6 Tips to Saving Money on Quality Foods

The first subject on my mind this morning is the sad matter of a price increase. Due to rising costs of packaging—largely driven by a hike in transportation costs—we’re forced to raise the price of our dairy as well as some meat cuts. Milk jug costs have risen sharply in the last few months, and although we’ve absorbed it as long as we can, we cannot continue to do that indefinitely. The same is true for meat packaging as well as energy costs necessary for meat and dairy storage. As much as we dislike price hikes and inflation, we’re raising the price of a gallon of milk and certain meat products. We hope to be able to reduce it again in the future, but as you know, that remains uncertain at this time.

Sigh…with that off my chest let’s discuss affordable ways to eat high-quality food. As you know, beyond-organic food purchased from farms is universally more expensive than food your local grocery store or supermarket. However, when compared with markets such as Whole Foods or subscription meat outlets like Butcher Box or Crowd Cow, local farm-fresh foods appear quite affordable.

If I had a dime for every time Esther and I looked for ways to decrease our food budget, I’d have plenty of dimes (maybe enough that we wouldn’t have to think about the cost of food). However, as our awareness of food quality—and how it impacts health—increased, we slowly gave up the food-should-be-cheap mentality.

In the current glut of cheap processed foods, it’s hard to prioritize food quality over price when the children are small, you’re trying to build a life and a business, and every dollar must be watched closely. But now, we look at our children and see the benefits of being adamant about nourishing food when they were younger.

That said, here’s my rundown of ways to save money while buying top-quality food. Stick with me, I’ll explain each point separately after the list. Here goes:

  • Buy in bulk
  • Go for items that are less in-demand
  • Choose optimal nutrition per dollar
  • Add your own value (i.e., buy the basics and prepare it in your own kitchen)
  • Buy directly from the source
  • Avoid waste

Now let’s delve into each topic and discover ways to do it.

Buy in bulk –

At the last local chapter meeting of the Weston A. Price Foundation (held here at Pasture to Fork), the chapter leader involved the audience in a conversation on how they are saving money while eating high-quality food. While the suggestions varied widely, the over-riding theme was bulk purchasing.

In our experience as a direct-to-consumer farm we’ve seen over and over that the most dedicated customers buy in bulk whenever the opportunity presents itself. While the most common way of doing this is to buy a quarter or half beef or half or whole hog instead of individual steaks or sausage, it can also be simply taking advantage of volume discounts of eggs or milk.

However, that can also be practiced in bulk food stores such as Miller’s Natural Foods, which most of you know about. Think of the things you buy all the time. Whether it be flour, sweetener, nuts, or whatever, and then find out if you can buy it in larger quantities. We began doing this for almost all our staples and save 10% on all of it. That’s significant.

Go for less In-Demand Items –

For those concerned about the higher cost of quality food, one way to stretch a dollar is to buy items that are in less in demand.

For example, chicken thighs are always in demand, and therefore are more expensive per pound, ditto boneless skinless breast. A little-known fact is that for every thigh there must be a drumstick. Because drumsticks are less in-demand, the price is drastically dropped to create buyer incentive. We sell thighs for $10.89/lb., while drumsticks are $2.99/lb. Sounds unfair, doesn’t it? It’s simply because of demand. I know drumsticks will never match thighs in delectability, but they’re easily prepared and are excellent dining.

The same is true for sirloin steak vs. T-bone or Delmonico. The animal yields x amount of each, and to keep from filling the freezer with the less-desired cut the price must be adjusted according to demand.

Interestingly, each farm or retailer has different cuts that sell well or not-so-well due to the demands of their customer base. If you’re not sure, ask what doesn’t sell so well and if they will give a discount on volume purchases of that item. In most cases, they will be happy to do so.

Choose Optimal Nutrition per Dollar –

If you’re buying from farms there will always be items that—while they are priced higher than their supermarket counterparts—are an excellent choice because they pack a lot of nutrition. Such as eggs. Or ground beef.

A dozen eggs weighs about 1.8 lbs. without the carton. At about $6.00 a dozen, that’s a lot of nutrition per pound. Plus, they’re so versatile and can be used in many different ways (think hard-boiled, or egg & vegetable dinner casseroles). The same with ground beef, extremely adaptable, highly nutritious when raised properly, and relatively cheap. Yes, steak is highly palatable, but is more than double the price per pound of ground beef.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to eating steak or any other high-end food, but in this post the focus is on highlighting ways to save money while eating quality foods. Unless we detach it from human health, the cheap food argument simply lacks substance because for food to be as cheap as most Americans expect it to be, corners must be cut in not only production, but ingredient quality as well.

Add your own Value –

Sadly, culinary arts have fallen by the wayside in the past several decades. We have more technological glitz in our kitchens than ever, and use it less than any previous generation.

Its universally true that processed or ready-to-eat foods are considerably more expensive per pound than whole or unprocessed foods. For example, by learning how to cut a whole chicken into parts you can have high-end breast and thighs for the price of whole chicken and a little elbow grease. Whole chicken, by the way, is usually about a third the cost of breast and thighs.

The same is true for making your own broth from beef bones or chicken carcasses. The raw materials are far more affordable than the value-added product.

Remember, in this era of information almost anything can be learned in a few minutes, thanks to the great playing field leveler called Youtube.

Buy directly from the source –

This one is something of a no-brainer. We know that the more links are added to the marketing chain, the higher the price will be because every link takes a piece of the pie.

That should mean that real foods purchased from farms should be more affordable than food purchased from the local grocery or supermarket, which we know isn’t true. Why is that? There are two factors influencing that. The first has to do with true cost of production, and the second is economy of scale.

By and large, food prices in the supermarket do not reflect the true cost of production due to government subsidies. Certain crops are subsidized in order to provide cheap raw materials to food manufacturers. Also, due to food processing having amalgamated to a few global corporations, they enjoy economies of scale allowing mass production, which results in a cheaper end product.

Craft foods produced on a small scale lack these advantages, therefore small-scale producers are forced to abide by the hard laws of the marketplace which require charging the true cost of production plus enough of a profit to live off of.

For the record, I don’t know of any craft food producers or direct-to-consumer farmers who are getting wealthy in their endeavor. While they may be making a decent living—as they should—they’re not driving BMW’s or buying yachts. Most do it because they have a passion for it, and want to serve the community.

Nevertheless, buying from the producer will almost always save you money when compared to buying from organic supermarkets such as Whole Foods or subscription-based retailers. Find a farm near you, develop a relationship, and you will have a trusted partner who will treat you well.

Avoid Waste –

One of the most atrocious facts in the US is that we waste about 40% of our food. I have often questioned whether or not this is related to the fact that we spend the least of our expendable income on food compared to the rest of the world. The fact is, we value things in direct proportion to the time and money invested in it.

Perhaps the principal obligation to avoiding food waste is to learn preservation skills such as canning, freezing, and fermentation. Almost any food—when on the verge of spoiling—can be tossed in a freezer bag and frozen. If you’re part of a vegetable CSA or buy produce in bulk when it’s in season, it’s not hard to can or ferment it for consumption in the off season.

If you don’t have the skills to do this, it’s actually not that hard. As Henry Ford so succinctly said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” Again, think Youtube or find someone – perhaps even a blogger – who has the skills and is willing to mentor you in the process.

I know from experience that most things—when considered ahead of time—appear far more daunting than they actually are. I didn’t grow up a farmer and have taken on many tasks that I really didn’t want to do but were a necessary part of farming. Oddly enough, I’ve become good at many of those tasks and now enjoy them. Mastering a skill, my friends, is one of the most empowering things you can do. And, in uncertain times such as these, practical hands-on skills are of great worth.

And that, is The View from the Country.

P.S. Because I right spontaneously (often without an outline), the first draft of this post turned into a rant dubbed “What if price isn’t the Sole Arbiter”. Click and enter the password “price” if you’re interested in ready my thoughts.

Quotes worth Re-Quoting –
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”― Henry Ford

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.”― Wendell Berry