Surviving on a teacher’s salary or any other salary for that matter can be extremely challenging. Trust me – we’ve been doing it for almost 7 years on a teacher’s salary with minimal to no raise and it’s T.O.U.G.H. Most of the time it’s “how in the world are we going to pay our bills stress out & cry” tough. Sure, there are teachers that make 6 figures plus but if you think that’s what we all make I’d be happy to sit down and have a little chat with you! For our family, it’s mostly the high medical payments that are killing us. I’m paying anywhere from $300-$1000 a month for medical payments which can be half of what we bring home a month.
But over the past 5 years our family has also become more aware of what we eat, processed foods, and chemicals/toxins that are pushed in America. Trust me – I NEVER would have thought twice about it before….until my oldest had a febrile seizure when he was little and began to show signs of Asperger’s. (I’m not saying the seizure made him have Asperger’s, it’s just that we didn’t notice anything until after the seizure.) In an effort to help my son we began to look at alternative things to our “every day life” since doctors didn’t seem to be helping. It was overwhelming, expensive, and just downright TOUGH but I was determined to do something to help him……I didn’t realize it would help my family so much in the process.
I’ve learned how to become an advocate for my son, for my family, and even sometimes help others learn what I didn’t know “back then”. It’s a process. We will never be one of those 100% green families that eat only raw vegetables or build our own furniture. Not only can we not afford it but it’s just not practical, as nice as it may sound. It’s just not going to happen. BUT we have come a long way in the past 5 years to reducing our processed & chemical intake and learned a lot about nutrition in the process.
I’ve come across a lot of families that want to eat healthier or more organic but feel overwhelmed with the cost and availability of things. DON’T try to “go green” cold turkey. Don’t even try to go organic all at once. You’ll quickly feel overwhelmed and maybe even obsessed not to mention the expense. In fact to be honest I NEVER consider even being “green”. I strictly look at it from the perspective of our family being healthier. It has taken us 5 years to get where we are and there is still a lot that I am learning. Here are a few of the steps that our family has taken with a minimal cost increase to stay healthier.
- Start with the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen is a list updated each year with the top 12 produce with the highest and least amount of pesticides in it. My very first goal in decreasing chemicals in our diet was to switch out ONE thing from our grocery list. JUST ONE! That was pretty much all we could afford to be honest. I made a commitment to switch our apples to organic only apples since it was #1 for the highest pesticides on the list. (I think it was over 40+ types of pesticides – ick!) Organic apples can be pretty pricey if they aren’t on sale but this was our first commitment and we’ve stuck with it. To me, it was the biggest bang for my buck. If nothing else I could cut out the excessive pesticides from my kids fruit. Since then I’ve also learned that organic carrots are almost the same price as non-organic carrots so we have also switched those out.
- Learn how to read labels. I knew I couldn’t afford to switch everything to all natural and organic, but I could research how to read labels. After a lot of reading I focused on a few things I preferred to keep out of our groceries and tried not to buy them. Maybe it’s sodium benzoate, maybe it’s high fructose corn syrup, maybe it’s artificial food dyes or nitrates…. I found that even within the same brand different flavors and styles of food could vary greatly! We started with food dyes (specifically red dyes) and I remember one of the first things I looked at was pudding – the instant chocolate pudding had THREE food dyes in it, but the “cook” chocolate pudding of the SAME BRAND had NO food dyes! I was even shocked at the amount of bread loaves that had food dyes in them! If nothing else it really started to make me realize that I had NO clue what I ate. None. There is a LOT of information out there – just keep reading. Many brands of food are now dabbling in a “simpler” version of their products which has less chemicals in it for around the same price.
- Less Chemical Cleaners. Partly because my kids get into just about everything and partly to reduce chemical cleaners in the house I began the hunt for less harsh or chemical free cleaners about 3 years into our journey. The above 2 tips took me 3 years and I still haven’t accomplished them all! I certainly couldn’t afford high priced chemical-free chemicals but I found some fantastic alternatives! Bon-Ami is great for just about everything surface-wise to clean and it’s CHEAP. (under $1) Vinegar and baking soda are also fantastic cleaners as well. I have since learned how to make our own dish detergent as well as laundry detergent – all chemical-free. I found an interesting recipe for Glass Cleaner on National Geographic that I’ll have to try. Not only are DIY recipes usually always cheaper but they are healthier too.
- Vitamins & Supplements. This is an area that has probably taken me the most time to research. It’s also the most costly venture we’ve started BUT it has saved us money in medical bills and been worth the cost too. I’ve learned that NOT all vitamin & supplement brands are created equal. It’s pointless to just randomly take things (and dangerous too!) so don’t do that either. I took my son to a wholistic doctor as a desperate measure a year or so ago which was VERY expensive and to be honest a bit nerve-wrecking for me since I was a little afraid of homeopathy to be honest, but I learned a HUGE wealth of information just in one visit with him. I showed him the supplements my son was taking and he explained to me the difference in quality of supplements and helped me to find a better alternative. For example, my son was taking fish oil (great for calming kids and helping them focus better) but the “pediatrician-recommended” brand we had been using for 2 years would require him to take 25 capsules PER day to get the recommended daily dose! 25!? Holy cow! We quickly switched his fish oil to a more concentrated pure form and were very satisfied with the results. My son also has low iron issues and we had been giving him only half of what he needed on a daily basis to help. I realized how little I knew. I wish I could afford to keep up with wholistic doctors as I found great value in the one that we visited but many don’t take insurance and I simply couldn’t afford his fees. Do your research, do your research, do your research! Maybe even consider saving up for one or two visits with a nutritionist or wholistic doctor to start you on the right path. I went into it with an open mind but very adamant about not doing anything I didn’t understand or wasn’t comfortable with. It turned out that everything I learned made a whole lot of sense.
- Alternative Medicine. This is a HUGE area that after 5 years I am just starting to delve into. And I’m not talking voodoo rituals and refusing to get antibiotics. To be honest I was afraid it was ALL quacky. We’ve all heard all sorts of strange things that turn out to be myths but after finding that conventional medicine was simply fixing symptoms with my kids and not the problem I have started looking for other answers. BUT I was sick & tired of spend a TON of money dragging my kids to the doctors for constant chronic issues like ear infections, croup, pneumonia, and other respiratory-related issues. I am by NO means an expert but I have found a few things that work for us. I started by going to the Vitamin Shoppe and asking their employees. They were SO incredibly helpful and I’m SO glad I started there! They knew a LOT more about homeopathic products than I did and could point me in the right direction. I absolutely LOVE Boiron products. Their Oscillococcinum is expensive but when you have the flu trust me – this stuff is like gold. I also love Xlear products – I began using them long before I became their Ambassador. Their Spry gum actually prevents cavities and their sinus rinse stuff is nothing short of amazing. Those are just two brands we use a lot in our house but there are many others! Just this weekend I have unintentionally ventured into the world of essential oils and have been using lavender oil with our family. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised anymore about the results but I am and have been very happy after just a few days.
So look at it as a journey. Conquer only ONE thing at a time. I set my goals small…because in reality they seemed so much bigger to me and that’s all we could afford. These are 5 huge areas and after 5 years I have in no way conquered any one of them. But I can look back and see how much our family has been helped by just doing research and being willing to think outside of the box. Once you feel comfortable with one change you’ve made add a new one on!