Community Supported Agriculture – Your Solution to Groceries on a Budget
It seems everywhere you look these days, the cost of living is going up and up with no signs of stopping. It may be easy to give up your daily Starbucks latte or your weekly visit to the movie theatre but you have to eat. If you’ve ever wondered how you can slash your food budget without skimping on quality, you’re not alone. This article explains a little about community supported agriculture (CSA) and other ways to buy groceries on a budget while reducing your carbon footprint!
Why the Cost of Food is Going Up
As anyone who has been in a grocery store recently can tell you, the price of food is going up FAST. What was once a buy one, get one free sale on yogurt is now a buy two for $5 sale. In just one year, the cost of food has risen by an eye-popping 30% while most family income has remained the same or dwindled. Why is the cost of food becoming so unbearable?
First, farmers have diverted more resources to growing crops for bio-fuel instead of food consumption. Second, people in developing nations are beginning to purchase more meat. This means not only buying the cow or pig, but the grain and space to feed it. Third, many key food producers have suffered greatly from drought. Fourth, gas prices have risen exponentially, increasing the cost it takes to ship food products to your favorite grocery store.
Community Supported Agriculture
Community supported agriculture is a money-saving alternative to regular grocery store shopping.
CSA is a way of purchasing whole, healthy food directly from the farmer through a membership called “shares”. Consumers purchase a per-season membership and receive a box of fresh produce each week during that season. Members may mix and match their own meat, eggs, bread, and vegetables or take home pre-packaged bags of vegetables and fruit each week. The type of food you’ll take home will depend on your preferences and the amount of shares you purchase in a season.
Even if you live in a city, you can still get involved with community supported agriculture. Check out www.localharvest.org to find a local farm in your area. To find places to take the whole family fruit-picking, check out www.pickyourown.org.
Community supported agriculture not only reduces your carbon footprint, it also ensures you and your family eat ultra-fresh, nutrient-rich food at a fraction of the cost of grocery stores. You’ll learn new ways of cooking, get to try all sorts of new foods, and develop a real relationship with the farmer who grows and raises your food.
It’s also of great benefit to the farmer. Each membership ensures farmers receive payments early in the season, which increases the farmer’s cash flow. And withCSA, farmers are able to spend some real time marketing early in the year before the 16-hour days of field labor begin.
The cost of joining a CSA program will vary depending on the type of membership you purchase. Singles and couples can expect to pay approximately $20-$25 per week while family households may pay $50-$55. The only difficulty you may face is having to pay upfront. However, pound for pound, you’ll receive the largest amount of food for your money and it will be much fresher and healthier than the food you could purchase at any chain grocery store!
- Tips for Newbies
If you’re new to community supported agriculture, visit www.localharvest.org and do some research. Talk with the farmers in your local area and purchase the least expensive membership to start. This way, you’ll get a feel for the process and how much produce and meat you’ll need each week or month!
Other Frugal Living Tips to Cut Down on Your Food Budget
Besides community supported agriculture, there are plenty of other frugal living tips to cut down your food budget.
Here are just a few:
- Write a Grocery List
One of the easiest ways to cut down on your food budget is to write a grocery list. This helps keep you focused on what you plan to buy so you aren’t as tempted to load up on impulse-buys in attractive packages.
- Plan a Weekly or Monthly Menu
Planning a weekly or monthly grocery menu may take some of the spontaneity out of meal-planning but it can dramatically cut down on your food budget. This is because a menu helps you hone in on the exact foods, ingredients, and supplies you’ll need for the week or month so foods don’t just sit in the fridge and go to waste.
- Buy In-Season Produce
Peaches, grapes, strawberries, and other produce can be very expensive if not bought in season. To cut down on your food budget, choose seasonal produce to save money. For example, Georgia and California peaches go on sale for as low as 99 cents a pound during the summer months. The same goes for corn and zucchini squash. During the cooler months, you can load up on apples, winter squash, and sweet potatoes for a fraction of the off-season cost.
- Shop Around
When it comes to buying groceries on a budget, it pays to shop around. You may be tempted to save time by buying your groceries and your paper products at the same store but you can actually save a lot of money by taking advantage of dollar store pricing. Products such as paper plates, napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper can cost up to 2 and 3 dollars less when purchased at a dollar store and the quality is still the same.
- Get Coupons without Clipping
When you’re trying to buy groceries on a budget, friends and family always suggest clipping coupons. That’s great if you use the products you’re clipping for regularly. But if you don’t, you’re just wasting time. If the Sunday paper doesn’t have the coupons for the products you use, try writing an appreciative email to the companies whose products you purchase regularly and provide your mailing address. Most grateful companies will be more than happy to send you $1-$2 savings on individual items!
- Bring a Calculator
If you have a budget in your head when you get to the store but continually go over when you get to the checkout lane, bring a calculator. As you put items in your cart, write down the price in a notebook (rounded to the nearest quarter to account for taxes) and tally it up as you shop each section of the store. Buy everything on your list first. If you have money left over in your budget after everything is marked off, then you can go back and get that extra item you had your eye on in aisle 3.
- Shop Less, Save More
Instead of shopping once a week, try shopping every two weeks or once a month. The more you shop, the more you’re tempted by those impulse-buys. When you shop once a month with a list, a menu, and a calculator, you’ll be much more likely to stick to budget.
- Know When to Buy Generic (And When Not To)
Food staples such as flour, butter, sugar, and cooking oil will taste the same regardless of the brand. So will pre-packed, tinned foods, and frozen produce. Buying certain items generic will free up extra cash for foods you should purchase at full price such as meat products, cheese, yogurt, and eggs. Can’t afford that $15 package of steak? Look around for that “Reduced for Quick Sale” sticker on meat products and save up to 50% on dinner for the week!
Community supported agriculture combined with knowing how to shop at your favorite chain grocery stores is your ticket to saving money where it counts. And once you slash your food budget in half, you may have a little extra money left over for that latte or movie you’ve been passing up on!