David and I attended last night’s monthly Farmer’s Market Film Series showing of “Food Stamped”. (According to the trailer on YouTube, “FOOD STAMPED follows a couple attempting to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet on a food stamp budget. Nutrition educator Shira Potash teaches nutrition-based cooking classes to elementary school students in low-income neighborhoods, most of whom are eligible for food stamps. In an attempt to walk a mile in their shoes, Shira and her documentary filmmaker husband embark on the food stamp challenge where they eat on roughly one dollar per meal. This film is a documentary work-in-progress by Shira & Yoav Potash. See www.FoodStamped.com“) I had planned to post about low budget healthy eating here anyway, so FOOD STAMPED just provided an extra nudge in that direction.
Most of my blog readers and clients have at least made the connection that fresh, local, organic, non-GMO foods make them feel healthier, more energetic, more optimistic and more in control of their own well-being. What I hear repeatedly in sessions, though, is a disconnect between what people “know” about high quality, nutrient dense food, and what their pocket book or time limitations make “possible.” Today’s post aims to share some of the cheaper ways you can bring better food into your life, along with some health habits that yield big returns for relatively small time and/or money. I’m not trying to list every single healthy diet or activity people can do, but rather focus on what clients have shared as a specific and troubling concern, namely: “How can I allocate and stretch my money so that I can spend less without compromising lifestyle and health?”
FOOD STAMPED followed the Potash’s on a week-long journey in which they attempted to eat organically for $1/meal. As they wandered around the store trying to weigh nutrient density per dollar, I had some flashbacks to times in my own life when food money was tight, including when I remained indefinitely disabled from my 1998 traumatic brain injury, and during a time when I was making a lot of money that someone else spent even faster than I could make it. In both situations — one with very little income and one with high income but little remaining food cash — I learned many of the skills the Potash’s model. Some tips from the film and my own experience follow:
1) Shop your local farmers market for lower prices and fresher foods. Go early for the freshest foods and widest selection; go later for deals when the farmers just want to move produce they’ve already harvested.
Get to know your local farmers and tell them what you like. I’ve had some farmers actually give me edible “weeds” like purslane each week. They needed to get the puslane out of their lettuce beds before it choked their crops, and I loved to eat the lemony wild bursts of Omega-3. Score for both of us! One farmer in Canada realized from talking with me that she could sell the purslane and increase her own bottom line by monetizing weeds. She ended up selling purslane for much less than her cash crop lettuce, but included a small fee just for the convenience of harvesting and cleaning it. I was happy to pay $1 for multiple meals and smoothies worth of greens!
By talking to farmers, you can also find out if they have any “seconds” they’d be willing to sell you at a lower cost. Not everything harvested looks perfect, but they may have some less pretty items lurking beneath the table or at home. Knowing that you’d be willing to settle for less image at a lower cost helps both the small farmers and you by increasing their profits while saving you money for equal nutrition.
As shown in FOOD STAMPED, many farmers markets have begun to accept SNAP (food stamp cards) and WIC credits. In Madison, our nearest walkable farmers market was just a single seller who set up shop outside the local WIC center on the day they distributed the vouchers. This seller grew things organically, but had not gone through the costly process of organic certification. Thus, they could afford to sell healthy, clean, organic quality foods at lower cost than certified organic produce. Without talking to them on a trip to the nearby library, I would never have known they were organic.
We learned last night that the Goshen Farmer’s Market vendors and Board feel so strongly about giving low income people access to high quality foods that vendors not only accept SNAP but give double the value. For every $1 in SNAP spent, Goshen Farmer’s Market kicks in an extra $1. Hard to beat that! (Buy direct from the farmers, eliminating middle man, packaging and transportation costs, and then receive double credit for SNAP.)
Ask around! Local, organic farmers markets continue to pop up all over the place, even in inner cities and former “food deserts.”
2) Watch for sales and coupons and shop the bulk bins. I’ve mentioned before the power of visualizing what you need or want and then “asking” for that item to be on sale when you shop. David has seen me do this so often that he calls it “Laura Bruno-ing” something when an item we want shows up 25-80% off on a shopping trip. I need a little heads up to concentrate energy before we get there, but most of the time, it works. We’ll either get rerouted to a store we hadn’t planned to go but that has those items on sale, or the place we’ve intended to shop suddenly puts up discount signs or coupons on most or all of the products I’ve mentally requested. I save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars every year just with this one technique. And the best part? Sales and coupons work out to the equivalent of totally legal, tax free income.
I’ve also had good luck mentally connecting whatever money I have allocated for food and images of the foods I want. I used to do this when food money was very, very tight. The entire time of shopping, I would keep the mental connection between all the food I needed and whatever dollar amount I had. When I’d hit the checkout, I would almost always find the food tallied up to within a few pennies of the available money I had.
My dear friend, Leigh, who left her physical form in 2006, used to go one better. Disabled by cancer and fatigue, she often found herself without regular recourse to funds. She’d go to the store (and I witnessed this multiple times, plus heard her stories) without any money in her purse. She’d pick up whatever produce and other items she needed, proceed to checkout and say, “Lord, I know you provide for the birds of the air, and you’ve promised to provide for me as well. I need some provisions right now.” She’d open her purse, and if her bill was $19.11, she’d find a crisp $20 bill in her wallet. If her tally was $4.99, she’d have a five. Leigh had incredible faith, and I miss her amazing spirit, faery giggles and deep Teresa of Avila compassion. Not everyone has the gift of faith, if you pray for faith, I guarantee you’ll experience more miracles! I share Leigh’s and my own stories here to reveal what’s possible. I have never — despite some dire external circumstances — not received what I needed for healthy living and eating. Sometimes those things arrived in unusual ways, but arrive they did. I know Leigh had the same sorts of experiences on a regular basis.
More traditional methods of saving food money include doing a quick online search for a “coupon code” related to whatever you plan to purchase online, or scanning the coupon pages of local papers. I do the coupon code search, but I’m far too lazy to flip through coupon pages. I do, however, often glance through the little magazines/flyers that co-ops and health food stores have featured by the registers. You never know what little treats the Universe has in (this) store for you!
Bulk bins also offer easy, non-woo-woo savings. Compare the cost of a can of beans vs. dried beans. In addition to saving yourself from BPA-laden, cancer-causing cans (Eden foods does not use BPA, btw), dried beans will save you many dollars per pound. Soaked and then cooked ahead of time for several meals, you can enjoy their protein and nutrition without paying for the cans, labels, processing and marketing. If you do buy canned foods, consider doing so by the case, as you can usually save at least 10%. Combine that with a member appreciation day at a co-op, and you’ll multiply your savings. You can use the same method for any processed food you regularly consume. Yes, the initial cash outlay is more, but over the course of a couple weeks or months, you’ll recoup that money in savings.
3) Know where to buy which things. I prefer to buy most of my food from local, organic farmers; however, some staples like frozen fruit for green smoothies come from further away. In an ideal world, I would grow my own fruit and freeze it at harvest, but I haven’t planted fruit trees or bushes yet, so for now, I’m stuck with frozen fruit in the winter. I love to support our local co-op, but when we first got here, 10 oz. packages of frozen fruit were $5.99 each. Craziness! I wasn’t hurting for money, but that was nearly double what we paid for the exact same items in Madison. We branched out to Kroger and found 10 oz. packages of organic fruit on sale for $2.29-3.49 each. Much better: we stocked up but expressed regret that we had to spend our money at a chain store instead of the local co-op. Lo and behold, frozen fruit went on sale at the co-op … and … they started putting out coupons for it, too, making it equivalent or cheaper than at Kroger. Ask and you shall receive…
For longer term storage things, my friend Ingrid turned me onto the “At Cost Specials” on the Raw Food World. FYI, they have an affiliate program, but I’m not part of it. I’m just sharing that I’ve found their At Cost Specials quite a bargain, especially when combined with various coupon codes. At the end of December and into January, for example, they offered two months’ worth of at cost items, plus an astonishing additional 17.5% off coupon code for the entire order. For people who love organic, prepared raw foods or raw ingredients, watching The Raw Food World offers can help you build up raw staples at relatively low cost. Due to shipping, it doesn’t pay to order only tiny amounts from them, but if you find yourself with a little extra money, you can stretch that money far with the specials and get an extra 5-17.5% off, depending on the coupon code.
Another online option I recently re-discovered is the Green Polka Dot Box. You can either join for $50/year or try a trial membership of $10, which then applies towards a full membership. It’s kind of like Costco discount online for organic, non-GMO foods and products. I’ve not purchased from them yet, but plan to in the near future. In today’s crazy climate of Civil War talk, peak oil, and any number of potential grid or transportation shut downs, I like to have redundant sources of food and products on hand. Yes, I have seeds for outdoor gardens and have a small indoor, windowsill garden, but I also like the security of having some backup food in the event of hyperinflation or delayed deliveries. For many people, prepping for disasters seems out of reach, but with careful assessment of where and when to buy what, you can funnel the exact same dollars you’d spend on food into a larger volume of purchases.
4) Grow your own food. No, not everyone has their own garden-friendly yard, but more and more communities have begun offering cooperative gardening opportunities. Even if your community doesn’t have something like that, you can grow food in your windowsill, talk with a neighbor about using their sunny yard in exchange for shared harvests, or volunteer at a local farm in exchange for food. Our local Clay Bottom Farm, for example, offers food in exchange for work. David and I plan to spend some time there, not because we need the food, but because we want to learn more about gardening/farming. I’m a gardening nerd with limited real world experience. The chance to interact with people who actually know what they’re doing feels like a huge blessing, and the fact that doing so will result in free produce? Wow! Even better. Ask around. If it doesn’t exist yet, maybe your asking will prompt a new program or opportunity for you and others!
If you think you live too far north to grow things in winter, Four Season Harvest is a wonderful book that reveals how to grow all year round from Maine south — without heated greenhouses or extra lights. It turns out that most of the US is located further south than the famous year round gardens of Southern France. Cold frames can protect from the colder temperatures, but light, not cold, tends to be the limiting factor in winter growth. Four Season Harvest tells you how to provide seasonal veggies year round.
5) Get a tongue scraper. This suggestion falls more in the “save money on supplements while improving your health” category. Each night, your body naturally detoxes all sorts of yuck that shows up in the morning on your tongue. You can buy and follow expensive cleansing protocols — and I am a fan of some of these, too — but you can also purchase a one-time tongue scraping device for very little money and unburden yourself of all the toxins so carefully purged overnight. This simple act of scraping your tongue will also eliminate bad breath, improve your overall oral health, and help reduce the bacterial, fungal, viral load in the beginning of your digestive system. All for a one time purchase of $10-16. I’ve used a curved “V” metal one with plastic handles for many years.
6) Practice oil pulling. This is another one of those supplement money savers. I had tried oil pulling years ago, have clients who swear by it, and recently got major synchronous nudges to start oil pulling again. You can find out all you need to know by clicking here. According to Dr. (med.) Karach, “[T]he Oilpulling heals totally ‘head-aches, bronchitis, tooth pain, thrombosis, eczema, ulcers and diseases of stomach, intestines, heart, blood, kidney, liver, lungs and women’s diseases. It heals diseases of nerves, paralysis, and encephalitis. It prevents the growth of malignant tumors, cuts and heals them. Chronic sleeplessness is cured.’ …
“Oilpulling is a age old Ayurveda process, it works on the ROOT CAUSE and helps body in its healing process, hence takes significant amount of time in giving you the desired results. The time it takes depends on an individual. Hence pl. don’t expect a MAJIC PILL kind of treatment overnight.”
In a world of expensive dental treatments, including (often toxic) whitening processes, and the ongoing correlation between gum disease, tooth decay and issues like cardiovascular disease and breast cancer, oil pulling offers extremely cheap insurance against some of the biggest offenders. I’ve been using organic, extra virgin coconut oil this time, but in the past I’ve used olive oil as well as the more traditional sesame oil. My teeth feel both stronger and whiter, and I’ve noticed I have even greater mental clarity, regardless of what I eat. I’m not offering medical advice here, but you can consider oil pulling at the very least a low cost healthy habit for gums and teeth, and … depending on if you believe all the anecdotes and research out there … a miracle cure. Your choice.
7) Start rebounding. I’ve written about rebounding (bouncing on a trampoline for your health) before. Not only is it a fun way to exercise, especially in the winter, but it also moves your lymph — a key to strong immune function. You can often find rebounders or mini-trampolines at garage sales or on craigslist. You could even sign up for freecycle.org and request one. Worst case scenario, you can find one for around $50-$150 on Amazon. With regular rebounding, you can slim cellulite appearance, massage your lymph system, activate your spine and cardiovascular system, and de-puff your face. Think of all the savings on flu medicines and eye creams. For those who prefer similar benefits without the activity, a simple skin brushing practice will accomplish much the same lymph movement, while also shedding off toxic layers of dead skin.
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I hope these tips empower you to healthier living in all areas, including financial. I feel so grateful to be in control of my own money and health these days, but frugal, sustainable, self-sufficient living skills also help me to live more abundantly and joyfully in the now. Some simple habits don’t necessarily take any (or much) extra time or effort, but they yield experiences and cash flow for things I value. I love helping others realize that yes … life can support you in your quest for healthier, happier, easier living … and no, that doesn’t need to cost a fortune or require a huge income. Priorities and preferences! Know what they are, commit to them, and you will find your way.