Take These Tips To Eat Healthy On A Tight Budget

Many people assume that it’s more expensive to eat healthy than it is to eat “junk food” but that isn’t necessarily accurate. Just because the drive-thru offers a ready-made sandwich for a couple of bucks doesn’t mean that you can’t find a healthy equivalent for around the same price. If you’re budget-conscious and want to eat healthier, but don’t know where to start, adopt these effective strategies for cutting back on costs and calories, while increasing value and nutrition.

It’s No Secret That Eating Less Costs Less

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It always seems logical to get the most obvious stuff out of the way first. So, if you are overeating; quit! Eating less food overall will cost less. Not that you couldn’t figure that out on your own, but sometimes it’s still good to be reminded of these things.

If you don’t know if you are overeating, you probably are. A simple way of reducing calorie consumption is to log what you eat. For most people, just keeping track of what you eat will make most people aware enough to make better dietary decisions.

How Much Do You Spend Now?

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Marcus Yam/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Marcus Yam/The Washington Post/Getty Images

The next most obvious thing would seem to be your budget constraints. A reasonable estimate of how much you are spending now is an excellent place to start when you decide to start saving money.

Figure up how much you spend on food every week now. Don’t leave anything out. Add up all the fountain drinks from the gas station, groceries, fast food meals, etc. Once you get a good number for this, you will be ready to decide if you can eat healthier without spending more money.

Before You Head to the Grocery Store

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George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

Take an inventory of the foods in your refrigerator and start your weekly planning by including meals that use up the remainder of foods you still have. Set aside a day and time to plan your meals for the week. If weight loss is something you struggle with, this will almost definitely be of use.

Remember when you’re doing this planning, don’t forget to check your daily schedule for the week. It’s best to do your grocery shopping closer to the weekends. Having a pantry full of healthy snacks over the weekend will make it much less tempting to go spend a wad of money at a restaurant or on a calorie-packed snack from the gas station.

Get Discounted Gift Cards Online

Walgreens, gift cards display.
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This little stroke of genius is what would seem like a “no-brainer,” but many people don’t know these exist. Discounted gift cards can be purchased to any major retailer. You can use websites like Gift Card Granny (GiftCardGranny.com) or Card Pool (CardPool.com). Do a search for “grocery store loyalty program” and sign up for your favorite grocery store loyalty program to save big on your next trip to buy groceries.

You can buy gift cards before you purchase anything at any major retailer for a 5% to 20% discount. So, consider this a life hack.

Coupon and Rebate Apps Can Help Cut Costs

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Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

There are several coupon and rebate phone apps and they all function very differently, but spending a little time to figure out which ones you prefer will, undoubtedly, pay dividends. The most popular of these apps are: Ibotta (this app tops almost every list of top rebate apps), Checkout51, Fetch Rewards.

Some of these are so simple all you have to do is take a picture of your receipt after you’re done with shopping and you start earning; that easy!

Stay In The Know With Your Local Grocery Store

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Most grocery stores offer a rewards program of some sort. Usually, they will either give you points that can be redeemed for free stuff, or you get free stuff when you spend a certain amount. These are worth knowing about as the savings really add up over time.

Perform an online search for “grocery store loyalty program” and sign up for your favorite grocery store loyalty program to save big on your next trip to buy groceries.

Farmers Markets May Be a Cheaper Option

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Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images
Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Ok, so you have done everything you can do to save money before you start spending it, and you’re headed to the grocery store. But wait- is there a local farmer’s market you could be visiting instead? Often times farmers markets will offer fresher, organic, and less expensive vegetables and fruits that are healthier than what you would get at the grocery store.

Smaller, more frequent trips to your grocery store will help prevent waste and save money, but having healthy produce stocked in your kitchen will help encourage you to stay on track throughout the week. Find out which works best for you.

How To Smartly Navigate the Grocery Store

grocery store

Once you arrive at the grocery store, there are a few helpful guidelines to follow. For the most part, you want to stay out of the middle of the grocery store. That is where most of the junk food is while the healthier, more nutritious foods are found around the perimeter of the store.

Most health nuts eat plenty of chicken, but chicken breasts can get expensive in a hurry. Next time grab a whole chicken. You can eat the legs and a breast for dinner, make chicken sandwiches for lunch and use the leftovers for soups. Having healthy foods around increases the chances that your next homecooked meal is a healthy one.

Save Money By Buying in Bulk

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Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Jumping Rocks/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When you are shopping in club stores familiarize yourself with the store and see what kinds of items they carry that your family uses a lot. There are plenty of healthy foods and commonly bought items like peanut butter, nuts, and olive oil that you could stock up on to save money.

Some of the best health foods to buy in bulk and online are dried fruits, unshelled nuts, whole grains (such as wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, farro, and spelt have very long shelf lives, making them ideal for bulk buying). Also dried pasta, chia seeds, peanut butter, protein powders, greens powders (this is an excellent addition to fruit smoothies), honey, frozen vegetables, frozen berries (these are picked at the height of the season), frozen meat, dried beans and lentils

Properly Store Your Bulk Food Items

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Instagram/easilyorganized
Instagram/easilyorganized

To make your food last, they should be stored in airtight containers. Some commonly used storage receptacles are mason jars, empty food containers, food storage containers, or even just a few layered plastic bags.

Another option is to invest in an entire storage system. You can make your own or buy a ready-to-go storage system. You can find them online starting as low as $250. Another idea is to check out the pre-assembled systems online to get ideas on how to build your own.

Snacks That Are Healthy, Convenient, and Cheap

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The biggest trick is getting all three things into what we want to eat. Food that is healthy, convenient, and cheap. Need some good ideas for snacks that meet all three criteria? Try skillet cooking popcorn and add a little olive oil when it’s done.

Edamame, frozen berries, hummus, ants on a log, fruit dips, applesauce, oatmeal, yogurt, and kale chips make for easy, healthy snacks. If you have a bit of time, consider making homemade energy bars, hard-boiled eggs, DIY fruit smoothies, or homemade trail mix.

Avoid Distractions While Grocery Shopping

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Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Now you have made all the necessary preparations to becoming a successful, bargain shopping, health nut; don’t forget two of the most important rules of all while grocery shopping. First of all, never go grocery shopping hungry. Have you made this mistake before?

Also, be sure to take your shopping list with you and put on your mental blinders once you get in the store. Remain focused, get in, and out. We’re talking laser focus. Seriously. Get in, and get out!

Drink Plenty of Water and Use a Reusable Bottle

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Drink water and get out of the habit of paying for bottled water or flavored drinks. Buy a reusable water bottle and carry it with you all day, every day. Out of water? Go to a gas station and fill it up. Tired of water? Buy Gatorade powder in bulk.

Heres a tip on a tip: when you go to fill your water bottle, if the gas station doesn’t have good water to fill up with, fill your water bottle with ice, then go and use the hot water spout on the coffee machine to fill your bottle of ice. The water in the coffee machine is usually filtered so you can have free cold filtered water.

Cut Back On Meat Consumption (Hear Us Out)

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MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Now this one is hard to admit, but cutting back on your meat consumption will most definitely cut back on your grocery bill too. The hardest part to admit is that; many types of meat are bad for us. Even the best chicken in the coop is bad for us to eat compared with vegetable sources of protein.

Here’s a healthy habit to adopt when you plan your meals for the week. Start with one meatless meal a week and adjust from there. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised when you see what a whole new world learning to eat without meat may open to your sensory world.

Eating Leftovers Can Save You A Ton

eat-leftovers
Instagram/casslogan324
Instagram/casslogan324

Learn to love leftovers! This is one of, if not the most significant thing you can do to slash your grocery bill. Learn to love them! Every time you eat leftovers imaging putting $10 in your wallet that you would have otherwise spent eating fast food.

Pack a lunch. It’s easy for us to justify going and spending a little money for lunch. We are working, making money; right? Well, you can look at it like that, or you can look at it like $300 each month you are frivolously spending on extra food.

What About Eating Out?

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We didn’t forget about our restaurant connoisseurs out there. If you want to go out to eat and don’t want to spend a lot of money, here are some things to remember: have a healthy snack before you leave for dinner. This will allow you to order a smaller plate, which will usually save you both money and unneeded calories.

A good pre-meal snack that is high in fat and fiber will go a long way. Before you go, do some research ahead of time. Look up the restaurant menu and get a feel for how much money you can expect to spend.

Smaller Plates Are The Way To Go, Dining Out

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Instagram/oggispizza
Instagram/oggispizza

Does the restaurant you’re going to have a section of the menu which offers smaller portions? Often times they will let you order off the children or senior citizens menu which is less expensive and has smaller portions. Another route is to see if they will allow you to order lunch portions for dinner.

Remember; restaurants often serve giant portions, and it will be much more economical and healthy to take half of the meal home and eat it later. In fact, go ahead and get the to-go box when your food arrives. Then put half of your plate into the to-go box before you start eating. This will prevent you from over-eating before you gorge yourself

Fast Foods That Won’t Bust Your Belt or Your Bank Account

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Instagram/jboruns
Instagram/jboruns

There are some fast food options that are on the healthier side, too. At KFC or Church’s Chicken, you can get a piece of chicken and a side for less than $4! Hardees offers a 1/3 pound low carb ThickBurger without cheese for $4.59 and Arby’s Jr. Roast Beef is a mere $1.59. At Wendy’s, order a grilled chicken wrap without BBQ ranch for $3.79, or a half-size Power Mediterranean Chicken Salad with light balsamic vinaigrette for $4.69.

The best low cost, fast food you can get that is inexpensive, tasty, and healthy is at Mediterranean restaurants. These restaurants serve greek salads, chicken kebabs, whole wheat pita bread, hummus, and tabbouleh as well as other tasty foods that are often high in protein.

Saving Money While Shopping Is Huge

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John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

You’ve learned that there are three general ways to save money and eat healthily, and it starts when you save when you buy. Most of your money will be saved when you buy your food.

This is when you use your discounted prepaid retail cards, coupons and rebate apps, and do your grocery shopping shortly before the weekends. Also going to farmers markets, staying out of the middle of grocery stores and do your shopping around the periphery first, and buying in bulk at club stores.

Saving While You’re Eating, and Eating Smart

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Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post
Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post

The next step is saving while you eat. What you eat determines how much you spend on food! Change a few eating habits to save big. Try drinking more water, reducing meat consumption, packing lunch and learning to love leftovers.

Also, eat smart. Some common sense things can make a big impact on your grocery bill. Things like; if you overeat, eat less. Log your meals, plan your meals, never go grocery shopping hungry and stick to your shopping list.