I tend to have circular arguments with myself regarding the best places to purchase groceries and household goods. On the one hand is our bottom line and my desire to tighten that belt a bit further if possible. On the other hand is my desire/sense of duty to purchase food and goods that are ethically sourced/harvested/raised/produced/so on. Of course, it’s possible to find a moderate line, or at least find a place in my purchasing that I feel comfortable about in regards to both of those concerns. Not that I don’t compromise on both areas, but that my compromises are ones I have thought out and reasoned.
Here are a few ways I’ve been navigating both of those concerns:
- I purchase oats in bulk from the natural foods store. This year was the first that I purchased mass quantities of any food, but it’s worked out really well for us. I just placed an order for another 50 pound bag of rolled oats. These are organic and cost per pound is still lower than what I can find at the grocery store even when oats are on BOGO or some other offer. I also really like having such a large quantity on hand and not having to constantly run to the store. This is only successful because my husband and I both really enjoy oatmeal and are happy eating it for breakfast most of the week.
- I also purchased black beans and white beans from the local LDS Cannery. I am not sure if they still offer the 25LB bags of dried beans, but the price was WELL under a dollar a pound. Again, this has been successful because we both like and will eat many dishes made from beans. In fact, I have really perfected cooking from dried beans and have been keeping dried chick peas and pinto beans on hands as well. And of course we usually have lentils in the pantry as well. These are not organic, but as a whole food I feel good about their healthfulness.
- I also purchase these items in bulk: rice, flour, sugar, yeast, and oil. Occasionally I will find organic sugar in the grocery surplus store. Occasionally King Arthur flour goes on sale and I can get whole wheat flour for a very good price. I prefer unbleached all purpose flour. I buy high quality olive oil, but not the HIGHEST quality (I buy what is available in bulk at my local warehouse store). Otherwise these are not organic.
- I make most things from scratch using whole or minimally processed foods. I really like the bakery at Whole Foods. I also love some of the meal bars and snacky type stuff you can find there and pretend is ‘healthy.’ But I can make comparable items at home and know exactly what goes into them. It’s also better for us in the long run to not consume as many snacky type items, although I am still working on that!!
- I compromise on meat but not on seafood. I think that humane practices regarding animal welfare are important. I support legislation that helps to ensure those things, even if it might mean a price increase. I usually can’t afford the free-range meat or poultry, though. I do struggle with the increasing problems regarding ocean habitats and over fishing and generally poor fishing practices. I do try to target my seafood dollars on fish and shellfish that meet the Seafood Watch standards. This means that we eat significantly less fish and shellfish than we might like. My rationale (because it is a rationale) is thus: the meat I buy and eat is raised and harvested here in the US (I do check for this) — while I might not be wild about the overall standards in the commercial meat packing industry, I am able to (work to ) affect change if I so desire and I can (usually) find out about specific brands and so on just by doing a little research. The oceans are shared by all nations and while treaties and organizations exist to protect the state of the ocean, it’s much harder to feel confident about the effectiveness and application by all of said treaties/standards. Also, while people have always enjoyed tuna and cod, neither of those species has been bred specifically for human consumption like the majority of our meat and poultry stock.
- If organic fruits and vegetables are within my price point, I purchase them. Otherwise I do not. I try to patronize local farm stands and the wholesale fruit/vegetable market. I look for the “fresh from florida” label and try to buy mostly in season (are bananas ever in season?).
- I use some coupons, but not a ton. I ultimately found that the time it took me to find and print out (and re-try because the print application isn’t working and so on) was more valuable to me in other ways than the small amount of savings I received. I also found that buying a Sunday paper was just not worth it to me in terms of the amount of usable coupons I got versus the money spent on the paper & the clutter from so many newspapers.
- I belong to quite a few birthday and reward clubs but otherwise do not pursue many freebies or free samples. For me the clutter that resulted from all the tiny sample bottles was a disaster for me (I struggle with staying organized and letting go of things) and/or the location of the available freebie was out of the way or would result in more expense than the time out & about warrant.
- I don’t really garden, although I would very much like to. Somehow, I am just a gardening failure. I keep trying but ultimately I find that my garden efforts provide the most value to the birds and squirrels in my backyard.
What strategies do you take? Do you make other compromises when trying to stick to your budget?
ETA: Obviously, these are MY strategies. They are not a reflection of what I think would or should work for other people, just what I have found to be successful for us. There are many ways to achieve a balanced budget!