I’ve always been a frugal shopper but even more so the last eight months since I resigned from my full time job to stay home and raise our baby. Money has been a lot tighter and I've embraced the challenge of finding ways to live more simply and frugally while still feeding our family healthy, wholesome foods. I wrote a post in the spring titled "Natural Organic Eating on a Budget" about ways we continued to afford buying natural and organic foods on a small budget but I've been doing so much more since then!
Living in the rural west creates a complicated food situation for us and makes ethical food choices difficult. Due to the climate, we have a very short growing season and there is not much industry here. This means that the majority of the foods we eat that are purchased at the grocery store are trucked in from out of state and sometimes even from out of the country. While we support buying local when we can, a lot of times in the rural west that is just not an option.
There are a few local natural food store options but they are expensive and we don't have access to larger natural food chain stores with lower prices unless we drive a minimum of three hours or more. Food prices and the cost of living are high in our area and the incomes are low but we all accept that as part of the price of living in beautiful western Montana. For us this means that to make ends meet and thrive on our limited income, creative frugal living is a must!
Several years ago I discovered a discount Amish grocery market about 45 minutes from our house up on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Since I grew up in an area with a lot of Amish families, I especially look forward to going to their market and being able to find special treats like Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer and Amish made foods.
The Amish market carries a portion of bulk dry goods, Amish made meats and cheeses and also scratch and dent merchandise (a lot of which is natural and organic). Sometimes the foods are outdated but the majority of the time the boxes are dented or smashed so sold at a lower cost. I am conscious to check expiration dates on items before purchasing and don't mind a smashed box!
Although I love driving up to the Amish community, the trip is 49 miles one way. It is a gorgeous drive that goes past the National Bison Range and has a spectacular view of the Mission Mountain Range.
|The view from the parking lot of the Amish market.|
As I drove up there last month to stock up, I started thinking about how much time and fuel I was spending on the trip and wondering if it was worth it. Here’s the breakdown:
- 49 miles one way for a total 98 miles round trip.
- I average 45 miles per gallon in my Jetta TDI (Turbo Diesel)
- Fuel cost was $3.94 per gallon
- The trip cost me approximately $8.59 in fuel plus an afternoon of my time which is hard to put a price tag on!
Were my savings on bulk and damaged merchandise worth that?
- 8 bags of organic Puffed Kamut cereal for .99 per bag, cost is $1.99 per bag at the natural food store in town so a total savings of $8.
- Six boxes of organic cereal $1.99 per box, at the natural food store $4.99 per box. Total savings of $18.
With just the cereal purchases I easily covered my fuel costs and had additional savings on top of that!
Looking over my Amish market receipt, I estimate that I saved well over $35 by shopping there and buying bulk and damaged boxed goods instead of shopping at the local natural food store. While it is a shopping trip that takes up a whole afternoon, it is well worth the drive and my time and energy spent for the cost savings. Plus buying in bulk means I won’t have to make the trip often, probably just once every few months!
So what else have we been doing to save money on food and personal care items?
- Buying dried beans instead of canned
- Making homemade crackers
- Baking bread instead of buying from the bakery in town
- Buying blocks of cheese to shred and freeze in 2 cup quantities to use in recipes
- Making homemade cream of mushroom soup
- Making homemade yogurt
- Making homemade cream cheese
- Making our own trail mix
- Salvaging free wormy fruit to make and freeze applesauce
- Volunteering at the local community garden in exchange for a pile of produce
- Hunting for our meat (check out the Women in Hunting Series for more on this topic!)
- Making homemade chapstick
- Making and using wool dryer balls instead of buying dryer sheets
- Trading and bartering for things like produce and natural soaps
- Making homemade ice cream
- Canning, freezing, and drying fruits and vegetables
- Making sourdough starter and using it for homemade breads, muffins, and snack foods
- Buying staple dry goods in large bulk quantities
- Not being shy about stocking up on a sale item! I often get funny looks when I check out with 8 tubes of organic toothpaste or 10 bags of cereal but when an item we use regularly goes on sale I stock up. The funny looks are worth the money it saves me by not having to buy at full price. Plus I only have to buy toothpaste 1-2 times a year!
Other ways we’re going to try to save money on healthy, wholesome food:
- I just found out about a new local business called Big Sky Family Foods that delivers a box of fresh organic produce to your door every other week for $10-$15 less than the cost of buying it at the local health food store. They also sell bulk dry goods for lower prices and have free home delivery. We’re going to try this one out and compare the cost savings to shopping at the local natural food store and see if it really is worth it!
- Plant a larger garden next year (hopefully living on more property and off grid by then!) to grow and preserve even more of our food.
- Start making more homemade personal care items and homemade cleaning products like laundry soap and dish washer soap.
What are ways you save money buying healthy foods for your family? Do you buy in bulk and have any tips to share? Do you live in a rural area and have limited access to affordable healthy foods?
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