you haven’t tried yet. Sometimes it is fun to plan a themed garden such as a pizza, salsa or salad garden by growing the main ingredients. Draw an outline of your garden space and glue the photos or draw pictures of where your plants will grow. Remember children are more likely to eat vegetables they participate in growing!
For a quick and exciting project, have your child(ren) plant radish seeds in the garden beginning in early March through June. Radishes grow quickly and are very satisfying. Also, if you have very young children larger seeds such as peas, cucumbers, beans, sunflowers and nasturtiums will be easier for them to handle than the smaller seeds like lettuce or carrots.
Another exciting project is to use a plastic bottle (such as a soda bottle) to grow a micro-garden. Cut off the neck of the bottle and fill it with planting compost. Then have your child plant several different types of seeds in the soil, making sure to plant some near the outside of the bottle. Next water the soil and set in a sunny window sill. Watch the roots begin to form and seeds to unfurl.
Bean teepees and sunflower arches are a fun way to make inviting living forts for your children. These structures can be constructed out of bamboo poles, sticks or PVC pipe. Have your child plant climbing pole beans like scarlet runners and/or tall sunflowers at the base of the trellis.
Most children LOVE worms, consider creating a worm bin to turn your kitchen scraps into wonderful compost for your garden. If you live in the Portland, Oregon, area, attend a Growing Garden’s Parent/Child workshop for more ideas.
Is organic gardening really all that difficult, or costly? We turned to our experts, Caitlin Blethlen of Growing Gardens and Mara Reynolds of Portland Community Gardens to see just how easy and inexpensive it can be to grow your own food organically.
GBG: In your opinion, are organic gardens more expensive to plant and maintain than those using pesticides and herbicides?
Mara: As far as I know, with the exception of the initial cost of seeds, organic gardening is cheaper all across the board. With proper planting techniques, composting, and soil amendments, you should be able to successfully garden organically with very little inputs. (To be honest I’ve never gardened with pesticides or herbicides)
Caitlin: Starting off with good soil is one way to keep your plants healthy, if they receive enough nutrients and support from the soil, they are less likely to get disease or be attacked by pests. Also, remember that bio-diversity is very important in a garden! Encourage bugs and insects to visit your garden, rather than try to keep them away. A healthy garden will have a balance of both good and bad bugs. Consider doing a bug/insect inventory with your child to see who is living in your garden!
We’re glad you stopped by this Thrifty Green Thursday! Please join our blog carnival this week by adding your link to the list below and then linking back to us in your post. If you’re lost, click here for complete information on where to get started.
The sun is shining, flowers are blooming, and the soil is ready to produce. Why not plant a garden this year and score some organic fruits and vegetables for a fraction of the cost? Plus, a garden will force you to get your hands in the dirt and your baby outdoors.
Today we’ll start with the most important part: planning your dream garden. Our tips come from Caitlin Blethlen, Youth Growth Manager for a non-profit organization called Growing Gardens. It focuses on helping low-income families grow their own food and is based in Portland, Oregon. For last week’s post on the cost-benefits of home gardening and ways to involve your children, click here.
GBG: What should people keep in mind when planning a garden?
Caitlin: To grow great vegetables you need a site that gets full sunlight for at least 6 hours a day, healthy soil and have access to a water source. Investing in healthy soil is the best investment you can make for your garden. Soil should be full of organic matter which will attract worms, bacteria and other microbes that help plants grow. One way to ensure your soil is healthy is by adding compost. Compost adds important organic matter, and bacteria and helps soil retain water.
Other things to consider when planning a garden are location and pets. Will you be inspired or remember to care for your garden if it is tucked away behind your garage? Locating it in a sunny spot is important, but it is also important to put it in an easy to access location so it won’t go neglected. If you have dogs or cats, how you will keep them from digging in the garden?
GBG: When is the best time to start planting the family garden?
Caitlin: Planting seeds in the garden can happen between mid-February throughearly November depending on the crop. Portland’s climate allows us to grow many fruits and vegetables from peas and greens, to tomatoes and peppers. Some seeds can be sown directly in the garden, like peas, radishes and beets, and others need to be started indoors before being planted out later in the season, like tomatoes, peppers, basil and eggplants.
Last year I made some Earth Day Resolutions, and now it’s time to see how I did. Did my resolutions motivate me to go greener . . . or did I fail to meet even the simplest goals? Let’s review.
I resolved to switch to eco-friendly cleaners. Yes! I did it. I switched from conventional laundry detergent to Biokleen-and discovered that Biokleen was not only better for the environment, but better for my pocketbook than the cheapest conventional product on the store shelves. Read about that here. I also started using so-called “eco-friendly” dish soaps. (And I wrote about why dish soap is bad for the environment, reviewed several eco-brands, suggested alternatives to liquid dish soap, and found a way to conserve dish soap while washing dishes.)
I resolved to sign up for renewable energy from my power company. That was easy. I’d been procrastinating about doing it for a long time, but after publicly resolving to do so, I logged on to my account online, clicked a button, and it was done.
I resolved to buy carbon offset coupons when I took airplane trips. Did I do this? No. Ugh. Well, now I have something for this year’s list.
Okay, so I made three goals, one was extremely easy, and another I forgot about entirely. I will borrow Joy’s famous phrase to alleviate some of the guilt: “Progress, not perfection.” Stay tuned for another list of resolutions I may or may not be able to keep!
Don’t we all hate that plastic Easter grass that ends up trailing through our living room and getting tangled into our holiday baskets? This year you can actually grow your own grass in your baskets and get your young ones involved in the process. I found this idea in Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach.
It’s best to start this project now since it will take a few weeks for the grass to sprout.
First line your baskets with plastic, layering it along the sides and bottom so that the wicker will be protected. Place a few stones along the bottom of the basket for drainage and then layer in two inches of potting soil. Sprinkle rye seeds over the top and finish off with another very thin layer of soil, just enough to cover the seeds. Water liberally and cover with a brown paper sack for a few days until the seeds sprout. When you start to see the grass through the soil, place indoors in a sunny spot and water. In a few weeks you’ll have a lush little patch of grass, ready to nestle your home-dyed eggs. This works great as a centerpiece as well! Enjoy!