Many people have been asking for some advice about affording organic foods and natural products while on a tight budget. When it comes to my family, we often ‘skimp’ in some areas so that we can afford to widen our food budget a bit, since I believe that this is the most important key to living a healthy lifestyle. It’s no secret that conventional foods have literally hundreds of chemicals on/in them! The Environmental Working Group has confirmed that pesticides cannot be washed or cooked off, contrary to those selling these foods and others claiming that they have products that can get rid of them! In order to include more organic foods in our budget, we don’t spend a lot of money on clothes, shopping, when needed, during major sales and most often relying on hand me downs and gently used clothing stores. We also only have basic cable and, until recently, basic phone plans. We live in a small house, and don’t put much money into any type of upgrading or fancy appliances; we have what we need!
Always wanting more money saving ideas, I was super excited when Jessica Brandt, of Eco-friendly Baby Products Made in the U.S.A., offered to share her money saving tips. Following is a great post where she shares how she lives a natural and chemical free life on a tight budget.
How I Afford Organic Food & Non-Toxic Products for my Family on a VERY Limited Budget! by Jessica Brandt, of Eco-friendly Baby Products Made in the U.S.A.
I’m very passionate about this topic, mainly because being frugal & “green” or eco-friendly go hand-in-hand. A question I see a lot is “it’s so overwhelming to make all the changes; I want to support a more healthy lifestyle for my family, where should I begin?” We all had to start somewhere. I didn’t make all of these changes overnight; it’s taken years to get where I am today. Being on a limited income means gradual changes. As my budget allows, I buy one reusable product, and eliminate the need to buy that product over & over in the store.
Another question I see often: “Organic food is so expensive, how does everyone afford it?” or “The only place I can afford to shop is Wal-Mart or the Dollar Store, how am I supposed to afford non-toxic products for my family?” I’m here to tell you that it is possible! Here’s a little background on me. I live in rural Wisconsin with my husband & 17 month old son. My hubby is a self-employed computer technician, and I’m putting my career as a Spanish teacher on hold to be a stay-at-home mom for as long as possible. I do work part-time, seasonally, and design websites from home, bringing in a little extra money. We both have bachelor’s degrees (hubby actually has 2), so we do have student loan payments, in addition to a mortgage & the usual utility bills. When the census asks for your income, we’re in the bottom one or two brackets. We’re a very low income family, but also live in an area where living expenses are conducive to this.
So, here are my top 15 tips for saving money & providing your family with safe products:
- 1. Switch to reusable products, a very eco-friendly option:
Some of the reusable products I use: cloth diapers, cloth wipes, batteries, wool dryer balls, & a reusable menstrual cup. I cut up old cotton or flannel t-shirts & make rag bags, which has eliminated my need to purchase paper towels, Kleenex or napkins. Every, single one of these reusable products save a great deal of money over their life cycle!
- 2. Make as many of your own products & foods as possible:
Things I EASILY make at home, in minutes flat: all-purpose cleaner from vinegar & orange peels, air freshener using essential oils (I learned about the dangers of artificial scents thanks to Raising Natural Kids!), hemp milk which saves me over 50% off retail price & avoids the nasty additives found in cartons of all milk, granola- which I started making after the Kashi/GMO story broke, and haven’t bought any cereal (which is quite expensive) in many months as a result. I will soon be adding homemade toothpaste & deodorant to this list, both of which I have recipes for and am just waiting to try out! Basically, I look at what I am buying in the store, and one-by-one start making those products at home whenever possible. I have recipes with complete instructions on all of these topics on my page.
- 3. Be ultra-conservative in your use of products:
I also see the following question often “Which shampoo/body wash should I use for my 6 week/month old- she’s been getting sweaty?” Honestly, newborns, infants, and even toddlers don’t need these products. I’ve never used anything but warm water to clean up my 17 month old. No matter how dirty he is at the end of the day, which is often quite filthy, he cleans up easily with a warm wash cloth. There are several companies making great products in this category, but they are quite expensive & I just don’t believe in using them until absolutely necessary; I have no idea when that’ll be. We use coconut oil for a moisturizer, when needed. The products that we do use as a family, we use very sparingly. By using the minimal amount needed, and not just mindlessly using a handful of shampoo, we increase the lifetime of the product greatly! This saves us quite a bit of money, and is also very eco-friendly!
4. Miscellaneous ideas to save money:
-I volunteer at my local food co-op 8 hrs. /month & receive a 20% discount on everything in the store!! This is a huge savings, and the co-op has counted on volunteers for its 35 years of existence. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a local co-op, as many of them have been bought out by Whole Foods, but if you do have one, see if this is an option! Whenever I’m traveling I seek out a local co-op & have been pleased to see that many of them do offer volunteer opportunities!! I still spend a LOT of money on food. It’s our largest monthly expense, but it’s not negotiable.
-Then, I buy in bulk at that store, which saves both money & unnecessary packaging. I have a huge collection of glass jars of all sizes & when I run out of an item, I go down to the co-op & refill it from the bulk bin. My tiny little food co-op offers 300+ bulk items. Everything from herbs & spices, grains, legumes & coffees to shampoo & conditioner, dish & laundry soap & more. The great thing about shopping there too is that if I want an item they don’t have, they can special order it!
-We drink mainly water. This may not seem like a big deal, but the savings really add up. My husband & I used to drink quite a bit of juice & not think twice about it. Juice is loaded with sugar, and if you’re not buying it organic, it’s loaded with pesticides, even arsenic! We switched to organic juice for a while which is very, very expensive. We occasionally bought soda, at the co-op. But, even Blue Sky soda, which advertises “real” sugar, is not a healthy option, as it’s loaded with that real sugar. By cutting these unnecessary and unhealthy items out of our grocery bill, and sticking with mainly water, iced tea, and homemade hemp milk, the savings are pretty significant! Also, I never leave home without my stainless steel water bottle filled up with water, which prevents me from needing to purchase a beverage while out & about, and saving plastic bottles from the landfill & our oceans!
-In the back room of my food co-op is a community room which houses a free clothes closet. I get the bulk of my clothes there. It seems many people are eager to get rid of perfectly good clothes in order to make room for more, to the benefit of folks such as myself. My babe wears mostly hand-me-downs, and we go to Goodwill for anything else we need. I can’t justify spending $50-$100 on a pair of jeans when I can get an entire wardrobe for that price at Goodwill!
-Shop at rummage sales or 2nd hand stores. In the last year I’ve been eliminating plastics as much as possible by switching my entire kitchen over to glass & stainless steel products. I was eyeing-up a huge stainless steel bowl on Amazon for $20, but just didn’t want to spend the money on it. The next rummage sale I went to I found not one, but 2 of them, on sale for $.25- sure they had some dings in them, but I could care less! Many of my Pyrex baking & storage containers have come from rummage sales. Also, Ebay, Craigslist, etc. can be great resources for gently used products that you want, at great prices. This is also a very eco-friendly option, eliminating the use of virgin raw materials!
-I don’t have cable. We’ve been a TV-free household for 11+ years; I’ve never missed it & know my son never will either. We do have Netflix, the cheapest monthly subscription you can have; I believe its $7.99/month.
-I don’t have a smart phone. I’m shocked at what some people pay for a monthly phone bill. I have a cheap, standard phone that can make calls & text, and am on a family plan with my mom & sisters. We each chip in $25/month.
-We rarely go out to eat, for a variety of reasons. It’s very expensive. Every time we spend $20-$50 on a meal, I think of all the food we could buy in the store to prepare at home, and I just don’t enjoy that meal as much. Also, it’s tough to find restaurants serving organic & local food that we enjoy, and I just don’t enjoy non-organic, GMO-laden food nearly as much, even if someone else is making it. And, going out to eat with a toddler can be a real challenge, as many of you know!
-We have one credit card that we pay off every single month. If we don’t have the money for what we want to purchase, we don’t buy it!
-I grow a huge garden, and fill a deep freeze to the brim on a yearly basis. Hubby hunts deer for our red meat source. Our friends who run an organic apple orchard raise chickens & pork, which we work-off or trade for.
-We heat our house with wood, which we gather ourselves. We don’t have a lot of land, so we get together with friends & have wood-cutting parties & split it up. This saves lots & lots of money, especially here in Wisconsin. In the summer, we open windows at night & close them up in the morning, and put heavy shades over them, keeping the cool air in & saving the A.C for extremely hot days only.
-I drive a car that has 200,000+ miles on it, but has been paid off for many years.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY! Recently the story about high levels of mercury in Crayola Crayons was in the headlines. I had an extra $10 in my budget so spent it on truly non-toxic crayons for my babe. Many would say “$10 for 6 crayons- that’s way too expensive!” It’s my opinion that children, especially young children such as my babe, don’t need 40 colors of crayons. What they need is safe, non-toxic products that still allow them to experiment & have fun. I can’t think of a better way to spend $10! Instead of a huge toy box overflowing with cheap, plastic toys made in China, how about a smaller toy box, full of more expensive but truly safe, ethically produced toys? I’d much rather have ½ the toys, but twice the quality. Also, well-made products hold up over time, and you can even possibly re-sell them when your family is through with them!
I’m aware that some of the ideas presented may not be possible for you. If you live in an apartment in New York City, of course you’re not going to go collect & burn wood to save money on your heating bill. But, maybe 2 or 3 of these ideas had never occurred to you. I REALLY hope this helps some of you get ideas on ways to cut down on your monthly budget in order to provide your family with safe products. As a result, you’ll have a healthier family and hopefully no medical bills as a trade-off! For recipes, links & tips on all the topics covered, please come visit my page: Eco-friendly Baby Products Made in the U.S.A.