Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
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NDYL, Part 6B: Eat to Save

This year I’m going to spend less on food by eating more. Nutritious foods, that is. Eating mostly minimally processed homemade nutrient-rich food, rather than a lot of convenience foods will save my family at least $#222222. Unlike last month, when I included some hypothetical savings, this time my figures reflect only actual budget dollars. Most of those dollars we’ll re-allocate toward paying down our debt.

Last month I began discussing a set of behaviors I collectively called “kickin’ it Old School” in reference to a time when things like eating out and watching TV were considered special treats. Back then, by necessity, we were more active and thus, generally healthier and more connected to one another in real ways. Now electronic media and pre-packaged conveniences have become so ubiquitous they’ve supplanted all kinds of activity we used to regularly engage in, including face-to-face conversations. Whereas we once had to physically get up off the couch to change the channel and go through multiple steps to prepare a meal, now we can simply tap a few buttons to make either one happen.

While I’m not likely to give up my remote control, I’m definitely making efforts to use it less. Neither can I deny the necessity of an occasional quick ready to eat meal in today’s fast paced lifestyle. However, the benefits of embracing some Old School eating habits far outweigh the so-called convenience of many pricey and unhealthy New School conventions. Therefore, to me, they are well worth the extra effort. You might disagree with me, and that’s fine. My intention here has never been to tell you what to do, merely to share my experience/perspective and hopefully, as a consequence, inspire you to make informed choices that are right for your situation. With all that in mind, I give you my 2nd money saving Old School Kick. Feel free to share any others you’ve embraced.

#222222Prepare more meals at home. Eat more fresh nutrient-dense foods and less processed food and animal products. Eat family meals together consistently.
#222222#222222Imagine, every day for 30 years, in addition to what you typically eat, stuffing your face with a sandwich of two extra crispy KFC chicken strips nestled between two KrispyKreme glazed doughnuts and smothered in gravy. That’s effectively what we, as a nation, have done to ourselves over the past several decades. In the equivalent of one generation the average American’s daily calorie intake has jumped by 700 calories, or 24.5%. Obesity, once a relatively rare phenomenon, is now the number one health problem in the United States. If the current trend continues, health experts estimate, virtually every American adult will be overweight or obese by the year 2048. If you saw the movie “Wall-E” you can call up a good visual of what that would look like.

What does all this have to do with personal finance? To put it bluntly, as we get fatter our wallets get slimmer. The average American family of four currently spends $1455 a month on food. Up to 40% of those dollars go toward eating out. Not only do we spend more money on food than ever, the types and amounts of food we often consume have expensive health consequences. Nowadays most Americans get a third of their calories from restaurants or other such foodservice retailers, where food costs significantly more than it would if it were prepared at home. Furthermore, portions are typically 2 to 3 times larger than USDA recommended serving sizes, loaded with excessive calories and saturated fat and often void of essential nutrients and other important elements. So, basically, a person who eats 3 meals a day gets at least one of their daily meals from a restaurant.

Perhaps one meal a day of restaurant food wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of our day’s meals and snacks consisted of mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables. Alas, that isn’t the case for too many of us. The typical American consumes:
  • 31% more packaged foods than fresh food
  • Only 8% of total calories from fruits and vegetables
  • Over 815 pounds of animal based products per year, nearly 184 pounds of which are meat. That’s 46 pounds more than my parents’ generation grew up eating!
  • 30 teaspoons of added sugar each day

In case you’re wondering, yes, I am implying that meat and dairy products are not very good for you; at least, not in the above quantities. The vast majority of us have had it engraved on our brains that our bodies need protein and calcium and that meat and dairy products, respectively, are the best ways to get them. I actually used to teach classes preaching such conventional wisdom, so I totally understand the cognitive dissonance you may be experiencing right now. And, believe me, I do get it. A juicy filet mignon and a good hunk of aged white cheddar are my idea of gastronomical bliss. However, there’s no denying the scientific evidence. For a healthy weight and overall good health the plant-based to animal-based food ratio should be pretty much the opposite of typical patterns listed above.

Nutrition expert Dr. Joel Fuhrman (who backs up his claims with decades of reliable research) suggests something more like 90% of our calories from whole plant-based food like fruits and veggies, with other types of food taking up no more than 10% of our remaining calorie budget. Dr. Fuhrman asserts that his suggested 90:10 ratio can dramatically reduce instances of chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease. I’ll admit his ideas are extreme, but he makes a strong case for them in his book Eat to Live. And, given our current milieu, it’s going to take extreme measures to get us on the road to wellness.

I’d like to explain further about the science behind all of this, but this is neither the time nor the place. If you’re interested I’d encourage you to research it further. I’ve provided links in the Sources list below. The documentary Forks Over Knives (available on Netflix) explains it quite well, as does the aforementioned Eat to Live. And, no, I have no vested interest in trying to sell you Fuhrman’s book. Much to the contrary, I’d love for you to save $17 and go check one out at your local library. That is, after all, why I’m publicly humiliating myself with this here blog-like device. To help you save money.

Anyway, the point is eating more fresh fruits and veggies and less processed food and animal products have valuable consequences for our bodies and our budgets. Adopting the 90:10 rule has proven beneficial to my family on both fronts. I feel remarkably better eating this way and notice a huge difference when I don’t. The fatigue, aches and generally lousy feeling I get when I revert to old habits are unpleasant enough to motivate me to get back on track.

All the money we’re saving with our new eating habits is pretty awesome too. There’s this crazy myth out there, that eating healthfully is expensive. I once believed that and used it as an excuse for my poor food choices. Now I realize how wrong I was. Before our nutrition overhaul we were spending at least $150 a week on groceries. Now that number rarely goes over $100. #222222

You’ve probably noticed much of the rationale for this “kick” overlaps with that of my rationale for reducing TV time. Turning off the TV goes hand in hand with healthful eating by giving us more time to prepare fresh nutritious food and to spend quality time eating it with our families at the dinner table, another old school habit with proven wellness benefits and money saving consequences. The heretofore hypothetical $26,853 in health savings can become more fully realized when we add good nutrition to a less sedentary (i.e., less TV-saturated) lifestyle. Not to mention, I feel we owe it to our children to do what we can to give them our healthiest possible and optimally functioning selves. In doing so we’re modeling healthy choices that can only contribute positively to their well being too and that ultimately saves money too.
#222222#222222This healthful eating kick is a work in progress. The baby and myself do it, but I don’t expect Daddy to fully participate any time soon. Adapting one’s palette after a lifetime of consuming mostly highly processed food that barely resembles real food doesn’t happen overnight. I refuse to buy junk food, however. If he wants junk he gets it himself. We still get take-out sometimes, but no more than once a week on average.
#0071c3My biggest problem with preparing fresh food was finding the time to plan and organize meals and shopping. A truly New School spin I’ve embraced is eMeals, as recommended by Dave Ramsey. #222222“If you wait until 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday to try and figure out what’s for dinner, then you’re much more likely to make the quick and easy choice—something like McDonald’s . . .”

I’m usually very skeptical when someone tells me to spend money in order to save money. Dave’s eMeals recommendation was no exception, especially since he probably gets paid for it. Even though he promised “a simple online solution that plans your meals, helps you stick to your grocery budget and simplifies your life” I tried a variety of free meal planning apps first. It turns out, paid endorsement or not, Dave was right. So was dear old Dad, who often told me, “You get what you pay for.” To both D-men, I say, “Indeed!” I’ll be honest, eMealz is not perfect. There are some small kinks in the system, but the free services had much bigger ones that consequently did not simplify my life. And it truly has helped keep us on budget (actually, under) and simplified our life in ways that make the $5 a month so worth it.

#222222Add to that the $33,414.24 we’re saving by watching less TV and the grand total comes to $42,194.24. If we only count actual budget dollars saved that’s $15,341.24. Pretty impressive, yes? How ‘bout you? What Old School Kicks have you implemented to save money?
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Monday, 26 February 2024

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