I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Fred and I have recently been going through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. Part of our push towards self-sufficiency is attempting to become completely debt free. True independence means not being slave to a financial institution. We have given up lots of material things over the last two years and frankly we do not miss them but what we have not managed to do is learn to save for purchases versus buying them on credit. I admit I was leery of even taking the class but since the first class was free we decided to at least check it out.

The program works but it is extremely difficult. Of course I guess that explains why so few Americans are debt free. It is hard to decided exactly how much money you will spend on what and then stick to that regardless of changing circumstances and it is hard to budget out ever cent you make before you make it and then hold fast to that commitment, forgoing the extra wants and temptations that pop up through the month.

But here is what is really difficult: realizing that, if you are going to pay down debt than you only have “x” amount of dollars left to spend on groceries and let me tell you fresh produce, organic dairy and soy products are not cheap. This has been the biggest struggle. How do you fix healthy wholesome food and do so cheaply in the dead of winter when getting a fresh veggie is like looking for a Baptist preacher at the local juke joint. Not to mention buying organic is like trying to buy gold or gasoline or Faberge eggs.

In the past I paid all the bills that were immediately due in that pay cycle, I would ignore the few extra that were not covered and whatever was left in the bank was food and gas money. Although we were not bouncing checks this was not a very efficient way to balance the checkbook. Sure, it allowed me to generally spend with impunity at the grocery store but it was doing nothing to get us out of debt and big purchases (and emergencies) were still made on credit. We do not want to live like that forever and we both agreed it was time for a change.

I found the Dave Ramsey class on line after talking with several people and listening to their testimonies about how they had successfully paid of staggering debts and were living their lives with a whole new lease on freedom instead of a new Lexus (or in our case a tractor). After hearing these things and talking about it with Fred, our folks and even our pastor I thought God was really pushing us into the class and so far it has been a success and a very helpful tool.

What I cannot get past though is the utter disappointment with the food budget. I am sick of eating beans, potatoes, oats, cabbage, apples and pasta. Those few staples are cheap and fit within our budget. Asparagus, squash, fancy lettuce, fresh tofu, pears, pineapples, soy milk and the other pricey items that have, in the past, been staples are now things that have to be picked between and done so sparingly. Curries, basmati, quinoa and other things that I used to make several times a week are now treats. I have cut our grocery bill almost in half but I have done so at the expense of our palates. Well, my palate.

It is frustrating. I know that for the most part I am still feeding my family relatively healthily but we are eating many more carbohydrates and far fewer colorful vegetables than I like. I know that this is a temporary situation. Spring is coming soon and with spring will come a garden of those vegetables I crave without the colossal price tag of the supermarket. Also, at some point (hopefully), we will be out of debt and the money that is now geared towards making us financially free can once again, in part, be earmarked for our bellies.

Here is the other problem and I can see now how easily it is to fall into the trap of low income families everywhere: It is cheap to eat CRAP. If I took my family to McDonald’s every night and everyone ordered dinner off the dollar menu and skipped soda I could easily cut our food bill in half again. Likewise if I went to the grocery store and shopped only in the middle isles of boxed corn and fake cheese I could save a bundle too. This is so depressing.

When my dad was growing up, with eight brothers and sisters, they were poor. Back then poor meant you ate what you raised and grew, not that you went to McDonald’s or ate Spaghettos and EasyMac every night. But now, for most people, it is the path of least resistance. So not only are the poor financially oppressed but they are malnourished as well. Our government hands out food stamps but instead of subsidizing the price of fruits and veggies we subsidize the bastardization of the corn industry so it is cheaper to buy a bunch of boxed corn products and feed America’s children powdered mystery chemicals. Then we are all stupefied as to the reason kid’s grades are atrocious and things like ADD, autism and behavioral problems are rampant.

I am frustrated. I know that doing the whole budget thing now will lead us to a better future and so far it has not been awful but I admit, the place I feel it the most is at the grocery and I also admit to being tempted to skip the produce all together and stretch our food dollars a little more by buying boxed poison. It is a tough and narrow path. There is a balance somewhere but it is not easy to find.

Much love, thanks for reading,


  1. You can do little things to reduce your grocery bill. I coupon like crazy but with an eye toward what we actually eat. Krogers and Foodland offer double coupons up to 50 cents, which is helpful.
    I also hit sales and buy a little bit in bulk for things like rice, beans, popcorn. We eat a lot of beans. Chili, bean soup, refried beans. Beans, beans, beans.
    Of course, feeding teens is completely different. They're eating machines, but...you might also check the Capitol Market. They tend to be ten to twenty cents cheaper on fruit and most vegetables --and that's inside. When the farmers come back, they get a bit more competitive, usually.
    But I hear you on the garden thing. I think about that, too, but just don't have the right kind of land for it.

  2. I have a friend who read the book "Misery Mom's" and for awhile she was posting things like how she went to the grocery store and spent $40 and fed a family of 5 for 4 days on that. It was pretty awesome. I have been wanting to read it too, but I haven't had a chance yet. It seemed like normal decent meals too, not just quick and fattening. I feel your pain about produce. Here in Hawaii things are horribly priced. In the commissary, things are cheaper than elsewhere, but that is still bad. I want to buy 1% milk, but it is $5.92 a gallon, where as, 2% milk is only $4.32 a gallon. Granted it doesn't seem like much of a difference, but between my two guys, they will put back some milk. It just feels like I am constantly buying it. We won't even discuss the price of soy. It is more than that for just a 1/2 gallon.
    Then you have the produce here that it ridiculously priced ($1.50 for a green pepper) etc... plus the produce sits at the ports waiting on inspections, so it doesn't last long in the grocery store. You can literally buy something at the store and it is bad in just a day or two. This makes it hard to plan out meals, and you find yourself running to the store several times a week. This is really bad for the budget, because you normally are running in real quick after work, you are already hungry, and before you know it, you did not just replace the lettuce that went bad, you bought extra stuff too.
    Keep up the good work. You will reap the benefits of all these sacrafices and you will feel so much better when you are debt free. Then, I will have to live vicariously through you because I think we will be in debt up to are eyeballs forever. LOL!

  3. Have you thought about a cold frame? You can get a big jump on the weather and at the very least get some really early lettuce. One can be made pretty easily out of some old boards and an old window. I think there were direction in an old Mother Earth News. There are surely directions on-line somewhere. As always, I enjoyed reading your post. I really admire what you and Fred are doing.

  4. Autumn,

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. And you are right--it can get a little frustrating. Feel free to take a look at our website. Take care!

    Feeding America

  5. I'm a little late to the party, but this post, maybe more than any other of yours, really spoke to me. This is the quandary so many in America find themselves in. Carbs are cheap. Decent Fresh veg is not. With so many things in our life going on right now (all requiring cash) and gas prices once again impeding on our food budget, there is a lot of thought that goes into every purchase. Every single purchase.

    Thank you so much for this post.


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