Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thoughts | Budgeting for Food

(I would like to start by saying that my title is misleading. I don't actually budget in the traditional sense. I more just keep a general eye on the bank account. It works.)

A few years ago I was hanging out with some girlfriends and we got on the topic of how much we spend a month on food. I guessed $400. It was a vague and rather low guess (think it turned out that it was more like $500 when I counted it up). They were shocked. One of them said that she never spent more than $150 a month on food. (These were two person families, and if you are costs more here.) To this day I am not sure what she ate. Rice? Ground beef? Ichiban? Kraft Dinner? It boggles the mind. So my first point is this: before you start worrying about spending too much on food, take a look at your priorities.

In In Defense of Food Micheal Pollen says that in most developed countries people spend about 25% of their income on food. In the states? 9%. I have no idea what the Canadian stats are as we don't seem to have a book on it. Which country has the highest obesity rate? Diabetes? Heart Disease? Yes you can spend almost nothing on food. But at what cost?

Buying good food will do more for you quality of life than any other thing you budget for. If you eat well you will be happy (from the yummy food) and you will be healthier. You will get sick less. You will be skinnier. You will have more energy. You will have the potential to live longer. It's nice to have a big house (or so I hear) and new clothes and all, but I really don't see the bang for your buck there. Some people have trouble with the idea of spending money on something that you just eat and then it's gone. IT IS NOT GONE! It is a part of you and making your body run properly (or improperly). Food should be a priority in your life.

That said, do I save money now that I cook more from scratch. Yes. And then I invest that money back into food. I think it's fair to say that if my paychecks are coming in decently I don't pay all that much less a month than I used to. I just looked it up for you in fact, last month was $394 (and I must admit that the savings are mostly due to my family giving me meat and flour). I just spend it differently. The money I save by cooking from scratch goes into organic produce and milk products. It goes into fair trade chocolate and coffee. It goes into honey and maple syrup. It goes into free range chickens and eggs. I try my best to spend my food dollars on nutrisious food that will make me healthier and support ethical food producers.

Now that I've told you how I don't save the money I's a couple thoughts on how to pinch all you can from your food that you can put it back in. Also I do fully realize that some people have very tight budgets these days and want to be able to get the most they can out of it.

- Get a deep freeze (wait...that costs money? It's worth it). With a freezer you can get wonderful things like a side of beef from a local farmer for cheaper (and just better) than you would buying it a couple pounds at a time in the store.

- Garden. Seriously seeds cost a few cents. And then you water them which costs a bit more. And then you get amazingly happy local organic produce. Container garden if you have no room.

- Preserve food when it is season. I bought flats of fruit this summer and we are still eating some of it. My mom and I canned a ton of soup and sauces mainly from the garden. This costs a fraction of buying canned food and is sooo much better. Especially as we make really great soup. Also pickles and jam and all sorts of niceness.

- Get to know the food people in your area. Find out who sells free range eggs. Find out who has non-sprayed peach trees. Buying from the source is usually cheaper, and is far more trustworthy. I mean, if they sell you bad know where they live.

- Buy things in bulk when they keep well and you use them regularly. Like flour and honey in my world.

- Buy things like beans and rice in their most basic dry form. Do the work yourself.

- Be thrifty. Don't throw things out until there is nothing left. Make broth with your bones, make bread crumbs with stale crusts, make soup with your limp veggies. Suck all the life out of your food before you let it go.

- Try not to let things go to waste. This was a big one for me. Have one night a week where you have to cook with whatever needs used up in the fridge. Keep the oldest things at the front of your fridge or cupboard and the newer things behind.

- I will throw out menu planning at you, even though in my case it's not that helpful. I mean it's helpful for my life and organization, but I don't actually tend to save money this way. I am more likely to buy strange things that don't normally live in my cupboards when I menu plan. It's good fun, but not a money saver. Many people are not like me however, and find it a great way to save.

So how about you guys? What are your money saving food tips? Is food a priority in your budget?