The best food for your price, is more important than the best price for your food.
Ok, in my last article, I talked about eating good food. We mentioned how controlling the food you buy, and the food you prepare makes you happier and healthier. I said that buying whole natural foods, organic and locally sourced was cheaper than buying boxed processed bulk foods. Then I told you that I would tell you HOW I shop farm fresh organic whole foods and save money.
I wasn’t lying, and I wasn’t kidding. Here is that promise delivered, but first, I find it essential to give you some backstory on how I learned this and why.
About nine years ago, the bottom fell out of the US economy and money around my household got very tight. Disposable income was scarce, and we needed to stretch every dollar as far as possible. At the time, we lived in a small town about 20 miles from anywhere. It was a 20 min drive in any direction to get to any major store or restaurant. We had one little corner store, which had all the essentials, and they charged heavily for them. Like $2.50 for a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup that at any major grocery chain would have been $0.47 at the time. Because of this, we had to learn very quickly to plan our meals and shop when we were near a town. At first, we made 3×5 index cards with meals we liked on them. A stack for each meal and a snack stack. We would deal them out at the beginning of the week and use MS Excel to make the weeks grocery list based on them. This worked, but not well and was difficult to do. Also, many things, small ingredient items like spices were forgotten, then those were purchased at the local corner store for massively more than they were worth, or they were skipped, leading to some very disappointing meals. About the same time as the economic downturn, our family, just 4 of us at the time, were starting into Dave Ramsey’s books. One of the things he mentioned several times was a service called emeals. Let me state right here that this is not a paid ad, and I do still use them, so if anyone does want to check them out, I will leave a referral link at the bottom. If you use it, will get me some free months of service, so thanks in advance for the help. (and if Emeals is reading this, I would happily promote you) The idea of Emeals at the time was this, they took the next week’s Walmart rollback list, and built a menu out of what was on sale. They emailed you this menu complete with a complete shopping list, including pricing, of everything you would need to make their recipes. I still use the service today, though it is slightly different now. I would take their grocery list, add the few other things like household products to it that we would need and I would shop it at the local discount grocery first. Since prices for Walmart were listed next to each product on the list, I could buy the stuff that was cheapest at the discount store, and then get the rest at Walmart. This saved me enough money each week that while this emeals service cost a bit each month, I never had a problem saving at least the cost of the month’s plan each week. This put enough spare grocery money back into my budget that once the recession was over, I keep using the service and would use the savings to buy specific premium products like local meats from a butcher’s shop, fresh bakery bread or natural honey from the farm.
At this same time, because of the recession, our family of 4 started a rather large vegetable garden at my father’s house (he has a few acres) to save a bit on the canned goods and produce. I grew up understanding the value of every dollar and both my parents came from farming backgrounds, growing and canning our own produce was not that hard to start. Now don’t get me wrong, tending a garden is a lot of work, but it was an excellent experience for the children as they were always along to help with it, and they learned a lot, and we had tons of fun outside those years. While we no longer keep a garden of our own, having one back then helped lead me to the point of this article. Eat good food.
Lastly, during this same period, we had our third child. His baby food was not Gerber. We merely mashed or puréed the garden veggies for him. He grew up eating fresh homegrown produce and good quality meat from local farms, and to this day he prefers a veggie or fruit bowl to French fries at a restaurant.
Now the good news is, we made it thru the economic downturn and are no longer forced to cut every penny out of our budget. The best thing resulting from our time then, and the point of this article, was that to save money we were forced to learn how to Eat Good Food. So now you understand how we got to this point, let’s look deeper at how we do it.
First, and to me most importantly, I still use emeals. Like I said before, they are a great service and very worth the money, their prices have gone up a little, but their offerings are still similar enough to still be a great value to me. They now have many different meal types catering to most of the popular diets. They offer gluten free, paleo, Mediterranean diets along with many others. They do not add the Walmart prices to my lists anymore, but they do offer an online connection to Walmart and Kroger, along with several others so that you don’t even have to shop at all. I don’t use this service, I like to look at my food and choose it personally before I pay for it. I am sure that this is a great plan for many people who are not blessed with time to do all this as I am. I do, however, use these services to import my shopping list long enough to price the goods I am about to buy. This way I can still shop it at my local discount stores, Whole Foods, and farm markets and always get the best price for the food, or the best food for the price whichever I choose that day.
At this moment, I would like to take you aside from my point to touch on what I just said. “The best price for the food or the best food for the price.” This has become my new shopping motto. I feel that even if I am paying a little more for a product, if I can personally assure myself that it is the highest quality product, then it can still be a value to me. I don’t shop every list at every farm market, and I don’t shop exclusively at Whole Foods, I go to all these places, and I choose the best food I can get for each dollar. In this way, I am confident that I am always getting the best food for the price. I don’t necessarily want the cheapest celery, but I want the best celery I can get for my money. Back when my budget ruled my shopping, I would happily take the most affordable foods I could get, and they were good enough. Now that I can choose better products, I still don’t want to pay top dollar just to feel like I am getting the best. I want to buy from sources that I trust, buying goods that I can personally verify the quality of, and for the lowest price I can reasonably get.
To do this and back to my main point, I use the emeals app to select my week’s meals. I use a lunch and two dinner plans at this moment. This allows me to get a variety of dietary items that all fit my cooking style and if there is a recipe or two that I don’t think my family will like, I can skip it. In the app, you choose to select only them meals you want to add to your list, so from the 15ish suggested meals that my three plans allow me, I choose five dinners and three lunches. Because emeals no longer adds pricing info to their printable shopping list, I use the Walmart online shopping service that is connected to the emeals app to get the finished menus priced. I then take those online carts and export then to the Anylist app (it is the best shopping list app I have found yet that allows me to paste an entire list and it separates it out into specific items, FYI).
So how is all this helpful in making me the best natural foods budget shopper I know? Well, after I have my weekly menu, sent out to a shopping list with Walmart pricing included, I shop from it first at the discount grocers. I can make good choices on what items balance quality and budget. There are some items, like bananas, for instance, which doesn’t offer a lot of variety of growing or farming options. If you break it down, bananas come from two types of farms, organic and not. So assuming most bananas are the same, I can simply judge them based on the quality of the visible product at the prices available. Many other foods are like this too, so my discount grocer is still able to provide a lot of quality low-cost groceries to my family.
Then I shop what is left of my list next at the local specialty stores, whole foods, and farm markets. I know from the online priced list what my foods will cost me at Walmart, and I am generally familiar with the quality there, so if I want, do to quality issues, price or availability, I can skip items at the farm market or Whole Foods and wait to buy them at Walmart. By shopping this way I always have a baseline price for a store like Walmart. I can use this info to make informed choices on each purchase. If I find a product at the farm market that is comparable, I can gauge how much extra I am willing to pay for it. I can view that extra expenditure as the price for helping maintain that farm, local business or responsible production process. If I feel that the price difference is too high for my perceived value, I can choose to buy it elsewhere.
Lastly, there are some fallback products that I will always buy from Walmart because I see no difference at all in the quality, the healthiness, the sustainability and can buy them from Walmart at a better price. The way I see it, until some grower or producer sees the opportunity, and actively targets the cream cheese market, there is no difference between Philly bought from Walmart, so why pay more for it just to shop at Whole Foods? I don’t like Walmart as a company, and I personally view them as a negative member of the community, but if I can save enough money by buying a few products which offer no alternatives there, I can then choose to spend that money at my local farm market, butcher or bakery. The last thing I have recently done as part of my shopping is to shift most of my bulky home cleaning and health products to Amazon Prime Pantry. This isn’t an ad for them either, but I personally feel that Amazon employs more people than Walmart and pays its employees more responsibly than Walmart, so I am going to reward that behavior with my business dollar. Also, it is very handy and probably saves me gas not having to cram my car full of bottles of water, vinegar, and laundry soap, and can instead let my mail carrier deliver those to me in a vehicle that is already driving past every day anyways.
One thing that this shopping system does as a side benefit is it makes coupon shopping MUCH easier. If you clip, you can add those into your anylist app and use that info to price compare also based on coupons you have. You are already going to a variety of stores this way, so using the coupons you have or the best ones you find is very easy.The last thing I will mention regarding this shopping style is my personal experience with farmers markets.
I could write a whole post just on farm markets and maybe I will some time, but for now, the best thing to remember at a farm market is, these people are usually your neighbors. They are friendly and they the person in charge. What I mean is this. Be polite; you will likely see most of these people again, and talk to them. If you think the corn is too expensive, tell them. Don’t be rude about it, but ask questions. They can probably make you some kind of a deal, and more importantly, they can explain to you WHY their corn is a little more money. After a chat with them about their community involvement, their challenge as a local grower and their dedications to sustainable growing techniques, you will likely be happy to pay that extra for the produce and you will feel good doing it, knowing you have helped a neighbor and helped the earth for generations to come. Also, as you chat with them over your many shopping trips, you will learn how to save even more by aiming your buying to their harvest times, buying in larger quantities and freezing or canning your own farm foods.
If you have learned anything from this, if you have tried any of the apps listed above or if you have just been mildly entertained here, then my work is done. However, if you want to try out emeals, and are willing to use my link to them, then you could save me money on my future purchases with them, and I would appreciate that as I plan to use them for years to come. That link is here: [http://emeals.com/invite/andrew-keiser].
Categories: Parenting Thoughts