3 Things You NEED To Know About Budgeting for Real Foods

If you’re worried about your grocery budget, I have three important things to tell you:

  • Locally produced real food is, very often, more expensive per piece than fake food.
  • This does not mean you will spend more money on food. You may. But you may also spend less. (I feed my family, for example on a budget of $3500 per year. Specifics on that will come later.)
  • Even if you spend more, you’ll likely save in the long run.

Let's unpack these, briefly, one at a time.

Real food is very literally a product of blood, sweat, and tears. It used to be that family farmers would devote their entire lifetimes to producing food for their communities. They got up early to milk their cows and stayed up late covering fruit trees to prevent frost from ruining the much-needed harvest. They stripped corn cobs and carefully kept seeds dry though the winter. In seasons of drought, their brows furrowed with worry and the knees of their trousers wore down as they prayed for rain.

Technology has changed food production for even the smallest of farmers, but small farms are still run on toil and willpower by real human beings who deserve to make a fair living. Their operations are too small to be able to produce chickens for you at the same rate as a factory farmer can produce eggs for WalMart. If they were to attempt to bring their bacon down to grocery store prices, they would either have to cheapen their product or work for less than a living wage. Neither is acceptable.

So local food is, yes, more expensive. When you purchase food from a small producer, you should expect to spend more than you would in a Kroger.

The good news is that, with some prioritizing, you will likely still spend less on your food than you would otherwise. Remember those dollar votes? If you were to stop voting for the foods which do not give life to your family (say, snack foods), how many dollars would you have leftover in your budget each month? Fifty? One hundred? Two hundred? There’s a good chance that this money would more than cover difference between a grocery store chicken and the more expensive chicken your farmer provides.

The trick to this: you have to set your priority to eat real, local food and arrange your food budget around that priority. In my house, four people eat the best food I can buy for less than $120 a week. That’s not because I am a budgeting genius, but simply because I have purposed to spend good money on excellent food and not to spend any money on bad food. If you purpose the same, you may be amazed at just how much your food budget frees up! (If you’re still having trouble, consider not eating out or, at least, cutting back on restaurant outings.)

Enough of that, for now. Let’s pretend that nothing I’ve just said works for you and that you end up spending more money for groceries on a monthly basis. Don’t panic.

Choose, instead, to think about this in another way. Let’s pretend that your highest priority is a low budget — you are absolutely determined to save money at all costs. To do this requires buying large amounts of cheap food, which, in this country, means buying food that is not very healthy. You may be fine at first, but after months or years of eating cheap food, your body will start to feel the effects.

Enter: medical bills. I don’t know if you’ve priced the cost of a run-of-the-mill digestive disorder recently, but medical specialists visits in my part of the country are not especially inexpensive. It can cost several hundred dollars for just one consultation. If you don’t quickly turn your body’s problems around quickly by eating better food, things can get even more dire. If you think organic beef is expensive, try budgeting for cancer treatments or emergency surgery or a triple bypass.

When it comes to your health, you can buy now or buy later.

In the long run, it’s much less expensive (and, I would add, much more pleasant) to take care of your health now by feeding your body good things rather than pay a doctor to fix everything later (which they very often cannot do).

The truth is that, whether you know it or not, nothing is more important to you than the health of those you love. The value of good health is often undervalued by those who are healthy; ask those in a medical emergency and they will tell you that they would give their entire life savings to be well again.

Your money is for building your life. There is nothing better to do with money than keep your family nourished and healthy. Accept these truths now and build your budget around them. You won’t regret it.

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