Why is it so hard to spend money on high quality groceries…

…and yet so easy to spend it on other things?

Why do we balk at paying $6 for a pound of local chicken, but not at paying $5 for a cup of coffee?

Why do we hesitate to buy a $5 watermelon, but not to sign up for a cable TV or a cell phone contract (if you went without cable or a cell phone, you could buy a lot of watermelons every month!)

Why do we all think local eggs are way too expensive, but not that driving here, there, and everywhere is way too expensive?

Why do we buy junky cereal to save a dollar or two, but then order $20 takeout on a busy night?

I find myself thinking this way more often than I’d like, and lately I’ve been pondering why that is.

Why am I trained to put such a low value on good food and a high value on other things? Why do I think more carefully about my grocery budget than I do about my gas budget?

I think the gas is easy to ignore because I don’t have to pay for it upfront. If I had to deposit $20 into my car before I drove somewhere, I’d probably think more carefully about my driving.

And the takeout and coffee tempt most people because of the convenience factor.

But really, I’m wondering if for most of us, these thoughts arise because high quality food isn’t a high priority. If we thought buying good food was super-duper important, we could probably think of ways to make it happen.

(disclaimer: people who live on the poverty level are obviously exempt from this…in survival mode you probably don’t have cable, $5 coffee, and takeout meals.)

I think it’s sort of like how we say we have no time to spend with our kids, but then we find time to be on Facebook for an hour (or three!)

And we think we have no time to exercise, but somehow, we manage to not miss our favorite TV shows each week.

It’s not so much a lack of time as it is a lack of prioritization.

And by the same token, our hesitance to spend on food is probably not so much a lack of money as it is a lack of prioritization.


I’m going to keep pondering this.

What do you think? Do you find it hard to spend on food but easy to spend on other things?


Joshua’s 365 post: A Macro Photo Request


  1. ann says

    There’s also the “what will impress people?” factor… Coffee in a Gas station cup, or coffee in a Starbucks cup? At least healthy food is a status symbol lately. (How tragic!! If you can afford to buy healthy food, you are rich!).

  2. marcia says

    It’s funny that you publish a post about this today. I had a conversation on a similar topic with a friend of mine who is from the USA (I am not) yesterday: we are both trying to spend less money but while for me giving up paid TV and mobile phone was my first (and obvious) move, she started buying cheaper food (which would be ok with me if the quality was not much worse, but it is). We them compared our prioritization of cuts on spending and we concluded our approaches are completely different. Since she is the only non-European in our group of friends, she started wandering if it was part of her “˜American mentality’ (her words, not mine). Any thoughts on that?

    • Elaine in Ark says

      Oh, yes, Marcia. I do have thoughts on that.

      We Americans have been spoiled by the easy life during the 70’s through the 90’s. There is also the enormous and ever-present pressure of advertising that we’re subjected to every waking minute. I remember as a child hearing “be the first kid on your block to have (fill in the blank)”. The phase for that is “keeping up with Joneses”. Some families had a very different outlook though, and many of us grew up knowing the difference between necessities and extras. I would hate to give up my cable TV, but if money was that tight, I could. When my niece & her husband bought their home, their first purchase was a big screen TV when they actually needed new windows for the 100 year old home (and spent BIG BUCKS on their heating bills for two winters).

      I think the trend is starting to change away from having the newest, the biggest, and the most expensive things. As Martha would say, “it’s a good thing”.

      • Jennifer says

        I hope you are right. I think this change needs to come concerning possessions- and I think that we need to change our food habits as well. I’m amazed at how much some people know about real food, but then I wonder if the majority is as educated. As in, maybe “my crowd” of real life and my internet circle are skewing my view of the world awakening to the dangers of people eating food that is lab-made or chemically sprayed.

    • Kristen says

      I bet it is something of an American thing. I know the books I read about the American food system consistently report that we American’s expect food to be very cheap, and we don’t tend to want to prioritize food spending.

      • Libby says

        I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Europe three times – France twice and Italy once, although it has been 16 years since I last visited.

        When I lived with a family in France, we shopped at the outdoor fruit & vegetable market at least twice a week. My French “mother” only purchased fruit that was ripe and ready to eat that day or the next. Same thing for meat & dairy – she purchased only enough for a couple of days. All the food was full of flavor – much more flavor that the equivalent in the USA.

        With the exception of breakfast, meals were leisurely affairs eaten at the dining room table or at the outdoor table. No one was rushing off to a meeting or soccer practice. The food and family-bonding experience were center stage.

        The entire approach to food was so much different than here in the USA – a higher value was placed on ripe & fresh food, taking meals for pleasure and not just quickly refueling the body, and homemade foods.

        More money was spent on food and travel. While less money was spent on clothing, shoes, electronics, redecorating, toys, etc.

      • Erin says

        Not only cheap, but perfect-looking as well. All the pesticides and picking before ripe, etc., is to offer us unblemished fruit and vegetables. We end up with good-looking, but tasteless produce!

        • Jennifer says

          Sadly, there is a huge weight to be placed on the consumer for how we eat now. I was talking with my Godfather about this as he raises hogs. He was telling me how they need the pigs to weigh in a certain range to make the most profit and when I asked why, he said that all the cuts need to be the same size. The pork chops all need to look the same, the loins need to look the same, etc because otherwise people won’t buy the pack. I had never thought of that, but it’s true. When I go to the local store, everything is a different size and shape with small blemishes, but you go to the supermarket where “local” food is brought in, and it is all picture perfect. Often I wonder how they can even grow food that looks so unblemished.

  3. Bethany says

    I think it is because our society is increasingly becoming geared towards instant gratification. For example, if I spend $5 on a watermelon, I am buying myself work. I have to carry it home, up the stairs to my apartment, cut it apart (hope that I picked one that’s ripe enough), and maybe eat it before inevitably throwing most of it away because it got ignored. If I spend $5 on coffee (which I frequently do, I use gift cards, don’t judge : ) ), I am immediately welcomed by usually happy baristas who know me (I buy an experience), soothed by its warmth flowing down my throat, get a jolt of energy, feel “cool” for drinking coffee, can easily drink it in my car, on the bus, at my desk, as I walk (can’t do that well with watermelon), and can easily throw the cup away when done (no containers and silverware to remember to bring home and wash)….and it doesn’t smell gross when it gets old and needs to be thrown away like watermelon. Watermelon has its perks in the long run: less environmental waste, its healthier, I could cut it up and eat it almost anywhere, etc. But in the now, coffee is a better, faster, hipper choice. I think that is why people are willing to spend more on certain things, they are buying instant gratification (cable usually offers a prize for signing up), a lifestyle, and an experience.

    • Margaret says

      This is so true… also true that we are bombarded by advertising 24/7. Let’s not forget that Starbucks does not sell coffee. They sell a “third space,” which is a term for a relaxing place that is neither home nor work. One thing that helps me is to remember that I am not entitled to lovely coffees and putting my feet up all the time. It is my job within my family to plan meals, shop for groceries, wash, chop, and prepare food, put away leftovers, see that they get eaten up, etc. And the watermelon being work… absolutely. That is why I did not buy cherries this summer. My daughter is too young to spit out the pits, and I just could not commit to pitting them all.

      • Lindsey says

        This is going to sound dorky, but my husband and I have this deal that we never watch TV or a movie without doing something productive at the same time. That is why I have 11 gallons of applesauce put by, becasue for 11 nights he and I peeled and cored the apples and then put them in the crockpot at bedtime—in the morning, applesauce that went into the freezer. We made 22 pints of cherry jam…the night before each day that I made jam, we pitted and chopped together. When he watches football (alone!), he irons. It makes it clear that fixing food is a task for both of us and it stops us from wasting time. There are some nights I read to him while he does sanding or some other chore…There are times when we are both tired and tempted to just veg, but we end up feeling better if we do even some small task while watching.

        • Ingrid says

          Wow, Lindsey! This does not sound dorky – it sounds fantastic! What a great way to redeem the time! I just read your comment to my DH, who came out for a snack from watching – you guessed it: TV. He had no comment before he disappeared again. So you celebrate what you’ve got there, Lady! :)

        • Jen says

          We do that, too, although for us it’s movies or series from Netflix since we don’t have TV reception. It’s great. This week I watched an episode of Downtown Abbey while I tipped and tailed gooseberries for jam and pie. I also knit gifts for birthdays and holidays while watching, we make origami balloon lights for gifts together while watching, etc. Otherwise it just seems like we’re wasting time.

    • Kristen says

      Hmm, that’s a good point…quality food usually involves some level of work unless you’re buying something like freshly prepared meals from the Whole Foods counter.

  4. says

    I really love this post. I have been thinking about much of the same thing lately, as this month my husband and I have been on a self-imposed spending freeze and pantry challenge to try to use up all the food we’ve been stockpiling with our coupon use.

    When I started using coupons I managed to reduce our (previously exorbitant) grocery bill by about $1,000 a month, which was great, and yet, just as you pointed out, I continued to spend money on Starbucks and cell phones and lots of other wants.

    It has been a long time coming, but as we have used this time to take a long hard look at where our money is actually going, I realize there are some serious changes needed in our priorities. This post was such a good reminder of that!

  5. farhana says

    We made the switch to all organic a few years back and never felt better. We spend most on our food, travel for hours to get quality meat but it’s well worth it. What helped me a lot is to stay away from blogs that are very helpful to find ways on how to spend the least on your food even when you have the means to enjoy quality food.

  6. Peter says

    Prioritization is a good explanation of this behavior, the solution may be the practice of mindfulness. Connecting at the moment of decision with the why, of what we may be about to do. Mindfulness has allowed me to stop being on auto pilot, stop impulse buying, being silent when I would have made a comment, that did not add to a conversation. By connecting more to what I may do, and possibly choosing not to do something, feels good, because I am fully aware of that choice.

  7. says

    Ever since having to return to my Corporate America job, I’ve made food a big priority. Regardless of the cost. My grocery budget reflects that. But I feel pretty good about most of what I eat. Will I be able to sustain this spending? TBD. The pendulum has swung the other direction. I’m not sure there’s enough discretionary spending in my budget to compensate for the food expense and take a lower income (which is our goal). But it is all about priorities… and gardens, and backyard chickens. ;)

    • Elaine in Ark says

      Dogs or Dollars (your name just resonates with me!),

      I used to have plenty of money. Then I adopted two dogs.

      Love them to death, but there are a lot of expenses.

    • Lindsey says

      I like the blog Mr. Money Mustache, where he often addresses the issue of making more so spending more rather than saving even more. I have a devil of a time not finding some excuse for spending more when I get a higher income.

  8. says

    I have also been pondering this recently. I buy very few things organic and I have been telling myself that it is because organic food is so expensive. I’m in Australia and we have expensive food anyway, and don’t have a lot of organic food in supermarkets, which makes it easy to just not buy it.

    However, I’ve decided (today in fact!) that I am going to buy the dirty dozen organic and look into buying organic dairy products. It is worth it for good-quality food and I think it will encourage me to use it all up, reducing food waste.

  9. says

    I think about things like this all the time. I know that I will say to myself that I don’t have time to work on my website, but I get lost on FB for an hour. I think that I can’t buy XYZ, but will buy ABC the next day. I’ve really been looking inside to make a plan for budgeting my time better.

  10. says

    I think it has a lot to do with where we actually place value in our lives, and not where we SAY we place value. There are only so many dollars in our budgets or hours in our days; ultimately, both are used based on us valuing one thing over another.

    And as far as spending money goes, I do think we’re trained to devalue certain things. For example, I’m much more likely to spend a large sum of money on a new electronic gadget than I am on food, because when you get down to it food does not have the same fun quotient as electronics. It’s the daily parts of my life I end up trying to save money on, because it’s a lot more fun to eat cheaper food and still get my toy.

    • Lindsey says

      Also, food is not a status issue, like the latest electronic gadget with which to delight your friends and fill them with envy.

    • says

      Rachel, I totally agree. It can be really hard to look at our day-to-day lives and examine where we actually place value in the form of time or money as opposed to where we say we do. Especially online, through blogs and social media, we’re able to present ourselves as we want to be seen. For example, I might post a picture of a delicious meal with plenty of friends around the table, but I’m not posting a picture of the night I came home and microwaved mediocre leftovers. Given that we spend so much time in our online worlds now, it’s easy to get sucked in and see our online presentations as reality. I like what Kristen has said in the past about keeping a time diary/journal. If I see that I’m piddling away an hour on Facebook but telling myself “oh, I’m just so busy that I don’t have time to work out”- well, now I know that’s a lie and I need to be more accountable!

    • Liz says

      Even at my more modest income, within my “grocery” budget I buy whatever I want – nice cheeses, fresh/local produce, local/happy dairy and eggs, artisanal breads, the good chocolate, meat on occasion. I know I spend way less on food than most people ($130 per month including toiletries and such, with another $50 per month for “dining out/wine/beer”), but I still feel rich!

  11. says

    For some people eating well and spending more money do go hand in hand. But in our family’s case I don’t think eating well and spending less are mutually exclusive.

    If a person has the opportunity to garden and the space to plant fruit trees, then organic produce is at the cost of personal labor, which in my case I feel is during my leisure time.

    If a person has the time and inclination to cook from scratch, then there are many possibilities for eating very well, but frugally. And many medical experts agree that eating a less meat diet is beneficial to one’s health. Well, dried legumes and grains, even if organic, are inexpensive in comparison to meat.

    I personally do place a high value on cooking healthfully for my family. And that’s why I am willing to garden, tend a small orchard, cook from scratch, try new cuisines which are vegan, etc. In our home, we follow the 90/10 rule. 90% of our foods are very healthy, 10% can be less than the most nutritious. And it appears to be working for us.

    • says

      I don’t think eating healthy and well has to take a lot of time or be expensive. Once my husband and I made learning how to cook from scratch using good. whole. real. food. our food bill went down and our health improved. For example, I can make granola with better for us ingredients for less than I can buy a box of junky cereal. The same goes for a cup of coffee. The thing is, the more expensive healthy version is generally more convenient to buy than making the less expensive healthy equivalent from scratch.

      When our dog got sick with cancer and we were putting every extra penny toward his chemo (this may not be a priority for many of you, but it was for us), I started buying our fresh food and planning our meals around what was on sale which 9 times out of 10 is seasonal produce and meat which is fresher and tastes better. There were many fruit and veg I didn’t buy because they were out of our budget. Once I really started paying attention, I found I could afford them if I bought them at the right time.

      Looking for healthy food for less turned my husband and I into foodies. We explore the bulk spices (less money and fresher) in the mom and pop ethnic grocery stores in our city. We soon realized we could change the same vegetable and meat as a condiment combo into something tasting completely different if we switched up the spices each night.

      Experimenting with and learning how to cook more ethnic food from scratch also helped our food bill and improved our health. Many cultures cook meals that are heavier on whole grains and veg with meat as a condiment. This many not work though if you are a picky eater.

      We are starting to grow some organic food and herbs in our tiny front garden. I can’t buy organic heirloom tomatoes for less than I paid for a packet of seeds. But growing food takes time and isn’t for everyone if you don’t have the space or enjoy it as a hobby.

      I also believe in the eating via the 80/20 rule (more like 90/10.) Sometimes people’s 80 and 20 are different than others.

  12. says

    We started spending more money on better quality food a few months ago. Organic, pasture raised, free range. We’d buy more local produce but there really isn’t any (on a remote island).
    I read a book called It Starts With Food, so did my husband, and we decided that this is important to us, we can afford it and we can cut back in other areas so it won’t affect our savings. We meal plan like crazy to reduce waste and because we now rarely, if ever, eat out or get takeout (not much around us that fits our guidelines for what we want to eat) we save in that area as well.

    • says

      Oh, and we already don’t have cable (do have Netflix) and gave up our expensive and distracting iPhones for cheap little old mobile phones. We used to pay at least $300/month for our iPhones combined (it was in Canada – rates are terrible). Now we spend the equivalent of $300 OVER A YEAR with our little pay as you go phones.
      Do we miss the iPhones? Nope. We have better family time, I’m a more engaged parent and I think I am a better listener.
      Win – win!

  13. Margaret says

    What a great topic! Thank you for putting it into such plain words and giving examples to which we can all relate. It really is something to think about.

  14. Dawn says

    This has been an ongoing process for me in recent years as well. A big part of the changes in the food I buy has come as the result of information. As I’ve found out about processed food, GMO’s, trans fats, etc, etc, I’ve tried to make healthy changes for our family. The desire to feed my family right has always been there, but I haven’t always had the knowledge that I do now. Still, I don’t have an open ended amount of money to spend on groceries either, so I have to do some picking and choosing. We have a vegetable garden, a Jersey cow, and raise much of our meat, but I still have to buy groceries at the store and I can’t afford all organic. I can, however, make as much of our food as possible “from scratch” and by doing so avoid a lot of unwanted ingredients in the processed foods. I can buy non-GMO whenever possible, I can try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, and so on. I guess everyone has those decisions to make, and it will be different from person to person. Sometimes striking a balance is difficult–in the food we eat, and as you pointed out, in lots of other areas of life as well. I really like this post. It’s good to stop and think about priorities on a regular basis. They have a way of getting out of order sometimes.

  15. Diane says

    Amen, Kristen….I need to go to the grocery today and was almost resentful about spending money again, but I buy mostly fresh produce, natural meats, dairy and staples to make from scratch meals that are usually restaurant worthy. Thank you for helping me see that healthy eating is a top priority.

  16. says

    Been pondering this much lately myself…

    I think you hit it exactly when you said “It’s not so much a lack of time as it is a lack of prioritization.”
    That applies to everything… priorities drive the way we live. It is not what we SAY we believe is important… it is how we LIVE that shows what is.

    Blessings on the journey~

  17. says

    I found a line in your post that was funny because I do have to put about $20 in our van before I can go anywhere and that doesn’t get me very far. I try to buy healthy food. Sometimes it just doesn’t work because of our tight budget to get the organic but I do at least make choices for no sugar and whole grain.

    • Kristen says

      Well, that is true, but I was thinking more along the lines of a dollar bill feeder right in my dashboard. I pay when I fill up on gas, but it’s not closely linked enough with each individual trip for my brain to process it!

  18. says

    Part of the reason is that we have SO MANY OPTIONS when it comes to food. And, the free-range, organic eggs sit right next to the standard eggs…their price tags sit right next to each other as well.

    And, while food can be (and always is, in my case) enjoyed, it’s also a necessity. You can’t just stop buying food if you come on hard times in the same way you can cancel cable and your cell phone plan.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a lack of prioritization when it comes to food, but prioritizing other things. For me, most of that saved money goes into savings, bills or debt repayment.

  19. says

    FG, Wow! THANK YOU! Eating “real food” that is generally around the perimeter of a grocery store may cost more in the short run than the packaged and processed food found in the middle of the stores. However since we are what we eat, you have given us food for thought (no pun intended).

  20. Lauren says

    Excellent points! In the past year I have been forced by dietary restrictions to purchase some of those more expensive foods and even though I know I’m eating better and keeping myself from getting sick, I still compare my grocery budget to the “olden days” and feel bad that I have had to adjust my budget to compensate. I think a lot of it is unreasonable expectations: I got used to paying $x for a week’s worth of food and feeling like I am consistently going $10 “over budget” is discouraging.

    I have never had cable except when it was included in my apartment rent and I drink Starbucks maybe 3 times a year but I still don’t have quite the same guilt over the more frivolous things I do purchase. Good things to ponder.

  21. Battra92 says

    I think a lot of it has to do with priorities. Not everyone thinks that $6 lb chicken is superior to the $1 lb Perdue broiler/fryers. I know I have a hard time buying $4dz eggs from a local farm when I can buy a dozen for $1.79 at Stewarts that are also from a local farm. Many news stories point out that buying organic shows no health benefit.

    So while I refuse to pay more for local, free-roaming, cage-free, super-duper eggs I will pay an extra dollar or so for King Arthur Flour over the store brand or Gold Medal. Why? Because I find the quality of KAF to be more consistent and it’s important to me. Ditto for Cabot cheese and European butter.

    We all have our priorities. What’s important to one person just isn’t important to another. Maybe for some people they really truly do enjoy having their cable TV. I know I enjoy Turner Classic Movies a lot (especially since they’ve been showing a lot of silent films lately) and I enjoy taking trips and traveling places. If I had to choose between staying home and eating all natural organic food all day versus going out and taking trips and being out and about with other people, I’d definitely take the going here, there and everywhere.

    • says

      I was going to say something very similar to you but I think you said it better. I guess I kinda of choke on the assumption that if you are eating all organic, free range, etc. that it is the best way to go. We don’t buy a lot of processed food and I make many things from scratch b/c they taste better….but I don’t ever see myself buying organic, etc. no matter what my financial situation happens to be. However, that is just what floats my personal boat.

    • Cortney says

      This is a common misunderstanding about what eating organic means. There might not be more nutrients in an organic versus non-organic apple, but farming without pesticides is better for our soil and our water quality. Pesticides have been linked to bee colony collapse, and the subsequent extinction of many species of bees. Pesticides have also been lined to cancers. Workers on banana farms sometimes wear full on haz at suits, for goodness sake.

      Everyone was crowing about that recent study showing organic was not more nutritious- but that misses the point. Organic is about a wholistic care for the entire growing cycle, not just getting the most nutritious apple. It’s not a selfish “I want the healthiest apple!” issue. It’s an issue of large scale farming impact, soil and air and water quality, and preventing potential carcinogens from being in the food supply.

        • Jennifer says

          That new study was so frustrating. As you said, organic food, when produced in a commercial manner, is not more nutritious- and no one needed to spend a lot of money and research time to figure that out. It IS about not putting toxins and GMO’s into our bodies which goes a long way in keeping one healthy. (in regards to GMO’s, a recent study showed that hamsters fed GM Soy were mainly sterile by the third generation. Scary!) However, if you are lucky enough to live near a local farm that is self sustainable, meaning they rotate different species to keep pests low in a natural way, and fertilize the crops in this manner, you will have more nutritious food. Much more nutritious…but that is a rarity. Luckily, most everyone has access to organic commercially produced food (which is a compromise in my opinion).

  22. WilliamB says

    It’s hard, I agree. Even though for me, it’s not even a budget issue. It’s hard for me to spend $5/lb on organic strawberries when there are $2.50/lb commercial ones right near them. (I usually fail and get the cheaper ones.) I’ve trained myself not to think too hard about farmers’ market prices for the same reason. So I take it step by step. First cage free eggs, then happy eggs. The multi-year saga to find a reliable provider of happy meat. Then happy milk. Now it’s other dairy products.

    I think some of it is mindset – what are we used to spending on something? For example, a new Apple laptop can easily be over $2000. People buy them all the time and expect them to last 2-4 years. But $2000 is considered a lot for a dining table, and a dining table lasts 2-4 _decades_. It drives the furniture makers batty.

    US’ans just aren’t used to spending a lot on food. We’re conditioned to cheap food and, to some extent, to price over quality.

    • Battra92 says

      I don’t know that it’s so much what we’re used to, but what we the consumers demand. We have a set demand for dining room tables and due to the flood of used, antique, vintage models (not to mention the inexpensive ones sold at places like Ikea) the demand for $2,000+ dining tables is a lot less.

      Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand strikes again!

  23. Kristin W. says

    I used to ponder this until I realized that the GMO, processed, fake, chemical laced “food” I was eating was negatively affecting my health and my families health and I was a coupon queen buy all this stuff up because I could get it for cheap. Now I do not hesitate to pay $5 a dozen for free range local eggs layed from chickens that are not injected with hormones, antibiotics or fed GMO seed. I am part of a local organic CSA that costs $750 for 7 months (or $26 per week) and provides me with 12 bundles of fruits or veggies grown 8 miles from my house with no chemicals (this week I came home with 2 cantelope, 1 honeydew, 1 watermellon, 4 onions, 4 peppers, 3 lbs of green beans, 5 lbs of new potatos, 6 corn, 2 lbs of kale and 1 lb swiss chard, all the strawberry’s and cherry tomatoes we could pick). 4 gallons of raw milk from grass fed cows for $108 per year or $9 per month. I order my chickens from the same place I get my eggs and I either order a beef or watch for grass fed beef to get close to the sell by date at the grocery store and they clearance it out so I buy it and freeze it. The change in my health and my families health is beyond amazing making me realize that the decision to spend the money on great whole food really is cheap when you feel great, never get sick and have a not of energy!

  24. Meeghan says

    Quality over Quantity! I’ve been making a decided effort to apply this principle to almost all my spending, but especially food. An unintended consequence is that we eat meat a lot less, since high quality meat is harder to come by, and an unintended consequence of that is that we eat a lot of vegetables!

  25. says

    It’s true. It’s just not a high priority on the list. I hesitate to buy any sorts of fast food / coffees / takeouts because I am so cheap, but I do buy other things instead of buying the best groceries. I spend more in the sense that I buy healthy things like fruits and vegetables and good meat which are not as cheap as processed foods, but I do not spend the extra money to get organic, free range, etc. because I feel like it would just cost too much and it’s not high on my priority list! Once I’m out of debt, I’m sure I’ll spend a bit more on groceries and buy organic. Also I think really good groceries aren’t as high on priority because there is no instant gratification like there is with coffee and take-out, and instant gratification seems like something our society is addicted to !

  26. michelle d says

    I have thought about this a lot over the past few years. Food, Inc. happened to be on one night and it was a life changing experience. I started to educate myself about how my food gets to my plate. I now go out of my way to get grass fed beef. I truly believe we are what we eat and anything they are putting into animals to make them gain weight and be bigger and “better” will surely do the same to me and my family. The result is that we eat less meat because it is so expensive and I do have to go out of my way. Meet the farmer on a cold Saturday morning in a parking lot to pick up my delivery with three small kids is not my favorite thing to do. I am also making an effort to eat more seasonably and shopping at farmers’ markets. I feel better if I’m supporting local business AND getting food that tastes so much better. I am blessed to live in an area where good local food is accessible with some effort AND I have the money to pay for it. I also LOVE to cook….as in I find it relaxing to come home and cook a meal after working outside the home all day (now cleaning that is a completely different story). Convincing myself that it was worth the extra money when cheaper food is sitting right there on the shelves 1/2 a mile away from my house was hard at first and I still struggle with it occassionally, but food is our fuel.

  27. Crystal says

    For us, we’ve pretty much always had a flexible grocery budget… I tend to spend more on groceries and monitor other things closer. That said up until this last year we’ve been college students, my husband was in grad school or we’ve been unemployed (well working part time and in the poverty level but living with my parents – which wasn’t super desirable but necessary!) So we haven’t really had a lot of money to spend on groceries and I did try to stay within certain limit!

    Right now we don’t have cable , a cell phone contract, we don’t even have call waiting or caller ID on our home phone! We don’t drink coffee so the $5 for that sounds really expensive to me ;). However I still find it hard to spend the extra on quality food (probably because we’ve never really had the extra money to do so!) As for meat – I find it really hard to spend a lot of money on that, and luckily for me I know where my beef was grown (on the Ranch that my mom and aunt are Trustees in and do all the work for. It’s not organic but probably could be if it wasn’t so expensive to get licensed!) However it is hard for me to spend over $3 a lb for chicken or pork as that was my limit since we’ve been married!
    I have lately started trying to buy more organic produce. Although my dear sweet husband doesn’t see why we should spend more on it (probably because I’m the one who reads all about the bad stuff in our food – not him!)

  28. Elaine in Ark says

    I’m still gasping at “$5 for a cup of coffee”. I’ve never gotten into the fancy coffee thing, but for $5 a drink, it had better have high quality booze in it. Even then, I would probably pass.

    Re: the gas, though, I’ll pay whatever I have to. I live in a rural area with NO public transportation and nothing within walking distance. Riding a bike on these roads is tantamount to having a death wish. I’ve been grouping my errands for more than a decade (I remember the gas lines of the 70’s — hmm, that would make it more than just one decade, wouldn’t it), but I have to drive to get to work, to church, to the stores, etc. No option on that, but I try to be wise and not make extra drives.

    As for organic food, I love it. The prices are insane, though, and I haven’t had a raise in two years. Two pounds of Green Giant carrots cost less than one pound of locally grown organic carrots. I have to do the math and purchase what I can afford. I’ve been reading lately that organic food has not been proven to be healthier, but really, common sense would question if all those pesticides and hormones could possibly be good for us. I’m sure organics are better for our health.

    It’s definitely good to be thinking along these lines all the time, and make good decisions about how we spend our money.

    • Kristen says

      That’s been a pretty hotly contested study, mostly because the point of organics was never really for them to be more nutritious…it was for them to be safer for people and the environment. So, the study was sort of weird. No one was ever really saying that an organic carrot had way more vitamin A than a conventional carrot, you know?

      • Kristen says

        Maybe ballyhooed would be a better word…it’s not that people are contesting the findings, it’s that they think the findings are sort of silly.

        • says

          actually people WERE saying that—organic fruits/veggies had more nutrients. I’ve definitely read it and heard it, though not always from “reputable” sources. I always thought it was silly and made little scientific sense; I buy organic for the reasons you state—those pesticides & chemicals have got to be harmful in some way as they build up over time. So this study basically puts that popular opinion to rest.

          • Cortney says

            But still, the way the study was worded seemed confusing. I know many people who don’t eat organic, and perhaps they have friends who are misinformed and say “Oh, eat organic! It’s more nutritious!” Now, I’m seeing all over FB those same non-organic eating people posting this study with a smirk, saying “Told you!” or whatever. That misses the point entirely. That group is still ignorant as to the real “point” of organics, and now the people who used to eat organic because it was healthier might say “oh, never mind”. So now, two large groups of potential consumers no longer eat or will not begin to eat organics.

            I found the study strangely set up, strangely marketed, and strangely written, for all of those reasons.

      • WilliamB says

        Actually, some people were. References not immediately available. I feel badly for the meta-study authors because they’re being slammed for not addressing A, B, or C when they stated their meta-study was only examining X, Y and Z. Doesn’t help that the journalistic headlines are inaccurate and sometimes just plain wrong.

        I don’t agree, though, when they assume that federal standards for legal pesticide levels are automatically safe. There’s a great deal of regulatory capture in agribusiness.

      • Elaine in Ark says

        Organic carrots taste so much better than regular supermarket carrots that I do buy the organic, and I am transitioning more to whole foods, local foods, and organic (certified or not). One of my main problems is that I really don’t like to cook. To me, it’s just another chore unless I have company.

  29. Sabrina says

    I definitely struggle with this. Since I started trying to lose weight, my grocery bill has gone up. That’s just from buying more meat/veg/fruit and less processed food that I can use coupons for. I do buy organic milk regularly and fruit/veg every now and then.

    A few days ago I was looking for CSAs and came across sources for local meat and was a little shocked at $25 for one whole chicken or $8 for 1lb of ground beef and thought it was considerably pricier than I could spend right now. It is definitely a priorities issue. My husband is retiring in 2 years so we’re trying to get our debt paid off.

    Also, my husband has different priorities than I do. I’d be willing to cancel the cable/netflix/hulu and put all that money towards food. As long as I have a library card, I’m set for entertainment. He disagrees. TV/movies are a priority to him.

    Interesting discussion.

  30. Adrianna says

    I got married last December and he came with three children. I have found myself trying to figure out how to do finances for a family. It feels much different than being a single girl. Anyway, I have faced this grocery quandry over and over again. I cared very much when I was single about trying to buy organic food. I bought far less meat and way less junky cereal. I try to figure out a line between what I know they’ll eat and buying more for less – even if I know it’s unhealthy. I feel guilt about it, but my life has been in so much transition that I just do the best I can and get better at it as time goes on.

  31. susan says

    Oh I agree with this one in a major way. Trips to Europe show me how much more expensive yet better their food is. A fantastic film online for free until the 22nd is Genetic Roulette by Jeffrey Smith. It covers the very scary topic of GMO’s. A subject so many know so little about and it’s concerns everyone who consumes our cheap food.

  32. Emily says

    This is very insightful! I work a very demanding corporate job and I used to always find myself saying “I don’t have time to do (fill in the blank).” Now, I say “That’s not a priority for me” instead. It really holds me accountable for my decisions. I think we could apply the same practice to spending money. “Buying whole foods is not a priority for me like my morning Starbucks run” is a lot more eye-opening (and honest!) than “I can’t afford to buy whole foods.” Just a thought.

    • says

      I do something similar- when I realize that I’m complaining or feeling sorry for myself about money, I refocus and think about why I might be too short of funds to go on a trip/to the movies/out for dinner. Then I think “Well, I (went out for dinner last week, bought a new book I’d really been wanting, etc.) and that was a choice. So this week I need to choose not to do something, because that was a treat.” I do this with time and responsibilities too-I tend to take on lots of responsibilities, then feel stressed out. When talking about this with friends, I’ve had to check myself and say “well, then I took on the X project, and that was a choice, so I guess I need to think more next time before I adopt another project to work on.”

  33. says

    It’s funny because we do place a high value on groceries, so tend to spend more for local and organic fair, but our families think we are so extravagant with our food…when we are SO poor! I hate the judgment people place on us because we choose to find a way to eat well, despite being “poor” and utilizing some government assistance. I often get comments that we should forgo all of the organics, like we shouldn’t have that “luxury”. As someone who places a high value on her health and wellness for her family, I don’t understand how people can be so harsh. Wouldn’t people rather see us spend money on healthy foods over smartphones (which we don’t have…only basic service, not even texting!) or car payments (of which we have none & have oldie goldie cars) or salon visits (you know, for those twice yearly visits I take to my hairdresser)?! This one truly baffles me!

    • Paula in the UP says

      That is mind boggling that people would comment on the quality food you eat ESPECIALLY with food assistance. I would applaud you! It’s made out like if your poor you don’t have the choice to eat good quality and organic, so it’s encouraging to hear it is really more about choices. Ok I’m sure there are situations where the choice isnt there but it’s not always the case.

    • says

      I agree, it’s appalling that people would think poor people don’t deserve to eat healthy, organic foods because they are more expensive :(
      Buying organic, free range and fair trade is a priority for us. I do try to buy things that are in season, not only because they are cheaper, but because they taste better then. We also don’t buy a lot of meat, and what we buy is free range. I’m kind of waiting for my daughter to get the idea of vegetarianism.. we used to be vegetarian but didn’t want to force it on her.
      I know we are lucky to not have to think about what we can afford to eat. That being said, I have a cheap old dumb phone, we rarely eat out and so on.. So yes, it is a priority for us, not just because it’s healthier, but because it’s more fair to all living things.

  34. says

    I’ve often thought about the driving part. We live really close (with in a few blocks) to just about anything we would need….grocery store (it is the expensive one though), dollar store, bank, places to eat, etc. However I still drive, even though it’s only 3 blocks because I’m usually in a hurry. Public transportation cost $1 a ride here. That would be way cheaper than paying to own a vehicle, and I could walk most of the time.

  35. Christine Wakitsch says

    From Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely:
    “Consider your current consumption of milk and wine. Now imagine that two new taxes will be introduced tomorrow. One will cut the price of wine by 50% and the other will increase the price of milk by 100%. What do you think will happen? These price changes will surely affect consumption, and many people will walk around slightly happier and with less calcium.”
    I read this book quite a while ago … and I don’t remember much of it, but it talks about why we make the decisions we do. I liked the above quote.

  36. says

    when considering my priorities and decisions i realize much of it is based on the support systems i have. if there’s lots of support around me, i am more likely to prioritize well and come closer to my ideals. when i am stretched thin it is harder for me to prioritize and make good decisions.

    that said, how many of us have good support networks and a strong community? how many of us are working at the level that’s healthy for us and not lots more or lots less? it is a hard thing to build those communities, set up our lives to support our decisions. i’d love to hear how you build community where you are.

    more directly, though, i think some of our decisions come down to decision fatigue, which i read about in the NYT this summer. the more i have to consider the less well each item is attended to.

    will keep mulling these things over. thanks.

  37. JoeAnn says

    Thanks for you insight. I really didn’t think about it that way but it makes sense. Going to start prioritizing good quality foods free of chemicals for my family!

  38. Rebecca Haughn says

    First off, thanks for a thoughtful blog post. Then I must say I don’t drink coffee since I don’t have an addictive personality. If you must have coffee to start the day then you are addicted. Just saying. Also the seeds are 99 cents or so per package so a dollar for a mellon is just fine for me. I cook fine at home so take out is a treat. Moderation in all things, the stores do not function this way. Corporations either. Thanks for the time you take and I enjoy all your posts.

  39. Elle says

    Thanks for your post. My husband and I have asked ourselves the same questions. One thing that has helped us is to view good (real) food as medicine. Buying organic and locally grown fruits and veggies, baking our own bread, limiting meat consumption, etc. is an investment in our family’s health. I must admit, however, that these sorts of behaviors are considered “weird” by many of our friends.

  40. Stephanie Piscatelli says

    My father taught me that time and money are not equal. The most basic economic principle is that value is based on the balance between supply and demand. We must really think about which commodity is more scarce in our lives right now. For the Moms who have sacrificed our careers to be available 24/7 to our children money is more valuable than time. We need to scrutinize the way we spend that money and save every way we can. But people in a different mode of life may need to be more frugal with their time. That is stewardship too. Convenience may be more valuable in some families than financial savings. And the time working parents spend making their children feel loved will probably go farther toward making them healthy adults than broccolli will.

  41. says

    This is a great post Kristen, one which will have me thinking about for a while. For me, it’s the total price of all the food we purchase at the grocery store that stops me in my tracks. $200 for a weeks groceries seems like so much more than a $5 cup of coffee.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my budget, and have decided not to sacrifice good food. So, I just added more to my food budget.

  42. says

    I completely agree with the hypocrisy of all this in the real world and, to follow up with the disclaimer, I see too much of the struggling people splurge every day. Though we can’t control the lives of others it seems we’re sometimes paying for them to buy things we can’t afford. Not always, but I see this sometimes.

    Convenience should never trump our health and yet it does time and again, and I’m as bad an anyone. That guilty feeling always comes over me when I choose a granola bar instead of peeling a kiwi. But never do I sacrifice hours of Facebook time over my son. A quick peek at news and then it’s playtime with some rare exceptions of course.

    Besides, quantity of food spending is dramatically different when eating junk versus healthy. Although the initial grocery bill may seem higher, eating right lasts longer in many ways.

  43. says

    I actually spend quite a bit on our groceries for just my husband and I compared to what I have read others spend for larger families. I’ve questioned the budget at times, but we don’t got out to eat often or stop for coffees on a regular basis so splurging on the fancy mozzarella for a pizza isn’t crazy for us. I do think we eat a fair amount of healthy food and I like that its not very processed, but whole fruits and veggies don’t really have coupons and can’t be kept very long/ bought in quantity, so I just save money in other places in order to eat well. I do think it is what’s important to you because we don’t have the newest fanciest clothes or smart phones, etc. but those things aren’t important to us.

  44. says

    Hear, hear. What a great post!

    We just had a family emergency that is taking up a LOT of my time and energy and I’m quickly putting aside my frugality just to survive. The cloth diapers sit in the drawer while I use disposables, I’m getting more takeout and doing less green things. I’m not abandoning it forever, but I have to cut corners right now. Maybe we are just too busy and overextended? Do we as a society need to learn to say no more often?

  45. Sarah M says

    I need to share this with my 21 year old daughter who just sent me a text asking “why is it so expensive to eat healthy?!” She is really trying, but eating healthy and sticking to a budget is difficult as a college student. There are so many temptations on campus (friends eating out, vending machines, Starbucks in the commons, etc) as well as crazy schedules! I’m proud she’s trying and I will definitely share your post. Thanks!

  46. says

    Very interesting post, Kristen. I agree that it’s really about priorities. I think that (and I’m guilty of this as well) quality food isn’t viewed as “fun” or an “experience” the way that, say, fancy coffee or a new book might be. And no one ever really WANTS to spend more money on things they view as a recurring and not very interesting bill, know what I mean? I know that on the (rare) occasions when we have extra money in our budget, we could certainly use it to splurge on some amazing food. But we usually don’t. We take our dollars to the bookstore or what-have-you.

  47. Jennifer says

    I read the Omnivore’s Dilemna and never looked back. I gave up all soda, unless it’s free and really work to buy meat that has been raised ethically. Corn and corn products will never be the same to me. I would rather live with my ancient cell phone and old, box of a TV until it dies than to spend money on new items. This leaves me money to eat healthful foods. And, it really doesn’t cost more-it’s all about choices. We are probably 75% vegetarian and happier for it.

  48. says

    Yet another excellent post. I’m often puzzled by the approach of many “frugal living” folks because it seems to me that everyone starts with groceries rather than taking a look at the bigger picture. That $100/month cable bill would buy a LOT of local organic produce! And a 10% reduction in housing costs would be huge for most household budgets.

    Maybe part of it is that many of the expenses we unconsciously accept are ones that we “sign up for” on a recurring monthly basis so we tend to think of them as “fixed,” whereas groceries involve a constant decision making process. That certainly doesn’t hold true for the fancy coffee, but for many things it does.

    I also tend to think that we don’t really associate our food with “lifestyle.” Maybe it’s because it’s sort of a private family thing that others don’t see, or maybe we’re just conditioned not to value it – but when people think of what “lifestyle” they want to have, they generally think about what neighborhood they live in, the cars they drive, the clothes they wear and the “amenities” they enjoy. You seldom hear food choices figuring into that equation.

  49. EC says

    I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma over the summer and have come back to this point often. It isn’t easy, and I can’t do it 100% of the time, but I do try to buy locally when I can. It is difficult, though, especially when you’re standing there with a bag of carrots (or carton of milk, or chicken), and you’re making a conscious decision to pay more to buy organic or support local farms. It’s especially hard when you’re looking at two items that LOOK the same – to pay more for one because it is supposed to be higher quality. I find it a little easier with meat, poultry, and dairy, because I honestly feel that in most cases, it is better for you, but it’s harder when you’re considering something like a carrot. In the end, though, I think it’s just a matter of making a conscious decision to buy higher quality food.

    That said, I try to spend a fraction of my grocery money at the farmer’s market each week, and I buy the rest at the regular supermarket. There, I still buy quality items, although not all organic. If buying organic/free range/local meats means that we have to eat it less often or in less quantity, that’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make. I know a lot of people don’t feel this way, but I don’t really know why. It generally costs more to produce higher quality food, and especially food that does not negatively impact the environment. Maybe that idea isn’t fully embraced?

  50. says

    That’s such a good question to think about! In our family, we have health problems that cause us to purchase organic food out of necessity. We have chemical sensitivities to many food additives, and because of autoimmune diseases we have chosen to eat gluten free and sugar free. Some of us are lactose intolerant, too. The extra expense of all these special diets creates a big grocery bill. We just have to cut in other areas, especially vacations and buying new clothes.

  51. Meghan says

    Thanks for posting this.

    A majority of our country’s childhood obesity issues (not all, mind you) can be traced to our consumption of processed and cheap food.

    As a health and fitness professional, I feel good quality food is a priority and have had to adjust my grocery budget accordingly with the constantly increasing prices on food. I feed a family of 7 and it’s not cheap. I do have cable and a smart phone, but have to make priority choices on other things.

    It definitely is a choice we all have to make.

  52. says

    The upside of buying at farmers markets and places like Whole Foods is that the produce tastes better to me and I am therefore more likely to eat it after I buy. Since the food is also more expensive, I plan much more carefully and use up everything before I buy more – this helps me to stay within the budget I’ve set and also reduces waste. I don’t think organic tastes better, but I do think that the freshest produce in season tastes the best and I am more likely to find these things at farmers markets and Whole Foods (in addition I find unusual or novel items that I don’t generally see in conventional grocery stores, such as different varieties of tomatoes/apples/squash).

  53. says

    Wow, what a great post. It really has me thinking on how we purchase our food. This is something I have been struggling with thanks for showing I am not the only one.

  54. says

    It seems like you’ve hit upon a hot topic! I don’t usually bother to comment but had to say I relate so much to this struggle! I am trying to let go of my compulsion to spend as little as possible, knowing that better quality food will taste better and nourish my family better. Plus by cooking at home we save money over eating out, which I try to remember when I’m debating whether to spend an extra few dollars on ingredients that will make a recipe extra delicious!

  55. says

    This is a great post. I am trying to stick hard to a grocery budget but yet this weekend we bought a big screen t.v. Hmmm. I mean my kids do eat healthy. They don’t live off junk food and they do get plenty of fruit and veggies but I hesitate to buy organic because most of it is so high. I also think it has something to do with instant gratification. I like to see right away where my $$ has gone. Definitely a post to ponder.

  56. says

    I have no problem spending money on high quality groceries. My husband is currently unemployed so we are being rather frugal lately. I cut out Netflix, cable tv, all alcohol, eating out, coffee, and am limiting my meat consumption to 1x/week. I only drive to work 1-2 days/week (1hr20 minute bus/bike combo other days) and my husband makes bread and baked goods for treats. I was able to cut about 800$ from my budget and I don’t particularly miss any of it (except going out for coffee with work friends and swimming on a Master’s team). This means I still have $$ for weekly farmer’s market outing and can buy high quality staples such as rice, beans, oats, eggs, quinoa, grits, etc. Long story short, good food is the last to go for me!

  57. says

    I totally resonate with this. I constantly catch myself saying, I don’t have time to maintain friendships, I don’t have time to do this project, I don’t have time to plan meals, etc. I am realizing that I really do have the time, it’s more my motivation level that is suffering.

    I think motivation is the key. Even though I want to do everything I set my mind to, I have a hard time following through because I’m either depressed, discouraged, or overwhelmed.

    When you come up with a solution, let us know! :)

  58. says

    No, I have the exact opposite “problem” if that’s what you wish to call it. I can make do without a lot of things before food of a good if not best quality. Food is a necessity, after all, not so much cell phones, car rides for no reason and forget 5 bucks on coffee when it’s so easy to make it at home. No way!

  59. Another Alice says

    Definitely an interesting post! I think a large part of that is due to the fact that with groceries, you’re choosing to spend more multiple times during each shopping trip – you’re passing up the cheaper alternative that’s sitting right in front of you, and it’s been shown that exercising self control in that way is cumulatively tiring.

    Starbucks doesn’t have a generic brand sitting alongside their vanilla lattes (cheaper drip coffee is fine if you’re just looking for a caffeine hit, but it’s quite different from the $5 candy coffee treat). Cable companies make it somewhat tricky to find their super-cheap packages, and even then, you’re not consciously choosing the more expensive version each month when you pay your bill.

  60. Suzan says

    I am sorry to say I am in the low income area as I care for my father full time. I spend an absolute fortune on food as it is necessary and we eat mainly at home. Then again Australian prices seem to be way above US ones. If we do eat out we tend to stick to local businesses who use lots of fresh vegetables. Personally the only acceptable tinned product is tomatoes so almost everything is fresh. I have a few things growing but not many. my other major expense is petrol. Once again it is necessary and trips are bundled. Our next major expense is electricity and water. I am dreading the next water bill because we have had a major plumbing problem and lost litres of the stuff. Our solar panels have reduced our electricity bills significantly but I ride everyone about not wasting a darn thing be it water, fuel, power or food.

    I have always found it easy to spend on family but not on me.

  61. says

    This post is so timely for me! I’ve been thinking about just this issue … I’ll cut corners on my groceries, buying things that I know aren’t as good for my family and then go to Starbucks on the way home and blow my savings on a mocha! And, I’ve thought in the past that good food *was* a priority for us. I’d love to see a follow -up post to this one at some time in the future.

  62. says

    I love how you think Kristen!
    This is a wonderful post. It’s SO true. I definitely agree that as a culture, sometimes our priorities are a little funny. We justify spending money on junky food vs quality food, by telling ourselves that it’s “too expensive”. This has given me a lot to think about.

  63. Emily Wicks says

    We have a set cash budget for cash every month. $200.00. When you have to pay with cash, and you watch your envelope quickly empty, it does really make you think about gas money. Grouping errands, putting things off a day or two, parking near the entrance of a parking lot vs driving around looking for a “good” spot, walking if things are less than a mile away, shutting off the car in the drive through of the bank (letting it run does not conserve gas in newer cars). Every little bit helps and when you are about out of money you really think about it!

  64. Lori says

    Really good questions, and I’ve been thinking about a similar thing regarding food.

    I think some is just, as you say, the up-front cost. And, the fact that we often get all of our groceries all at once. If buying local and/or organic foods meant that my weekly grocery bill would be $250, and I bought them all at once, that $250 would seem like a lot of money, even if during the week I spent the difference between that and my usual grocery bill on a number of small purchases, if that makes sense. One $250 bill seems like a lot, whereas spending $10 25 times somehow seems like less, I think.

    I know that if I’m going to the store for just one or two things–if I only need to get fish, for example–I’m a lot more inclined to go for higher-quality, more expensive stuff than if I’m doing a big weekly shopping. Because spending $11.99/pound on fish doesn’t seem like a huge deal if all I’m buying is fish and my total bill will be $15 (it’s still less than a dinner out for all of us), but if I’m buying all of our groceries and I think of that $15 added up with all of the other stuff I’m buying, it seems like a lot.

    Or something like that, I think.

  65. Karen. says

    I’ve just spent half an hour reading all these comments with enjoyment. I don’t have the answers. What works for my family is free or no TV, free or no fancy coffee, homemade in-season food as much as possible, lights off in the daytime, and inevitable trips to town (closest is 12 miles) bundled to make them as productive as possible.

    For better or worse, it appears I’m in the minority in trusting modern production agriculture. I like to know where my food comes from, and I take pride in growing and stowing things like tomatoes and pumpkins that pretty well raise themselves. And I know a lot of farmers in several states. If I buy Colorado potatoes, for instance, I might know the individual producer, or his neighbor. I grind Nebraska wheat for baking, but I don’t distrust the commercial white flour that makes the product palatable, because I know dozens of wheat farmers across the central U.S. My own husband is a corn, soybean and cow-calf producer. The last thing these stand-up individuals would do would be to intentionally poison me or anyone else for their own benefit.

    Looks like I’m also in the minority in having access to local eggs for $1.25 a dozen. That’s cheaper than the store, most of the time, and pretty awesome.

    One reason I have super high respect for organic producers is that their work is incredibly difficult and labor intense. They have identified a market and are capitalizing on it by dint of hard work. People buy organic for many reasons, and there’s room in agriculture for everyone’s production.

    And, one reason I like this blog is that a relatively simple post can send us all into a thinking (and commenting) tizzy. :)

    • Karen. says

      But wait, I didn’t answer the question. Do I find it difficult to spend on food but easy to spend on other things? No, the truth is that I hate overspending. I would just as soon spend my hard-earned money on something vital like food as something nonvital like a fancy phone.

    • MelissaZ says

      I’m with you. I don’t have a problem with modern agriculture. I think most of the time, I eat healthier when I spend less money! Which is better for you, the pound of brown rice for $1.99 or oreos for $3.49 :)

  66. Liz says

    But if you spend a little more and buy better-quality food, you most likely will build up your immune system and not get sick so much. That means smaller medical bills and not so much sick time from paid work.

  67. Jeana says

    We are currently living this prioritization conundrum. We just bought an 18 acre farm (!), the realization of a life-long dream. We won’t be living there for at least a year, as the house needs total rehabbing. I was telling my son and his girlfriend that we are going to have to do some serious belt tightening during the process. Her comment was “Goodbye, EarthFare.” EarthFare is our local organic grocery store. I told her that was the last thing I would cut from the budget. I firmly believe that the costs associated with unhealthy foods are much higher than any organic, CSA, sustainable foods would ever be. I always say, pay for it now or pay for it later. The more we are learning about environmental factors contributing to illness, the more it becomes important to think about what foods go into our bodies.

  68. Michelle says

    I couldn’t agree more! Most of budget is for food! I’m a SAHM and people always ask me how can I “afford” to eat organic etc. It’s simply bc that’s where we choose to spend our money. We live without other things so we can nourish ourselves in the best way possible…

  69. Ingrid says

    Great post and great comments. I have to mention…these days a lot of people don’t know what to do with fresh food…don’t know how to cook, prepare, use fresh produce.
    What seems second nature to some is intimidating to others.

  70. Jan says

    Oh, wow! Not minutes ago I was pondering whether or not we could “afford” high quality chicken, beef, eggs, vegetables, etc.. I have just found a farm that sells these products, and thought I would at least love to try them – find out what differences there would be in taste, and quality. Of course I know they are healhier, but they are VERY expensive plus it would require a 4 hour round trip drive. (Although it is a gorgeous drive!)
    My thought is to spend $100 of our monthly food budget, not including the gas up and back, and then to use the meat more as a “fill-in” using more vegetables and eggs in the meal, and having more meat-less meals.
    How does this work for other families especially those with meat eating fellows?

  71. monica says

    I think comparing groceries to gasoline is comparing apples to oranges. We don’t have meaningful choices about what type of gasoline to buy, but with food the choices can be daunting. you can choose to drive less, but you can’t really choose to save money by eating less; eating less can help you lose weight, but it’s not as simple as buying less.

    That said, I think these days choosing healthy foods, because of the work factor, means giving up on other activities that enrich our lives, or giving up on other kinds of work. if I choose to prepare everything I eat by hand, does that mean my daughter can’t take ballet? Or that I have to take a job of less hours and less pay? I’m all for quality food, but it’s not the only thing happening in my life.

  72. says

    This is actually one thing I don’t have a problem with. I will give up new clothes, the latest gadget, going out to eat for that pastured meat and farmer’s market local/organic veggies. I think that the more I know about of food system, the harder it is for me to make the old choices anymore. I do however find ways to make purchasing good food cheaper. For example, we subscribe to a meat CSA that probably cuts our pastured meat bill by nearly half. I also ask for damaged tomatoes for canning at the farmer’s market – I can usually get them for a fraction of the price. I also keep a garden and chickens, but I do have to stress for me that is also FUN and probably not for everyone.

  73. says

    This is a really excellent point, and well put!
    I think it has a lot to do with what is considered “standard” in our society. People have come to feel entitled to internet and cable. I’ve seen people really struggle financially and they never think to give up their data plan or HBO. Because, you know, EVERYONE has those things. Organic items, on the other hand, aren’t considered the standard fare. Maybe as real food becomes more common (as I hope it will) the expense won’t seem so exorbitant.

  74. Kaitlin says

    I find it difficult to spend money on groceries because often times I’m paying for the transportation, not for quality food. And now that I’m in Alaska, I’m more grateful than I’ve ever been for the extensive transportation system here in the States, but I get frustrated that one week prices will jump $0.50-$1.00/lb due to gas prices, and the quality remains s0-so. I’d love to buy locally, and in the summers I do, but it’s not always an option.

  75. Leslie Shelton says

    Pay now (for real food) or pay later (medical costs and prescription drugs). Don’t get me wrong – I’m not opposed to medical intervention, and at times, prescription medication is life-saving. However, I do think that Americans, as a whole, make themselves sick by what they eat…particularly all the processed, chemical-laden “foods” out there. Americans suffer from metabolic diseases more than any other country, and I believe that is due to lowering our standards about what we eat. It’s more like “does it taste good” versus “is it good for me.” I love seeing the long chain of replies on this post, and realizing I’m not the only food freak out there! :)

  76. Emma says

    I think some people have the wrong viewpoint on food. To me, there is no point buying cheap, processed food because it is actually not food. It’s not a choice between cheap cheese and expensive cheese, it’s a choice between cheese and chemicals.

    Also, I believe very strongly in the philosophy of “trade, not aid.” If I want to support a cause (ie. the environment, animal rights, etc) then I think it is more beneficial to spend money in the market purchasing products that encourage this kind of behaviour (ie. free range chicken), than paying that same amount to a charity, which is essentially a middleman.

  77. kiry c says

    I think because there is so much “cheap” food that can be bought, and so many 2 for 1, buy 1 get 1 free deals … we’ve become accustomed to “too good to be true” prices, and can’t get past that expectation.

    • WilliamB says

      This, and the above idea that shopping requires constant decision-making which means constantly deciding to spend more. That would also explain why I can happily spend $140 on 10 chickens but have trouble with the idea of a $14 chicken.

  78. smurphy says

    I am totally with you on this one. I don’t have cable and I only buy $5 coffee when meeting an old friend (once every few months) so it is more of a social event. I started trying to go organic a while back and have compensated for the extra cost by making sure I do not waste as I did before.

  79. says

    How did I miss this post? Spot on. We spend our time and money on what we deem most important, or do we? Do we spend time and money on the easy choice? It’s easier to fritter away time on the internet than it is to do something else maybe more taxing but in the long run more beneficial (such as exercise). As for quality food, takeaways are just so easy – cooking wholesome food is more time-consuming and requires thought. I work to an 80/20 rule generally. Do what I know is right 80% of the time, and let loose up to 20%.

    • WilliamB says

      “We spend our time and money on what we deem most important, or do we?”

      Not always. Turns out humans aren’t so good at weighing long-term benefits against short-term attractions. Or as I put it: a healthy old age or another 30 min in my warm comfy bed in the winter?

        • says

          No lie in for me today I went for a run and hated it…. but that’s delayed gratification for you, no one said it was the fun option! Hoping that the hour out today means than I’ll get an extra 2 healthy ones at the end of my days (okay so my knees may no longer work then but you can’t have everything can you?;-))

  80. says

    AMEN! I’m so amazed at people bitching about the cost of good food when they stand in line for a $5 frappuccino that is full of empty calories! I write a lot about how I buy from the bulk aisles to save money – spices, flour, sugar, grains, cereals, snacks, etc. Thanks for reiterating this!

  81. Sara says

    I’m and organic small scale veggie farmer, so I’m lucky enough to not have to buy veggies, but when I do go to the store I make a point of buying almost all organic. Lots of people think about how eating organic is healthier, but I feel like most people don’t think about the health of the farmer who grew that food. If you think its bad to wash that tomato and eat it weeks after it was sprayed think about the person who had to spray that tomato and work with those chemicals for a living their whole life. Any farm job doesn’t pay well, but an organic farm job doesn’t give you cancer. When you choose the non organic cucumber, what your really saying is its worth it to give some underpaid migrant worker cancer to save 40 cents. Harsh but true.

    • Cortney says

      Thank you, Sara! “When you choose the non organic cucumber, what your really saying is its worth it to give some underpaid migrant worker cancer to save 40 cents. Harsh but true.”


  82. says

    It is indeed all about priorities. I (am really not trying to brag) don’t have a favorite TV show and only visit Facebook occasionally to see friends pictures. But I always have time to hug my girlfriend, pet my dogs, read the paper with a cup of coffee, and make a homemade meal with stuff I grew in my garden. I may seemingly have less in my life than those who surround themselves with gadgets, technology, and convenience, but somehow my life rarely ever seems empty or lonely or sad.

  83. says

    When someone second guesses a purchase within my circle I always equate it to petrol because that seems to be a real leveller for people. Somehow it brings priorities back into focus. The cup of coffee is a good one too. I deal with people on a day to day basis in a specialist’s consulting rooms. Most people we see need to be monitored on a three monthly basis. After claiming back from Medicare, they are $30 out of pocket and a lot of them think it is very expensive!…until I break it down for them…you see a Specialist Physician for $30/3 mth, that’s $10/mth, that’s $2.50/week, that’s not even the cost of a cup of coffee!!!…To see a Specialist!!! Boy do we need to shift our priorities sometimes.

  84. Ashes says

    I think it’s more of a material possesion mindset. Having something is better than doing something. For me, sometimes food falls into the same catagory as markers, it’s all waste eventually so we might as well save some money.

    That said, I agree it shouldn’t be that way. We should think of food as we think of vacations, worth it for the experience and the quality that it adds to our lives.

  85. Ingrid says

    A recent, relevant study:
    “We found a large and significant inverse relationship between a respondent’s use of specific financial management practices and food insecurity and between a respondent’s confidence in his or her financial management skills and food insecurity. That is, households with greater financial management abilities are less likely to be food insecure. This finding also holds when the sample is restricted to households with incomes <200% of the poverty line. These results suggest that improving households’ financial management skills has the potential to reduce food insecurity in the United States.

    First publishedSeptember 5, 2012, doi: 10.3945/”‹jn.112.162214 J. Nutr. October 1, 2012 vol. 142 no. 101865-1870
    Financial Management Skills Are Associated with Food Insecurity in a Sample of Households with Children in the United States
    Craig G. Gundersen and
    Steven B. Garasky

  86. says

    Yes!!! This is a message that I’ve been spreading for almost a decade now! When people ask how we can afford to eat whole foods on our income (family of 4 living on roughly 40,000) I list all of the things we don’t do so we can do this. I see it as an investment. An investment in our health.

  87. says

    I think it’s difficult to spend money on healthy food because it’s expensive IN THE SHORT TERM. However, in the long term, we’re probably going to save money because we won’t have as many medical bills or health issues because we ate right. The problem is, we’re so focused on the short term savings, we forget how sometimes spending a little more might result in some long term savings.

  88. says

    This post really resonated with me. For me food is a passion. But, even so, it has taken some time for me to not feel…guilty or awkward for not being cheap with my food. Yes, I buy groceries from Albertson’s but also from Whole Foods. My feeling is my health and wellness begins from the inside out. Also, I just love food. What I value I tend to spend more money on: food and travel. But, it has been a process to get to this point.

  89. Vicki says

    My husband and I budget on gas, food… Everything. We know we are made to be Stewarts of finances God gave us. It doesn’t mean we try to spend less on everything, we watch where are money goes and it’s a reflection of what’s in our hearts/desires. We buy organic meats and other food items and are transitioning to organic veggies and fruits. Its better to have a smaller pirtion on good quality food than stuff ourselves with a large portion of other food. How we eat and exercise will have a huge affect on our health later in life.

  90. JPRICE says

    This post got me thinking, just yesterday I went to get a few groceries from the shop and couldn’t help thinking how expensive the grated cheese was at $8 a bag. Later that day without a thought I bought myself a roll and drink from a café and paid $14 for it. When I think back now the bag is actually quite big, it will last a week and nearly half of the meals I prepare will probably require the grated cheese. I think it comes down to convenience, if I buy a sandwich I can eat it then and there so I don’t mind paying, if I buy grated cheese I have to buy other groceries and although it works out cheaper in the end. So i guess the question we ask is the money we save really worth the effort and time?

  91. says

    My struggle is to convince my husband, not myself, that food quality is important. We don’t make a whole lot of money and actually don’t ever or extremely rarely spend money on the things you mentioned as counterbalance examples (though our income is well above the poverty level). But I would like to cut back even more to find some room some of the time for organic grass-fed meat while he thinks we’re too tight to even try it and would prioritize more electronics over better food if we did have the money. Philosophically I have embraced the Paleo/Primal movement but I haven’t been able to live out fully the organic and grass-fed imperatives for my food because I haven’t yet found a compromise with my husband.

  92. says

    That sure are some interesting questions. Reading your questions I think to myself: “She is right.”Are my priorities right? Some of them are (like spending some time with friends and family), but then I will have to live with having less time for other stuff (like extra study for job).

  93. Yelena Milne says

    Whatever additional nutritional benefits organic foods may or may not offer, it is clear that they do come with something extra””additional costs. Organic foods are so darn expensive. Why do they cost so much? Wouldn’t you think that organic foods would be cheaper, since the farmers who grow them do not have to spend extra funds on expensive chemical pesticides and growth hormones?

  94. says

    About a year ago, I signed a pledge called “Save the Hens”. I know it sounds funny, but I pledged to only buy free-range eggs from that point on, because of the way the hens on the big chicken farms are treated. I made the jump from two-something to five-something eggs, and it pinched at times, but it really did feel like at last I was doing something about an issue I’ve felt really strongly about for a long time. The side benefit is that the eggs are MUCH better!

    The next step came shortly after that: we decided to no longer buy any meat that was not free range, and preferably grass fed. The reason is motivated the most by, again, the way the animals are treated. I don’t believe I have the right to subject another creature to such abominable conditions just so I can have more or cheaper steaks. We don’t buy completely organic all the time because we can’t afford it, but the meat we buy now is free range, and while the animals may have been given antibiotics if they were sick, they weren’t fed growth hormones and other undesirable things.

    We have found that being on the road to living according to our deeply held values has also led to better results in terms of quality and appreciation of what we do buy. We don’t eat as much meat, but that’s quite okay. At least we know we’re not paying an industry to do something completely abhorrent to us, and that makes the extra cost and/or smaller amounts totally worth it.

  95. says

    I think it’s all about advertising and also popular trends around you. When all your friends have iphones and you see a bunch of billboards with Apple products, you would want one too. If everybody is drinking a Frapuccino at Starbucks, it makes you tempted to get one. If you saw a bunch of ads for a $20 watermelon (and maybe a beautiful girl in a billboard holding a watermelon), I think I would be tempted to buy one.

  96. says

    Couldn’t agree more – it’s priorities! I wrote an article about it called “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is”, with the tagline, “Could we all afford to eat high quality food if we just got our priorities right?” I think the answer is yes!

  97. Alis says

    I am in a position where I make enough to live comfortably. I still have large student loans, but I come out with a little money extra each month. I try not to look at the price tags on food products. I buy the highest quality I can, read every label, and use my debit card, so that I don’t put a huge amount of thought into the dollar value of my grocery cart. If I need to cut back for another expense, I just leave the cookies on the shelf, or make it up somewhere else. I am a Celiac. It has taught me more than anything else that what you put in your body is critically important, no matter who you are.

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