Save money and eat better by following these tips to shop healthy on a budget
Next to mortgage payments or rent, groceries are largest ticket item for most of us. This means that there is a lot of room for finding ways to save. Here, I share 25 tips for shopping healthy on a budget.
- Organize your resources. Shopping healthy on a budget starts with an organized pantry and refrigerator. Knowing what you have on hand and seeing needs clearly greatly reduces stress in decision making and also helps in planning.
- Assess the stock. Now that you can see everything, assess what you have to work with. Make note of what proteins, grains and veggies you have on hand and think creatively.
- Plan a healthy menu around those items. Having a plan will keep you from being tempted to hit up a drive through on the way home from work or soccer practice. Just knowing that you have waiting for you, makes that temptation a non-issue. Need some flexibility? No problem. Having a dinner plan for Monday through Friday doesn’t mean that you have to have Monday’s meal on Monday. You can always change things up as the week progresses and schedules change. Having the ideas and the items on hand, though, will make it easier to make a healthy meal that keeps you within your budget.
- Create a shopping list. From that menu, create your healthy shopping list and stick to it in order to keep to your budget. Remember that children learn from watching us, so using that list will teach a valuable lesson to your children as well. Bonus, children LOVE to be the list keeper. Just like crossing items off our ‘to do’ list is satisfying for us, the same is true for little helpers and keeps them engaged.
- Never shop when you are tired, hungry or stressed for time. That’s just a recipe for disaster. Enjoy a healthy meal and budget your time for shopping. This will allow for better decision making and also make grocery shopping less of a chore.
- Utilize weekly specials. Take advantage of viewing sales flyers online before making that menu and list. Also pay attention to unadvertised prices and cycles of price changes. For example, our local Aldi usually has great prices on eggs, but it really varies from week to week. One week they are $.49 a dozen and the next two weeks they might be almost $1.87. So, on that week they are $.49, it’s a smart move to buy several dozen so that you can skip those weeks that they are the higher price.
- Have some meatless meals. Meat is a high ticket item. One way to save some money is to choose alternative protein sources for a couple of meals a week. Eggs and beans are two possibilities to still eat healthy and stick to a budget.
- Shop perimeter of store if trying to eat healthy (real foods). Avoid center aisles and end cap specials which are usually stocked with processed food items. Fresh whole food items are going to be around the edges of the store. These include dairy, produce and meat.
- Fresh is best. When you have the option, fresh is always the healthier choice, then frozen and lastly canned. However, even canned is still better than chips. Starting with simple real whole foods (whole potatoes or carrots) rather than scalloped potatoes in a box or instant rice dishes. This will not only save you money, but give you more room for creativity and control over your meals. Plus, you are ‘missing out’ on all of those added chemicals and ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- Be adventurous and try store brands. We probably all have some national brands that we have been loyal to since childhood. Sometimes may not even know why. We just buy Miracle Whip or Kraft because that’s what our mom did. But, often those national brands are made in the same facilities that produce the store brands. So it’s possible that the store brand of one item is actually the same as the national brand you know. Why not be adventurous and take a chance. Worst case, you don’t like it and now you know. Best case, you will like it and you’ll save some money.
- Comparison shop online. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at online prices, especially for bulk items. Ordering from Amazon Prime, Azure Standard or Thrive Market might offer you surprisingly good prices and often on items you may not be able to find in your local stores. Another plus is that these sites deliver to your door so you can save some time there. You just have to do a little research and plan ahead a bit.
- Sneaky product placement! Pay attention to bottom and top shelves in the store. Eye level shelves are usually the premium items. You’ve heard the phrase “location, location, location” in reference to real estate, right? Well, the same is true in the grocery store. Those brands pay more for that real estate and in return, so will you. Check out what’s on that top shelf and what’s hidden down below. You might find some great deals.
- Check unit prices. Sometimes it’s not the best deal to buy the largest size. Most stores actually have the unit price marked on the shelf. It’s that small number next to the price. Pay attention though. One item may be priced per ounce and another per pound, so be sure you are comparing apples to apples.
- Experiment with shopping new places. You might be surprised to discover a new store that saves you more money or carries items that surprise you. I’ll never forget learning that Aldi saved me at least 30% over the big box store I where I was shopping. After that experience, I will shop Aldi every chance I get.
- Don’t get sucked into bulk buys. Warehouse stores often have great prices on bulk items but be careful. Those big packages aren’t always a great deal. Also, know what you are shopping for. For example, Costco has nicer brands, but higher prices. Great prices for what the item is, but Sam’s Club usually has better prices for simpler or less prestigious brands. So, it depends on your goal and your needs. Find out which store fits your needs best. Your decision may not be the same as mine as needs are different. Do try to make those warehouse store trips on a monthly basis rather than weekly.
- Opt for unseasoned cuts of meat to save money and have healthier meals. This might require an extra step for you at home, but you can be confident knowing that you control the ingredients in your meals.
- Buy unprepared produce. If saving money is your top priority, then buy your carrots, lettuce and broccoli whole. However, there are some phases of our lives when we need some extra help in the kitchen to save time. During those days, there are lots of healthy options. Shredded carrots, washed and prepared lettuce and broccoli florets ready to use are great time savers if you decide it’s worth the extra money. No judgement, Friends. Do what blesses your most.
- Utilize recipes. Seriously, they really are our friends! I didn’t earnestly start learning to cook real food until I was in my 30’s. We were living in a place that didn’t have Kraft Mac and Cheese, Ranch Dressing or Little Debbie. If we were aching for a taste of home, I had to figure out a way to make it myself “FROM SCRATCH”. Following a recipe allows you to take advantage of the fact that someone else has gone before you and made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to. Experiment and find a selection of family favorites and then keep those recipes handy. I keep a few inside my kitchen cabinet just so I don’t have to guess at measurements. That way, I’m not making mistakes and wasting ingredients.
- Keep a running list in a convenient place to jot down when you are running low on something. I keep a shopping list in the Notes app on my phone. I have categories for each of the stores I shop (including hardware stores, feed stores and warehouse stores).
- Consider ways you can grow, raise or participate in raising your own food. If you have the space, plant a small garden. If you aren’t saddled with community restrictions, raise some chickens for eggs. Feeling adventurous? Try raising your own meat chickens or other livestock. If that’s not a possibility, consider partnering with someone who is. My husband and I have both laying hens and meat chickens, plus we raise a few pigs for ourselves and a couple of friends who don’t have the space. This is healthier for all of us, including the animals.
- Utilize all of the leftovers from meals and meal prep as much as possible. Save little bits of produce to use later in another recipe, salad or soup. Place scraps in a compost bin or feed them to animals (we feed almost all of our food scraps to our livestock). Save bones and make bone broth. All of these options are great for you and the environment.
- Don’t buy bottled water. Instead, invest a little money in a water filter.
- Make your own tea, coffee, lemonade and sports drinks. This not only is healthier for you, but saves you money and is more environmentally friendly.
- Stock up when prices are best. Pay attention to post season prices and closeout deals.
- Don’t buy spice mixes. You don’t need taco seasoning, cinnamon and sugar or Italian blends. You can mix these yourself. Just search for recipes online or simply check the ingredients list to make your own recipe. Again, this puts so much more control in your hands.
Not room for overwhelm
Granted this is quite the list and overwhelm is not my aim here. Don’t allow these 25 items to stress you out. Baby steps, friends! Pick one or two items to tackle and see what kind of difference it makes in your budget and in your health. My goal here is to share ideas that will bring you confidence in the actions you take and decisions you make.
For more ideas or to share some of your own tried and true tips, join our community and comment below. I’m always eager to keep improving myself and share those ideas with others.