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Local, Organic Buying vs. Frugality


This topic has come up several times recently in the comments, and so I thought perhaps devoting a post to it would be a good idea.

Ideologically, I am 100% on board with the idea of buying local, organic food. I think it’s a wonderful thing for both people and the planet.

Unfortunately, local, organic food is not always so good for the grocery budget.

This bums me out, because it’s one of the places where green, healthy, and frugal don’t overlap. Line-drying laundry, buying less stuff, driving less, eating less processed food, and buying used are all things that satisfy both my desire to save money and my desire to save the earth.

When I’m forced to choose between the two, though, I have to consider my priorities and make my decisions accordingly.

Serving my family is a very, very high priority on my list. I cook from scratch in order to serve my family, I try to organize my home so that I can serve my family better, and I try to manage my time so I can serve my family better. Along these same lines, one of the main reasons I work so hard to save money is that by doing so, I serve my family. If I spent foolishly and didn’t save, my family would suffer in many ways, and I don’t want that to happen.

At the same time, I do want to be a good steward of the earth God gave to us. I want to be responsible and live in a way that preserves the planet as much as possible.

If I had a lot of disposable income or if we had fewer people in our family, these two priorities would probably not be in conflict. With more money, I’d likely have no problem covering a higher grocery bill, and with fewer people, organic local food wouldn’t cost as much as it does for six people.

As it is, though, buying nothing but organic and local food would cause me to spend far more than I can afford on groceries. This would be delightful for the planet, and probably quite good for our bodies, but it would be very bad news for our financial state.

So, here’s what I do.

  • When green is sort of close to frugal, I’m usually there. I buy produce from the farmer’s markets in the summertime, even though it’s a little more expensive than loss-leader produce. I get milk in glass jars from a very local farm, even though it’s $4/gallon instead of $2/gallon. Just today, I bought some all-natural chicken from Pennsylvania, which is fairly close to where I live. I paid $2.30/pound, which is more than I pay for regular chicken, but is not outrageous.
  • When green is not even close to frugal, I usually pass. I’d love to have geo-thermal heating and cooling, but I’d have to go into massive debt to procure that, and that would certainly not serve my family. I’d love to buy the chicken breasts from the little store up the road (they don’t even come in a package, which is fabulous!), but spending that much on a pound of meat would be bad for our finances, and thus would not serve my family.

My frugal vs. green strategy will probably change over time. Someday, we won’t need to buy as many groceries (although that’s going to get worse before it gets better, seeing as our kids are all sort of young right now!), and when that happens, I’ll be happy to spend more on local and organic food. And if something wonderful happens with my husband’s career, and we have more money to put into the food budget, I’ll certainly use it to buy local and organic food.

If your situation is different than mine, you may need to operate differently. But this is what works for me and my family in this phase of our lives.

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Friday 19th of March 2010

Nice post, I agree. I try to buy and consume in a smart and balanced way - perfection is the enemy of good anyway, right? :)

Where I live (North of Italy) local is very cheap - farmers' market is one of the most convenient places for vegetables and fruit. If I were rich I'd only shop at NaturaSí¬, the organic supermarket: the products, packaged and fresh as well, are unbeatable. But I'm not rich, so I only shop there every now and then, especially when my fave products are marked down. On the other hand, some organic brands I find at the regular supermarket (for ex. ScelgoBio) aren't expensive at all. So I can buy organic eggs, olive oil, some kinds of cheese, chocolate etc at the same price as non-organic.

What I would really like to buy organic is meat (if you have read The Omnivore's Dilemma you'll understand me) - but it's unaffordable.

The Frugal Girl » Monday Q&A-Aldi Ethics plus Homeschooling

Monday 6th of July 2009

[...] wrote about the organic/green versus cheap dilemma a little while ago, and you can read that post here. In a nutshell, I think that if you can manage to afford organic and local food, I think [...]


Sunday 21st of June 2009

I really enjoyed this post. I am frequently at a crossroads on this topic and you and I are on the same page here.

I like your blog a lot!


J N Urbanski

Friday 19th of June 2009

Thanks for the sugar info. I get my maple syrup from an elderly gentleman in my village in the Catskills who has been making it since he was in short trousers or thereabouts. He boils it down in a huge vat in his garage and I save all the bottles so I can give them back to him. Now that's local. Sometimes I get it from Canada when I'm in the city because I more or less drink the stuff. I'm ashamed to say my tea is from China (I drink a lot of that!); does this negate my good deeds with the syrup? Sigh. Can you get local black tea? I get my red wine from Washington/Cali. I just can't drink Fingerlakes wine. I tried. I'm low maintenance, but not that low maintenance. I'll certainly be looking around for the WF & organic coupons that was a great tip. Thanks!

Frugal Liz

Friday 19th of June 2009

Maple syrup is my favorite sweetener.

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