Saving Money While Eating "Real Food"


One of my big year end ‘to do’s’ is to look over and refab my budget. So over my Christmas break, I locked myself in the office with my computer and checkbook! I enter my totals into an excel spreadsheet each month, but at the end of the year I average them all out and figure out what needs to be changed, budgetwise.

And this year I found my food budget needs some work!

While I was able to keep my food costs on budget most months, some months I went over. And I never had a month under. And with those overages, it averaged out to be almost $25.00 more per month! Plus I hadn’t been able to save for our yearly grassfed beef purchase!


So I decided that this year I need to buckle down and keep track of how much I spend a bit better! Previously (the year before last) I had 3 envelopes for my grocery money. One for the farm, one for the health food store/farmers market, and one for the grocery store. This system obviously worked as I spent much less that year and had money set aside for larger, bulk purchases! So I’ll definitely be going back to that system starting next month!

The thinking behind using cash in envelopes like this is archaic, yet simple. You see, I’ve always used the cash system in our budget. For me this is the easiest way to save money! You can’t spend more money than you have. (well, I guess you can as I actually did! Some bulk purchases are just easier to pay with a debit card. *sheepish grin*) But when you start purchasing food from many different suppliers, it gets harder and harder to keep track of where every penny is going. I buy milk, eggs, and some produce from a local farm, produce from the farmers markets (in the summer!) odds and ends from our health food store (whatever I can’t get at the farm and health food store) bulk food purchases from another store, and the leftovers at the supermarket.


No wonder I lost track!

My budget for food is $300.00 for our family of four. Two adults (one still nursing a baby) a three year old, and a nine month old. The minimum I spend at the farm each month comes to about $60.00 per month, so this amount goes into one envelope and I only take money out of here for what I buy at the farm. This way I know I’ll always have enough, especially since it’s my top priority “real food”.

I’ve put another $50.oo aside, split into 2 envelopes. Half for my bi monthly bulk food purchase, and half for our yearly beef purchase.

For now, the remainder I’ll be spending between the health food store and local supermarket. Come summer I’ll figure out specifically how much I’m allowing myself to spend at the farmers markets. Because I always tend to spend to much there! I kind of go into a daze looking at all the fresh produce and homemade goodies!

Another thing I did this year was sit down and prioritized my food purchases. It’s something Ann Sergeant mentioned in her session on food and budget at the Wise Traditions Conference. At the time I thought “why I do that of course!”, but the problem was I kept the list in my head.

Hmmm, let’s put it on paper shall we?

So I sat down and really made a list of what my priorities are.

Must Haves (the real food I will not give up!)

  1. Grassfed, organic, raw milk
  2. Free range eggs
  3. Local honey and maple syrup
  4. Grassfed beef
  5. Organic butter

After that, there are plenty of things I’d like to fit into our budget (and hopefully will most months) but I think we’ll have to take some short cuts or go without if the money isn’t there.

I’ve also fallen off the menu planning wagon a bit and have been rather disorganized all around. This needs to change now! I tend to spend much more when I don’t write a weekly menu plan sine we eat out more often and/or throw away more food since it’s gone bad.

So, here’s my few simple tips to saving money on groceries:

  1. Figure out your budget, pay cash, and stick with it! (unless you’d be starving of course)
  2. Prioritize your purchases
  3. Plan your weekly menus

Next I’ll get into how to actually save money on food!

What do you think? Anything else I should be doing?

And what are your dietary must haves?

This post is linked to: Frugal Fridays and Fight Back Fridays

Donielle Baker

Donielle Baker

owner and editor of Natural Fertility and Wellness at Natural Fertility and Wellness
Donielle believes women can learn how to heal their bodies & balance their hormones through natural methods. An advocate for natural health, she has a passion for nourishing/real food nutrition and natural living. Her personal background includes both infertility and miscarriage and she started Natural Fertility and Wellness in 2008 in order to share all of the information she found helpful in her journey to heal from PCOS and overcome infertility.
Donielle Baker
Donielle Baker
Donielle Baker
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  • Leslie says:

    Donielle, Thank you so much for this post. It was just what I needed to read. Question, does this amount reflect ONLY what you spend on food or does it account for other household purchases such as paper products, diapers, cleaners, etc.? Thanks again for this post!

    • donielle says:

      @Leslie, Leslie, it does account for everything. Though I have worked hard at cutting my expenses in those areas over the last few years.

      The only paper products are buy are toilet paper and kleenex. Maybe a roll of paper towel every six months or so. 🙂

      I now use cloth diapers 99% of the time.

      I also make most of my own homemade cleaners, though I do still buy laundry and dishwasher soap.

      I’ve also cut down on my personal care products and try and use homemade.

      At this point in time my ‘other’ necessities in my grocery budget total less than $25.00 a month, sometimes I spend nothing in that category!

  • Melissa says:

    You know I’ve been waiting for this post 😉

    This was actually really inspiring. We recently went from a budget of $400/month to $250/month. I’d basically given up on everything. We stopped getting raw milk and farm fresh eggs. I stopped going to the winter farmer’s market to buy grass fed beef and free range chicken. I barely buy anything organic anymore. Seeing that you make it work with a budget that is not much larger than mine helps a lot.

    I wish we had a place for a deep freeze so we could make a bulk beef purchase!

    Thanks for this post, Donielle!

  • I’m hoping to get a quarter cow soon . . . I keep debating on getting one that’s just local vs. grassfed organic. The grassfed organic is a bit spendy for DH’s taste. And i know the local one was well cared for, just not sure about grassfed or organic. What to do, what to do.

    • donielle says:

      @The Local Cook, My thought is always buy the best you can afford. If grassfed organic is out of your price range (or causes contention in your marriage) just go to the next best thing!

      Progress – not perfection. 🙂

  • Kate says:

    Ah, the food budget.

    I’m not so great at that, as my husband frequently points out. These last two weeks (with the holidays and an extra two days) somehow I’m almost $60 UNDER. That has never happened before; I’m usually about $25 over. I’m terrible at setting aside money for bulk purchases and I need to get into a system. I’d love to hear more about yours — what you buy, how you keep your rotation, etc.

    I am very good at meal planning though! So many are saying right now they’re struggling there and it’s the one area I’m way on top of. I’m planning to launch a new feature in my blog in a few weeks that’s centered around meal planning actually. 🙂

  • Leslie says:

    Wow that is amazing! We CD as well but I can’t seem to convince my hubby to go to cloth wipes! I am amazed that you can do it on such a low budget and you still think that you can do better. Very inspiring! Thanks again!

    • donielle says:

      @Leslie, Cloth wipes are the way to go!! I can’t imagine having to go toss a conventional wipe. I just toss it in the bucket right along with the diaper.

      That being said, most of the time I have sposies and wipes for my hubby if I leave the baby home with him.

  • emily says:

    you are already spending even less then the usda’s thrifty/food stampsplan. id say you are doing pretty darn good!

  • Jodi says:

    Great post Donielle! A big help as I am diving a little further into real foods!

  • Susan B says:

    I once dated a guy who had a deep freezer in his apartment! He made me dinner and went over to the freezer to get out vegetables. My parents have a small freezer in their apartment, too.

  • Melissa says:

    Do you mostly eat beef? If you eat other types of meat, is it priority for you to have that be grass fed/free range as well?

    • donielle says:

      @Melissa, We eat venison as well since my husband hunts, though this year we were blessed with only one deer so we’ve had to buy more beef than the year before. We eat chicken and/or turkey as well, though not as often. And while I would love to only buy free range poultry, I know it’s not always in the budget. I do my best to save on other things in our budget to afford as much good food as I can, but I had to be realistic and come up with a list of foods I knew I would always be able to include. So it is a priority, but I figure if I can at least keep grassfed beef in the house, that covers about 75% of our meat consumption and I’m happy with that progression.

      *oh – we also eat fish as well, though not as much as we should.

      • Melissa says:

        @donielle, Ok, good to know. After I commented the first time I actually looked at craigslist for used deep freezers. I’m trying to convince the hubby that we should use some of our tax return to buy one and a portion of a cow 🙂

  • Katherine says:

    Sounds like a great system. Different things work for different people.

    Whenever we spend any money, my hubby enters it into the budget on our computer (we just keep it on a word document and add with a calculator because we don’t have excel spreadsheet). When we do those big purchases(like grass fed beef from a farmer) we stick it in that month’s budget….sometimes it ends up taking up another category or we use up another month’s budget that wasn’t quite used up..

  • ann says:

    i want to know how you do it. we have 6 in our family and don’t eat all organic but try our best to eat fresh and some organic. we spend $200 a week on groceries. i’d love to hear more on your method to doing it at such a low cost.

    thanks for your help.

  • AbbyJ says:

    I’m really looking forward to reading more on this topic! We are incorporating more and more real food into our diets and I am trying to find ways to cut back on spending as I tend to run over budget–even though we have cut back on non-essentials and eating out.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I don’t do the cash system, but I put everything on the credit card (we don’t carry balances) and then I use to help me categorize my purchases. It is fascinating to see where the money really does go. If you are someone for whom cash just isn’t your thing, I would highly recommend to help track where your food money (and other money) goes.

  • Kacee says:

    I LOVE this grass fed beef thing. My husband and I have a farm where we raise grass fed beef. We are still young and trying to buy a farm. SO our operation now is: we breed the mama cows, they have their babies and in 6 months we sell them to someone who raises them for meat. In the future we would like to raise them and sell them in 1/4, 1/2 or full BUT right now we gotta make money to make our dreams come true. I am so happy to see people caring about what goes in their bodies and where their food comes from.
    In the future we would also like to get into selling eggs, our are totally free range, they can go anywhere on the farm we rent. They are so yummy and yolks are soo dark! I went to school for horticulture, focusing on vegetable production so that is also in our 5-10 year plans. LOVE seeing blogs about this and people who are interested in their food and where it’s from. I am considering starting a blog about the farm and our, really my, huge veggie garden. What do you think?

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