I have been spending way too much money on organic products since I was about seventeen. As a young single person I literally spent my whole paycheck at Whole Foods, and that was fine. Now that we have have two kids and I stay at home with my daughter, we are a family on a tight budget! A teacher’s salary does not lend itself to disposable income, so we are very choosy about what we spend on. Our number one priority is clean, healthy food. Number two is mental and physical health care. After that we get to things like clothes and furniture. Thus, we wear five year old five dollar t-shirts from Old Navy and don’t have any furniture in our living room other than two very old hand me down chairs. I do realize that with some effort we could furnish our place for free from Craigslist. Honestly, we’ve grown to love the open space and the clean carpet for the kids to play and stretch out on. When Mo and I want to sit and relax and watch a movie I seriously reconsider these choices, but all in all I’m happy with the way we prioritize. We have a beautiful family, an awesome pool right outside our apartment building, and delicious healthy food. What more could I ask for!?
Now that “organic” has become trendy there are a million and one ways to spend lots of money on products and foods. Here of some of my tips for living organic on a serious budget:
1. All-Purpose cleaner. You don’t need different spray bottles with different scents to clean the different parts of your home. A good full strength all purpose cleaner will clean literally everything if you dilute it correctly. My two favorite kinds are orange cleaner and Dr. Bronner’s Sal-Suds. I bought this sustainable version of the Swiffer type mop at the supermarket and I fill the sprayer with diluted Sal-Suds. It cleans everything off the awful white tile floors in my apartment and leaves a light pine essential oil scent (not overpowering). I don’t even have to worry about Ella following me around while I clean! Sal-Suds also gets out tough stains when applied full strength to laundry. If I have to wash a load of dish towels or something with oil or gross smells I add some to the washer and everything comes out clean and smelling nice. You can use it for dish detergent too but I found some inexpensive unscented biodegradable Target brand dish soap that I really like. I must admit I love those Seventh Generation wipes that come in the plastic tub. They disinfect with thyme oil and it’s just so easy to wipe down the kitchen counters or bathroom with them when I’m in a rush. I grab a few tubs when I see them on sale at Target or Vitacost has a good price. Apparently vinegar is great for cleaning almost anything, I honestly don’t use it much myself because I don’t like the smell, but if you google it you will find many miraculous household uses.
2. Avoid processed foods of any kind, especially “organic” and baby stuff. You can spend an unbelievable amount of money on organic versions of processed foods. They probably don’t have harmful additives, but they still often have lots of salt and sugar and unnecessary additives. I’m talking about things like frozen dinners, canned foods, and boxed macaroni and cheese. With a little planning it can be as easy to put together a quick meal as it is to heat up a boxed meal. I have a short list of packaged items I keep on hand to make a decent dinner when I’m short on time, which I will share in my next post. As far as baby food goes, with Ella we decided to skip the baby cereal, jarred or pureed food, and puffs and try “baby-led weaning” instead. It is a method of teaching babies to eat real food right from the start, and while there were some frustrating moments on the way, it has paid off with an 8 1/2 month old who feeds herself table food. Totally worth it.
3. If you go to Whole Foods or other natural market, only go to the produce, dairy, and bulk sections. When we go there we pass through produce for fruits and vegetables, then on to the dairy section for milk, yogurt, and eggs. Then we go straight to the bulk bins for grains, nuts, flours, and beans. Don’t forget the coffee beans. (If you know of somewhere online where I can order really fresh roasted beans that are not super expensive please let me know!) Sometimes we buy a loaf of sprouted bread or some frozen veggies to keep on hand, and I’m not saying I never wander around a little and come home with a chocolate bar or some ice cream. All in all this shopping plan gets us a ton of food for about half of what it would cost to buy anything packaged.
4. Make your own. There are many things that it has become standard to buy pre-made that are actually quite easy and not time consuming to make at home. One of my favorite examples is granola. I am a die-hard cereal lover, so it was hard for me to stop buying boxed cereal. When I think honestly about the nutrition in the cereal compared to the amount of packaging and price, I know it is not worth buying. Making homemade granola is really quick, easy, and delicious. You need bulk oats, nuts, and/or seeds, some oil, and some sweetener. I like sliced almonds, coconut sugar or maple syrup, and coconut oil. You could also make a version with pumpkin seeds, honey and cinnamon, or any other combination you like. I’ll include a basic recipe in my next post. I try to make bread about once a week, whether challah for Shabbat, pitas to keep in the freezer, or a loaf of molasses quick bread. This doesn’t always happen, and I’m considering doing a gluten elimination diet for Mo and Ben who have some allergies, so then it will probably be replaced with gluten free baked goods of some kind. When I’m not feeling ambitious I try to at least keep some cooked grains like quinoa or rice in the fridge. Tomato sauce costs so much and it is quite easy to make it yourself if you have a hand blender. I have used this super easy recipe for oven-roasted tomato sauce from my friend Justine’s awesome blog, and I have found ways to make it even easier. Sometimes I just take a tomato or two, a clove of garlic, a little olive oil and some salt and hit it with the hand blender. I don’t even cook it! Very yummy on pizza or pasta. Or warm it up and thin it with a little milk or water and serve as tomato soup with grilled cheese!
5. Plan ahead. This is by far the biggest money saver of all. Every single time I spend money I don’t want to spend on things that I don’t want to spend it on, it is because I didn’t think ahead. When I go out with the kids I always bring snacks like cut up fruit, hard boiled eggs, cheese cubes, PB&J, and once I try this recipe, these yummy sounding granola bars. If I leave in a rush I end up buying something expensive or not so nutritious. When I am cooking at home I try to make extra and put some in the freezer for a time when I am in a hurry. I double every baked good recipe, whether muffins, bread, pizza dough, or cookies, and freeze half. When I make soup I make a full pot and freeze half. Tomato sauce and casseroles like quiche also freeze really well. For my shopping trips, I know that if I go to the store hungry, or without having thought through what I want to cook for the week, I come home with a hodge podge of ingredients and have to go back to the store again in a day or two. I should really take my own advice and plan weekly menus. It’s next on the list, right alongside family dinners every night. I’ll let you know how it goes 😉
These tips may not be possible for everyone, depending on the amount of time you have or want to invest. I understand that it’s not always feasible to make everything from scratch. When Mo and I were both working, we sent our laundry out and ate take out two nights a week. However, if you want to live organic without breaking the bank, and you have the time and desire, these are some great ways to save money!