Most fitness enthusiasts understand that obtaining good overall physical and mental health requires a sound nutritional intake routine. However, as food prices in the United States continue to rise to higher levels, many Americans face an important yet unfortunate decision: buy more food of a lower quality, or buy less food that is actually healthier and more nutritious?
With several recent reports stating that boosting even a single nutrient could add 10% to your overall grocery bill, there’s little doubt that food costs represent one of the most impenetrable barriers to consistently healthy eating on a low budget for millions of Americans.
In fact, if you’ve ever strolled down your local grocery store’s health food aisle and thereafter, compared those prices to what you would find elsewhere in the same store, it’s quite clear that high quality nutritious foods come with an elevated price tag.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips to Help You Eat Right on a Low Budget
Fortunately, there are ways for smart consumers to improve their dietary regimens without draining their wallets. If you want to save money while practicing healthy eating on a low budget, you’ll need to exercise equal measures of restraint, creativity, patience and analysis. Here are eight ways to eat better on a budget.
Don’t Shop When You’re Hungry or Hurried
When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to purchase foods that you don’t really need, foods that can be consumed instantly, and foods that are largely unhealthy. That five-dollar box of cookies may look tempting in the store, until you realize that the money could’ve been spent on enough fresh vegetables to create an entire salad.
When you’re in a rush, you’re less able to compare prices, and you’re more likely to throw things into your cart simply on impulse without considering the financial or health ramifications.
Make a Food Budget
Decide how much you can realistically afford to spend on food during the upcoming week or month. If you blow through too much of your budget during the first half of your predetermined timeframe, you’ll know to cut back during the second half. Eventually, you’ll get accustomed to spending a certain amount of money on food each time you grocery shop, making individual food decisions less agonizing.
Compare Unit Prices
Most grocery stores now display unit prices for their products, though you’ll need to look beyond the label if you want to find them. Unit prices, which display the cost per ounce, per pound or per gallon, can typically be found on the shelf just below where the product sits. This makes it easy to see whether a 15-ounce product costing $4.59 is a better value than a 9-ounce product costing $3.19, for example.
In most cases, you’ll find that store-brand versions of items are a better value than name brand items. This rule is far from universal however, and that’s when unit prices truly become beneficial.
Coupons, Coupons, Coupons
While local sale papers are a great source of coupons, there are plenty of additional money-saving coupon options for modern consumers. A wide variety of websites offer manufacturer’s coupons that can be printed at home and brought to the store, and you can sometimes even use printed coupons in combination with the ones you’ll find in the newspaper. If you know the exact products you plan to purchase, visit the manufacturer’s website for even more coupons.
Explore Loyalty Cards
Many grocery chains offer loyalty cards. You provide your name and a few other personal identifiers in exchange for a card that will be scanned each time you check out. Some stores offer their best sales only to loyalty card holders, while others allow you to accrue points for every dollar you spend. These points can often be redeemed for additional savings once you reach certain point milestones.
Take Advantage of Sale Prices
…and your freezer and cabinet space, for that matter. You’re strolling down the meat aisle and you see that boneless skinless chicken breasts are currently on sale for 50% off. However, you were planning on having pork chops tonight and you’d rather not change the menu. What to do? Unless you’re confident that you’ll never need boneless skinless chicken breasts in the foreseeable future, buy the chicken anyway (maybe even a few packages) and throw it in the freezer.
This same concept applies to any type of food that can store well (think canned, bagged and boxed goods) or freeze well, whether it’s meat, granola, cereal or canned and frozen vegetables. If you have the freezer space available, remember that bread freezes nicely for up to 6 months as well.
Experiment with Store Brands
In general, name brand foods are often nearly identical to their store-brand counterparts in terms of taste, texture, freshness and nutrition, despite costing as little as half the price. Many individuals don’t realize that store brand foods are cheaper not because they’re lower in quality, but because they’re not advertised.
The money that is saved by not advertising the product is passed on to the customer in the form of significant savings. When you purchase name brand foods, a good portion of your dollar goes towards TV commercials and online banner ads, not the food itself.
Take Advantage of Leftovers
Many people think of leftovers as the enemy. They often sit idly in your fridge until they’re finally thrown away. However, by being a little proactive, you can stretch out your leftovers and reduce your food budget considerably.
Instead of packing all of your leftovers together and jamming them to the back of the fridge, assess how much you have left and act accordingly. For example, you might freeze the majority immediately while saving yourself a single portion for tomorrow’s lunch. Of course, if you have a big family, you might want to save a bit more for tomorrow’s meal.
Another strategy is to intentionally create leftovers. Try doubling the recipe for a large one-pot dish such as spaghetti sauce, chili or soup, and package and freeze half of the finished meal shortly after you’re done cooking. This type of strategy cuts down on raw ingredient waste and saves you time and additional money when you decide to thaw, heat and eat your leftovers.
Healthy Eating on a Low Budget: The Bottom Line
Healthy food doesn’t have to cost a fortune, so long as you’re willing to shop smart, cook wisely and take advantage of rock-bottom sales and loyalty reward cards. Other quick tips include shopping for produce at a farmer’s market (where you’ll find fruits and veggies that are usually cheaper, fresher and tastier than what you’d get at the store), having meatless dinners once or a few times per week, buying non-perishable, commonly-used food in bulk, skipping pre-cut, pre-washed produce, and purchasing frozen veggies when they’re on sale and saving them for later.