Food — Is Healthy & Cheap Even Possible?

by Katy on June 20, 2013 · 81 comments

I recently posted an article from Cracked Magazine on the Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook Group titled The 5 Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor. (Cracked Magazine is from the same company that publishes Mad Magazine, but it’s no way, shape or form for kids. So heads up, there is a lot of swearing.) It’s a first person piece from someone calling himself John Cheese, and it makes some bold statements.

“Forget about fresh produce or fresh baked goods or fresh anything. Canned vegetables are as cheap as a gang tattoo, and every poor person I knew (including myself) had them as a staple of their diet. Fruit was the same way. Canned peaches could be split between three kids for half the cost of fresh ones, and at the end you had the extra surprise of pure, liquefied sugar to push you into full-blown hyperglycemia.”

The author grew up urban poor, and he does not shy away from a warts-and-all perspective of how his childhood experiences flavored his adult life. You are unlikely to agree with everything he writes, but that doesn’t mean his experiences can be wholly discounted.

With all of this swirling in my head, I made a shopping trip to Safeway to take advantage of a spend-$50-get-$10-off coupon. Safeway, the land of corporate food. Safeway, with its fake salvaged barn wood floors desperate to evoke a farm fresh emotional response. Safeway, where some marketing guru thought that placing the chemical slurry that is I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter Spray in a rustic barrel would convince consumers that it came from a farm rather than a chemical plant. Safeway, the land of cheap deals and double coupons.


However, you don’t have to buy Safeway’s prepackaged, chemical laden food to take advantage of their $10-off coupon. It’s entirely possible to buy healthy and real food from a corporate food source. When every penny counts, and organic local food bought from your local farmer’s market, (open only on Wednesday from 1-3 P.M. while you’re at work) is not a choice, you can still eat healthy.

I’m going to be honest here. I have never felt like I had enough money. Sure, I can pay my mortgage and bills without tapping into a credit card, but I now have a senior in high school and nowhere near enough money set aside for him to go to college. So yes, I make the cheap choices. Always.

I love the idea of locally grown organic produce, but when I’m choosing between 3/$1 garlic from Fred Meyer and $2 apiece garlic from New Seasons, there is no contest.

Here’s how I spent $49.14 at Safeway yesterday:

  • 4 pounds of sugar.
  • 2 boxes of Cheerios.
  • 1 cardboard canister of oatmeal.
  • 1 bag of dried black beans.
  • 2 small cans of El Pato enchilada sauce.
  • 2 boxes of Barilla rigatoni.
  • 2 pounds of shredded mozzarella.
  • 1 pound of sour cream.
  • 1 pound of Earth’s Best spreadable margarine.
  • 1 gallon of milk.
  • 1 loaf of “artisan rustic” french bread.
  • 3 pounds of bananas.
  • 4 potatoes.
  • 2 Walla Walla onions.
  • 2.72 pounds of nectarines.
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce.
  • 1 bunch of kale.
  • 2 bags of individually frozen swai fish fillets.

I used a coupon for the cereal, the sugar and the pasta. Plus the $10-off-$50 coupon. And I grabbed another coupon-laden circular on my way out.

Is this how I always shop? No. I usually buy my meat, eggs and milk from New Seasons, and most everything else from Fred Meyer (Kroger) as it’s walkable from my house. I also buy from Costco, Trader Joe’s, Bob’s Red Mill, Dave’s Killer Bread Outlet and the occasional Winco trip. But being able to shop all around town takes time, a working car and a tank full of gasoline. If I were a full-time worker, (or still had small wiggly kids) I sure as hell wouldn’t spend all my time on food shopping. I would hit up Safeway and call it good.

I have always felt that non-organic real food trumps organic packaged food any day of the week. And so I try not to over-think it. And since $49.14 at New Seasons doesn’t even fill a single grocery bag, my three bags of Safeway food wins the day.

Do you struggle with your food choices? Do you grapple with the guilt from the pressures to buy only local and organic food even when your food choices are healthy? And if you read the Cracked article, what was your response? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Twitter.
Click HERE to join The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group.
Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Pinterest.

{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen June 20, 2013 at 11:17 am

I shop generally once a week at the regional grocery store not too far from my home. Still have to drive because of the weight and bulk of purchases, but it is only one store.

For toiletries I shop maybe once a month at one of the two big national chain stores nearby. House is between what amounts to two strip-mall type shopping areas.


Van June 20, 2013 at 11:20 am

The tiny bit I’ve read of the cracked article is bringing me right back to childhood. We were poor but the military income (Navy Dad) and my mom’s resourcefulness saved our lives and kept us eating relatively healthy. There was a mix of some packaged stuff/fresh stuff/canned stuff and most meals were made from scratch daily.

Now I’m an insane raw vegan that eats nothing but fruits, veggies, seeds, and nuts so I’m working hard to get the associated expense down! I work part time at a raw vegan kitchen and take advantage their whole sale price discount for food, buy in bulk when possible (freezing fruits for later) and buy frozen fruits for smoothies to keep fed. Our flea markets have fruits/veggies of dubious origin for great prices. Hey, better than canned stuff. You take what you can. My next step is growing as much of it as possible, I’m helping a group start community gardens all over town and will get produce for payment.

Mmmm…fooood. 😀


Melanie June 20, 2013 at 11:27 am

Where I live the farmer’s markets are at inconvenient times or 30 miles away from my house. I struggle with food choices and shopping on a limited budget, what with the Dirty Dozen, the threat from GMO’s, factory farming, etc., and it gets to the point where I don’t want to eat anything and I fear that I’m slowly poisoning my kids with what I do buy. Thanks for reminding me not to over-think it. 🙂


Ma June 20, 2013 at 11:28 am

This is where I’m at now, too. I tried to do the local and organic thing, but with six growing ever-hungry kids I’ve really had to change my strategy. I’m back to the grocery store for everything now, too. I hate that I had to stop farmer’s market-ing, but for me right now it is all about the money.


Megg June 20, 2013 at 11:31 am

I shop at the big box stores like Safeway, but I try to shop healthy even so. It’s expensive to be healthy though! I feel like I do enough in other ways like shopping local when I can, buying used, stuff like that, that it’s OK to buy from Safeway. I can’t afford Whole Paycheck, as my dad calls Whole Foods, or even Trader Joe’s. A lot (ok all) of our meat and fish comes from Costco where we seal-a-meal it and freeze it in our freecycle freezer in the garage.
However, we planted a decent garden this year, which will hopefully grow a lot of veggies we like, as long as the weather shapes up soon and we did “splurge” on a CSA this summer/fall. I’m looking forward to trying new foods. It was expensive for sure, but we don’t have enough veggies in our lives and it’ll be a challenge to use them without wasting.


Katy June 20, 2013 at 11:34 am

I pretty much only buy a few things at Trader Joe’s. Toilet paper, dishwasher detergent and pita and chips.



cathy June 20, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I’m the same way with Trader Joe’s. Was there today for TP and a (very) few splurge items to take for picnic dinner at a concert. TJ’s is great if you want interesting packaged food or flowers, but for regular shopping, not so much. I’m always skeptical of a store that doesn’t sell produce by the pound–or even have scales!


A. Marie June 20, 2013 at 11:43 am

My two best suggestions in this category:

(1) If you eat meat, cultivate a relationship with someone in your area who raises his/her own animals. For the last 5+ years, DH and I have purchased a quarter of a cow and a half pig from a friend who raises them. I don’t know yet how the 2013 costs will work out, but in 2012 we ended up paying just about $2/lb. for the beef and $2.50/lb. for the pork (all types of cuts from both animals). I am not making this up. And we know that it’s humanely and locally raised; the quality of the meat is superb; and since the two of us aren’t eating as much meat as we used to, we sell the surplus to neighbors at our cost. I think this makes it a win-win-win-win situation.

(2) Grow your own herbs and vegetables in whatever space you have available. I’m lucky to have a double city lot and 30+ years of growing experience (I’m older than a lot of you), but whatever you can grow, grow it. And concentrate on things that cost more at the store. For example, I grow leeks not only because we love them, but because they cost more than hamburger at the local supermarket!


Denise June 20, 2013 at 7:50 pm

an excellent response and very practical. Thank-you!


lynsey June 21, 2013 at 9:48 am

I like to buy beef and pork from locals too! The cost of the meat itself is super cheap. The butchering costs…but added together and I pay sometimes half of what I’d pay for porkchops or bacon in the stores! And the breakfast sausage is amazing.


Shannon June 20, 2013 at 11:44 am

I have the same issues. I went to my local farmers market once this year, but honestly I felt like it was an act of community service. The prices were far higher than the grocery—I ended up spending my $80 on a small sack of food. Good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but that meant I only had $30 of food budget for my family of 4, and that needed to cover meat, mlk and eggs, and everything else we needed. And I know-and respect-that folks will say you should cut other areas of budget for high quality food and all, but we have other financial goals. A $5 dozen eggs doesn’t make sense when I can get even local eggs from Kroger for $3.


Maureen June 20, 2013 at 11:44 am

My closest supermarket is 5 miles away — which means getting in the car to get there. When I shop, I try to stay away from the packaged stuff as it is very unhealthy, but sometimes I crave boxed mac n cheese; and the cheaper the better.

There is a Farmer’s Market in my county held on Saturdays, but again it’s a 15 mile drive to get there. And all the fancy supermarkets are 20+ miles away — thankfully because I know I would go in there with an empty stomach and spend way too much.

As it is now, I’m spending $400. a month for 2 people and to me that is way too much. But I’m going to work on it and try to get it reduced and eat healthy.


tonya June 20, 2013 at 11:54 am

Great shopping trip, Katy. You strike a balance between healthy and cheap very well, which isn’t easy.

I am raising a family too, and usually fall on the side of reasonably healthy but still inexpensive when it comes to shopping. I can’t justify spending Whole Foods or farmer’s market prices for my regular shopping. It’s a fun treat once in a while, but we have to keep an eye on our budget too.


Madeline June 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Becoming vegans cut our bill drastically. We buy no dairy and no meat. Very few pre processed foods. I won’t pay $5 a dozen for organic eggs at the farmers’ market. I do eat occasional eggs even though that’s not vegan. At Sprouts, a lot of the veggies are from California and I live in Arizona so I am going to call the whole west coast and maybe even Mexico “local!!”

I buy a huge basketful of produce and then dry beans, lentils,cous cous, rice, quinoa, from the bins and come home with a ton of food for not so much money.

“In a hurry meals” can be a package of butternut squash ravioli or the Trader Joe orange fake chicken (not often) i stash in the freezer, or a vegan pizza also from TJ’s. But most of the time a good batch of recipes and once a week shopping, and we save a lot and are healthier than ever.


Katie June 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm

This is something I struggle with. I work part time, go to college at night, and have wiggly age kids, and sometimes I just don’t have the time/energy to schlepp everywhere for the best unprocessed food. I struggle between buying the plastic packaged bulk food at the store I can bike too verses the unpackaged food I can bring my own container to that is a 15 minute drive. Packaging vs. gasoline .
I did not grow up poor, I was very privledged in the food department (fresh organics in the 80s, a rareity for sure.) Now that I am married and not as privledged, I know am a food snob and need to get over it.


Vivian June 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Spending money on food is my biggest anxiety producing activity. I know I do a pretty good job of getting my best bang for my buck both price wise and health wise but its getting harder and harder to make the money stretch. Thank goodness for the summertime and locally grown produce and a great butcher that sells grain fed beef and has great specials. Eating less meat has become more and more important.

Today I need to shop for my veggies and the best place is next to the butcher which makes it a win as far as making the gas money stretch. We are lucky in that we live within 5 minutes of the 4 places we shop (Costco, Johnnies, Old Town Farm Market and Coopers) I also pick up odds and sods for the Shoppers Drug Mart because staples like eggs, milk and butter are cheaper there from time to time, this is where me prescriptions are and they have a points program so my money might as well work twice.

I am currently working eating to the bottom of my freezer. I would like to know what is lurking in the corners, make room for fruit and veggies to be frozen and also prepare freezer special from Johnnies as they will customize the order to reflect our tastes,as it is bulk the price per/lb is cheaper and it saves on running down to there every week or two for meat.

Cheap and healthy is possible but a person has to work at it and be prepared.


Lynnette June 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm

I try to keep our family (2 adults) on a grocery budget of $75 a week buying organic dairy, meats and veggies from the dirty dozen list at Whole Foods, I buy other veggies from the ethnic markets for nearly 1/2 of what I would pay at chain grocery stores other weekly items come from Aldi. Our staples (sugar/nuts/olive oil) all come from Costco and costs us about $100 a month. Its getting harder to keep our budget due to gluten/lactose/soy allergies! We pretty much just eat clean= cooking basic meals meat/beans/veggies/limited dairy, I think our allergies cause us to spend more on basic items than families without those allergies (I paid $5 for a jar of mayo w/o soybean oil), but we also save because we dont try to make up for our inability to eat gluten with lots of expensive GF products. Farmers markets are really hard for us to resist this time of year!


Jane in Seattle June 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I didn’t grow up poor. My mother didn’t believe in junk food of any kind. Pop and chips weren’t on the table. W ate canned goods because fresh vegetables and fruit were too expensive and not readily available.

I feed a family of four on less than 75 dollars a week. I use a combination of fresh foods and low fat meat and some canned things.
I try for the middle of the road. I do go to more than one store with my granddaughter in tow. When my children ( two of them 14 months apart I arranged to leave our children and my SIL children with the fathers and went shopping with my SIL. She only had one car. We always have fresh fruit and veggies in the house. I write my blog to help people like the guy in the article know how to eat somewhat healthy on food stamps. It takes some time, but if you are not working, finding the time should be doable. I did it and worked with three kids and I am not wonder mother! LOL


tna June 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I tried the organic way but it’s just too hard to find where I live and is so much more expensive that it often sits there for a long time and looks awful. I buy my fruits and vegetables mostly at Aldi’s where an avocado is 25 cents and a peach 38 cents, etc. I guess I’ve resigned myself to eat all those chemicals as I know someday I will die no matter what I do. I don’t eat junk food, keep my weight down and exercise so I hope it balances out and I won’t be a big medical drain on society someday.


Trish June 20, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I live in the midwest, with farmland all around, but our farmers markets STINK! The tomatoes obviously aren’t vine ripened (I am a tomato gourmand, I can tell these things), and produce is way expensive. I grow as much stuff as I can because my only shopping option is Walmart (yuck). I mentioned in a previous comment I am hoping to be able to sell garden produce at my gym this summer to help pay gardening expenses – I am going to hold costs low, so others can afford my fresh produce. I can start lots of stuff from seed to transplant for a fall garden – stuff gym types love like kale and chard and cabbage.

I would like to point something out – one way to eat healthy and keep costs down is to eat seasonally. Don’t ever eat tomatoes in winter. they are for summer, as are most berries. Eat apples in fall as they come in to season. Learn to cook winter squash – even my walmart has a local source of winter squash and has it on sale for as low as 40cents / pound. stock up – winter squash will keep until spring. Sweet potatoes go on sale around thanksgiving – stock up, they will keep too. Learn to cook cabbage – it is insanely cheap, and healthy.

The thing about eating seasonally – it’s not just for hippie back to the landers or portlander types who are very food conscious. Food tastes WAY better when it is eaten in season. and by that I mean when it is in season in your hemisphere. No buying fruit raised in Chile in winter. Expensive and bland, and will not be as nutritious. Most stuff (winter squash and sweet potatoes being the exception) starts to lose its nutritive value after being picked.


Katy June 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Thanks for the reminder that I need to buy some tomato plants! There’s just nothing like home grown tomatoes!



greenstrivings June 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I have to say I was shocked when I moved to the Midwest and discovered how expensive (and low quality) produce in general is, even conventional produce at the supermarket, and how outrageous the farmer’s markets are. Finally I realized that all the farmers were growing GMO corn and soy. Yet another reason why I’m glad I don’t live there any more.


Rebecca June 21, 2013 at 4:36 am

I moved from Orange County, California to Ohio, and I was sticker-shocked big time by the difference in fresh produce prices. $20 at a local produce stand could often fill the fridge with fresh produce. $20 at Kroger doesn’t buy much, and the quality is poor. It’s been 15 years, and I still think back to how much cheaper produce was on the west coast.


Whitney June 20, 2013 at 2:14 pm

I buy vegan for my family, even though they don’t all eat that way all the time. I do this for health and ethical reasons, and I find that I come out pretty much even budget wise. I’m not spending a ton on meat, dairy, and eggs, which are all expensive, but I only buy organic and local whenever reasonably possible (I won’t if its drastically more expensive). To me it is worth the investment to have safe, healthy, more environmentally and ethically sound food and to maybe eat a little less, which won’t hurt us. Generally the most expensive things are the snacks, treats, junk food, etc. (at least the organic/vegan ones) so it doesn’t hurt to buy a little less of that and more in-season vegetables and fruits, which are usually on sale. I shop at the farmers market, trader joes, local markets, and whole foods. I only buy soy milk and bread from Safeway. (It’s the only place that sells Dave’s killer bread – Katy I am so jealous that you have an outlet. We are contemplating a move to Portland in the next couple years and that’s just another thing I am looking forward to!)


Adrienne June 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Hey I have curry lime chicken marinating right now. Looks like you got a lot for your money today!


Kaila June 20, 2013 at 3:12 pm

This article made me sad, because it really hit home with who I ‘used’ to be. I could go into Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, wherever and just get what we wanted to eat – and even though I was budget conscious, I always knew that putting quality food on the table was of utmost importance to me and my husband (both brought up in penny-wise households). Now that I am looking at waaaaay too long since my last job, and my husband is on permanent disability, I really have to make our little check go a long way. I would have felt like a kid at Christmas with that $10 off coupon, but honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was able to drop $50 in the grocery store at once. Still have plenty of food, but it’s rice, beans, plain cereal, apples, rinse, repeat. No one’s hungry, thank God, but I wish choices were easier 🙁


Beth B. June 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Grocery shopping takes so much time! I go to TJ’s once a week for milk, eggs, coffee and a few other things I like to get there. Then I hit up New Seasons about once a month for meat & some bulk items. Do most of my shopping at Safeway because it is near my house or Fred Meyer because I like their selection and prices. It mostly depends on what sales they are having that week. I try to stock up whenever there are good deals. It would be really nice to just go to one store though!

I like going to the Farmer’s markets but also think it’s a little too expensive. Sauvie Island, albeit a 20 minute drive, has great deals on produce. My favorite farms are Krugers and the Pumpkin Patch. One can literally fill up there cart for $40-50 and it’s all so fresh. And in the month of November, they have super great deals to get rid of their produce before they close for the season. Great time to buy onions, garlic, pumpkins, squash, etc.

Katy–I’m sure I’m going to bump into you at the grocery story or Goodwill sometime!


Su Mama June 20, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Hey, I was in New Seasons yesterday, and for vine-ripened tomatoes they were charging $7.99 a pound!


Renee June 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I grew up pretty poor and my single, working mother did her best to keep me and my picky but growing-like-a-weed brother fed. Gallons of milk and lots and lots of frozen fried chicken and fish sticks, and oh yes, Kraft macaroni & cheese. I lived on my own senior year of high school and had a friend (who also lived on his own) take me grocery shopping, It was alsways an interesting experience, since everything I bought was yellow-wrap (aka generic) and everything he bought was name brand. And fresh! pasta! with the tubs of sauce! (and me with my store brand spaghetti noodles and jarred spaghetti sauce.) I didn’t really cook so much as re-heat, and I can’t say that my cooking skills have evolved much beyond that. Sauteed or nuked veggies and some form of baked or grilled meat is generally the order of the day. I don’t buy a lot of things I ate as a child because yuck, and also because it just drags me back to that place emotionally. We are now in a very fortunate financial situation, very different from how I grew up, but I do remember vividly needing to know down to the penny what was in the checking account and being astonished by the spending habits of some of my friends in college. (For me scraping up $2.50 a week for a slice of pizza and a coke out was a luxury. ) These days I shop mostly at Trader Joe’s (their organic produce quality and price beats the big stores hands down) and try to buy organic whenever possible, both because I am feeding toddlers and because I want to support the organic food producers and workers. The more people buy, the more farmers will be able to afford to change their practices, the more affordable the food will become for everyone. (That’s the idealized theory in my head, anyways.) BUT, I understand that this way of shopping is a luxury that many people simply cannot afford, and I still won’t shop at Whole Foods because I just can’t justify some of the outrageous prices there in the same way that I can’t justify $200 blue jeans when I can get them on eBay for $30 new with the tags still on.


Bonnie June 20, 2013 at 4:27 pm

This was a really interesting discussion; thank you for that.
I struggle with these questions every single day because we have very little leftover in our budget at this point in our lives (the economy has hit us hard here in Florida). I am a subcontractor at a local Whole Foods who does chair massage there so I am surrounded by their products constantly.
I just cannot for the life of me believe that vegan cheese, with all the chemicals used, is better than dairy cheese with no added anything. Also, some of the non-meat protein sources are just as bad; yes, it has no meat but have you seen the list of chemicals in those things?? Give me a nice piece of grass-fed beef any day.

This was also an interesting discussion because on Sundays I run & manage a local farmers market in our area (the Casselberry Farmers Market in Casselberry, FL). I have allowed both organic and non-organic produce (local and not) into my market. Yes, I have been chastised by the militant that believe there should only be local & organic produce sold at a farmers market. But I also realize that not everyone can afford local and organic items.

I also knew that if a parent has to go to the local grocery store (Publix) after leaving our market because their kids won’t eat anything other than bananas on their cereal, as opposed to whatever fruit is in season, then those parents will probably shop at the grocery store & stop coming to the farmers market for convenience, especially when they have small children.
It’s a balance we have to play around with every single weekend at the market.

I, myself, cannot afford the $4/dozen locally raised eggs from cage free hens at my own market. Luckily, the vendor that brings those beautiful eggs is open to barter so I barter as much as I can. Please keep that mind: most vendors at farmers market will barter with you if you want to swap some beautiful herbs you grew in your garden! Especially, if they have produce/eggs, etc leftover at the end of the day. Start a relationship with the vendors and they will come to know that you grow the best rosemary or tomatoes in town and they can take these items back to their own families at the end of the day.

I am also lucky because living in Florida, most produce is cheaper here than a lot of the country. That said, a LOT of fruits & veggies do not grow here in Florida; this is an incredibly tough climate, especially now in summer time when it gets close to 100 degrees and the humidity is close to 98%. Berry season, you ask? That would be February & March for us; no strawberry shortcake for us on the 4th of July. Citrus, you say? Nope, those beauties are a winter crop; that’s why a lot of people got oranges in their Christmas stockings when I was a kid (I’m in my late 40’s). Summers here become a “wait & see game” just to get to September when we can get some real fruit (apples from Georgia, etc).
So, yes, it is cheaper to eat seasonally. But I admit: during the time of year when I can get next to nothing locally grown, I broke down and bought some bananas and grapes from the local grocery store just to have something, ANYTHING, fresh in my sack lunches.

Do the best you can and give yourself a break. That’s all we can do.


cathy June 20, 2013 at 11:17 pm

I appreciate your comments, especially the encouragement to barter for what you can’t afford.
I know you’re trying to be helpful, however, in the interest of doing the best we can, and giving ourselves a break, I’d ask YOU to not judge those of us who buy things like vegan cheese. Is it as healthy as real cheese? Possibly not. But if it weren’t for vegan cheese, my dairy-allergic kid would have NO cheese. Try soothing a child who can’t ever have grilled cheese or mac ‘n cheese or pizza or a quesadilla because the non-dairy alternative isn’t “healthy enough.” Are those foods essential? No. But it’s hard for kids with food allergies to maintain self-esteem when so often they’re forced to be on the fringes.


Debbie June 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm

The article saddened me; it’s all true.


Heather Mason June 20, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I have 9 children and our food budget for the month is $800. We eat every single meal at home (or food that we have packed from home) and have company a couple times a week. I would love to shop farmers markets, health food stores, and grass-fed beef, but we purchase most of our food from Aldi. We eat LOTS of dried beans, oats, brown rice, eggs, and produce. I limit dairy and meat. We are all trim and healthy. I can’t overthink the origins of the food. I am doing the best I can. We will soon have our own fresh eggs and garden produce, which is a nice thought.


LiveCreateBelieve June 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm

The best thing that helps me cut down costs is making a menu! Each week you can do one or you can make one for the month. I do a weekly menu and shop every week. I go to Sprouts and Whole Foods. I spend maybe $50 a week and that’s only mostly organic food. That feeds myself and my 6 year old. Another trick is to buy in bulk. Look for bulk sale days. You can stock up on bulks items for super cheap. I shop ads too and buy fresh. Sometimes I will alter my menu based on a sale in the store. That also helps keep the costs down. I don’t buy junk, I rarely buy anything processed, I cook almost all our meals myself, and I stick with only buying what I need on the menu. Occasionally we divert a little, like getting a melon on sale that just sounds so good. Costco now carries a lot of organic foods as well and they have pretty good prices.

Thanks for posting this! Too many people think it is too expensive to eat healthy.


Denise June 20, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I too try and strike a happy medium. Cook most things from scratch, eat from our garden, raise our own chickens, pigs and beef.
One thing no one has mentioned here is the U-Pick option. Often you can get great produce for a great price by picking it yourself.


Suzanne P. June 20, 2013 at 8:09 pm

I hear ya! I recently became a stay at home mom and now we are on a tight budget. I’d love to buy organic/farm stand everything but we simply can’t afford it. We have a garden and grow some of our own vegetables and we planted an apple tree this year. However most of our food comes from Winco and that store hardly has any organic fruits and vegetables (at least mine doesn’t). So a lot of what we eat isn’t organic, but most of what we eat is healthy and made from scratch.


cathy June 20, 2013 at 8:56 pm

This is my current big challenge. Our household income is about to go way down, so I have to find a way to cut our food budget. We, too, have food allergies in our family. This means that if we eat pasta, we’re paying $3.59/lb for rice pasta (that’s the price even with getting a case discount). We plan to continue buying organic produce and dairy, and grass-fed beef. I can’t usually buy from the bulk bins because of the risk of cross-contamination, but I do buy cases of things when they go on super sale. When I look at my receipts it seems the grocery expense goes up when I buy for convenience (packaged /prepared food), buy full price because I ran out before a good sale, or buy things like paper products. I’m trying to eliminate those things, hang onto organic/local, and increase the size of my own garden. I second those people who say grow you own herbs. Easy and cheap! Plus, you can extend the life of your herbs by drying them or making things like pesto (which freezes really well).


Lacy Cooper June 20, 2013 at 9:51 pm

I honestly think that you pay one way or another if not for your food then for your health care…and this is coming from someone who grew up poor. I still cannot afford New Season prices though I joined a local buying club and using my time and some extra effort can get organic, mostly locally produced food for the same price if not cheaper then the non-organic big box prices…I also am a part of an awesome community and instead of going up and down the rows at the supermarket I go to a local church once every other week and get with my neighbors and their kids and we split our order. I think sometimes you have to be creative and it can be tough and I do not judge others because honestly I have the luxury of having some time and a home where I can store bulk goods. I also had enough funds to buy a pressure canner (soo much cheaper/easier then cans of beans/tuna/etc!) even though it has paid for itself. I highly recommend you look into food buying clubs..they are a great alternative to stores AND you can cut down on packaging!


Bauunny June 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm

I totally agree with your first sentence. I still remember a relative telling me that a small box of fresh berries was too expensive, the proceeding to buy a bag of candy. Berries are expensive mostly but far more healthy than candy. We have a garden in the summer and a few chickens so we have wonderful eggs. We purchased a 4H steer at the county fair 2 years ago that we are still working through (next time we will go in with someone). It wasn’t cheap, but we felt good about supporting our local ag community and that the quality of the meat was excellent and organic.


Nic Dempsey June 21, 2013 at 2:23 am

I don’t eat much processed food, but I don’t eat organic because I can’t afford it but I do try and buy British produce (where I am), I try and make sure that any meat I buy is ethically reared and British and I buy it from my local butchers not a supermarket and as a result am pretty much a vegetarian. GMO isn’t such a big deal here (cause most of it is banned). Food has got really expensive, I used to budget £15 ($23) and now it’s £20 ($30) and I’ve mostly spent that once I’ve bought fruit and veg. I’m doing alright and I’m lucky because I’m just feeding me but it is work. I also have a well equipped kitchen and can cook. This is the best article I’ve seen on food poverty issues recently and I think it’s always worth bearing in mind when I get judgey about other people’s diets.


Pat June 21, 2013 at 3:00 am

This article really struck a cord with me since I really did grow up poor in the 60’s (though not that we knew until we were older).
Yes I had a stay-at-home mom who made us homemade noodles twice a week (took about 15 minutes in the morning for her to whip the flour/egg/water mixture together). Yes we had a garden where we got most of our vegetables. And yes, luckily, we lived near about 200 acres of somebody’s woods where my brothers would get squirrel or rabbit for our meat days. My father also went fishing every weekend that he could for fresh fish to feed his family of 10 kids. Yes there was 12 of us around the dinner table on a regular night, sometimes more if we had friends over. My father worked in a factory and made a decent wage. We lived in an unassuming house and played outside all day, came home to eat and then went back outside. We were clean, well fed, and loved. That is what kids need. My mother canned food, I swear; all year long to keep us fed. She made our clothing and did laundry in the basement in an ancient ringer/washer that got our cloths truly clean. Hung the laundry outside in summer, in the basement in winter. Made her own pickles, sauerkraut (god did that stink) hot peppers. That is just how things were done. You made do. You didn’t buy canned shit from the store. THAT was too expensive. And we weren’t the only ones living this way, all our friends families did this too. It was the accepted way people grew up and I’m thankful for it. I learned how to be frugal before it was a fad. My mom’s noodles are still the best I have ever eaten. And canned peaches – only ate them at school because that is what THEY fed us. I ate enough of them at school that I can’t even look at them to this day. But our home grown pear compote that mom canned and put over toasted oatmeal – yum.
I think what is wrong with the article is that these people made poor choices. They chose the “easy route” in purchasing canned because they did not want to do for themselves. Or they never learned to do for themselves. But it still can be done. A bag of flour and some eggs is still cheaper than buying store noodles, and you can get ALOT of noodles from a bag of flour. Homemade mac & cheese, sure is a bit different than the crap in a box, but fix it more than once and your kids will PREFER it in no time. They will want it and not the overprocessed stuff that “easy route” people choose at the grocery store. I have always maintained that life is what you choose and this article certainly supports that. Choose to do for yourself.


dusty June 21, 2013 at 3:16 am

let’s see work a 9 to 5 job and go home and make homemade noodles? Yeah, right. If women stayed home then you would see this kind of cooking but women work and then after school activities and then the weekends are jammed full. As wonderful as the world would be if we could all eat food that we grew and prepared from scratch it’s just not feasible.


Rubymay1029 June 21, 2013 at 4:06 am

I grew up with a stay home mom who cooked from scratch. I am a work outside full time mom on a tight food budget, I buy locally, humanely raised meat and cook from scratch. It takes a little bit of planning, but I can get dinner on the table on most days quicker and cheaper than I could go to the drive through. Life is all about choices. When I do go the less healthy, more convenient route, it is always a conscious decision, which makes those times few and far between. As for homemade noodles, I make them on the weekend when I have more time, always make a double batch, and freeze half for later.


dusty June 21, 2013 at 5:07 am

The people that I’m referring to here are my coworkers, all nurses. They work long hours and the majority of them very rarely cook and certainly not from scratch. We talk about it and they say they’re just too busy so maybe it’s all in how you choose to spend your time. They said they would rather go out with friends or their children or their spouses rather than cooking on the weekends. I grew up in the 60s and my mom worked and everything came from a can or pkg. She never made anything fresh but I think she was overwhelmed from working and then again wanted to spend her time doing other things. I’m a vegan and I pretty much make everything from scratch but it’s not for everyone. I think we should just try to do the best we can and try to eat as healthy as possible. I think people spend way too much time in fast food restaurants but again I have lots of time and being a vegan, wouldn’t go near a fast food place.


Mary June 21, 2013 at 5:38 am

I think men should stay home and cook for a change


chicknlil June 28, 2013 at 5:31 am

exactly! you eat, therefore you cook.


JaneUlness June 21, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Amen. You make really good points.


Mimi June 21, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Your comment painted such a lovely picture of a family, and i really enjoyed reading it! i believe that there is a difference between being poor and not knowing it (as you described) and the situation that the author is talking about. The article points out that for people who are poor (and do know it), there are some residual habits to be on the lookout for.

You sound like you are very proud of your parents, and for good reason! My takeaway is that you recommend learning skills and working hard. Great ideas, and it occurs to me that the author of that article was coming from a different place since it sounds like he grew up in a very different situation, where his folks didn’t have the kinds of skills or social surroundings that your family – which sounds absolutely lovely, by the way – had the benefit of. Not to say there wasn’t struggle, because clearly there was! But I’d like to point a couple of things out as another perspective that may be interesting for you. For reference, I’m a foster parent, in addition to someone who has some experience with living as and around people who don’t have a lot of money and in poverty. I’m not sure that sentence is grammatical, but hope it at least gives the idea.

I kind of think that there’s the difference between not having money and being in poverty. Anyone can be out of money, but poverty is a social situation on top of not having money – it’s something that grinds you down.

In my experience, when you grow up in poverty – as opposed to just not having money – and then make the financial climb out of it, you have to learn a lot of things that other people take for granted. Not just how to make noodles or can compote, but how to keep and use a kitchen and how to experiment with cooking. Not just how to shop the sales, but how to store things in an orderly way that ensures they gets used instead of tossed out because its too old. Stuff that seems so basic, until you have to teach a 17 year old how and why to do them!

So, for me, the issue seems more complicated than the way I understood your comment to present things, and this is my perspective, which I hope you find interesting.


Diane June 21, 2013 at 3:48 am

I buy only real food and not much of it. My budget is extremely small so that only basic staples, fresh produce, chicken and fish make it into my grocery cart. Today I want more so I have ciabatta bread baking, banana oatmeal muffins and granola soon to make…all from basic staples in my pantry.


JaneUlness June 21, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Amen. You make really good points.


chicknlil June 21, 2013 at 6:14 am

I haven’t read the article yet, but I will. I just had to chime in.
I grew up poor during the Farm Crisis. My Dad farmed and my Mom worked at home. We raised our pork and beef and as a treat occasionally bought a chicken. We ate southern, soul food style. My Mom sewed our clothes or bought them from the overstock catalog. We had a garden and canned. One year it didn’t rain. Our corn failed, so Dad picked what was left and Mom canned it. THAT’S CORRECT! We ate field corn, animal feed. Dad cut wood 11 months a year to heat our home, hauled water from town because we weren’t on the water main, and Mom cooked whatever we ate. A soda was a treat, that we kids split 3 ways. We were always well fed. We always had milk. We were loved. We were taught to work hard. We didn’t have air conditioning or cable, we didn’t go to town except to buy groceries or church, we drove an old car/farm truck. My grandparents lived across the road and my Paw-paw farmed with my Dad. I had the very best childhood anyone could ask for. I realize that those days are gone and that’s it’s different when kids start school.

Now, I work 60 plus hours per week. My husband and I take turns cooking. I have a small garden. I raise all of our meat. What passes for meat at the store has no place in my home. It’s like Joel Salatin says, good food is expensive, “But have you priced cancer?”

Farmers always need help. If you’re willing to work, they are happy to pay you with produce or meat or milk. I pay $7/gallon for organic, raw milk. It has enough cream to make 1/4 pound of butter, which I do. I also make my own yogurt (in the crock pot). I bought my brother and sil a milk subscription for Christmas. I want their growing kids to have decent food. Organic eggs are $4/doz. Where else are you going to get 6 servings of protein for $4? I trade my meat for local cheese or bread.
My advice to my customers is
1. get a deep freeze and eat the whole animal. That’s the cheapest way to buy, whole hog, half beef, 25 chickens…
2. join a csa (community supported agriculture) for your fruits and veggies. it’s a great bargin
3. The crock pot is your friend.

I price my meats so that working people can afford them. However, I have to make a living wage as well. (It takes 2 years to raise a steer!)Our farmers market is competitive with our small town grocer. It may not be that way were you live. I can tell you that slaughter plants, meat glue, gmo’s, and ddt (which other countries still use) are scary stuff and I’m not willing to eat it. I am much less concerned about the paper I flush down the toilet compared to the acres and acres of pesticides and hormones and antibiotics that are used in conventional agriculture. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but food choices matter and you vote with your wallets. Everyone pays for cheap food, the workers, the animals, and especially the environment. You should have seen the runoff this spring. The creeks and rivers were brown with soil and fertilizer, it makes me sad. The fields were cut with ditches from erosion. It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m sorry if I’ve gone on too long. It’s just that I work very hard to feed people food I’m proud of. I’m also proud of my little farm and how I’ve improved it.


JD June 21, 2013 at 6:29 am

We have a garden, but we are limited on what we can grow — the soil here is very poor, and it will take years of composting and working to improve it. Still we are lucky to have a garden (before, we grew in containers, but buying good soil to fill large containers is not cheap either) and we eat from the garden as long as we can. I bought a water bath canner and pressure canner many years ago, and still use both each summer to put up our extra produce. It’s hard work, after working all day, but eating healthy food is very important to us. As often as I can, I buy grass-fed meat and free-range pork and poultry, and include as many organic staples as I can afford. Our food bill is still definitely higher (except when the garden is in) than it would be if I ate the ordinary shipped-from-who-knows-where-or-how-long-ago produce, chemically treated grains and factory farm, grain-fed meats.


Kira June 21, 2013 at 6:41 am

I teach school and have 2 boys in college. There are a lot of community scholarships available. I have found that most kids are too lazy or intimidated to try for a scholarship that requires writing an essay. Very few kids bother, so your son has pretty good odds in winning. Even if it is only for $250 that is still pretty good since it only takes an hour or so to write a page or two. Not many summer minimum wage jobs pay $250 an hour. Give it a try. My son won $750 from the Knights of Columbus and $500 from the Rotary. The Rotary gave out 4 scholarships and if I remember right, only 8 or 10 wrote the essays. My son also got a $1000 from a retired teacher. He got a 4.0 (she found out because she gave $500 first semester and $500 second semester) and she promised him another $500 going into his sophomore year. It is especially important to send a hand written thank you to people in the community if you are awarded money. Just my two cents. Send your son down to the guidance counselor in Sept or Oct for a booklet with all the community scholarships available and make it a part time job to apply for every single one he qualifies for.


Elizabeth June 21, 2013 at 7:43 am

“Poor” describes so many kinds of lives. There are people who grow up poor in circumstances where growing/canning food, sewing clothes and line drying them are money-saving options. Then there are people–large numbers of people, including (I happen to know) the author of this article–who live poor in cities. Those things, as well as other money-saving strategies are not possible. They can’t buy in bulk or choose non-processed foods because the only stores available to them are convenience stores or bodegas. Growing food when you live in a housing project isn’t realistic. Even if you did have use of an outdoor space for a garden, neither you, anyone in your family, anyone you know, nor anyone you’ve ever *heard of* knows how to garden or can. Just as people who grow and can food have had generations of people behind them to teach those skills, poor folks in cities usually have generations of people behind them who have lived the same lives. Line-drying clothing? It’s unlikely you have a balcony. Try using thefire escape or outdoor space outside your building and you risk having your clothes stolen. And line drying indoors is more than a challenge when you share a one-bedroom with a lot of people.

Being poor in a city means that when you do get a windfall, there are a host of family members asking you to loan them money–and to refuse means that you lose the same help when you need it. This is why people tend to spend their money immediately. People with higher-paying jobs often have to cut off their extended families if they want to raise their standards of living. Being poor in a city means that not only do you not have a car to conserve gas in or drive to places where goods are cheaper, no one you know has a car. There are no libraries. Public transportation might be an option if you ever have the small amount of cash to take it and if taking it in your neighborhood does not involve a real risk to your personal safety.

I cannot help bristling at the notion that people with such lives are making “poor choices” when there simply ARE no choices. That skills that could help aren’t available because no one has them.
I did not grow up like this (I lived in a trailer-park in Kentucky, which is a different poor), but I have worked with families in these circumstances. Their problems are systemic, and for people in other circumstances–people with access to computers who self-select as having an interest in frugality and being aware of the concept–blame individual poor people strikes me as mean-spirited–or at least very naive.

If you have an interest in learning what the lives I’m talking about are like, I heartily recommend Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Not only is it the best book I’ve ever found on the subject, it’s one of the best books I have ever read. And it’s in the library. 🙂


Danette Ramirez June 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Elizabeth, thank you for understanding that there is a big difference between poor in the city and poor in any place where you have even the slightest bit of room. I tried emphasizing that point on the FB post and it just got no where. A lot of people acting as though canning and home growing were options for all. I did not grow up knowing how to can. I still don’t know. I find it amazing the assumptions of people that the type of poor this guy is describing is somehow due to his poor food choices. Those were his only food choices. I was raised by a single working under-educated mother, I can look back now and say, man we ate some junk, but now with my own kids and husband I have to wonder how in the world she did it all and still read to us every day. No tv. Something had to give. That something was food. My mom still eats junk and is still in this cycle even though her children have long left her home. She likes to send me and my kids gifts and then complains about not having gas money. So I give her gas money and if I give her any extra, instead of saving it for the next time she needs gas, she buys me some piece of junk that I neither want nor need and certainly would not have bought had I kept the money to myself. But still, it continues.
I am going to read the book you mention. Thanks!


Danette Ramirez June 21, 2013 at 8:27 am

I am amazed at how much more accepting the responses on this blog post were versus the FB post. I followed your blog first and have recently started on FB. I was kind of amazed by how quick people were to attack this guy for the way he was raised. You can’t change the way you were raised and sometimes it takes a while to figure out what was wrong with the way you were raised to even know how to fix it. That’s what I got from the article and that is totally where I am today. I check my bank account several times daily but I consider myself to have chilled out some because I don’t have the balance memorized. We need a new roof though, so it’s coming pretty close to time to start memorizing that number again.
I dd appreciate you pointing out that this was an urban person’s life. Not having access to fresh produce or any know how as fas as canning or even freezing is important to understanding that his family did not know, therefore he was not taught. He might know now, but that doesn’t change then.
Anyway, I don’t know why this conversation seemed to be in attack mode on FB, but I did enjoy the comments here even if the experiences were different.


Annie June 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

While growing up our family food budget was very tight for five people. My mom made her own bread and we grew some vegetables and fruit. They also invested in a freezer and bought stuff on sale for later use. We ate much less meat and processed food than most other people I knew. Mom and Dad stretched the food budget by making lots of soups and stews. One recipe my Dad often made that I still love to this day is creamed tuna. He would make a white sauce and add two cans of tuna, dry sherry, and peas and serve it over homemade biscuits. I know it sounds weird, but it’s really good and a total comfort food thing for me.


John Benton June 21, 2013 at 11:15 am

Two years ago our financial situation changed. Before we used to purchase any fresh food we liked at Zupan’s and Whole Foods. We now mostly shop at Fred Meyer’s as they are the closest store to our home. We purchase fresh vegetables, but also frozen vegetables because many times they are on sale for $.88 a bag. We purchase a lot of Fred Meyer or Kroger generic items, bread for $.88 a loaf, a large jar of peanut butter for $3.99 which is about half the price of the name brands. My wife bakes a lot of peanut butter cookies. We used to purchase bulk coffee beans for seven to nine dollars a lb. and grind them at the store. We now buy Fred Meyer generic canned reground coffee at half the price and haven’t noticed the difference in taste at all. Our latest find thanks to some other customer’s recommendation was Fred Meyer’s brand of microwave popcorn which is half the price of Orville Redenbacher and actually tastes better. We purchase the most inexpensive cuts of beef and grind it for meatloaf, chili, hamburger patties and spaghetti. Chicken is on sale often, when it is we buy several and freeze them. We like fresh fish, and Fred Meyer often has Red Rock Cod on sale for $4.99 a pound. A half a pound is enough for two. Canned soups are often on sale and we buy them when they are. My wife won’t compromise on Mayonnaise and will only buy Best Foods. It too is on sale occasionally and we stock up. There are many staples and condiments that also come in generic form as ketchup, mustard and pickle relish. These are usually priced 30% less than the name brands. We also use coupons. Another large expense are things like pain killers, ant-acids, shampoo and cold remedies. The generic ones cost 30 to 50 percent less. On occasion we go to Safeway which regularly sells a wonderful pork loin for $2.99 a lb. This cut runs about $12 total and will provide a pork roast dinner for six and still have enough left for several cold pork sandwiches. We managed to cut our food budget in half. Another bonus shopping at Fred Meyer is that for every hundred dollars you spend there during a month they give you a dime off their gasoline which already is very competitively priced.


Taylor-Made Ranch June 21, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I really feel like families go through evolutions of sorts. A family with toddlers are going to have very different needs both in groceries as well as time than say a family with teens. Like you I try not to over think things. I gravitate toward the healthier foods in their least processed forms but I don’t fret too much about organic vs natural vs whatever else. I have found though that my veggie garden is therapeutic for me with both healthy exercise and organic veggies right outside my door. You mentioned garlic, I’m harvesting garlic now (and preserving it for winter use) It’s one of the easiest to grow for me and we use it alot in our cooking. And I feel really good that I know where it came from. Not everyone has time or space to garden, but for me it’s wonderful!

~Taylor-Made Ranch~
Wolfe City, Texas


Lindsey June 21, 2013 at 1:28 pm

I work fulltime. I also manage to make yogurt, our bread, grow and garden and can/dehydrate/freeze the excess. The biggest difference I see with friends who don’t do this stuff is we don’t have a television; we don’t go to the gym during the summer because we get lots of exercise gardening. It sounds harsh, I am sure, but you make time for what is important to you. For me and for my husband, who is the one who comes home from a full day’s work and spends nearly two hours every day weeding, watering, staking and so on as his contribution, food sustainability is important.


Danette Ramirez June 21, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I don’t think that is what the problem was. I grew up raised by a single working mother and she did not allow us to watch tv.
To even suggest that the reason we were poor and eating crap was because we weren’t spending our time wisely is offensive at best.
A gym membership? Are you kidding me? I’d never even heard of a gym membership. You are online! We didn’t even have access to a decent library. My town was recently voted as one the the most illiterate cities in America, that is now. It was worse when i was growing up! I think my mom did what she could with the cards she was dealt, but the reality is she was raised by a single mother as well and some things were just never taught, never learned. Please understand that the original article is obviously not talking about where you are coming from.


Lindsey June 21, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Where I am coming from is a family so poor we ate hamburger one night and the grease from it the next night on bread. Where I am coming from is my parents eating every other day some weeks, so the kids could eat, or having salads made of weeds from the public park lawn because they had been so poor in their former country that they learned which weeds they could eat. Where I am coming from is where both parents did not speak English and lived in crappy places and took care of Grandma while they were at it. Where I am coming from is my father working as a brick layer and my mother as a housekeeper and still finding time to sit with us at night and learn the English we had been taught that day in school, so they could learn to speak English, too. Where I am coming from is wearing the shoes of a man my mother cleaned for because he had small feet and that way I would at least have some shoes (which she rescued from his trash). I grew up the real poor, not the American version that most people who say they are poor do, and still they managed to go to school meetings and teach us the value of education and save at least a dollar every single week in order to eventually buy a house.


Danette Ramirez June 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm

So can you understand then that your original comment was not coming from the perspective you just mentioned, but of someone who has had the luxury of creating a totally different life from whence they came?


Lindsey June 21, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Not the luxury of creating a new life, made the effort and did the hard work of creating the life I wanted. I was blessed with parents who felt it was their job to put you on their shoulders and hoist you out of poverty—if it had not been for them, who knows. But I also think it was living in the U.S., where there were the opportunities available that are not available at all or at least not to women in other places.

daedrya June 21, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I read the article in Cracked and I can see the point. When you’re poor, food is sustenance, not a moral or ethical issue. A lot of people here have mentioned how expensive some of these farmer’s markets can be and I can agree with that. For some it’s just not practical to bake your own bread, make noodles or whatever. So you do the best you can. I shop at aldi for most of the basics, sometimes Target. We eat fresh ( or frozen) veggies , very little microwave stuff, and a lot of chicken. I’ve also used food stamps, which worked out well. I’m no history major, but I do wonder if we’re living in the only time and country in history where too much food is a problem . This seems to have led to an odd form of “food snobbery”. Not just the gourmets but the home grown vs processed etc. We have a small garden, it’s fun and we love the fresh tomatoes but I would never want to rely on it to survive. At any rate , this is an interesting discussion.


emmer June 21, 2013 at 4:10 pm

I choose to spend more on food and less on some other things, as I think food is my most important expenditure. for example, I sew and repair much or our clothing and household goods, in part to save $$$. our entertainment budget is mostly the library alternating with PBS and Turner Classic Movies. Dinner out has become dinner in with friends invited.
To stretch the food dollars, I consider fats and oils first, as these tend to be carriers for nasty chemicals. So those are organic, and as near local as I can make them. Our fruits and vegetables are mostly farmer’s market and we freeze or can surplus to make the “season” last longer. We also keep a small community garden plot and a tiny garden behind our townhouse. We buy 25 or 50 pound bags of rolled oats, (real) brown sugar, brown basmati rice, various beans, etc from a bulk foods co-op. We have noticed that certain foods seem to be on sale seasonally, like late winter for Cheerios, so we buy a year’s supply and use coupons at that time. It helps to figure out such things by keeping a purchase journal for a year. And we actually cook–one of my children correctly claimed there was little food (ready to eat) in our frig. Rather there were ingredients to make food–whole grain flours in gallon jars, yeast, nuts, etc to retard oxidation; cooked rice and beans in separate mason jars; chopped onions; a jar collecting broth from veggies as soup starter. It all helps bring down the price of good quality meals.
but, if we are to regularly have high quality foods, we must expect to spend more than we do for industrial mac and cheese in a blue box.


John Benton June 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I don’t mean any offense, but year old Cheerios would be a little stale, wouldn’t they?


Mindy June 21, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I think our family eats extremely healthy. But there’s no way in hell I can afford to buy organic produce unless it’s on sale for the same price as conventional. Whole Foods and New Season’s are a pipe dream. We shop our neighborhood farmer’s market every Sunday in the summer and blow at least $40 bucks – there are a ton of families that think that’s a pipe dream. Which is horribly sad.


DShelton June 21, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Provocative review tonight of Goodwill and execs’ HUGE salaries…wow!
Also disabled employees paid $2/Hr??!!


Kaila June 21, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Such an amazing discussion here – Katy, thank you for your best post ever! I would just like to add something I kindly told a friend who was getting a little over-the-top with his food/grocery ‘snobbery’ one day….”There are over a million people who would love to eat from my trash can tonight, and as long as hunger is going on in this world, I will remember to be incredibly thankful that I can even make a food choice, whatever it is.”


John Benton June 21, 2013 at 7:46 pm

What a wonderful post.


Practical Parsimony June 21, 2013 at 9:28 pm

I cringe when I buy a tomato from anywhere since I don’t know what or how much pesticide went onto the plant. I now have three squash plants, 12 tomato plants, a stevia plant. That’s not much, but I am lucky to get all this planted and harvested. The squash plants were given to me. The 12 tomato plants were $1, not apiece, but for all. The stevia was $5. I pick fruit from my yard, made red clover jelly, ate turnips greens I grew and dandelion greens from my no pesticide yard. Two hens provide me with eggs and enough to freeze for this winter. In no way am I feeding myself. I eat fresh fruit from the grocery store.

However, I do keep canned peaches and jars of applesauce, jars of spaghetti sauce, and other canned or jarred items.

Since I found out that organic eggs, free range eggs, and other terms do not mean what we think, I lost all confidence in the “organic” labels on anything. My 2 hens are antibiotic-free, vaccine-free, and do free range in the yard. The dozen eggs they give me each week are maximized. I freeze two beaten eggs in 4 oz Ball jars for the winter months when I get an egg each week if I am lucky. My goal is 36 little jars for the winter.

All the people at the farmer’s market use pesticides freely and poo poo any talk of pesticide free, so I have lost confidence in buying good food there! I make a brew in my blender that is a good pesticide that is actually edible.

Looking at your sugar purchase made me wonder if it were on sale. I found a sale for 4 lbs of cane sugar for $1.99, used a $.50 coupon doubled and got the sugar for $.99+tax. I managed to use 9 coupons for 36 lbs of sugar, a life-time supply possibly and cheaper than in bulk or wholesale. I don’t bake as much or sugar my tea, so it will be shared with my daughter who uses little sugar.

By finding good sales and using coupons, I have the money to buy expensive cherries, and such. I paid $3 for less than one cup of blackberries! But, most of my food is on sale or free. I save where I can to buy what I reallyreallyreally want like cherries and blackberries.

I buy bread from the Thrift Bread Store. My bread is whole wheat, hfcs free, preservative free, and usually costs $3.89 even at Walmart. I pay $.99 for bread that is three days in date. I get a punch each time I buy $7 worth of bread. I do buy that much and put two loaves in a 2 gallon Ziploc bag in the freezer. This past week, I finished a punch card and got whole wheat hamburger buns, whole wheat hot dog buns, and four loaves of bread for my free bread purchase. All but one loaf is in the freezer.

My $49 in food stamps is a help, but I do try to maximize my assets, one of which is the food stamps. I eat better than most people because I care and pay attention.


Katy June 21, 2013 at 9:44 pm

The sugar was on sale, plus I used a couple and doubled it!



Rachel Gillespie June 22, 2013 at 12:31 am

My rules of thumb can save money but don’t always. Since our family philosophy is do have as small an impact on the environment and as big a positive impact on humanity, the cheapest option is not always the best for us, taking into consideration where we live etc.
I don’t usually buy organic veggies because that really is out of my price range but we are slowly converting our yard into a productive one which is organic.
As far as staples go, I’ve found that the less processed an item is, the more likely it is to have been produced both locally and ethically. We try not to buy processed food.
I try to get as much as possible from local independent shops to avoid driving all over the place.
Interestingly, our weekly expenditure has changed very little since we changed our habits. I didn’t think we were buying a lot of processed food before the change of lifestyle but now I think we must have been.
We’re not rich; we get by on one salary. I’m happy to be in a financial position, however, to do what we believe is the right thing for us to do.


Laure June 22, 2013 at 8:20 am

The Cracked article brought me back to my childhood…we lived among people who ate like that, but my parents deemed it “too expensive” to buy such food, plus my mom was ahead of her time in wanting to avoid unhealthy food and refined sugar. Here is what we ate, nearly every day. It was cheaper than tv dinners or Kraft mac & cheese (which I would have loved to eat, having tasted it at a friend’s house). We ate:
breakfast: oatmeal made with oats & water, sometimes plain, sometimes with cinnamon to sprinkle on top — a whole grain, no sugar, super cheap. Sometimes we had cooked hot brown rice with milk and cinnamon (also no sugar, also a whole grain, very filling).
lunch: peanut butter & honey sandwich on whole wheat bread — here is where we got the majority of our protein. We usually had an apple, as well. As an adult, I learned that the reason our childhood apples were all mealy is because my parents monthly bought a big bag of baking apples, but we ate them raw…kept in the fridge, but still got mealy
dinner: lots of potatoes. Potatoes (in the Midwest, at least) are the cheapest food per pound, even cheaper than beans. We had mashed potatoes made with nothing other than potatoes and hot water mashed in (Hot water was reserved from the water used to boil the potatoes which supposedly has some of the potato vitamins in it). No butter, salt, milk, etc. With the potatoes, we ate lots of cabbage or saurkraut (high in vitamin C, and others nutrients, and cheap). Spices are expensive — we didn’t have spices. We drank milk every day at dinner. We had lots of cooked vegetables (from frozen bags) every night as well, also without any butter or spices. We had other similarly cheap meals — stuffed cabbage, made with cabbage, a little ground beef, lots of brown rice, and onion, etc.
In winter, some local school had a fundraiser every year selling cases of oranges and grapefruits directly from the seller. You could buy a whole case for the cost of a single bag of fruit in the grocery store. We bought 1 case of each every year, and they lasted all winter. We bought them because they were cheaper than the grocery store, but they probably were also fresher/healthier.
My mom also joined a local co-op, which purchased food directly from a grocery supplier. A semi-truck came once/month (or maybe once every 2 months?) to a church basement. The church let them use the space for free. The co-op members would unload the whole truck, and then divide up everything (Cheese came in 10 lbs blocks, for example, and they’d slice into the portions each family ordered). She joined this co-op because it was even cheaper than going to the very cheapest grocery store. However, it was also healthy food only — dried beans, bunches of kale, etc. We’d freeze everything (cheese, kale, oats, etc). It wasn’t a big outlay of $ because you could buy as small of portions as you wanted — i.e. just what you’d buy at the grocery store, but for less $.
None of us was overweight. It was healthy, and cheaper than frozen dinners. With a big family, even $1 per frozen dinner would have been cost prohibitive.
That said, I knew my friends got to have mac & cheese and canned fruit, and was jealous. My friends thought our food was weird, but after reading the article perhaps our house showed them that there is another way to do it. Our food was bland and not enticing, which I guess made us eat just until we were full, never tempted to overeat. As an adult, I revel in being able to buy and eat as many fresh strawberries or blueberries as I want (only in season, I still won’t pay out of season prices). My childhood food wasn’t delicious, but it was healthy and cheaper than eating canned/processed food, it was super quick for my mom to make (even 8 year olds took turns making the breakfast oatmeal for everyone) and laid a foundation for knowing to eat healthy food. Gosh, I love being able to afford to buy spices, though!
(One note from the article — not sure how/why food would be freezer burned after 2 weeks? We kept a lot of food in the freezer for months, which can be done if wrapped properly. Our wrapping was re-used aluminum foil and saved bread bags…)


cathy June 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Thank you for your comment. Although we can read about food deserts, and know that there are many urban neighborhoods where the only grocery shopping choice is a convenience store, I also think there are many stories of people finding a way to eat healthier even when there is very little money for food.
The humorous tone of the Cracked article often made it hard for me to find where the author was relating things that actually were true with what he had embellished for the sake of humor. There was also at least one person who posted a comment on this site who seemed to feel that anyone who ate healthfully was just privileged and didn’t get it. I think your comment shows otherwise.
I’d also add that there are a lot of us, today, who are better off than your family was when you were a child, but who eat much the same way (plus the herbs and spices!). That’s one of the key things that helps us survive, even with few resources.


Starr June 22, 2013 at 9:19 am

We love our farmers’ market and are blessed to have many, many choices here in Kansas City. We’re in the middle of farmland bounty. Our big city market has both local and wholesale produce, so all price points are available.

We spend a lot on food. 17.5% of our net income. We’re low income, though, so that’s one reason for the large percentage. I have food intolerances, and both my husband and I have weight problems kept in check by meat and vegetables (with limited cheap carbohydrates). We make up for the spending by having a miniscule clothing budget and living modestly in every other aspect of our lives. It’s worth it to us, in part for our health, but also because we really love good eating.


AMarie June 22, 2013 at 1:18 pm

I think that the fact that your husband is willing to make concessions has been a saving grace of your meals and perhaps marriage. My husband is a firefighter/EMT in a large city and works 52 hour weeks. Quality meat, and a lot of it has NEVER been up for discussion. #1 life it to short to cut corners to save a few bucks, #2 my husband does not eat legumes/dried beans etc., #3 going out for a good meal/date is a cherished part of our marriage, #4 if we were so inclined to have to cut back then expectation would be that I work full time instead of saving here and there via home-projects and food that he would feel “cheated” by. I am not trying to judge your choices or the choices of your family, I just am trying to make a point that marriage means that what works for one person does not always work for another. BTW, I don’t eat meat and could survive on quinoa alone…


Danette Ramirez June 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm

I absolutely think there is a very big difference between what you can buy at a grocery store and what is even available at a convenience store. I recently went to my local convenience store and the 4lb bag of sugar was $7.99, way more I’m sure than what Katy paid with a coupon at a real grocery store. That will certainly not help a dollar stretch.


Krista June 23, 2013 at 6:29 pm

I grew up very poor – lived in the projects for while – and I have to say that I agree with everything in the article. To this day (almost 24 years after I moved out) if I see a utility company truck on my street, the first thing that pops in to my head is “Did I pay the bill?”

As for food, just this evening at the dinner table my husband (also grew up poor) asked our kids (21, 19 and 18) what foods reminded them of their childhood. Their answers were all fresh vegetable dishes. My husband and I? His was tuna noodle casserole (canned cream of mushroom, of course) and mine was “Garbage” which is a dish that a family friend made with the food that she got from a food bank (boxed mac & cheese, can of tuna, cream of mushroom soup and a can of peas) that when she served it to her kids they asked “What’s this garbage?”

I have the issue of food hording. I buy so much food that every few months I will stop buying it because the freezers are full and the pantry shelves (a giant wire restaurant shelf in the laundry room) are overflowing and we eat from them until it is gone and we start the process over. I’m not sure that I will ever be able to not have a stockpile of food. I also don’t know if I will ever be able to buy food without guilt.


carol June 25, 2013 at 7:52 am

As the oldest of 5 kids, I grew up poor financially, but we always had good food. Dad had a garden, and mom canned a lot and shopped specials. As Dad climbed the ladder of success, Mom was relieved to no longer have to can produce, although Dad always kept a garden. As a retired person on a fixed income, I spend a large percentage of my income on food, but also maintain a vegetable garden like my dad. I choose to shop mostly at my local food coop and local farmer’s market. Of course, I stray from time to time and walk those fake barn wood floors, too. I understand that it is important to figure out what you can afford. I am not judging. But I do want to put forth the idea that in buying local and/or organic, one is supporting small farmers, who care about what they do, their land and the people they employ. I just hate supporting the larger, commercial food industry, which in turn supports mistreatment of farm workers, much like buying cheap products made by workers in China, supports their low wages and poor working conditions. And then there is the harm that is done to the land to earn big profits. On a lighter note, I appreciate your candor and your willingness to share your lifestyle choices so authentically. You keep us all thinking and motivated. Thanks!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: