Tracey Haider-Sprague, a homeschooling mother of two, is also the Training Director for Small Beginnings, a Lay Ministry Training Organization in Seattle, Washington where she researches, writes, teaches and counsels. She, along with her entire family, began their low-carb lifestyle in April 2003.
Tracey posts as ‘Mamasita’ on the Talking Low Carb Forums, where she proves an inspiration for us all!
It wasn't too long ago that I prided myself on how I was able to feed a
family of four on just over three hundred dollars a month. I'd create a
menu that covered two weeks, make a grocery list on my word processor,
and with a firm dedication to buying only what was on the sacred
list, I'd go shopping at my local grocery store.
Beg, buy or steal (well...don't steal) a chest freezer.
allow you to buy multiple items that are on sale and freeze them for
later. Look in the "Little Nickel," "Penny Pincher" or whatever your
local want ads offer, to see if you can get one on the cheap. Recently,
there was a sale on whole chickens for 49¢ a pound at my local grocery
store and there was a limit of three. I bought three and then went back
at the end of the week and bought three more. A whole chicken was only
$2.15. Do you know how many ways those can be cooked? Awesome!
I did this for quite a while, and with as much self-satisfaction as I got
from my ability to keep that grocery bill low, it was actually a
necessity to keep the wolf from the door.
I discovered the cost effective "benefits" of adding steamed rice to
many meals, buying twenty pound bags of potatoes, and shopping bakery
outlet stores for day old bread and rolls. I fed my family "well rounded
meals" and no one went hungry. When I looked at the checkbook and figured
the bills, all seemed right with the world. I was able to stay on budget
and feed my family.
Well, life changed, as it tends to do, and our family life took an upward
turn as my husband changed jobs and quickly began the climb up the ladder
of financial success. The wolves had ceased their insistent knocking at
the door to our lives.
But life never remains static and in no time it was throwing us another
curve when we took my father in…
I found myself spending substantially more on food. Why?
One — we were no longer dirt poor and could afford the "extras" on
occasion, so I simply relaxed the purse strings a bit.
Two — my father didn't like leftovers. I found myself making a new
dinner each night. It would have been better to make double recipes, freezing the leftovers
to serve my family at a later time.
Soon my dedication to grocery-thriftiness was left in the dust in order to
keep everything else from reeling out of control. But our grocery bill
remained doable and if it ever did get "out of control" it was those
times I simply wasn't paying attention and found myself running to the
store every five minutes for another box of this and another bag of
But then, things really changed. We began doing Atkins…
Our grocery bill began to climb… really climb… and rather quickly at
I thought at first — and rightly so — that it was all the low-carb
specialty products I was purchasing. So after the first month, I backed
off and began shopping for only "real food." I thought surely this
would fix the costly dilemma. And now, it was indeed a dilemma… You see,
my husband was no longer climbing that corporate ladder. In fact, he'd
been laid off for a year and now was starting his own business.
This was no time to relax my resolve to keep our costs down.
So our second month of low-carbing, I bought only what most of us know
are the low-carb essentials — meat, cream, butter, veggies, eggs, and
some fruit. I felt confident our food bill would plummet and my financial
chart would show that bar graph as a stubby little pillar next to the
previous month's skyscraper.
It didn't. To my shock, the costs were still rising. Month after month,
no matter how carefully I planned, the final bill was staggering. Why?
How was it possible?
We weren't eating out at restaurants at all. We no longer bought junk food.
I'd begun to diligently shop for sales on meat, and had even created a
price book so I'd know a good sale when I saw one.
After brooding over this — as we control freaks do — I came to realize
something that maybe everyone knew but me.
It's actually cheaper to eat a diet that will kill you than to eat one that
will keep you out of the doctor's office.
I sat in disbelief as I pondered this realization. I could go to Costco and
buy a case of boxed macaroni and cheese for nearly nothing and feed my
family for a month. But if I wanted to feed them something that wouldn't
send them careening toward diabetes, I'd have to spend quadruple that. It
was going to cost a lot more to give them a breakfast of eggs and sausage.
So, why is that? Why is it so incredibly cheap to purchase twenty-five
pound bags of bulk white rice? Yet, if you want brown or wild rice, you're
left with fashionably tiny bags at immense prices?
Why is it that when I buy a "snack" for my son's (15-player) soccer team, I
can walk down the aisle and spend next to nothing for high fructose corn
syrup that masquerades as "healthy juice drinks"? But if I wish to avoid
assaulting those kids' bodies with instant insulin spikes, I must pay dearly
for something truly good for them?
I'm not normally a conspiracy theorist, but I find myself tempted to join
It makes me wonder about those much less fortunate than myself. How do the
working poor do it?
Answer: They buy the cheap stuff in order to feed their children. I know I
probably would. And then the destructive circle begins. Obesity. Diabetes.
Low test scores. High doctor bills. High prescription bills. More poverty.
More cheap, mass-produced "food."
I wonder how many of society's ills would be cured — or at least
curtailed — if we weren't polluting our bodies with this stuff.
There may be some of you, who even though you are low-carbing, will see me
as naïve. Yet I assure you, I'm well aware of the world's problems.
I've been fortunate to live in many places while growing up the child of a
military father. I've lived from Alaska to Florida and ended up living in
Turkey for a year in a village eighteen kilometers from the base. I've seen
how many people live.
Indeed, living in Turkey was an eye-opener in many ways. There were no
pre-packaged foods. I watched eighty-year-old men, muscles taut and toned,
heaving bags of flour onto trucks. I watched little old ladies in their
headscarves, walking a mile or more to buy their groceries from outdoor
markets that circled the village square and, heavy laden, trudging back
home. Automobiles were rare and food was whole, not broken down and
reconstituted so it could last for decades on a warehouse shelf.
So where am I now? I continue to be on a mission to keep our grocery
bill down. But I'll never be able to match the savings of a few years
ago when I was able to stretch my meals with cheap, starchy foods.
That doesn't mean there aren't great cost-saving measures we can all
take. In fact, I've picked up several valuable tips I'll share with
you. Perhaps you've heard them before, but if we all share ideas
freely, more will come, and we can all stay within our budgets
without paying the truly higher price — surrendering our health.
Shop in bulk.
Separate food into portions you think you will use for your
favorite recipes and package it yourself with a vacuum bag sealer. I have
used The FoodSaver and even though there was an initial outlay of cash
for it, it paid for itself within a couple of months. Our Walmart sells
the replacement rolls of bags for a really decent price!
* One note of
caution: Just because you can buy a huge amount of something at a local
warehouse store doesn't mean it's cheaper. If you have an idea of what
one unit of something typically costs at a regular store, then you can
use a calculator to determine if the bulk item is really a good buy.
Take a calculator with you. It has saved me from accidentally deceiving
myself that I was getting a good deal.
Grow your own garden.
I began a garden and it does help to defray the
costs for herbs and some vegetables, but where I live the growing season
is short, so here, one hopes for tomatoes to ripen into October. If you
live in warmer climates, I envy you… I think I would be gardening year
round if I could. There's nothing like a fresh cherry tomato right off
Buy frozen veggies on sale.
Fresh veggies are wonderful, but frozen are
just as good. When my store has a sale on broccoli, I buy bag after bag
and throw them in the freezer. They work with so many meals and are
wonderful in crustless quiche. They've begun selling bags of red, green
and yellow pepper strips and they work perfectly for a quick fajita. I
also buy big bags of green beans — great sautéed with almond slivers.
Try once-a-month cooking.
I attended a workshop dedicated to this concept,
and it looked fabulous. I was only able to do this for two weeks at a
time, but it did pay off when I did it. It takes some dedication and
doesn't come easy, but it allows you to make many meals all at once,
and freeze them. Later, you have meals for an entire month.
Plan out a menu.
Planning is such an integral part of our success as
low-carbers and this is no exception. If you can set up a simple
spreadsheet for even just the next two weeks and plan out a menu for
breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can easily see what you'll need to add
to your grocery list. There will be much less chance you'll be running
to the store every five minutes. Those "quick" runs often become much
more than that when we see other things we just know we need.
Keep a record.
It's a hassle because it takes time, but I've found it
invaluable to keep track of (at the very least) my food receipts. Some
even break it down into categories such as meat, dairy, vegetables,
etc. so that you might find where the money is going. Sometimes just
seeing those numbers helps us make better choices or employ a
different technique that will keep us on track budget-wise.
Visit the stores, but don't buy.
Go around to your local stores and
just spend a day comparing prices. I actually got a little overly enthused
and made myself a price book. In it, I keep the lowest price I found for
each item I usually purchase and where that item was. I now know that there
are some items I will buy at one store and then jog over to the other one
and buy the rest.
I have three stores that I now routinely frequent in my "shopping loop."
Trader Joe's really surprised me by having so many low-carb items. I
expected the specialty store to be really expensive, but it turned out
that they were lower in their prices than my favorite bargain basement
I'm sure there are many other ways to save, but these are the ones I
employ in order to keep our finances in check. I hope all of us can work
together to make this way of life accessible to everyone who
desires — and deserves — to follow it.
Copyright © October 2003 Tracey Haider-Sprague and Low Carb Luxury
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