A Means to An End

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You’ve heard me wax eloquent about coupons and Dave Ramsey and all my great grocery bargains. I am not a frugal expert, though I’ve been trying for a long time. It’s taken awhile to establish frugal habits and not feel “deprived.

We like nice things: Vacations in France. Good, no, great coffee. Sundried tomatoes and Brie tossed with pasta. Whole grain breads. Fresh, organic produce. Dinners out. Whole foods made from scratch.

FishPapa and I both came of age in Santa Barbara. It’s a fairly wealthy community full of celebrities and millionaires. Although we were neither celebrities nor millionaires, we witnessed first hand the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

I would say that by international standards, we make a good income and own a large, comfortable home. We are very blessed. But, we haven’t always made the best financial decisions. And it was always perplexing to me how to make a budget when you were self-employed and your income fluctuated from month to month. Since we started Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, we’ve understood that a lot better and as a result, we are in charge of our money instead of the other way around.

Now to the health-conscious, pictures of my groceries, namely frozen chicken nuggets, Chex Mix, and prepared convenience foods, would certainly raise an eyebrow. Partially-hydrogenated whatevers, high fructose corn syrup, msg, and you-name-whatever-you-can’t-pronounce are not good for us.

I don’t think I buy a ton of these things, but they are there nonetheless. I do try to avoid “junk.” But, as we’ve taken a step down from all-natural peanut butter and whole grain breads, we’ve also been able to save a substantial amount of money.

I look at purchasing the less expensive, yet not as healthy, option as a means to an end. I don’t plan on eating Chex Mix and chicken nuggets for the rest of my life. We don’t make any of it a steady part of our diet. But, it is a means to get us out of debt. A means to establish a larger emergency fund.

Some day I trust that, Lord willing, we will be living debt-free with six months’ budget in the bank. Once those goals are established, we will have a lot more wiggle room in how we spend our money. I hope that we will have more to give away. I hope that we’ll be enjoying more of those healthier “luxuries.”

In the meantime, I’m going to do the best I can with what I have. I buy whole grains and organic often as many “healthy” manufacturers offer great coupons. We are growing what we can. I am baking more bread myself. But, I’m not going to go over budget in the name of healthy food.

No pain, no gain.

However, I realize that my thoughts on this aren’t the only ones or “the right ones.” We’re each looking to find our own groove. And maybe there’s something I’m missing.

What do you think? What do you do? How do you look at it? Let’s chat in the comments.

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  1. Hi Jessica–

    I feel as though I am reading the “life story” of my marriage in reading this post (minus 2 1/2 children…your family is beautiful)! My husband and I have always enjoyed the finer things…honeymoon in Italy, dinners out, great wine, you get the idea. My DH works the corporate life, complete with job transfers (I am home with our boys full-time) and we were fortunate to buy and sell our first three homes in a rising market, making money with each sale. Now we have some credit debt and a house that is worth 100k less than we paid for it and a move may be on our horizon. Yikes! We have been buckling down, but I still know we aren’t “living like no one else.” Expensive dinners, etc. are gone, but I struggle in the food department, too, wondering if I am leveraging my children’s health for more financial security. I try to strike a balance…the cheap bags of pretzels are okay but not the buy 1 get 2 free sausages with ambiguous varieties of meat inside. It is my own kind of code, but I know I could be doing better finanacially and in the health department.

    Great post! Libby

  2. Hey Libby,

    Thanks for sharing your story. We’re all in this together, aren’t we? Got stick together and figure it out.

    I wonder if it’s really “the economy” or just bad habits catching up with us all.

    I hear ya on the “ambiguous meats” point. We’ve tried a few bargain brands of hotdogs. We were used to only kosher beef franks. The cheapos just don’t taste that good and WHO KNOWS WHAT’S IN THEM?! So, now we’re just not going to have hot dogs for awhile. That’s probably better for us anyway.

  3. I was actually going to discuss the same thing today on my blog!!! There’s so much eyebrow-raising over food choices these days. It’s almost as if you’re a horrible mom/wife if you don’t serve all natural/organic/free range/etc food to your family ALL the time. But compared to the rest of the world…c’mon! Let’s be thankful for whatever we place on our plates…since so many out there don’t have any food at all. And like you, I’m a foodie. But sometimes I do serve hot dogs…or processed, boxed foods. I’m not going into debt for our grocery bill either.

  4. Fish Mama, I really appreciate you. Thank you for your honest writing. I too was once a food snob. Now, I too am trying to get out of debt. It’s a balancing act. I am trying to work ways to bring healthy and and cheap together. It’s tough. I have found a garden helps. I can buy expensive cheese if I’m not buying expensive tomatoes and basil. I also found a woman in our church that makes goat cheese. Imagine that. I’m trying now to turn my kids on to hummus, and I was given a great flat bread recipe. I’m trying, but I’m tired.

    I have a question. What led you to having a large family? We currently have 3 children and are contemplating the rest. We have a lot of love, but we feel a bit confused if we are to have a large family. I’d love your thoughts. We are trying to get my husband through seminary before #4. Is that controling or what?

  5. I go back and forth with this issue, too. In my ideal world, I stick to a budget every month and feed my family only that which is 100% healthy (oh..and they eat it, too). But, in my real world, it looks quite different from the ideal image I have resurrected in my head. Ultimately, it’s about where our heart is in these pursuits of financial independence and/or healthy eating. Are we striving in self sufficiency or are we wholly dependent on the Lord? Are we giving thanks for what’s put before us to eat even if it’s (big gasp) processed hot dogs and trusting it is God who ultimately sustains us.

    I’m not at all suggesting we live in ignorance and complacency in our food choices for our families. As the keeper of our homes, this is a big responsibility. But, I do think we need to often check our hearts and see if we are depending on GOd to sustain us or if we think we can help Him out a bit in that area.

    I think a similar sentiment applies to gaining financial freedom. IT’s about balancing being wise stewards of the precious resources God’s entrusted to us while at the same time depending/trusting fully on HIM and NOT our self efforts to bring about provision…finacially and physically.

  6. I think this is a tough issue. One I am also dealing with. Over the last year I have been trying to cut our grocery budget quite a bit. I started using coupons and getting things on sale. But a few months ago my daughter was diagnosed with severe asthma. We now have three in the family with asthma and allergies. I am now really looking at what we eat and how healthy it is. I still cook plenty of “junk” food. I have yet to give up desserts and sugar. But I am buying basically no packaged things. I am making most everything from scratch. No rice or pasta mixes and I am much more careful what cereals I buy. I am making my own granola which is healthier but not cheaper. For some things I have decided that no matter how cheap it is or even free, I am not going to buy it. For our family right now I think it is more costly to not eat healthy. But for each family it is different. I think though if you cook basic things from scratch it is cheaper. How much does buying rice and beans in bulk cost per meal? I grew up with very little. We never ate boxed or packaged stuff. My mom cooked everything. It was not fancy, it was very plain. Soy sauce was fancy and a special treat in our house growing up. I think there are many ways to eat both healthy and stay in budget. Thanks for sharing this. I know it is timely for many.

  7. Mother of Many, that’s a loaded question! The short story is that I had three miscarriages between my first and second children. God did A LOT in our hearts and minds that year. (Yes, they all happened in one year’s time.) We’ve always looked at our babies as amazing blessings. Since we had to contemplate life with very few children and the pain of possible infertility/pregnancy loss, we weren’t taking any chances in saying NO.

    At the same time, I’m thinking this baby may be the caboose to my train. Life is, indeed, full.

    I don’t know that I would throw the word “controlling” on you. You sound undecided. And that’s okay. Think. Pray. And trust God to lead you.

  8. I dont know how I missed this as I had asked you about this.
    We do eat cheap hotdogs and tater tots for some lunches. We eat wal-mart brand cookies sometimes. But we also eat a lot of fruit. I don’t buy organic if Aldi is cheaper on something.

    I also think this #6 may be our “caboose”. (I think that is so cute). We thought #5 was but then the Lord sent 6. I am very excited but this has been the hardest pregnancy yet with LOTS of blood sugar issues already that include severe panic attacks. We are very happy to have 6 even if it means tightening the belt some more.

    Thanks for all your insightful answers. I will definitely be doing seem OMAC after christmas. Probably with leftover turkey LOL!

  9. Good word Fishmama. I really do appreciate your insight. I may be a little behind, but what is OMAC? I do pray about it often. I will continue. Thank you.

  10. I appreciate your venerability with your miscarriages. That must have been a difficult time for you. Forgive me if that was too personal a question. Thank you for your honesty.

  11. MoM, not too personal a question at all. My life is an open book. When I said, “loaded question,” I just meant that it’s a fairly complex issue that I’m always thinking about. Are we done? I don’t know. Feel free to ask anything. And don’t read silence as a resistance to answer; I could just be busy. I’m glad you asked. I know that some people have strong opinions in both directions, so I didn’t want my answer to be seen as “the right one.” Hope that makes sense.

    OAMC is Once-a-month-cooking.

  12. Ahhh! I just wrote long comment about this, but it didn’t work.

    So, I’ll just say I’m where you’re at with all of this and I look forward to reading others comments.