Frugality and fresh food: a natural fit?

You can't always save money using natural food. The key is knowing your values.

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    These samples of Ovenless Productions organic food were on display at the 2010 Green Products Expo in New York last month. Is it OK to spend more on these foods?
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Over the last few days, I’ve had several interactions with readers who are heavily concerned about the healthiness of their food and other chemical items they bring into their home. In general, these people subscribe to the “five ingredients or less” school of eating, meaning they don’t bring home any food item that has more than five ingredients in it. They tend to prepare most meals starting with raw foods. They also tend to use vinegar, homemade soap, and baking soda for most of their household cleaning tasks.

In other words, they are heavily focused on minimizing the number of preservatives, toxins, and other chemicals that come into their home.

The question on their minds is what can they do to save money while also subscribing to these values? My answer is kind of a surprising one.

The convenient part with this approach to modern life is that some things are in fact cheaper. Using vinegar and baking soda for most cleaning challenges is a great way to save some cash. During peak growing seasons, eating mostly raw foods can be a big money saver – trust me, during the peak of sweet corn season in Iowa, it can be very inexpensive to eat.

However, most things are much more expensive with this approach. Fresh foods out of season can be very expensive. There’s also a major time cost, as you’ll be doing lots of food preparation work yourself that would go far beyond what other people would do (like making pasta out of flour and eggs, for example, instead of popping open a box to boil it), as well as some preparation work for home cleaning supplies.

By choosing this kind of approach, you’re inherently adding not only to your family’s food and home care costs, you’re also investing a significant amount of time in keeping it up. Since food and home care are pieces of a family budget that everyone has, by making this kind of choice, you largely cut yourself off from money-saving and time-saving tips in that area.

Here’s the thing, though. If protecting your family in these areas is one of the key values in your life, that’s completely fine.

Most people really only have the time, passion, and resources in their lives to really follow through on a small number of key values in their lives. For me, those key values are my family and reading/writing. In some way, virtually everything else I do with my time and my money is in line with one of those two values.

If you’ve made the choice to live that sort of healthy, chemical-free lifestyle because it’s a central value in your life, that means that you’re devoting some significant amount of time and energy to it. You’re more careful with your shopping. You’re more careful with your food preparation. You’re more careful with your household cleaning. That eats up attention and time, but that’s absolutely an awesome use of your time and energy if it’s something that you truly value.

The key thing is to recognize that it is eating a significant amount of your time and energy and that energy and time have to come from somewhere. If you’re spending your time on these things because that’s what you value, it means you’re not spending time and energy on other things.

Maybe you have a huge DVD collection, but you don’t find yourself watching movies any more because you’ve moved on to new values.
Maybe you have a beautiful car, but you don’t get the same rise out of driving it that you once did.
Maybe you have some exercise equipment in the garage that’s just gathering dust.

If you’re living a life in line with where your values are now and not where your values were ten years ago, then it’s perfectly fine to not have the time and energy for those old things. Instead, you should focus on converting what you can of that old value into your newer values. Sell off your DVD collection. Downgrade your car. Have a yard sale. Cancel your memberships. Get rid of your cell phone.

What I see, time and time again, is that people have a short-term passion for something, invest money and energy into it, then grow tired of it and move on, but they don’t let go of the vestiges of that passion. They keep paying the bill for something they don’t use any more. Things sit around and gather dust and fill up a closet.

What are those things in your life? What passions have you moved on from, but still hold onto the material elements of?

Wouldn’t your life feel more complete if you cleaned out your attic, sold that stuff, and invested it into the things you value today?

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