Hey Freedom Seekers! Before we get into this weeks content – I am super excited to let you know about an awesome new Canadian FI resource to hit the scene. Eugene at FinancialIndependence Forum not only produces helpful original content on his site, the forum also offers a wealth of posts from around the FI community.
AND he’s gone out and started his own podcast – on which I’m super thrilled to have been his very first guest on Episode #1. We had some fun chatting about how Mike and I reached our retired state, our preferred ways to diversify income streams, and some insight into the realities of post-retired life. Have a listen, and if you enjoy it, please leave a review for the FIF podcast (and Eugene) on your preferred listening platform.
Now – onto this weeks post!
The grocery bill has been a long standing target at which frugality takes aim.
I get why it’s such an irresistible target – next to housing and transportation, it’s generally the logical next step for people to take when assessing expenses they can cut. It’s certainly one that I slashed away at for many years.
But now, I believe the big 3 people should focus their initial efforts on are: housing, transportation and taxation. While the first two are commonly touted as being major factors in our overall lifestyle costs – there isn’t enough attention paid to the third. But frankly – a lot more of our money is siphoned away through various forms of taxation, monstrously overshadowing our food, clothing, and entertainment budgets in nearly every way.
Undoubtedly food is a much more easily understood topic for the vast majority of us, and at times, it can definitely feel like we have a lot more control over groceries than our respective tax obligations. But the reality is tax efficiency is something most of us can improve upon in big ways, with minimal downside.
Cutting our food budgets on the other hand – can have a substantial downside.
Let me tell you my food story.
I Am A Recovering Food Budgeter
I have fond memories of perusing the Safeway coupon booklets when I was kid. Helping my mom clip out the ones we wanted. Getting the edges just perfect. Bundling them altogether. Then spending a weekend morning twice a month driving 40 minutes to the closest Safeway (the old one’s that have that overwhelming odour of the lobster tank when you walk inside).
We were a family of 5, so it goes without saying that we shopped with two grocery carts. And filled them both. We were pretty serious about our coupon clipping and air mile collection………I wonder if my parents ever used any of those air miles points………
I actually enjoyed every aspect of those days. It was fun and exciting roaming the aisle’s with my siblings. Filling our carts with 2 for 1 fish sticks, bulk boxes of wagon wheels, pop tarts, and the oh so glorious Reese’s Pieces boxed cereal. Because let’s be honest……those are the types of foods that had coupons, and this was back in the day when sugar was a staple of every “healthy” diet.
And for my parents, budgeting on food with 3 growing kids was a wise money move. We ate a ton. Especially my brother. They were well ahead of their time when it came to couponing and frugality.
I took my grocery habits with me when I left home. As a waitress, with my first mortgage to pay, I was always guarding my wallet.
For me, gourmet chow mein meant frozen vegetables tossed into some pan fried Mr. Noodles. Costing me a whopping 70 cents a serving, I felt it was a substantial step-up from KD.
My culinary skills were………..creative – if nothing else.
When I didn’t feel like cooking, there were many occasions when my dinner was comprised of an entire 20 pack of Tim Bit donuts, back when they had those 20 for a twoonie deals.
I also ate a lot of meals at work – because we got a 50% staff discount if we ate during/after our shift. I figured out early on that I could get away with ordering the kids chicken fingers, and after my staff discount was applied, pay only $2.00. It didn’t hurt that the guys in the kitchen would always through a little extra on my plate too.
I also worked in one restaurant where they let us eat bread and baked potatoes for free after our shifts. So during that time, I ate A LOT of those two foods. A ketogenic nightmare.
Despite my atrociously cheap approach to food, I worked out almost daily, and had the appearances of a healthy, fit, young individual. On the outside anyway – god only knows what was actually going on at a more cellular level.
Then I Got a REAL Job
But, then I got a job. A real job. You know – the kind where you stop calling it a job and start calling it a career. With real benefits. One where the majority of my funds didn’t fluctuate heavily in the cash form of tips.
And even still, even though what I ate slowly changed, my frugal approach to food did not. Even when I was going through some extremely strict health regimens, I was still regularly on the hunt for the cheapest options in bulk.
All the way up until I met Mike.
He wasted no time making fun of how cheap I was when it comes to food. And as much as he is a conscious spender in almost every other regard, he always told me that it was the one area where he didn’t care how much we spent.
I didn’t get it.
Lucky for me, I do most of the shopping, and his wise cracks about my approach, for the longest time, went completely ignored (much to his dismay).
In fact – I once told Mike to stop buying cashews because our oldest “kept eating them all”. When Mike responded with an incredulous look, I then droned on about how expensive cashews are, and asked if he was allowed to just eat them willy nilly when he was a kid.
I didn’t think so!
I had to hear myself say it out loud a few times to really grasp how ridiculous it was.
(Oh – and yes…..I did use the phrase “willy-nilly”……as though I was 102 years old.)
More often than not I was complaining about how picky of an eater our oldest was, and here he was regularly enjoying a snack laden with healthy fats and calories (something his lean frame is always in need of), and I was……complaining about it?
I Started To See The Light
As with many things in our marriage (Paying off the mortgage, buying a Tesla….the list goes on), Mike very wisely played the long game with me. Just slowly whittling away, gently, and sometimes not so gently, pointing out the dramatic flaws in my logic.
He continuously reminded me that we were fortunate enough that we could afford good food. Not to mention, we live in an area of the country laden with farm fresh, high quality options all year long. From his perspective, this was one area we could and should spend.
And not in a “we should eat out X number of times per week” kind of way.
But that we should splurge on good, solid, nutritious food.
That we could buy raspberries when they aren’t in season, because we like raspberries. We could spring for a real block of Grana Padano parmesan cheese, rather than the somewhat plasticky version of some unknown substance in the green shaker container. Or that I could buy the free range eggs, even though they were triple the cost.
The Turning Point
It’s been a slow progression to get me to see the real value in spending more on our grocery bill. But I think I have finally arrived. I still have my moments of weakness when I’m waffling over a price tag in the grocery store…..but they are steadily becoming fewer and further between.
Our focus on health and wellness over the past year is part of what finally pushed me over the edge. And it’s not like I haven’t gone hard on health before – but on those occasions I felt I could do it, while still being cheap about food.
The final piece to push me over the edge was our family trip to France this summer. There we indulged in the French style of eating, and very quickly grew an appreciation for the manner in which they bring the whole family to the table, to truly ENJOY the meal that is about to be had.
It struck me that, in our home, food is solely looked as an obligation. Something we need to do, and get done. There are very few meals structured around the sheer enjoyment of food. Appreciation for the quality. We rush to eat, generally wolf down our food, and then get dinner cleaned up to get on with our evening. But in France – every single day we were there I looked forward with anticipation to the delicious meal, leisurely experience, and conversation that was had.
My Official 180
Here’s what I finally came to terms with.
The food we choose to buy and consume, is the fuel for our bodies. For our kids bodies.
It influences how we feel every single day, how we sleep, grow, and develop. How focussed and energized we feel. It influences our levels of productivity, and our attitude.
It can be an highly influential factor when it comes to our likelihood for a wide range of diseases, including mental health concerns, as well as our overall longevity of life.
And – frankly – it influences how much we enjoy the process of fuelling our bodies in the first place.
Next to sleep, our diet is one of the second largest influencing factors when it comes to the entirety of our health and well being. Essentially, heavily dictating our ability to thoroughly enjoy our Financial Freedom/Independence, once we have attained it.
BUT – just because it is our fuel, doesn’t mean we can’t creatively prepare meals that we truly enjoy – together – as a family. Ones where we savour every bite, enjoy each others company, and develop our kids taste buds along with our collective appreciation and gratitude for the luxury to eat, on a daily basis.
The beautiful thing is the highest quality fuel, comprised of simple, fresh and only few ingredients, can truly create the most mouth watering dining experiences. The two are not mutually exclusive, but rather, marry beautifully together.
So, if the food we choose to put into our bodies can have such wide ranging, long term implications – imagine the actual financials costs of shortchanging our grocery bills solely for the immediate gratification of saving a few bucks? And the much less easily measured opportunity cost of sharing and enjoying carefully crafted food as a family.
If we can afford it, why would we choose anything but the best quality, highest nutritional value, highest standards in preparation, and tastiest food out there on the market for us and our families?
If the underlying goal of Financial Freedom, or Financial Independence is to enable us to live our best lives, is this not one of the LAST area’s we should be considering skimping on?
Wouldn’t we be far better off downsizing our home, or even relocating, before ever considering downsizing our food budget? At least if we are spending that food budget in the right ways?
You Can Still Save – But It Shouldn’t Be All About The Numbers
If there is any one thing I would change about our pursuit of Financial Freedom, it would be how I consistently skimped on the grocery bill.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of ways we call all save money on our groceries. It’s simply that I no longer believe quality and variety is an area that should be considered when tightening the food budget.
Food waste continues to be a major area of lost savings for the majority of North American families. Our family captures savings in this area simply by meal planning, which helps to limit our overall food waste substantially.
Planning ahead doesn’t just save us money though, it also goes a long way to ensuring that the weekly menu is nutritionally varied, rather than leaving us rushing to get something/anything, on the dinner table.
Evaluating portion sizes is also something that I have recently taken a hard look at. In hindsight, eating lesser quality foods failed to provide us with a satiated feeling, and led to our family generally eating MORE than we needed to. This means that we can often buy less of the better, more satisfying foods, for the same general cost of the quantity over quality foods I previously purchased.
Over the past 5 years we have also chosen to substantially reduce our families collective meat consumption. For those who do eat meat in our household – it’s generally a once a week indulgence. For others, it’s not at all. This creates substantial savings on the overall bill, is a step towards living a more sustainable lifestyle, and leaves us a lot more room to spend on higher grade plant based products.
Mike and I also engage in regular Intermittent Fasting. Not to save money, but because we believe in the science behind the benefits of doing so when it comes to longevity, improving sleep patterns, and reduction of occurrence of a variety of diseases. Saving on the grocery bill happens to be a very noticeable bonus side effect of this habit.
By being intentional about our food choices, and how we fuel our bodies, we still manage to garner many savings on a regular basis. But we no longer do it by sacrificing the quality, diversity, or enjoyment of the food in our diet.
The Bottom Line
For me – I’ve finally had the epiphany Mike’s been waiting for. In this Financially Free life we’ve built, I am no longer prepared to eat food that is mediocre. In taste, in quality, in nutrition, and in its standards for growth or preparation.
I am going to provide myself, my husband, and my kids, with the most diverse, nutritiously dense, high quality ingredients, and flavour packed meals that I have the skills to prepare (Although I need to keep working on those).
I am going to forget about comparing prices as a primary habit, and focus on comparing quality of nutrition and preparation.
I am going to say no to cheap foods that are loaded with crap, just because they look better on my monthly balance sheets.
And I am going to send my own, very personalized message, written in the absence of cold hard cash, to food companies everywhere, letting them know that I don’t want their crappy food, prepared in crappy ways, with crappy standards.
I’m willing to pay more, for better. I’ll find other ways to save money, thanks.
I’m never going to win a Twitter contest over the least money spent per person on our food budget, but I am going to buy those damn raspberries, even when they are out of season. And I’ll be a happier, healthier person for it.