Sunday, 8 July 2012

My Frugal Limits

By: Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Every now and then I hear about a large family with the same food budget as our more avearage size family, or a family in size similar to ours, with a much more modest food budget and I question why I'm not able to be as frugal. I wonder where I am going wrong and I usually sit down committed to read their blog, or the article and learn something. The goal? To reduce our expenditures. I begin reading feeling like I'm doing something wrong, I finish, feeling like I'm doing something very right. You see, we all have to do what is right for our family and I believe, what is kinder and gentler for the earth and those who are more vulnerable. But reading the nitty gritty about what people are willing to compromise on, I actually leave feeling like it is a compomise too far. I'm personally not willing to:

- Shop once a month: access to fresh fruit and veg is too important
- Purchase ready meals or packaged foods with coupons
- Skimp on fruits and vegetables - one blog which which received much attention for being frugal and healthy posted a menu plan which included only 2 fruit and 1 veg a day (most studies recommend a minimum of 5-6 a day)
- Purchase factory produced animal products
- Build a diet around cheap fillers without much nutritional value. For example, a pasta dish served with bread was recommended as a cheap meal. Whereas e may have pasta, but it would be served with a fresh spinach salad and a veg.
- Shop at unethical major corporations

The more I think about it, the more I realize that while I certainly do budget and work hard to stick to it with food, I do see placing priority on green living, simple healthy meals and supporting others (for example by purchasing fairtrade items) as more imporant to me than slashing my budget another $50 or $100 a month. And for somewhere between $300 and $350 a month we purchase:

- Free range eggs from local farms
- All organic animal products
- Fairtrade: sugar, bananas, tea, coffee, mangos, flour and cocoa
- Green cleaning and laundry supplies
- Pet food & litter
- About 50% of our fruits and veg organic
- Enough fruits and veg for 3 fruits and 3 veg (plus a salad) a day
- A locally sourced produce box
- Seeds for our community garden plot

Yes, I could probably shave at least $50 a month off the budget if I changed to what some frugal bloggers recommend. And that $50 would come in handy. But more than that, I want my children, who have experienced malnourishment prior to joining our family through adoption, to continue to make educational and emotional gains that good food has allowed them. I want my hard earned money to tred softly on this earth and help people. I want to invest in our health now, to safeguard us for the future. And if that takes another $50 - $100 a month, I'm really OK with it.

What about you? What is your line when it comes to compromise? Is it only about money, or like me, something more?


Sue Grier said...

Like you I truly care about what my family eats. I could probably go and save by buying no name products. Products that are imported, cheaper inferior products but that goes against everything I believe in. I also try and buy local produce. Organic if it is available. I believe I am frugal. I make all my cleaning products, soap, recycle, upcycle clothes, grow vegies and fruit etc.

Anonymous said...

You spend about half of what I spend. I clearly need to cut back! I agree with that you have written, and we make similar choices, but I think we are eating too much.

Angie said...

I have experienced this exact thing time and again. I do as you do and refuse to compromise quality or integrity in our food choices.

However many times in my circles I am still the most frugal and people still try to tell me that eating organically/ethically is just too expensive for them. Sigh. If only they would be open to letting me do their meal planning and grocery shopping! Haha.

Tracey said...

We've lived on both sides of the frugal fence. For much of our time together, my husband and I have eaten well, but as cheaply as possible. We were never excrutiatingly poor, but I believe we would have been if we had spent that extra few dollars.
These days, we are a bit better off (though still living on one modest income) and can choose to buy fairtrade, local and organic products where we used to buy cheaper options. It is sometimes still hard to pay a little more, but we're learning (and also learning where to source them). I have also committed more time increasing the amount we grow and preserve ourselves, therefore freeing up extra dollars for the shopping.
I believe we all do what our finances, knowledge and time allow and that this will change over time. Goals and ideals are important, and we need to reach them as we can.
Really like your post.

sl.tudor said...

I agree with all you said..we have one very modest keep a roof over our heads,pay our bills,feed and clothe its frugality all the way.
I do but ethical and organic fruits from our local greengrocer..and what veggies we don't grow i buy from him meat i buy froma local butcher who is so kind and always slips a little extra in my bags..i only go once a month and just ask " what can i get for £30"..he is amazing and deep down he knows we are struggling but never says..
I buy my clothes and my girls clothes from ebay and charity shops..the only thing i will not compromise on is good shoes for growing feet...
We make our own cleaning stuff and i knit my own dishcloths..make do and mend is my new motto..i have it in a picture frame above my sewing machine..
My friends are amazed that we have no debts and can live on a small wage packet..and still eat well and dress nicely too...
It is down to being practical and also to do the right thing for you and your family..
Planning and budgeting are the only way for me and mine to survive..and besides i love my life and want to enjoy it and my children to learn that money is not everything...being frugal can be fun and you learn soo much about what you can do without and about yourself too..
I admire you and your little do really well and should be so proud of yourself hun..hope that doesn't sound patronising


Anonymous said...

I'd never skimp on food, books, or shoes. My mother says that "eating the wrong food will make you sick, not reading enough will make you narrow-minded, and if your shoes wear out in're screwed!"

That said, the organic grocers near me have throw-out trays of fruit and vegetables that are veritable treasure troves. Some local free range beef farmers also sell offal and bones at market - so I go home with a week's worth of dinners for a fraction of the price of "conventionally" grown meat. Does that count as skimping? =)


Emma said...

I gave up trying to read blogs all about being frugal. Not only were most of these people living on food I was not willing to eat, but they also had access to a whole different kind of bulk buying than was available to me in Sweden (and now France).

Comparing figures was never useful at all. Prices are far too regional. When I moved from Sweden to France, we went several weeks without trying to follow our budget (that too much energy when you're also trying to understand foreign labels and figure out a brand new shelving/aisle system), and buying lots of extra things (we had an empty house and larder, so obviously all dry foods, all cleaning tools, etc. had to be bought at once)... and we still cut our costs significantly.

denimflyz said...

Each and everyone of us lives in a different part of the country or the world. We all are not blessed with local food access, or fair trade or access to products that are considered less impact on the world.
I live in hillybilly hell, but I do have access to fresh pastured beef and chicken and pork.
I grow 60% of my produce for my family and can or dehydrate for later use. I have farmer's markets to get what I don't grow myself. I shop at a large local wholesale depot that supplies the hospitals, cafe's and large institutions with supplies and food and spices. That is it for my area and limits me to what I can do or choose. I refuse to shop at the local WalMart or big box stores we have, they are unethical and do not support the local community period.
I, personally have quit reading frugal blogs. They have gone the way of the dodo bird. I am 53 yrs old and have "lived" frugal since young, as my grandparents were ex- old order Amish who left the order but still praticed old ways so I learned and still was not deprived of knowledge and how to do home arts. They also survived and lived through the 29 crash and dirty 30's.
There really isn't an answer to this very large question as it has many facets as each person and family is an individual, all we can do is glean what we can and just jump in and experiment and keep a budget.

Surviving and thriving on pennies said...

I agree completely with you on this. I did the coupon thing and hated it. Not only was the coupons for unhealthy processed foods but it was nothing but hassles that I got from stores for using them. Eye rolls, managers coming to check stuff, and lots of other shoppers waiting in line behind me and giving me the "OMG not nother couponer" look. I said no more.
I changed completely. Here's how.

-Stopped using coupons except for when its for something I am buying and thats usually not the case. Don't make coupons for produce.

-Grow my own food organically. This enables me to feed my family for less. Plus whats more fun than going in the garden to get your dinner?

-Buy from local farms.

-we now own 2 chickens which give us over a dozen eggs a week. More than enough for us. If I do need more eggs I will happily spend the $$ to buy organic/free range because I rarely have to buy them.

-Buy in bulk from a natural/oganic local place. Azure Standard allows me to afford to do this. You buy a lot but get it cheaper. Less time in the stores!

-Make my own everything. Recently I purchased a pasta machine (retailed over $100) and now make my own pasta, again saving me money and hey its fresh!

With all this hard work I am able to feed my family of 6 a month for about $400 give or take. Feels good. Damn good.

Roxanne said...

I feel the same way when I read those blogs. First a failure and by the time I finish, a success. There just won't be coupons and doubling and all that crazy stuff for organic, fresh, sustainable buying!
I think that's just fine, we can feel great about how we tread on the earth and keeping our bodies healthy. So nice to hear someone else goes through this over and over too.

Wendy said...

I too feel very strongly about eating organically, fair trade and locally without compromise. I do this as frugally as possible and because we are meat eaters I make sure to use everything we buy for e.g. I but whole free range pasture fed chickens which are about $3 more expensive per kilo than battery chickens but we get two meals from one chicken plus the carcass for stock which does out weekly soups. There are many other ways I save money without compromising on health issues like making my own cleaners, soap and growing a large garden. I know when. Put food on the table I can trace out meat to source. Most of the veg come from our garden or local markets and this gives me peace of mind.

Mrs. Mac said...

I wrote a post about this same thing yesterday. Grocery coupons are mostly for highly processed gov't subsidized junk. We gave up our cable tv to have more grocery money .. and pay off our debt.

Molly said...

I had to stop following most "frugal" blogs too for the same reason - so much cheap, unhealthy food. All I wanted to do was say "fresh fruit and veg, bulk dried beans and quality meat and dairy" will get you so much farther!

Of course that carries into the rest of our life too - we save up and buy quality clothing and furniture (though we look for the quality stuff second hand first) it saves so much time and money down the road if you look at your life from a preventative stand point!

wayfindingnotes said...

More and more, I find there are things that I'm simply not comfortable scrimping on. Healthy, local, organic, and fair trade may cost more, but I think they're worth it in the long run for a whole host of reasons. I really, really feel for people for whom being able to make these choices is simply not an option, either because of access or finances.

madebymum said...

I agree. I budget much along the same lines as you. Lots of fresh fruit and veg. It is a bit more expensive but I want my family to eat well.

ceridwen said...

I fully agree with you. There ARE some things that are too important to "economise on". As you point out too that your children were malnourished before coming to you - then its all the more important that you "build them back up again" with a good diet. One can manage to eat a "cheap as chips" diet for a while - BUT only assuming a good "basis to start on" and only as a VERY temporary measure (ie weeks - not months - at a time). The thing is that the effects of an unhealthy diet may not show up for some time - but years down the line there may very well be resultant health problems (diabetes type 2, for instance, just to quote the very first one that came to mind). Also a "cheapie" diet can affect the energy levels/mental state/etc even in the short term. Even re the University age group of people - its very very easy to tell the difference between the University students I see around here on the one hand and those from poor backgrounds on the other hand. The University ones (ie its wealthier ones that come here) are slim/with clear glowing skin and many of the poorer local kids of the same age and plump and pasty-faced. Wait till those respective groups hit middle age and the difference between them will be even more visible.

I believe I know which blog you refer to as using just 2/3 portions of fruit/veg daily. It does contain a lot of very useful thoughts in it - but healthy it aint.

littlegreenvillage said...

Great post!
I have shaved about 25% off our grocery bill over the last couple of years by making everything( almost) from scratch, including bread and yoghurt.

We are much healthier for it, and my husband has lost 11kg and I have lost 10 kg!

We eat 4-5 serves of fresh vegetables and 2-3 pieces of fruit every day.

Meat is lean cuts, balancing red meat, chicken and fish over the week and we only purchase free range eggs and fair trade coffee and tea.

Biscuits, slices and cakes are treats and usually homemade.

Just filling up on stodgy food has a cost in the medium to long term with health costs and health problems.


momma-lana said...

Well said! Thank-you!

twinbbymama said...

You have written what I have always wanted to put into words. I do the same exact thing from time to time; look at frugal living blogs, wonder what I'm doing wrong, then realize that yes, I am spending more money, but it's definitely worth it! Thank you for this post, it's nice to know that I am not alone.

Tricia said...

I agree, although I do read some good tips from time to time. My goal has always been to be as frugal as possible on what I call "the boring stuff", so I can spend my money on the things that matter. I like your list, it's funny because I DO shop twice a month with a goal to shop only once a month but it never occurred to me to include produce since I only buy part of my produce from the grocery store. Lately I've been obtaining fresh fruits and veggies up to three times a week from my CSA or my garden or whatever else. In fact, I would one up those frugal blogs and say that I save a lot of money by serving a fruits and veggies instead of overpriced chips, soda and packaged food.

Miriam said...

I really do agree with you! That's what I try to do too. But, if you really do not have the money (been there, done that)the poor pasta dish will take you to the next day better than nothing.

Now we live in a rental with a garden and I am SO thankful for that!

Thank you for a great post!

The Furry One said...

I'm so glad I came across this blog. I have long been an advocate of frugal living and have spent much of my life trying to make money go further. I had hens in the past and loved the beautiful eggs they laid. At one stage I had many beautiful pumpkins from a vine that grew out of my compost, and kept my friends and neighbours supplied for quite some time. If we all tried to live like our forebears, their would be much less waste and much more general sense of satisfaction for most people.

Chili said...

Our budget mirrors yours and I share your beliefs wholey. But I'd have to add avoiding anything with GMO, although that could fall into the processed/packaged category. I'd like to get the budget down to $50 a week, but hubby says its impossible... I don't think so.

turningwheelfarm said...

I was thinking about this the other day and am trying not to calculate how much it costs to feed our laying hens and meat birds because it doesn't compare with store bought so why compare it? We do a lot of fruits and veggies and not much meat. I was calculating how much it would cost for juicing after watching "fat, sick and nearly dead" and it's expensive but really worth it if you feel better after eating something I think. ;)

Anonymous said...

Our number one priority is only eating meat/animal products that are humanely raised-and organic whenever possible, but humanely raised trumps organic when need be-so because of the increased cost (which is fine with me, I do not believe that an entire chicken should cost $3.99 or a dozen eggs $2.99-someone/something is paying for that cheap price!) we simply eat less meat and treat it more as an indulgence than an everyday thing. We never eat meat for breakfast or lunch and have it for dinners maybe 3 nights a week. I think this is a healthier way to live as well. One issue I am not very well versed on is fair trade-I rarely see fair trade items, will have to look out for them.

Elizabeth said...

I totally agree with you on this point. Although we try to eat as thriftily as possible, we will not compromise on the meat we eat - organic preferably, free-range at the very least. We also always have organic milk, eggs and bananas. We prefer to eat meat less often but know that when we do have it it has come from an 'ethical' source. The rest of the time we eat vegetarian meals.

I really could not eat a £2.99 chicken or £1.00 pack sausages - though these sorts of items would cut our food bill dramatically - as I would feel extremely uneasy about the lives those animals had led in order for me to eat cheap meat.

Notes From The Frugal Trenches said...

Thank you for all the truly wonderful, rich comments. Such caring, gentle souls grace this space. Thank you for sharing your limits and treding lightly!

Kellie said...

I try to be as frugal as possible with3 kids !
I am a PhD student and am fascinated with rationing from WW2. I am feeding my family using only WW2 recipes and buying meat from sources i am happy with and as much organic food as possible.
I have found that it is more cost effective, less waste and far healthier with so much more fruit and veg. For me being frugal does remind me of past times when i was a single mum with no money , but a 'living history' experiment reminds me that frugality was a way of life for many years here in the UK.
I also want my children to realise how lukcy they are to live where food is available and plentiful.Frugal living is food for the soul as well as the body.