We’re all challenged to make ends meet these days, aren’t we? Yet, we’d be penny wise and pound foolish to pat ourselves on the back for being frugal at the grocery store, with no other values in our shopping cart. That’s why clean couponing is about being frugal with more than money.
It’s common knowledge that good nutrition is the most important single thing we can do for our own health. So, how do we balance the need for the best nutrition, free of pesticide residues, genetically modified organisms and other suspect additives in our food, without breaking the budget? Could you feed a family of four all week for $175 or less with mostly organic, non-GMO foods?
At our house we started by looking at the United States Department of Agriculture guide to the cost of food (based on current agricultural prices) for a family of four. According to this, our family should be spending between $147.70 each week for the thriftiest plan to $293.40 for the liberal plan. We also know that at least half our “plate” per government nutrition guidelines, should be fruits and vegetables.
I went to a typical grocery store to seek out as many organic, non-GMO foods as possible, also buying several conventional foods. At our house I seek out mostly USDA Organic foods for my children, especially dairy and produce. Yet, I compromise with my husband who doesn’t see the value and so prefers to drink conventional milk himself. I would prefer all organically raised meats, as well, but he thinks we can’t afford them, so I buy less red meat in general and some fish instead. I’ll even buy budget-priced conventional frozen vegetables or fruits if needed, to make sure we’re eating enough fruits and veggies.
This example is not an endorsement of any particular foods, brands or stores, simply a way of sharing what works for us. I would have preferred the organic, non-GMO version of everything in the shopping cart. This is nearly impossible not only because of budget restrictions, but because GMOs are currently not labeled at the store.
For the first week of this experiment, I spent $135 (tax and all) on groceries to feed our family of four. That’s less than $20 a day. Thankfully, that included USDA Organic milk and yogurt for the kids as well as mostly organic produce.
I did use some staples already in the pantry, like rice. My husband agreed to follow my meal plan without running to the store to buy extras. I prepared filling dishes like beef-vegetable stir fry with perfect rice, cheesy noodles, and sausage with (organic) potatoes). I emphasized that fruits and cold vegetables were available for snacks. Plus, the kids and I stretched the budget farther by baking two loaves of our own bread and making homemade oatmeal cookies. 95% of our food was prepared entirely from scratch, and in some cases it stretched so far that I had to freeze some of it.
In two separate instances, my husband and I found the need to eat out that week, which added up to $25 and proves that you can feed a family of four at home for an entire day for less than a couple of people can eat at a restaurant.
In disbelief, my husband challenged me to a second week of frugal grocery shopping, which I met with a total of $143 in groceries being enough for our entire family to eat all week long.
The third week, I purposely stocked up on extras like a jar of local honey, extra (moderately) wholesome boxed snacks on sale, even splurged on shrimp and some (better) frozen chicken nuggets that my kids like. We still covered a week’s groceries for only $157, closer to the thrifty end and far from the liberal end of the USDA cost estimates.
As for discounts, direct-from-the-company coupons and store loyalty programs can still be a help, but manager’s specials or other mark-downs at the store can save dollars as well.
This three-week experiment has shown our family that a weekly grocery budget of $175 is not only reasonable, but it’s enough to include several organic, non-GMO food choices. It has also illustrated to me that the biggest difference in grocery prices these days is not necessarily between organic and conventional, but between real, whole foods and processed foods, with many processed foods giving us the least value for our dollar. The biggest potential savings each week comes when we’re willing to prepare foods ourselves from scratch, use staples like organic rice, and freeze extra portions. Real food = real value.