Cost. This is the #1 reason people tell me they can't (or won't) begin eating real foods — or why they quit after a short time.
I remember the very first time I walked into a Whole Foods. We lived in Dallas, Texas. My husband was in Bible college, and we were broke. Just walking into a Whole Foods, I immediately felt healthier. It's like they're piping something through the vents in there. I grabbed my shopping cart and began strolling through the aisles, trying not to look like it was my first time there.
Glancing around at all the brightly-colored produce in those kitsch-y wooden crates, I remember thinking to myself, “Yes. We will finally be healthy. I will fill this basket with all sorts of goodies, and my family will see that eating healthy is delicious!” And then I looked at the prices. Talk about doing a double take. You want what for organic apples?! Surely it was a misprint.
Alas, it was not. I walked out of my first experience in Whole Foods with just a few items and my head hanging low, believing that I would never be able to afford food like that.
Now that we've been doing this for a few years, I know I'm not the only one.
Bottom line: this food can be expensive. There's no way around it. Processed, non-organic, fake food is, unfortunately, cheaper than real food.
Unless you change your perspective…
Not As Cheap As You Think
Think about this. A year, five years, ten years from now. If you keep eating boxed cereal with ultra-pasteurized milk for breakfast, microwaveable meals for lunch, and packaged spaghetti with canned sauce and a pesticide-filled salad with a dressing made mostly of genetically modified soybean oil, I can guarantee that your health won't be sustained for years and years without some consequences.
Once those health-less foods take their toll on your body, they're not quite so cheap anymore. There are out-of-pocket expenses for doctor's visits, co-pays, and prescription medications. Insurance deductibles and premiums cost money, too. What if you ever need surgery for a condition that's directly related to diet, such as a heart by-pass or gallbladder removal? That involves even more expenses: hospital bills, loss of pay if you miss work, loss of pay if your spouse misses work to take care of you during recovery, plus the ever-present risks involved with the surgery itself.
Let's say you choose the alternative route for your healthcare needs. This is what I have done. I ate 25 years' worth of unhealthy junk food before I made the jump into real foods. Even after changing my diet, damage was already done to my body. Now, I'm working to heal that damage, and the whole foods I'm eating are an important part of that healing process. It's not prescriptions and insurance deductibles, but I still pay for doctor's visits, hair and blood tests, chiropractic adjustments, and supplements — not to mention real foods.
Either way, junk food's not quite as cheap as it seems when you consider the host of problems it has the potential to cause in the future.
Sacrifices + Ideas to Stretch Your Food Budget
If $100 is all you have to spend, your instinct is to get as much as possible with that $100. Sometimes, you might even have less.
I have fed my family on budgets high and low. I remember one week several years ago, we had only $45 to spend, but we made it work. Beans, rice, and potatoes may not be the most nutritious foods in the world, but I made them as healthy as I could by giving my beans and rice a good, long soak, making them more nourishing than any boxed, processed thing I could buy at the store. We still had good seasonings to make our meager fare taste yummy, and we still had butter — because even cheap butter makes everything taste better and adds valuable nutrients!
I'm so very grateful that God has blessed us, and our grocery budget is no longer that small! Our food bill is officially our largest expense now — even more than what we pay for housing. I hope I'm not coming across as boastful. It's taken years to work up to this point and many sacrifices of modern frills and conveniences along the way. In the future, I would actually love to cut our food expenses, but until we have a place where we can grow and raise some of our own food, we don't mind paying for good food, especially if many of our purchases support local farmers and businesses.
I'm not suggesting that everyone should make these sacrifices, but this is what we have chosen to do in order to make real food part of our family. Maybe some of these suggestions can help you re-work your budget to be able to afford more healthful foods:
We have not had health insurance for over five years. Real food has been our health insurance. Yes, we have the expense of our alternative practitioners, but we have stayed out of the doctor's office, the hospital, and the pharmacy. I don't foresee us paying for health insurance until more alternative medicine practices are covered. I give credit for our overall health to God who is our Healer and who created all these whole foods for us to eat! This doesn't mean that we don't have some health issues; it just means we choose not to treat them with services and medications that insurance would pay for.
We haven't paid for cable TV since 2006. Instead of paying $80+ per month for cable, we pay for cheaper subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu instead. That saves us at least $63 per month!
We drive used cars and don't have car loans. Our cars aren't new or fancy, but they get us where we need to go — and they're paid for! 🙂 There's no freedom like not having a car payment every month. For a few years, we were a one-car family too. When both of our cars were paid off, we were saving over $500 a month!
I stay home a lot. As gas prices have crept up over the past few years, I've just chosen to get out less, even if that means missing out on some fun stuff outside the house. If I'm very frugal and plan my errands correctly, I can make a tank of gas last three weeks. My husband also drives a very fuel-efficient car, which saves us on gas since he drives to and from work every day. Speaking of staying home…
Our children aren't enrolled in every extracurricular activity out there. There are times, like now, when they aren't participating in anything outside of what we do at home or play time with their friends. We have a great group of homeschooling buds, so we never lack for relationships, exercise opportunities, nature activities, birthday parties, and more. We also recently relocated to a new town and wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get used to the area and familiarize ourselves with all our new home has to offer. When we are enrolled in extracurriculars, it's limited to one activity per child and no more than two days a week. We save money by not paying for enrollment fees, uniforms, special shoes, equipment, and the gas going to and from practices and rehearsals.
I make many of our personal care products such as toothpaste, deodorant, lotion bars, and baby wipes. This saves so much money that can be put toward food, plus it doesn't take much time at all to whip these things up with ingredients I've already got!
We rarely eat out. We live in an area that doesn't have a lot of farm-to-table restaurants, so most of what's left just isn't that appealing to us. The benefit of eating real food for so long is that the thought of eating at a fast food restaurant like McDonald's or Burger King makes my stomach churn. Yuck! Not eating out saves us money and keeps junk food out of our bodies too.
I shop around for used books for our homeschool, which really cuts the cost of a school year. When we had no money to spare for books, I used the library and schooled for free!
We switched all of our bills to paper-less, online payment, or auto-draft. Now, we don't pay for checks or stamps. This also gives us the option to pay bills early, so we avoid late fees. Many companies actually charge a small fee every month to mail you a bill, but most people don't notice. Even if you have three bills charging you a dollar each to mail the bill, that's $3 a month — and that's enough to buy an extra two pound bag of organic carrots or two heads of organic romaine lettuce!
We bank for free. Many banks have monthly account fees or minimum balance fees, but there are banks out there that still offer free checking and savings accounts. By switching from our last bank to our current one, we are saving $8 per month.
We buy our clothing used or deeply discounted. Especially for our kids, gently used clothing makes sense because they are growing so fast! But my husband and I aren't opposed to consigned clothing for ourselves either. I always want to look my best, but that doesn't mean I need brand-new clothes. I like the Duggars' motto: buy used and save the difference! When we do buy new, we never pay full price. If I can't get clothing at least 50% (preferably more) off, I don't give it a second look.
We buy a significant portion of our food in bulk. With stores like Costco and food co-ops like Azure Standard, you can save so much money by purchasing in bulk. Here's an example: I was buying raw cashew pieces from a local store for almost $7 per pound until this month, when I found a five pound bulk bag of the same raw cashew pieces from Azure Standard for $27.35 — that's only $5.47 per pound! I wished I had checked Azure a long time ago!
I stock up when I find a really good deal. If there's even a little wiggle room in your budget, set some aside for when you find a favorite item that has been deeply discounted. I love Natural Value canned coconut milk because it is guar gum-free, so when I found some recently for $1.69 per can, I bought all the store had!
We don't use many paper products. Sure, it would be nice to not wash dishes three or more times a day, but I'd rather not spend money on products that are just going into the garbage. Reusing our dishes and cloth napkins is not only frugal, but great for the environment as well. And the bonus is that our trashcan doesn't fill up too quickly! We do use toilet paper and some paper towels, but I really like the Seventh Generation brand of these products because they are unbleached, recycled, and they seem to last longer than the conventional products I used to buy.
We choose not to pay for convenient services such as dry cleaning, house-keeping, and brake jobs. Instead, I do the ironing, my children are able helpers around the house, and my husband can service our brakes when needed. It's very nice to be able to be self-reliant for many things that others normally pay for.
We sold our house. Yes, this one may seem a bit extreme — because it is! Tired of paying for a large, older home that was so inefficient our utilities were almost as much as our monthly mortgage and the taxes were rising every year, we sold it. We downsized from 3,200 square feet to a 1,000 square foot apartment. I'm not saying everyone should do this because there are definite advantages to owning a home, and I miss having my own house. This is for a season, however, and it has helped us to see how much space we really don't need. Our utilities have decreased by 60%, plus we're not paying home insurance or taxes.
After considering the price one might pay later for eating unhealthy food now, isn't it worth it to reconsider the belief that real food is too expensive? Do these suggestions give you ideas for ways to make your budget work? How do you afford the cost of real foods?
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