One of the most common questions that I get asked is how to eat healthy on a strict budget. Many people believe that eating healthy costs a fortune and that there’s no way they can do it on a shoestring budget. Well, that is simply not true! There are some easy ways to get real wholesome food, even if you’re not a recent lottery winner.
Here are some tips to help you eat well without busting open the piggy bank:
1. Start planning – If you are committed to eating well, then you have to be committed to planning your meals. With practice, you might be able to get this down to just a few minutes of planning each week. The best thing that you can do is to make a list of what you will eat for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners (don’t forget snacks) throughout the week. Make a detailed list of all of the ingredients you need BEFORE you step foot in a market or grocery store.
While this might seem overwhelming and tedious, it will save you time and money in the long run. How many times have you come home from a busy day at work and had nothing to cook for dinner, so you end up grabbing some takeout? The average takeout dinner costs around $10.00, so if you’re doing that several times a week, that is a lot of money being spent on poor quality food.
If you want to take your planning to the next level, set aside one day per week to prepare as much food as possible for the upcoming week. Spend this time cooking meals that can easily be reheated, portioning up snacks, or washing fruits and vegetables so they are ready to go when needed. I have found that with proper preparation on Sunday, my work week goes much smoother. If you have kids, get them involved.
2. Don’t shop on an empty stomach – Once you have your list in hand and your meal plan set, head to the grocery store. But, make sure you don’t go on an empty stomach. If you are hungry while you’re at the store, you will overspend on food that might not be the best for you. Eat a light snack before you leave home.
3. Clip coupons and watch the sales – I love coupons. I have a little coupon organizer that I take with me whenever I go to the store. I also watch the weekly grocery ads to see what’s on sale and then I try to plan my meals around those items. Double bonus if you have a coupon for an item that is already on sale. You will find that sometimes, even with a coupon, a store brand item might be a better price. I find that I get the best bang for my buck with my coupons on household and health and beauty supplies. However, since I don’t really purchase processed and pre-packaged food, a lot of manufacturer’s coupons don’t help me much.
4. Stay on the outer edges of the grocery store – The center aisles of the grocery store are where you’ll find the processed foods. The outer edges of a grocery store are where you’ll typically find the real food – the deli, meat department, produce, and dairy products. While it’s impossible to stay out of the center of the store, try to limit your purchase of items like canned soups (high in sodium, MSG, and other unsavory ingredients), most boxed cereals, canned meats (excluding tuna, salmon, and sardines), sodas, chips, cookies, and other processed foods. With time, you’ll find that it’s actually cheaper to make your own cereals, soups, and snacks!
5. Use cash – One of the easiest ways to stay on a budget is to only use cash. Put your credit and debit cards away and take out your weekly grocery budget in cash before you head to the store. We are much more conscious of what we put in our carts when we know exactly how much money we have to spend.
6. Pay attention to portion sizes – This is one thing that we Americans are really bad at. Portion control is not actively practiced and it it probably one of the top reasons that we are so overweight as a country. Once you become familiar with the proper portions of certain food items, you’ll see that you might not need to purchase as much food as you thought. You might realize that the steak you bought for your dinner is actually enough for two or three servings. Right there, you’ve cut your grocery bill. Not only will watching portion sizes help your grocery budget, it will help you lose or maintain your weight. This is a fun tool that WebMD has on their website to help people understand portion sizes.
7. Assess “leaks” in your budget – Do you stop at Starbucks every day? Do you grab a bagel on the way to work in the morning? Do you and your co-workers go to lunch several times a week? These activities can add up to a substantial amount of money over a week’s, month’s, and year’s time. If you’re a Starbucks addict (like I once was), you could easily spend upwards of $20 – $25 a week just on coffee. That is a massive chunk of change when you’re on a budget! Plugging these leaks will not only give you more breathing room in your grocery budget, it will greatly benefit your health.
8. Shop locally – not only will you be getting higher quality food, more nutrition, AND be supporting the local economy, many times, farmers markets have better prices on produce, bread, and certain gourmet products than your local grocery store will.
These are my top eight methods of how to eat well without breaking the bank. I have found that with practice, most of it is second nature now. Once you get in the habit of planning out your meals and making a thorough grocery list, you will find that it is possible to eat real food on a budget. For more tips on how to eat well on a budget, check out the tips that my readers left on my Facebook page.
Now, I want to hear from you! What are some of the ways you keep your household on a strict grocery budget?