Is it impossible to eat healthy when money is tight?
It frustrates me when I hear people say that it’s impossible to eat healthy on a budget, which is why obesity is so prevalent among the poor. Having been on a tight budget, well, all of my adult life (still seeking independent wealth or a handsome rich man – whichever comes first), I know this just isn’t true. I actually think it can be fairly inexpensive to eat clean…even cheaper than buying fast food or processed, pre-packaged junk at the store. It just takes a little common sense and economical savvy.
Fortunately for you, I am here to share the tips that have kept me eating healthy through college, grad school and teaching (otherwise known as the times when I was broke, broker, and brokest).
Eat this, not that
Buy eggs, not egg substitute
If you usually eat egg whites only, it can be tempting to buy the carton of Egg Beaters or egg substitute instead. They’re dressed up with artificial flavors and food color to make you feel like you’re eating the real deal. However, egg substitute is much more expensive than eggs, and all those additives aren’t good for you anyways. I go through about 4-5 whites a day, and since eggs are usually good for at least a week (check expiration dates before you buy!), I save by purchasing a flat at a time.
Buy store brands instead of name brands
Store brands are the budgeter’s best friend. Often, the same manufacturer produces the name brand and store brand versions of a product; so other than the packaging, the two are identical. A store brand doesn’t have the promotional costs of a name brand, which is why it is less expensive. Just be sure to check product labels to make sure they are the actually the same (check nutrition facts and the order ingredients are listed in).
Only buy fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables – local if possible!
The cost of fresh produce is sky-rocketing, but there are some things you can do to save. First, only buy seasonal produce – no matter how delicious those strawberries look, don’t overpay for them out of season. If you need produce that is not in season, opt for frozen – frozen fruits and vegetables are a great alternative to fresh, and are usually much cheaper.
Local produce can also be pretty cheap because it doesn’t have the transportation costs associated with the produce you purchase at most stores. It’s also cool to be able to support local farmers – check to see if there are any weekend markets around you, as you can often get great deals on locally grown goodies there.
Also, don’t waste money on “pre-cut” produce. I know the little fruit bowls are convenient, but you pay a lot more to have someone else take three minutes to cut it up for you. Are you really that effing lazy? In addition, pre-cut produce loses a lot of its nutritional punch because oxidation begins to break the down natural nutrients and enzymes.
Buy fresh meat/poultry/fish in bulk
As a single woman, this one took me a while to get used to. I felt dumb buying the family-sized package of chicken breasts for just myself. But let me tell you, it sure as hell beats taking a package up to the butcher counter and requesting to have it broken into a smaller portion because, after all, it’s just for you… which is usually followed by excited leers at the possibility of my availability, or even worse, the sad “I’m-so-sorry-you-poor-lonely-crazy-cat-lady-in-the-making” looks (I don’t even like cats, for the record).
The price per pound on large packages of meats (heh, heh) and poultry is usually lower than smaller packages, so purchase the big one and freeze the extra.
Always bring your lunch
I know all the cool kids go out to lunch, but they’re probably going to end up eating crap and talking about work anyways. It’s fine to go out and be social once in a while, but eating out every day can cost a fortune – not to mention, pump your body full of the excessive fat and sodium in most restaurant food.
Don’t buy bottled water
Bottled water is such a huge waste of money. Purchase a Brita water filter and a BPA-free bottle instead. A Bobble water bottle is a nifty little, cost-effective solution. Plus it will make you look all environmentally aware and stuff (if you’re into that).
So there you have it – some ways I’ve learned to cut down on costs over the years. How do you eat healthy on a budget? Share your comments below!