Why I Choose to Spend More Money on Groceries

roadside stand

On the whole, our family probably spends less money on food than many North American families, since I’m able to cook most things from scratch (mayonnaise, granola, yogurt, bread, etc), we grow some of our own food, and we almost never eat out.

But I spend quite a bit more money on certain items than a lot of families (especially other lower-income families) do. And I do this voluntarily. Often, when deciding between two products, I’ll actually go with the more expensive one, which makes some folks gasp.

“Ten dollars for four litres of milk?!” [That’s about a gallon for you Yanks.]

“Seven dollars for a little baggie of salt?!”

“Three dollars for a chocolate bar?!”

Yup, I’ve heard them all. They can’t believe I’d willingly spend double to triple the amount on what seems, to them, to be essentially the same product.

Why?

There are a number of reasons I do this, which I will outline below.

But I first wanted to explain that for me, the way I spend money is an expression of my theology. It’s one of the ways I “do ministry.”

Most Christians believe strongly in the importance of giving money to the poor. Most Evangelicals accept the idea that at least ten percent of one’s income should go towards Kingdom-building endeavors.

This isn’t so different. The way I choose to buy my groceries is my attempt to help feed and clothe the poor, as Jesus commands, in a way that may be as effective as – possibly even more effective than – donating money in the traditional sense. I am choosing to spend a portion of my earnings on bettering the lives of other humans and non-human animals.

Moreover, I try to keep in mind that we North Americans still only spend a tiny fraction of our incomes on food compared to people of other nations.  While Americans, on average, spend only 6-10% of their incomes on food, Algerians, for example, spend almost 44% of their incomes on food (source). I don’t think it’s unreasonable, then, to be willing to spend a little extra to ensure that my food is ethically acquired.

Here are some reasons why I choose to spend more money on groceries.

1. Well, first of all, I don’t think I’m actually spending more in the long run.

I believe it’s actually more economical to invest in high-quality (whole, local, organic) food, because it results in improved health for me and my family. That means less money we have to spend on drugs, dentistry, vitamin supplements, and the like. (As Canadians, we don’t personally pay for doctor and hospital visits, but we reduce the amount of taxpayer money that has to be spent on our health problems). As 11-year-old Birke Baehr puts it, “We can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital.” I choose to pay the farmer.

We also save money because quality food fills you up better and longer. A hard-boiled free-range egg and a banana will go a lot further and give me a lot more energy than a coffee and donut, which will just leave me needing to refuel again soon (not to mention make me feel like crap and make me work less effectively). When my food is nutrient-dense, I require a lot less of it.

2. When it comes to animal products, I often pay more to ensure they’ve been raised humanely.

When I can, I try to buy meat, eggs, and milk from animals that have lived their lives on the pasture, not in cramped, dirty cages or stalls. (When they’re not available, I try to avoid these foods altogether. We eat a lot of beans around here).

I believe that God cares deeply for his animals and He grieves to see them treated cruelly. I don’t want to participate in the brutality characteristic of factory farms.

It costs a lot more to raise animals on an open farm, so I have to be willing to pay more if I want to see animals treated well.

3. When it comes to things like sugar, cocoa, and tomatoes – foods that are frequently produced using slave labour, or bought at unfair prices – I choose to pay a premium for fair-trade certification, to ensure that farmers and harvesters have been paid a fair price.

A lot of what we buy is so cheap in North America because people were exploited in the process of getting it here.

As I mentioned above, we North Americans spend way less on food than people all over the world. The reason is because we’re practically stealing it from those people.

If we wealthy suburbanites were all willing to pay a little more for our food, we could help ensure that farmers get paid what their crops are worth.

4. I buy organic not only for our own health, but also to ensure the land remains healthy for future generations, and so workers don’t have to be exposed to harmful chemicals.

Pesticides are dangerous for everyone involved, not just us consumers. And they’re damaging our soil, water and air. Again, I’m willing to pay more money for food that is safely and sustainably grown and so no one has to suffer.

5. I sometimes pay more for local produce.

Last June, in a weird twist of logic, I discovered in the grocery store that the strawberries grown here in Ontario cost more than the ones shipped in from California — that is, from the opposite coast of a different country! For the few weeks that strawberries were in season, I faithfully picked up a pint of Ontario strawberries and paid the extra dollar for the ones that didn’t take gallons of fossil fuels to get to me. This was just a small way I felt I could help reduce pollution.

* * *

So these are just a few reasons that spending more money on groceries is part of my peculiar lifestyle.

Am I forgetting anything?

How about you? What factors influence the way you shop?

Image courtesy of Sharon Drummond.
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Comments

  1. I like this post Kathleen. It is helpful to have the reason(s) articulated so well. I think what was most eye-opening for me is how much more other parts of the world spend on groceries. It is an encouragement to me (and my family) to continue to make the effort towards a more health and economically conscious grocery list. Its amazing how loud decisions like these can speak to others – we just had the opportunity to discuss some of our ethical choices with friends and family. It definitely sparked some interesting conversation.

  2. I do seminars on grocery shopping, and how to pay as little as possible. So, when I read the title, I spilled my coffee and had to go change. Nevertheless, I think this blog is about the same things I preach: spend money on what MATTERS to you. We, as consumers , are so pumped full of propaganda as to what we need to buy to be happy, healthy and to make our marriage work. We are taught that we have no time, so we need to buy every time-consuming thing we can (and then work more hours to pay for it). Hats off to you, girl, for buying the things that matter to your family, and making what you can from scratch. As a funny tidbit, my four year old now makes fun of convenience foods with me at the store. “See, Mommy! Those yogurt tubes have just a little bit of yogurt, and that big tub has a lot! I wonder who’s going to buy them?” This will teach Lydia also, how to provide for her family the important things within her budget.

    • Oh Sandra, you make me laugh! Sorry to make you lose your coffee!!

      As a Mennonite, I was trained from birth to always spend as little as possible, so it definitely goes against my upbringing and my instincts to spend more. But I definitely see value the in saving as much as you can when it comes to groceries, too. Especially by avoiding convenience foods, as you point out. One could also argue that by saving money on things like groceries, you have more cash available to share with the less fortunate.

      Isn’t it incredible how our kids absorb our values like that? Way to go on teaching your children the problems with convenience foods!

  3. I’ve recently come to similar conclusions, and I love that you can state your reasons so clearly here. What really pushed me over the edge was watching those food documentaries where you see the horrendous conditions of the immigrants harvesting and processing our food here in America – it’s revolting. I never want to support that, however inadvertently. We’re not all the way, by any means, but we’re getting there.

    And I second the comments that you’re actually spending less money by not buying convenience foods!

  4. Love this! I am trying to get all this through to my husband! He was raised very differently (food and money-wise) than I was. He’s an accountant so I think I finally started getting to him when I told he could look at spending more money now as in investment in his health and he’d be saving money because we won’t be paying for medical bills down the road! His father developed diabetes a few years back and has since been on multiple medications for that, and now more pills after his quadruple-bypass heart surgery. If only he had taken the time and money to eat a healthy diet when he was young!

  5. There are days when I love your posts purely because they make me feel better about something I already think or do. This is one of those posts. :) I spend more than I have to on groceries too, buying organic, whole, local foods when possible. But, I always feel 25% guilty and 75% great about doing that, so it’s nice to have that 75% reinforced. My biggest source of guilt with spending that way is that so many can’t, and I value identifying with the poor, so it seems a little off to eat food many of my friends/neighbors/acquaintances can’t afford.

    • Emily: I struggle with that, too. I feel a little snooty when I head straight for the organic section, turning my nose up at anything with soy or GMO’s. Even the fact that I can save money by cooking from scratch is evidence of my privileged position — I don’t have to work full-time at a minimum-wage job to survive. I think it’s healthy to stay aware of this tension.

  6. Thank you so much for this post! I found your blog through a Google search on cloth wipes (love that post as well!). You’ve put perfectly into words what I’ve had such a hard time explaining to others about my grocery purchasing decisions. Thank you for writing, I really appreciate your heart and lifestyle, and I look forward to reading more from you!

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