On very important aspect of success is understanding the idea of opportunity cost.
Opportunity cost refers to the opportunities you give up when you make a specific choice. For example, when you make a $10 purchase, your $10 is spent. Opportunity cost would be the other things you could have used your money on if you had not made that purchase. It doesn’t just refer to money – if you spend three and a half hours watching TV, the opportunity cost would be that those are three hours you can’t spend doing certain other things.
If you keep this in mind, you can focus your resources (time, money, etc.) on what you really want. By using your resources efficiently, you can cut out waste and use money that would have been wasted to meet your other needs, enhance your lifestyle, invest, or help other people.
Food is an area where there are huge amounts of money wasted, and once you eat it, it’s gone. Other than the nutrients that are hopefully helping your health, it’s no longer benefiting you in the way that investments or something more lasting might. But at the same time, good food is one of the basic enjoyments of life. Especially if you are working a lot of hours and aren’t able to spend very much on comforts and luxuries of life, food is something that can really enhance your quality of life.
With that in mind, there are many techniques to get good and abundant food. One great thing to do is get a group of people with different techniques and resources, and each help the group in obtaining food. A group of reliable, creative people could do a lot!
If I were putting such a group together, here’s how it might look:
One or more people might be gardeners. Gardeners often have more vegetables than they can use. They also have very useful skills, so if other people in the group have yards or balconies, the gardeners can give good advice on how to start a garden or grow some plants in containers. Gardeners also often have extra plants or seeds to give away. Many cities rent inexpensive garden plots where people in apartments can have a garden. If you are working a lot of hours, you may not have time to do this, but with a group of people, each person would only need to put in a little bit of time.
One or more people might have berry bushes, or nut or fruit trees. Fruit trees often produce more fruit that can be used, which can be a problem if it rots on the lawn. Extra fruit could be contributed to the group, with group members picking the fruit from the trees or off the lawn.
One or more people might work at a restaurant. Frequently restaurant workers are able to bring home free food, but they may not want to eat the same thing every day, so they would offer what they don’t need to someone in the group. Even better if they are a cook, because cooking skills could be something other people in the group could learn. They may also be able to get other free items, like bananas that aren’t perfect, but are still good enough for banana bread or people who don’t care what they look like. Another resource they may have is access to a membership card to a restaurant supply store where cases of meat, fish, and various other items can be bought at wholesale prices.
Someone else might be a grocery store or health food store employee. Especially with independent stores that are not part of large corporate chains, they may have a lot of items they would normally throw away at the end of the day, especially produce and dairy products, that can still be used before they spoil.
Maybe a couple of people are excellent coupon-users. While not my favorite technique because the time involved would be more profitable for other things in a lot of circumstances (again, opportunity cost), many people seem to have efficient systems and can obtain large amounts of items at low cost or free. This is particularly true if there are grocery stores in your area that offer double value for coupons used. This is also a skill that can be learned by other people in the group if they are interested. If several people in the group are not couponers, but get newspapers that have coupons, they could give their coupon inserts to the couponer for his or her part.
One person might have a van or pickup truck. This would allow pickup of large items like cases of produce, meat, etc. It might also be helpful for anyone with a yard who wants to add fruit trees, berry bushes, or large garden plants. Sometimes people outside your group might offer free fruit if you come and pick it, in which case, you can use the pickup truck to haul it. At the end of farming season, once the machines have picked the crop, there are often large numbers of vegetables that were missed by the machines. Some farmers allow “gleaners” to come for free and take what they like. A farm near me had tens of thousands of pounds of potatoes left over. You might be able to take several people from your group and fill a pickup truck.
The farmers market is a good place to get vegetables. At the end of the day, sellers have to decide what to take home and what will not last until they can sell it again (but might be fine to eat within a few days). If you come when they are getting ready to load, you can often get reduced price or free items. However, you want to be open to what’s available and not give them a hard time. If you ask them for a price to take several cases, they are probably more likely to deal with you than if you want a low price on just a couple of things that have to be in perfect condition. Expect to pick through some bruised apples, etc. to make this kind of deal. You may want someone from the group who is good at negotiating to take this on.
Maybe you know someone with a Costco or Sam’s Club card who can get discount rates on things that everybody is interested in.
If you live in the city it might be a stretch (but it is possible) to find someone who raises chickens or bees and can provide eggs or honey.
Maybe one person is a bakery employer, or can be available to check local bakeries for discounted items at the end of the day. A bakery near me sells the best French bread in the city at $1 a loaf at the end of the day before closing. If you have a letter that you work for a charity, they will give you bags full of free bread.
You could also look in your area for surplus grocery stores, which have seriously discounted items. One person could check regularly for good deals.
Also consider people with good skills, like someone who knows how to can or dry food so whatever can’t be used right away can still be used in the future.
Or someone who has the time and ability to bake and can change your brownish bananas, eggs, and walnuts from your tree into banana bread, etc.
Personally, if it were me, I would also think about involving someone with excellent barbequeing skills so you can have great get-togethers with your group and enhance the flavor of what you’ve put together.
You might also want to discuss who has useful equipment or get some items at a second hand store. For example, if you have a lot of fresh fruit, maybe someone has a juicer.
I would make this pretty informal, without a lot of money changing hands. You would need to coordinate somewhat so you don’t have people buying a lot of the same items that spoil quickly from different sources, etc. You might need to work out a few things along the way. You could certainly start with just a few people and grow from there so things are not too complex when you are getting started.
There are lots of resources when it comes to food, and finding creative people interested in working together this way can be a great opportunity for friendships and as a starting point for saving money in lots of other ways.
What other ideas do you have for finding low-cost food or working as a group to achieve your goals?