Ever been on the food stamp program? Oregon’s gov did just that for a week. There’ve been a lot of articles written about it, but this one I’m noting because of the comments, not the content. Why the hell do people think that folks on food stamps shouldn’t be allowed to get “luxury items” like a thing of cookies or a bottle of soda water? I mean come ON. I was on food stamps once about 12 years ago. I tried really hard to economize, get the healthiest food I could, and frankly, I had kids, they liked cookies, so we’d get some. In addition to our veggies, our milk, our cheese, our grain food and our cheapest cuts of meat in the store. Sometimes, sure, I’d stick a few convenience foods in our cart as well. If I did, invariably I’d get nasty looks at check out, as people judged me for using food stamps for “luxuries.” What always bugged me was that anyone thought they had a moral right to do so. A moral right, even imperative, to judge whether or not I and my kids were worthy of foods that were luxurious by their standards. Yeah, not so much with that. That still bugs me. The comments on that article really brought that experience back to me. I think what the gov did was important and good and I hope he keeps bringing attention to the matter long term.
I’m not on food stamps now, there but for the grace of god. I’m making it. But I am trying to economize, deeply. In light of the recent information that came out about melamine tainted wheat and rice in feed given to our meat animals. I’ve really cut down my meat intake and gone to organic as much as possible. We’ve done organic produce and dairy for a long time now, I’m just stepping it up. Organic is expensive, y’all and suddenly I’m on the food budget from hell. So here’s what I’ve discovered for myself.
Here in CA, Niman Ranch meat products are available at Trader Joes. Good stuff, yo. They carry organic whole chickens, too. I also check out the meat counter at Whole Foods for bargains if I’m in the area and check the butcher at the Fairfax Farmer’s Market where I work – I can have a discussion with him about where the meat I’m eating is coming from and I trust him to know his suppliers. Trader Joes also has a lot of reasonable organic dairy options, milk, half and half, cheese, eggs, butter, etc. Also soymilk and tofu. If I can’t afford organic in a given week, and that does happen sometimes, I at least look for dairies that dont’ use rBST – it’s usually labeled that way. That’s my compromise. I’m slowly working switching out to organic grain items as I happen upon them.
A lot of my frugal fu relies heavily on Trader Joes. If you don’t have one, look around for a food co-op or reasonable health food store, but I don’t know what else to tell you for those things because I’ve never tried to do this when I didn’t have a TJ’s close to hand.
These are some tips I’ve gleaned from various sites that I found really helpful.
1. If you can, buy in bulk. I don’t have a lot of room and because my ghettofabulous building has a roach issue, I can’t keep bags of food around. I also have a small beige
menace cat who gets into everything. Therefore, bulk is a limited option for me. Most health food stores have bulk food sections though, for folks with room, no bugs and cats wot obey the rules of the house.
2. Shop local farmer’s markets. The majority of the vendors are organic at mine, and it’s all local food, at least “local” within 200-300 miles. It isn’t always cheaper than the market, but the quality is higher and it’s fresher. No farmers market on a day you can get to? Try a CSA if you have one available.
3. Eat what’s in season. It costs more to ship food from Chile in December, after all. You’ll save money, I promise.
4. Eat less. Seriously. Eat less. It seems like culturally we’re in the habit of having these massive plates of food when we sit down. Lately we’ve been eating smaller portions at mealtimes. We’re feeling better and wasting a lot less food. Nobody is going hungry. Frequent mini meals rock. I have to eat a wide variety of foods frequently because of my hypoglycemia. The other benefit of this one is, it makes the organic stuff go farther because you’re eating less per sitting and mixing it up a little over the course of the day, which makes it all last longer.
5. Convenience foods. Er. yeah. Most frugal tips sites tell you not to use them. Well the freezer section of Trader Joe’s is my friend and they have convenience foods that are tasty and frozen (sometimes even organic!) and I know I’d save money if I didn’t buy them. I still buy them. I just buy what I can afford IF the money is there to have treats and when they’re gone, they’re gone. We don’t get more until the next planned shopping trip, if there’s money there for treats. But um, yes, it’s good financial fu to avoid them. I’m told.
These are good ideas that I’ve read can save you money that I DON’T do at the moment, but might try to incorporate.
1. Track leftovers. Keep a list on the fridge of what’s in there, the date it was made, and then EAT THEM.
2. Plan menus. I used to do this. I don’t right now. These days, I just keep staple items on hand and rotate the produce and meats according to what’s available and looks good at the FM. I’m not noticing a huge difference in my budget between planning menus and planning *staples* but the way I cook has changed too, drastically, from when I was married.
3. Check out Asian, Middle Eastern and Latino markets if you can. Produce, legumes, grains, spices, these can all be way cheaper and of even better quality than you might find at say, Ralphs.
The most important things I’ve done to get a handle on my finances overall lately have been tracking my spending, keeping my checkbook up to date in Quicken, and paying myself first every payday, so that my emergency fund is slowly growing and we have a buffer. I don’t really have a budet yet. My plan is to do the tracking for 6 months and then see what Quicken has to say about it.
I like these websites for money fu:
Rebecca’s Pocket has a good series on eating organic on a food stamp budget. Really enjoying that one.
I like The Hillbilly Housewife and just skip the religious overtones – it’s a good site for useful tactics. I take some and I leave some. It’s all adaptable.
I like Get Rich Slowly for just about everything, including some food related links.