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please help me figure out how to shop & budget

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

It's time for me to admit I have a big problem. I can't budget worth a poop, and I've been eating crap, and it's time to change. I'm stumped, tho, can you help?

Here are my challenges:
* No co-op or health food store in my neighborhood
* No bulk store in my neighborhood (I do have a friend who has a car and frequently shops at Costco, but I've learned I can't ask her to pick stuff up for me because she never lets me pay her back!! Literally, she will not take my $. I cant' have that.)
* No outlet store in my neighborhood
* No car, so if I go to one of those stores in another neighborhood I would be taking the subway ($2 + at least 30 min each way) and would only be able to carry a couple bags.
* Very little time to cook.

I am considering subscribing to this: www.urbanorganic.net
For $25/week they bring a box of seasonal organic produce to your door. Plus there's a one-time $25 sign up fee. The box is pretty small, but the quality is good; I have friends in Brooklyn who do it. It would be ideal if I could find someone to split a subscription with, so we could do a bigger size and get a better deal, but nobody I know in Queens is interested. I can't decide, tho... is $100/mo really worth it? That is a lot of money! But I think it's the only way I realistically can get organic produce.

Ok, so please give me your thoughts -
* what is a reasonable food budget for a single momma and a toddler in our situation?
* how can I cut costs given my limitations?
* should I do this urban organic thing?
* if you could only buy a few things organic, what would they be?

post #2 of 13
Thread Starter 
hello? bump?
post #3 of 13
I'm in your shoes. Wondering how I can budget better and even cook better with what I have. Lately I've been shopping eradically and I hate that. I used to go once a week, get everything I needed and that was it. Now I'm going every few days and there's still nothing in the house to eat.

There is a program similar to the one you mentioned in my city. It's $15 weekly but you have to go to a designated pick-up site. It sounds great but I haven't got my lazy butt to call. I would go for it if it's in your means.
post #4 of 13
Start a co-op! You have several options, depending on how many other folks you can sign up and what kinds of products you need.

1) Pick stuff up at a store or farm. If one person in your group has a car, or if everyone can afford to chip in toward bus fare out and taxi fare back, one person could go and pick up the whole order each week.

2) Arrange for farm delivery. There are lots of farms that deliver into the city if you have a recurring order.

3) Look into co-op distribution companies. These are companies that publish lists of products, often including dairy and fresh produce. Your group will be obligated to a certain dollar amount each order (say, they deliver once a month and your total order has to be at least $500).
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
I love the co-op idea in theory, but like I said, I can't find anyone else in my neighborhood to go in with me. Pretty much everyone I know is young, single, childless and lives on ramen and tacos and has no time to cook.

Any other ideas?
post #6 of 13
Hrm... well, it sounds like that food delivery service is a good deal. Perhaps with that, you can reduce your needs far enough that you can make bus trips to the more distant markets only once every two weeks or so? Do you go to playgroups with other like-minded mamas from elsewhere in the city? Perhaps you can arrange with them to pick up some stuff for you in exchange for some other favor. Do you have a large freezer? (I know folks in NYC don't usually have space for a chest freezer...) Maybe you can make one taxi trip every couple months to stock up on a ton of stuff.

Just brainstorming
post #7 of 13
Hi guerrillamama,

I can only suggest a few things:

1. check to see how many of each item are in that $23 box. If it is only 1 pear or 1 banana, it's not such a great deal. If they have more than that, I think you should go for it - definitely.
2. not much help for right now, but for the spring and summer months, see if you can get to farmer's markets in the city, as an alternative. I know my CSA (community supported agriculture) farm (they're called "The Rogowski" farm operated out of Pine Island, NY) delivers to NYC. You'd still have to haul the veggies though.
3. perhaps you could get your "closest" health food store to order stuff in bulk for you. And then haul one (+- 5lb) bulk thing home at a time. Like oats, raisins, beans or another legume or pasta. These will last a while with only the two of you to cook for. If the health food store is just not an option, can your local grocery store order larger sizes for you?
4. Make a list for the coming week's meals. This is so often overlooked as a crucial money- and time-saving trick. It can be simple meals (pasta and sauce and a salad) but you have to plan ahead, so that you're not wasting stuff from that produce box (if you do decide to order it) and can know which groceries need schlepping from the health food store. Also, I have found that the mental energy expended to think up (and then produce) a from-scratch meal at the end of the day, is so disproportionate to how it feels to just mindlessly go to my recipe-list for the week, check what's on the menu for tonight and start cooking.

Good luck!
Michelle in Sterling Forest, NY
post #8 of 13
I looked at their list of food on the website, and it looked really nice, especially since they deliver. I can't get all of those items for $25.00 here. Plus, they also offered other products, such as cheese and yogurt. I would ask if you could have two week/month trial to make sure that their idea of fresh is your idea of fresh.
ALso, I have seen mail order grocery stores for organic foods, but I am going to guess that they do not fit into a budget.
post #9 of 13
Do you have the Tightwad Gazette? If not, I'm gonna quote what she says about city-living and saving money. Mostly about the advantages of having a freezer. So if you already have one, ignore this!
Hope it helps! We live by this book, BTW!

"Elaine is in her mid-30's and has lived alone for a good part of her adult life - but she's always had a freezer, even when she lived in a trailer. At first I questioned the economics of this, until I learned how she uses her freezer.
Elaine cooks up large quantities os food, such as lasagn, chili, or casserole, repackages it in meal-size portions, and puts them in her freezer. She skillfully rotates them so that every day she has something different to eat. If she takes the portion out to thaw before she leaves for work, she can pop it into the microwave when she gets home. So even when she's tired, she has tasty, varied, inexpensive, home-cooked food in minutes.
Sears sells a dishwasher-size freezer for $200, which uses about $2.25 worth of electricity per month....
Other, smaller benefits, which may not have paid for a freezer by themselves, are a welcome bonus. A freezer can enable you to:
  • Eat a healthier, more varied diet
  • Use cabs efficiently. If I had purchased larger quantities of sale items, the savings on food would have more than paid for the fare.
  • Store bulk grains such as oatmeal, cornmeal, or rice. Freeze them for 24 hours to kill off bugs, then they be stored at room temperatuer in airtight containers for months
  • Save time and energy, by shopping less often and preparing meals in quatitiy (the time and hot-water savings on dish-washing alone are significant)"
Also, I know some landlords let tenants have small gardens. Do you have this option? I personally don't buy all organic produce, but do go by the Top 10 list (I'm sure someone has it here, and can post it) of things that should always be purchased OG. I think the top ones are peaches and winter squash.

I second the bringing home a couple bulk items at a time if you have to use the subway.
post #10 of 13
Wow, those are all really great ideas. I would only add that you may want to look into delivery from a mainstream grocery store, too if you have it in your area. Stop and Shop, for example, delivers via Peapod and they have a large natural foods and organic foods section even online. I use them regularly. I find I save ALOT by shopping online, mainly because I stick to a list much more closely and I am not tempted to splurge on impulse items. I can keep my list to $100 for a once a week shop, $130 or so for every other week--and I just keep honing that list til it is just where I want it and the items I NEED are there. It forces me to menu plan. I sit down with my cookbooks and online recipe sites and just keep clicking away.

Sometimes I order every week; sometimes if I really have my act together every two weeks, which saves on shipping because I order more stuff and it means few delivery charges. Delivery fees actually go DOWN with the more stuff you order. If I do a $100 order, I pay as little as 2.95 for shipping, because I select a window with a discount, and use e-check which gets me another dollar off. Normally shipping for a $100 order is 4.95.) More than worth it since I would have to take my son with me otherwise, and like I said I inevitably pay more if I am in the store.

Of course if this is not available to you then I am not being very helpful, am I?! I hope you find a solution to your problem.
post #11 of 13
I did something for the first time last night, I made a 4 week meal plan. I went shopping today for only those items on my meal plan. A months worth of meat, two weeks worth of canned goods and staples to make each meal, one weeks worth of fruit and veggies. For the first time ever I stayed within my budget and know we will be eating straight through to the end of the month. I usually end up going way over budget to get us through to the end of each month. I only did this for dinners because they types of foods we eat are casserole, stirfry, pasta type meals that carry over the next day for lunches. I only bought the things on my list. I will only need to go to the store once a week for produce (but the delivery service sounds great), every second week I need to pick up canned goods and stapes for the next two weeks of meal, and once a month for meat.
post #12 of 13
I would totally do the delivery service, in your shoes--when we lived in Seattle (until this September) we did Pioneer Organics--almost exactly the same thing. The quality of the produce was always excellent, and having the delivery of the produce (that lasts the shortest) made it easy for me to cut down on trips to the grocery store. Plus, since you know what you'll be getting (there's a list online, right?), you can plan ahead with recipe books, etc. It'd be best to invest in a couple of recipe books as well, if you don't have any. And, like someone else said, I'd look into PeaPod too--and, if you can, plan out your recipes (I like to make a list to go shopping, and then put the list of meals--with page numbers if I need the recipes--up on the fridge, so that way when I'm trying to figure out what to cook, I can just look at the list to know what I have the ingredients for. Once I've cooked it, I cross it off the list) Good comprehensive cookbooks should also give you a list of what to have "on hand" so that you can make most of the recipes (I keep brown rice, different flours, carrots, onions, potatoes, celery, plain yogurt, tofu, black beans, lentils, eggs, milk, apples, oatmeal, soba noodles, whole wheat pasta, cheddar cheese, tahini, etc--you get the idea) Once you've got your system down, then you just replenish when you get low, and get your variety from the variety of produce--voila! (And can you get them to deliver up here to the mid-Hudson region while you're at it???)

Oh, also, since you're a single momma, I'd definitely second dready*mama--it's great to make the full recipe of whatever, and then freeze it in single-serving meals. That way you always have a stash that you can fall back on if you're not up for cooking. We always always do this, and don't pay for lunches out etc--super-economical and you're not stuck eating the same thing day after day once you've got a stash of a number of different meals(and we've always done this in regular refrigerator freezers)
post #13 of 13
Hi, all.

dh and I are starving NYC students, so face same issue. (Especially because we really, really like good food.) We've use some non-original solutions, some of which have been mentioned.

1) we cook huge quantities of everything, then freeze part and pack part right away in tupperware for taking for lunch. We have one of those dinky NY 3/4 size fridges, so we pack everything in qt sized ziplic freezer bags, flat, and stack them up. there's not an extra inch of space in our freezer.

2) We get our veggies from a Community Supported Agriculture farm in the summer months (June through November), and Urban Organics in the winter months. (Also check out thread on Urban Organics: http://www.mothering.com/discussions...=urban+organic ) It means that we actually eat a variety of veggies, and that we spend less time at the grocery store impulse buying.

Urban Organic is a good deal, all in all. The bigger box is definitely a better value than the smaller one. Getting a weekly big box is too much to stay on top of for two of us, so we get a box every other week, which works great. (Then we just make sure to eat the super perishables first.) Not the best of all possible worlds, but better than the non-organic crud in local stores.

As far as CSAs go: In NY, they usually run from June through Nov or Dec, and involve an up-front fee (usually payable in installments). You then have to schlep to a central pick-up site, but it's much much cheaper than Urban Organics, you know exactly where your produce is coming from, it's fresher, etc. We use Roxbury Farm, which has pick-up sites in Manhattan, but a quick search on the web brought up a couple of Queens CSAs. Try, eg, http://www.panix.com/~levner/csa/

3) We schlep every couple months to a grocery store that has a bulk grains section and get brown rice, kasha, whole wheat cous cous, whole wheat pasta, wild rice, quinoa, nuts, oatmeal, cornmeal, dried beans, dried fruit, etc. (Hint: put all the bags in the freezer overnight when you get them home. Bulk bins are notorious for having pantry moths. We just look at any "extras" as a little bonus protein. ) No kidding, it's a real pain, especially since the closest bulk place closed 6 months ago. But it's a massive $$ savings over getting organic rice, etc, from the grocery store.

4) we use a pressure cooker for a lot of our cooking. (I love my Fagor!) This is a massive bonus, especially since we're short on both time and money. Nothing's cheaper than dried beans.

5) obvious, but we try and stay away from packaged foods. Other than dh's addiction to tortilla chips ("really, I can stop whenever I want to"), we're pretty good.

Thanks for all helpful suggestions! The whole cost of food in NYC thing gets really old really fast.
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