Tag Archives: finances

the food that we eat

the truth about healthy eating is now sinking in..

I have mentioned quite a few times in this blog (here, here and here) how we are trying to revolutionize the way we live to fit into what can be considered a “sustainable lifestyle.” While moving out of the city was the biggest influence for this change to happen, we also realize that at the core of this sustainable lifestyle are choices that has to do with the food we eat. Because these are choices that we have to make everyday, and with every meal.

our children have developed an acquired taste for carabao milk products. we have a preference for carabao milk and yogurt, which we purchase from a local source, because we know these went through less processing than milk products you would often find in supermarkets.

Looking at where we stand financially, it would seem an unlikely move to be shifting to an organic, natural and whole foods diet, considering that such food options command premium prices in markets at the moment. But the thing is, this lifestyle shift I’m talking about is not just a trend that we’re trying to jump on, but it is in fact our commitment—to be able to live well—and our investment—to have healthy minds and bodies for years to come.

Whole foods is the general term for foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or foods that are processed and refined in as little ways as possible. As a rule, we make it a point to buy fresh food items from the market and avoid the grocery altogether as most of the items found here are commercially processed and make use of a lot of synthetic packaging. Our family loves cooking and eating at home, and refraining from “instant” and “canned” and “processed” food items was not really difficult. What was more difficult, in fact, is changing our mindset that going for groceries is an essential part of our day to day living.

Natural foods are those grown naturally without the addition of harmful chemicals such as pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. We are blessed to have a small piece of land to till where we grow some of our vegetables, so shifting to a diet filled with organic and chemical-free vegetables came in quite easily.

The last but major item in our diet revolution is shifting to all-organic meat. Since the previous month, more than 50% of the meat we cook and eat came from farms employing natural and sustainable farming practices. We are lucky to be networking with enterprises whose objectives are similar to ours—that is providing healthy and natural food sources at the most affordable prices possible. We have started purchasing organically raised chicken and pork, eggs from organically fed ducks and hens, and ocean-caught seafood.

The thing is, the prices of some of these items that are now staples in our food list cost several times as much than their conventional counterparts. To give you an idea, here are the prices of some of the food items we buy from what we consider healthier sources, compared with their price if we bought them at regular sources.

Regular market price Price of organic/natural Price difference
Pork PhP 170/kg PhP 195/kg >15%
Chicken PhP 120/kg PhP 170/kg >25%
Rice PhP 34/kg PhP 120/kg >250%
Fresh milk PhP 50/liter PhP 95/liter >90%

Indeed, some of the food items that we purchase are that much more expensive. Considering that these are food staples, a lot of you may wonder how we are able to afford such food choices. The key is in finding portions in our food budget that we can spend less on. Like vegetables, for example, because we grow some of our own, we can spend as much as nothing on vegetables on some meals in a week.

When it comes to fruits, buying local and seasonal fruits is key. Fruits in season are always at their cheapest. We had just left rambutan season, now we are thriving in calamansi before prices start to climb up again. Lansones also come in cheap nowadays. And we have banana and papaya trees so we have free fruit sporadically throughout the year.

Another tip is to finding less expensive alternatives to these expensive food staples. When it comes to meat for example, because organic meat is definitely more expensive, we are now trying to expand our protein sources to include more beans, legumes, nuts and soy. This way, we can cut down on our organic meat purchases without sacrificing our protein requirements. For rice and bread, there are plenty of local food crops that can be as filling, as healthy but much less expensive. Take cassava, camote, saba bananas, these are very cheap sources of carbohydrates that some of us often overlook. And when my children won’t eat boiled cassava? I make them into muffins, and they’d have no way of finding out that they’re eating some of the best calorie sources there is.

The good thing about maintaining an organic, natural and whole foods diet is that you are assured of better nutrition because these foods contain more complex micronutrients than processed or refined products having the same ingredients. So even if you skip meat on a meal but eat organic potatoes and parsley instead, you will still get your protein and vitamins and minerals because these contain a fairly balanced amount of nutrients.

So yes, we have made another step forward towards a truly healthy lifestyle. The first steps are really the most difficult. Still, it can be done. We are a normal, middle-class family, and yes, we can afford this kind of lifestyle. Because at the end of the day, it’s still a matter of choice.

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emerging from a status quo

This is an entry inspired by the realization that we still couldn’t take out a housing loan even if we could afford it.

The past year has been a trying year for us, especially financially. Sure we get by, we send our kids to school, eat lovely meals, live peacefully in our quaint little home, run our own farming business and be bosses of ourselves. We have a good life. We live simply and sustainably and pose little harm to our environment. We have time to pursue the things we want to do. In this day and age of stress and hurry, who still has time for things like composting, making pizza dough or walking? We do. And we are proud of how we have turned our city-dwelling lives around to our now low and slow lifestyle.

Sometimes, though, low and slow has its setbacks. After Turo left his job more than a year ago, nobody in our household remained formally employed. As for me, I’ve worked freelance ever since Uri was born so I practically have zero employment footprint. Turo, on the other hand, was supervisor-level for the past how many years. Being employed for so long, he was the de-facto provider of all legal documents, be it for credit card or loan application requirements. At least that was the case until a year ago. Continue reading emerging from a status quo

spending less, getting more

call me weird but, yes, I have kept track of our family’s spending over the last few years, with excel worksheets to prove it. there actually IS a science behind home management.

Today, as I busied myself over recording and scheduling bill payments for the month of August, I felt a sudden urge to try and analyze how our spending has changed over the years. I wonder if other people are as obsessed with a household budget as I am. But really I find budgeting information very practical. In fact, I always find myself looking back to it especially when we try to revisit our financial priorities, which inevitably changes as years go by.

At this point in our family life, we are actually making the most financial sense than we ever had. Of course we’ve had our share of investment lapses and unsound economic judgment, but we have learned a lot from them and we’ve matured enough to actually make some really excellent financial decisions this time around.

Looking back at our average monthly spending over the last three years, we are now spending much less than we did before. This is largely influenced by the fact that we are earning less now than we did a couple of years back, so naturally we have to squeeze in all our expenses within a tighter margin. Still, it is interesting to note that living on a smaller household budget is actually achievable, but with some slight to major lifestyle shifts.

Take a look at our average monthly budget in 2009. Like a typical household budget, food is naturally the biggest expense. This chunk is further broken down to grocery and wet market purchases. Travel is the next biggest chunk and this used to be one of our biggest splurges, making it a point to have at least 2 major trips each year. While a good half goes to food and travel, the remainder is spent on rent, services (househelp), bills payment and medical expenses. A good 15% of our monthly earnings is also stashed away as savings. Looking good so far.

average monthly budget, 2009

In 2011, our regular spending was cut down by 3% compared to the previous year. This was the time that we moved to Los Banos and while most of the basic goods and services are about the same price here as in Manila, there are some things here that cost significantly less, like eating out for example.

Our 2011 budget chart shows that while food is still the biggest expense, it did not go beyond 30% of our monthly budget. Travel expenses shot up to 23% because both Turo and I traveled regularly to Manila to work even when we were already living in LB. The rest of our expenses were essentially the same.

average monthly budget, 2011

I have mentioned quite a number of times in my previous entries that we had been slashing pesos off our budget as a resultant effect of changing the way we eat and live. You would be surprised that while our rent payments stayed constant over the years, our monthly food allocation dropped down to just about the same amount in 2012. Our monthly fuel expense is now just a mere 7% compared to a high of 23% in the year before.

Our current monthly spending is actually 12% less than what we used to spend in 2009. This is in spite of the fact that we have more expenditures now because we are also paying for farm expenses, paying school fees, and paying debt which we incurred when we loaned money as start-up capital for the farm.

average monthly budget, 2012

So how did we do it?

We grew our own food. We buy local. We skipped the grocery and stopped consuming processed, packaged food. Now we are eating fresh, natural and local, which tastes so much better, costs so much cheaper, is so much healthier and we even get to support local producers and boost local economies.

We started to maximize an oft-neglected resource—our bodies. As city dwellers we were enslaved by various modes of fuel-consuming transportation. Here in Los Banos we learned to skip riding a car or a jeepney because we can get to our destination by burning calories, not gasoline.

We grew more conscious of our purchases. We buy what we need when we need them. Stocking food or supplies no longer exist in our vocabulary. We did away with needless shopping especially of items that will go to waste eventually.

We indulge in cheap forms of entertainment. We watch movies on DVD instead of going to the movie theater. We spend mornings at the park eating taho or drinking juice. We jog around UPLB campus and treat ourselves to a cup of yogurt afterwards. We set up a sandbox for the kids so we can spend afternoons at the farm. We have pizza weekends, barbecue nights, and rarely dine out.

In less than a year, our lifestyle has changed drastically from being highly consumerist to being highly sustainable. True, we did slash thousands of pesos off our budget, but this came at a price, on denominations that we were willing to pay—in terms of time and effort. Vegetables don’t grow by themselves overnight. Local produce need to be sourced from different stores and locations. Walking to work means you need to leave the house much earlier than when you will just hop on and off a vehicle. And making pizza is so much more difficult than just waiting for it to land on your plate.

Time and effort. These are key to our happy, healthy, meaningful and sustainable lifestyle. The good news is that it can be done. But only by those who dare to leave the convenience of this modern world behind and enjoy the elements of life as they were meant to be enjoyed. No shortcuts.

the two income trap

money-trapHaving a family nowadays almost always requires both parents to be working and earning. The costs of child rearing are pretty hefty and would be difficult to manage if living only on one spouse’s income. When I gave birth to Uri, Turo and I decided it was best for me to take a break from work and spend more time instead in taking care of our children. This was a very bold move, given the financial implications, but it was an “investment” that we wanted to make during our children’s formative years. (more)