Managing basic expenses well can make all the difference, either in making ends meet or being able to save for the future. Both are important and no matter what camp you fall into, learning how to be more efficient about each dollar you spend can help you succeed.
The top three expenditures in a US household are housing, transportation and food. This is actually encouraging because we all have the ability to reduce these costs to some degree should we choose or need to do so. Downsize or move to a cheaper area to save money on housing. Ride a bike, walk or take the bus to reduce transportation costs. And food? It’s the easiest of the three categories to manipulate. There are many options here; cook at home, eat more vegetarian meals, plan menus, shop sales, pack lunches…Controlling food costs and eating well are clearly doable, yet such a struggle for many, myself included sometimes.
Barriers To Healthy Eating
What are the things that hold people back from eating well? I’ve come up with 5 major obstacles for the average person:
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that as of 2015, one-third of adults in the United States are obese. Conditions related to obesity, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers are leading causes of death. It is important to note these are often directly related to diet and lifestyle, and very preventable. Such diseases are devastating to the individuals suffering from them, as well as their partners and dependents.
In 2017, The Food Institute reported that 31% of Americans eat out twice per week. That adds up to lots of processed foods, salt, sugar, fat and extra money every year that could be avoided, at least in part. In an age where many are struggling with health and retirement savings rates are dismal, this is sad. But we can reverse these trends.
I got curious and looked up how much a family of four could receive if qualifying for full government food assistance in Colorado (my home state), and found it to be nearly $150 per week in 2017. This amount is considered to be the baseline of food necessity, so I thought it a great starting point. That is considerably less than my family spends on groceries. It’s also been reported that eating a satisfying and healthy diet on such a low-budget isn’t possible.
But is that true? I’ve decided to conduct an experiment on whether my family can manage to eat nourishing and delicious food on a budget of $150 per week. I have two teenage boys at home, so that amount must cover all meals and snacks for four adult appetites.
My challenge is not just to stay on budget – addressing the money problem. I also need to tackle the other 4: time, desire, habits and knowledge. That means finding meals that aren’t too labor intensive or difficult, improving efficiency in the kitchen, and providing motivations for cooking in general.
Can we manage to feed our families nutritious meals on a budget? Those struggling to put food on the table, feeling like health must be sacrificed to do so, would be relieved to find it possible. And, for those fortunate enough to have some savings left over, what could that amount to, even if it was small?
$100 saved each month and invested for 20 years could equal nearly $50,000. Or if you were able to save that amount weekly, that number could be north of $200,000. I think these are significant savings, and even more valuable are the health impacts of cooking good food at home.
I made a list of guidelines for this challenge.
- Budget friendly menus
- Delicious and healthy food
- Easy preparation and clean up
- Opportunity to learn new skills
- Improved efficiency
I like to buy organic when I can, but not everything. I make use of the dirty dozen and clean 15 lists to help guide my food purchases. While these lists cover plants, they do not include animal products. I buy organic meats and dairy products. Shopping sales and cooking with less meat helps keep costs down. Take a look at the lists. If you can’t afford to buy organic, just do what you can. Eating conventionally grown vegetables is better than not eating any. Or maybe, you could do a little gardening and grow your own!
I suspect that the first few weeks will be hard in the beginning. I have things in my freezer and pantry already, but will do my best in estimating their cost so they can be deducted from the weekly grocery budget. I’ll note that as is necessary.
I’ve decided to make the initial challenge short: 60 days. I’ve heard it takes 30 days to form a new habit, so this amount of time should be double assurance! No, in truth, I’ll be traveling for a few weeks beginning in February, so this gives me 60 days as a trial run. If it goes well, I’ll pick it back up once I return.
I did my first shopping trip this morning. I’ll be posting how it went, what I spent and this weeks menu shortly.
Will you follow along with me? I’d love it if you did!
A word of encouragement: Don’t try to change everything all at once. It would be overwhelming to alter shopping, cooking and eating habits all at the same time. Start slow, focus on one area at a time and be patient with yourself.