This year long series is designed to give one simple tip each week on how to save money when eating a healthy diet (you see the series so far here). A couple weeks ago I shared about how a cash system can be helpful. I got this message on Facebook from Rachel.
“You inspired me to start using cash for groceries. I’ve done it 2 weeks now, we’re surviving, I’ve had cash left over (maybe for dinner out soon!) AND I finally don’t feel so stressed about our budget and living within our means. Thanks for finally pushing me over the edge. I have no idea why I thought it would be so hard!”
Rachel’s comment made my day! I am so glad that this series is helping people make meaningful changes.
Today I wanted to draw on a concept that I have shared in some of the classes I’ve taught before: Make wise compromises. Of course, I hate making any compromises. The purist in me complains every single time I do. But the fact is, life, being what it is, often requires us to make compromises out of necessity.
In other words, you may not always be able to perfect food choices while on a budget, or just because of circumstances (besides which, our food system can be a little hard to get “perfect food” from anyways). But when you make compromises, really think through which compromises you want to make.
Here are a few ideas that I use in trying to figure out what compromises I am willing to make.
1. How often do we eat that food?
Sometimes it can be a reflex to make compromises with the foods that we eat really often, just because they make a big difference in our budget. For example, we spend significantly more buying grass-fed butter, and we go through a lot of butter in this household! When trying to cut back on our budget, it can be tempting to try to use conventional butter as it would be a significant cost difference.
But hold on. If you eat a lot of butter, when replacing this healthy, nutrient dense food (full of vitamin A and K2), with conventional butter, you will be eating a high pesticide food product (conventional butter has concentrated pesticides in it) often. Plus, in this case, buying conventional means you won’t get the vitamin A and D and K2. Do you really want a staple food to be a compromise food?
Instead, why not make your compromise choices foods that you rarely eat? These will have the least impact on your health. For example, since nuts aren’t a huge part of our diet, and the organic counterparts can be even more expensive, if the budget doesn’t allow, I simply buy conventional. (Though I scored a great deal on organic pecans today! Look for those sales!).
Going back to the butter, during times when I am doing a lot of baking, I might use a less expensive local butter for my pie crusts and cookies, and save the more expensive Kerrygold for spreading on toast and biscuits. (By the way, Kerrygold is cheapest in my area at Trader Jo’s and Costco.)
2. Consider the nutrition
Does buying local or organic, or freshly picked make a big difference nutritionally? In the above example with butter, buying pastured butter gives me nutrients that a conventional butter wouldn’t, so I prioritize pastured butter. Some produce can lose a significant amount of nutrients when it has been sitting in the supermarket a long time, for that reason many prioritize buying in season, local produce. This PDF from Harvard shares some of the advantages of that.
These are just two examples of many. All to say, ask yourself when trying to make wise compromises, how much nutrition you will be losing or gaining by your choice.
3. Consider the toxin load of the food
The other thing I consider is the toxin load of that food. Is this produce often highly sprayed with pesticides? I avoid it or buy organic. Is it likely to be genetically modified if conventional? I avoid it or buy organic. You can buy conventional produce on the Clean 15 list and avoid the Dirty Dozen. Going back to the butter example, butter can have concentrated amounts of pesticides since they are higher in the cream of milk when compared to the milk part.
Cabbages, however, are on the 12 least contaminated with pesticides, so I can feel better about buying this item conventionally.( I have just one qualm about the Clean Dozen list – corn is often genetically modified, which I won’t buy. So I still only buy fresh corn organically.) I buy any corn products organically, and certain gluten-free grains (like millet), I may sometimes buy conventionally.
When working with a tight budget, making good use of conventional products that aren’t highly sprayed or chemically treated is a good way to make wise compromises. When you need to cut back even more, consider which items you rarely have or use, and put less priority on those items. And then finally, considering the nutritional weight of the conventional counterpart helps me sort through which items to buy local or organic, and which to compromise on.
I’d love to hear from you! When needed, which foods do you compromise on?