There are many different ways to maximize your money spent on healthy food. It is important to only buy the items that you really need rather than impulsively throwing everything you see in the cart. Here are some ideas to keep to your budget when going to the grocery store….
- Set a semi-flexible budget limit that is feasible for your needs—and stick to it
- Bring the budgeted amount in CASH and a backup card/extra cash of course just in case you crazy underestimate your calculations.
- Calculate your total as you go! It’s really quick to add a number in your phone for each item.
- To give a cushion for staying in budget, round bulk items up to what’s easy to calculate in your head, such as $1.48 up to $1.50 or $2.00, then round the weigh up to a whole number. (1.73 lbs @ $1.48 could be calculated as 2 lbs X $2.00)
- If you want to be extra safe or attempt to factor in sales tax, you can round every item up to the nearest dollar when you’re calculating. We tend to do this and come out pretty close to our lowest budgeted number most trips!
- Leave your calculator on with just the running total… and regularly repeat it in your head as you add each item (can’t tell you how many times I have lost my total mid-trip!!!)
- On that note, remember not to play too much on your phone or compulsively close your apps… you can lose your total and end up either going over or leaving out items you could’ve gotten.
- Try one of those grocery list apps, if that makes it easier for you. They’re very comprehensive and some even have ads from local stores to help you find the best deals!
- Be sure to take into consideration all household items you include in your “grocery” budget and make a list to remember! For example, we include paper towels, plastic wrap, garbage bags, foil, toiletries and baby items in our “grocery budget”
- Realize that this pre-set budget number could vary greatly based on what you need that trip, how big your household is and what your food intake is, so give yourself a cushion.
- Be reasonable with your set limit and goals. If you’ve set a limit of $120-150, aim to stay as close to the lower number as possible. If you find a great deal on something and want to stock up, or by the time you reach checkout realize you’ve underestimated the total cost of your items (bulk section trail mix, I am looking at you….) you will likely still be able to stay within the budget.
- Consider cutting out “optional” items if you are getting close to your limit to avoid going over. (ahem… cookie dough and ice cream…)
- Consider using a coupon app for a club-card that you may have at a store. E-coupons are becoming more common and are really nice if all you have to do is scan your card or input your phone number at checkout!
- Depending on your spending habits, consider using a cashback app which you later record your purchases and eventually redeem cash. In my experience, these haven’t really had a good enough return to continue using, based on finding better prices on similar items that don’t have offers on the app.
Meals for Busy People on a Budget
In addition to budgeting, time is the biggest hurdle that most of our readers face with eating healthier. Finding a balance of budget-friendly and convenient healthy food is essential to long term success with eating well. Here are some healthy meal and snack ideas that can save both time and money.
- Eggs on toast. Frying an egg doesn’t take long and neither does toast. Make it while you are getting your things ready to go (lunch, coffee, car started, shoes on, etc) and it is less than 5 minutes. Eat in on your way out the door! If you must, leave the pan to clean after work
- A pre-made smoothie (make ahead packs are great!) or last minute one if you want. I make these with strawberry, banana, yogurt, dry oats, chia seeds, flax, coconut oil, grass fed collagen peptides (in place of protein powder) and peanut butter and a little coconut milk, kombucha or water if needed.
- Breakfast cookies or muffins-make ahead and have them ready to go!
- Pre-make a creamy mild soup and have it ready to be heated the put in a travel mug
- Overnight oats! My latest obsession
- Egg and cheese muffins with hash browns (it’s like a breakfast sandwich in a cupcake!)
- Oats for breakfast with yogurt and jelly or coconut oil, peanut butter and jelly (microwave 1/2 cup water and 1/4 cup quick oats for a minute, let sit then add your stuff!)
- Sandwiches fixings (seriously—this will never NOT be a good idea—do lettuce wraps for bread-free)
- Leftovers for lunch
- Prep your sides and snacks ahead of time (hard boiled eggs, baked potatoes, rice, steamed veggies, beans, cut up fresh veggies and pre-pack your yogurt, cheese, nuts in containers, etc)
- Bake a potato in the microwave, top with olive oil, salt and serve with a quick protein—like scrambled eggs with salsa and a salad on the side.
- Olive oil and balsamic as dressing-drizzle these over your greens instead of expensive less healthy dressing.
- Mason jar salads-stack the heavy stuff on the bottom with the dressing then the lettuce and shredded carrots on top, flip upside down onto a plate when it’s time to eat!
- Apples and bananas or other cheap portable fruit for snacks-pair with peanut butter, nuts, yogurt or cheese to make it more filling.
- Trail mix from the bulk section or store brand packaging.
- Popcorn kernels to make homemade popcorn rather than bagged. Use coconut oil with a little sea salt!
- Ground beef taco meat using salsa, hot sauce, and a few spices. Use leftovers for taco salad the next day.
- Hamburgers with a lettuce wrap bun-just use a little salt, pepper, chili powder, onion and garlic powder for a simple tasty burger
- Chili with ground beef or meat free-serve with homemade biscuits, cornbread or rice and mixed veggies!
- Soups-homemade with broth from those chickens!
- Rotisserie chickens instead of fast food (then use the remainders for broth)
- Roasted veggies—these are so good! Slice carrots and potatoes into strips, sprinkle with olive oil and seasoning before roasting and they won’t seem so simple anymore.
- Hard boiled eggs with a little salt or in a salad as protein
- Spaghetti using clean pre-packaged sauce, ground beef and spaghetti squash for noodles!
- Breakfast Tacos! Scramble eggs with salsa and hot sauce then put in your tortilla, top with fresh greens and olives, sour cream, cheese, etc.
- Frittatas-start with leftovers or veggies/meat heated in a pan, pour whisked eggs on top and cook into a nice little slice-able dish. My favorite is a Pizza Frittata!
Budget-Friendly Shopping Tips
The prospect of finding cheaper groceries may seem simple but once you get to the store it can be a little daunting. Stores have a way of enticing people to buy what is in their best interest—which may not always be the best value for you. Here are my top tips to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.
- Go by the price per volume! NOT the total price. Most tags have a little spot showing the price per lb or oz in the USA. Never think you have the best price without checking this first! You may need to whip out your calculator sometimes but it can save you a bit!
- Don’t compromise everything to save a buck. Think about what you really will eat—not what you think is cheaper but probably won’t like. (example: I bought store brand coffee once to try and save money. It was trash. NEVER do that if you love coffee like me!)
- Shop the perimeter for the freshest foods but don’t forget about healthy cheap canned and bagged goods!
- Look for large containers of things like peanut butter, yogurt, coconut oil and olive oil, (store brands if possible) since these will last awhile or get consumed quickly enough. Again—it is usually cheaper to buy the big containers but read your price per volume!
- BULK SECTION (stock up on everything possible here!) round up to the nearest dollar to calculate your amounts—this is easier and gives you more cushion to stay under budget.
- Carrots, celery, potatoes, cabbage. These tend to be cheap no matter where you are and are pretty versatile!
- Garlic and onion, pre-minced in a large jar. This will save you so much time and stinky hands—but it could be a little cheaper to buy them whole depending on where you are.
- Rice, beans, lentils, split peas (bulk section, soak them yourself)
- Canned seasoned tomato sauce (look for ones made with olive oil, if any oil at all)
- Salsa, soy sauce (or aminos) and hot sauce. The possibilities are endless here.
- Whole chickens. Bake them whole and use the leftovers for broth for soup (with the lentils and beans)
- Frozen veggies, especially when not in season. Shop for fresh produce in season and buy it frozen if it isn’t, as it tends to be cheaper.
- Buy store brands when possible but pay attention to sales and you’ll sometimes find name brands cheaper!
- Don’t buy more of something than you will actually use. Make sure you have plans for fresh foods you buy so they don’t go to waste.
Where to Shop
It used to be cheaper to buy healthy food at health stores, but since it has become so mainstream, most stores carry healthier versions of foods with a lower price tag. Check out local small ethnic markets for specialty foods and ingredients that tend to have a markup in the regular stores. I also recommend checking out Amazon for specialty items if you don’t have an ethnic market nearby. Of course, if you are able to buy some things in larger quantities you tend to save more.
What We Buy These Days
In case you didn’t catch it all in the video, here is what we bought this time around
- 1 bag (5lbs) carrots $2.48
- 1 green cabbage @ $0.68/lb was roughly $1.32
- 1 bunch of kale for $0.98
- 4 large yellow onions @ $0.38/lb were roughly $1.25
- 9 lbs bananas @ $0.48/lb was around $4.50
- 3lb bag of apples for $3.48
- 3lb bag of oranges for $3.79
- 2 green bell peppers for $0.68 each, so $1.36
- 5 lb bag of potatoes for $0.98
- 30 ct small corn tortillas $1.36
- Bag of corn flour Masa $1.99
- Loaf of traditional sourdough bread $3.89
- Diced tomatoes $4.64 (8 cans @ $0.58)
- 40 Oz jar peanut butter $4.54
- Jar of jam $1.99 1/2 lb bulk coffee ($3.60)
- Small bottle olive oil $2.68
- 56oz refined coconut oil $9.98
- 1 lb bulk split peas $0.68
- 1 lb lentils $0.99
- 1/2 lb coconut flour $2
- 1/2 lb tapioca flour $1.25
- 1 lb peanuts $1.50
- 1/2 lb cocoa powder $1.50
- 1/2 lb coconut sugar $1.25
- small scoop xanthan gum $0.50
- Bragg’s Aminos $2.50
- Chocolate chips $2
- Quick cook Oats $2
- Cinnamon $0.25
- Chili Powder $0.25
- Salsa $2
- 5 dozen eggs $3.50
Sales Tax included this was about $90! Add a pack of two whole chickens (at Winco) for $10 and you will have food for a while! We get a meat share every year for our beef which is an investment up front but is cheaper in the long run (averaging $4/lb for all sorts of cuts) and it is some of the healthiest beef available, local to us. Whatever your situation, you can eat healthier on a budget! I hope that you found this to be helpful and let us know in the comments what you do to eat healthy on a budget!
Author Bio: This is a guest post by Jennifer Wakumelo, creator of Real Food To Heal, a healthy living and recipe blog. Her passion is creating and sharing recipes for busy people who want to eat healthy without sacrificing flavor. She enjoys relaxing with her husband and their 2 kids watching movies and working on nerdy projects. Find Jennifer and Roy at www.realfoodtoheal.com and on social media, including a brand new YouTube channel and SnapChat!