I recently gave a presentation for a group of college students about healthy eating on a budget. This is a topic that I have learned a lot about in the last year, since starting my own business and working for myself full-time. So I thought I would share some of my tips and tricks with you here today.
Food Costs (Groceries)
The USDA reports average spending on food:
Male 19-50 years old: $42.40-$84.30 per week
Female 19-50 years old: $37.60-$74.70 per week
Family of 2 spends up to $758.10 per month
Family of 4 spends up to $1268.70 per month
Food Costs (Eating Out)
In 2015, the average American household spent $3,008 on restaurants and takeout.
How Much Should You Spend?
Goal: $50-$150 per person per month. How??
Get Organized – Planning
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” This definitely rings true for eating healthy on a budget. I recommend spending some time each week planning ahead what you are going to make for your meals and snacks. It’s been found that spending 15-30 minutes per week can save 2 hours. That’s because when you have a plan, you don’t waste time aimlessly wandering the grocery store or having to return for forgotten items.
Make a list and stick to it. Know what you’re going to buy and try to avoid making impulse purchases once at the store. You can even take advantage of the option some stores offer of selecting your items online and having them ready for pick-up once you arrive at the store. Or having your items delivered to your home.
Compare prices at different stores. For instance, I have found that dairy products are less expensive at Aldi, whereas frozen fruit is less expensive at Trader Joe’s. Since I use these items regularly for my morning smoothie, it makes a big difference to get the best price.
Frozen fruit prices:
Remember to compare sizes when checking two different products. For instance, 16 oz. of Jif peanut butter is $2.99 and 40 oz. is $6.49. When comparing the cost per unit, the 16 oz. is more expensive at 18.7 cents per ounce compared to the 40 oz. at 16.2 cents per ounce. If peanut butter is an item you use regularly, it is a better deal to get the larger size.
Bigger is not always cheaper though so make sure to check prices closely!
If something is on sale 3 for $5, you don’t have to buy all 3 in order to get the sale price (usually! Make sure to read the sign).
Check the weekly store ads for items on sale. If an item you use often is on sale and it is non-perishable, stock up!
Sign up for rewards card programs at each store in order to get the best deals and save $$$
Double check the price at checkout to make sure it rings up how you think it should. People (and computers) make mistakes and sometimes a sale item may ring up at normal price.
Shop Bulk Bins
Packaging and processing cost money, so shopping the bulk bins is a great option to save. For example, 1/4 cup organic quinoa costs $0.50, which provided 2-3 servings. The bulk bins are also a great way to try new foods without committing to a large quantity. I also think it’s fun to dispense the item, weigh it on the scale, and print out the bar code.
Shop Meat/Fish Counter
Again, packaging and processing cost money so you get better prices at the meat/fish counter than buying already packaged off the shelf. For example, chicken breasts at the meat counter cost $2.99/lb. but already packaged cost $3.49/lb. Even better, you can choose just the amount you need rather than buying too much that may go to waste.
Choose Less Processed/Packaged
Again, whole foods typically cost less than processed/packaged items. For instance, whole onions cost $0.99/lb. but already peeled onions cost $2.49/lb. That’s a big difference for a peeled onion! If you really hate to chop certain foods such as onions, you can decide if spending the extra money is worth it. You can also get chopped, frozen onions for $1.00 per 12 oz. (on sale). Still a little more than buying whole onions, buy may be worth it for some.
Choose Foods in Season
Shop produce when it’s in season for lower prices. Shopping at Farmer’s Markets are a great option. But also in the grocery store, be flexible with what fruits & veggies you are wanting to buy so you can take advantage of some great deals! Look for foods that there are a lot of and that are advertised as on sale.
When making a recipe, substitute out some of the meat or cheese (more expensive) for items such as beans and rice in order to stretch the recipe but also save money. This is a great way to also get in some other foods groups and nutrients. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 lb. ground beef, try using 1/2 lb. ground beef + 1 can black beans + 1/2 cup brown rice.
What are your favorite money saving tips for eating healthy on a budget?