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Budgeted Eats Tips: Ideas to Budget Your Eats

Eating healthy [food] is expensive.

This is a common phrase I hear. It’s something I said myself before I really understood what health meant for me and gave myself permission to define it.

Honestly, sometimes when I see the next protein-infused treat my public health brain goes yep, health is for those who can afford it. That breaks my heart, but I’m not naïve, and I don’t think you are either. There are health things that can be luxury like a protein bar, but trust me, you don’t need that to be a healthy person and live a healthier life.

That’s the first thing I’d ask you to do is to think about what health means for you. Write it on a Post-It or in your notebook. Maybe talk about it out loud for a second.

Is it eating only whole foods? Is it decreasing added-sugar consumption? Is it eating organic? Is it eating minimal grains or grain-free? Is it eating cage-free, antibiotic free?

I’d ask you then to do some research and see if some of those terms that we think of as traditionally inherently healthy, mean what you think they mean. I do think some of them may be shocking like cage-free. Did you know that cage-free doesn’t necessarily mean cruelty-free or that they [chickens] have access to the outdoors. They’re actually aren’t any set definitions or requirements for labels on egg cartons. However, I digress.

Regardless of how you answer some of these questions, I would encourage you to consider what you like or don’t like about your approach or definition of health, and see if there’s any wiggle room at all.

I’ve posted a couple of recipes with their financial breakdowns so you can start to get an idea of how reasonable some meals can be when made at home, from scratch. Does this mean every meal will be reasonably priced? Nope. But that may be how you choose to invest.

Some other investments that I know you have:

  • your time
  • your mental space
  • your energy

With these three investments in mind, we’re going to move forward, but I want to remind you that I’ve written about how I organize my grocery shopping before. However, this post will dive a bit deeper financially. I’d recommend checking out that other post too though. It may give you some ideas of how else you can prioritize your list and make a meal plan.

Looping that other post in, the third point I talk about is product access. I discuss it in demographic terms i.e. what stores you have access to, but I’d also like to talk about it in seasonal terms too.

1. Eat to the season. This can help decrease cost because those items are easier to obtain and may not need to be “imported” from other areas of the country or other countries.

Here are some examples of seasonal produce that you may not have considered if you always see them in the store.

2. and 3. and 4. If able, don’t just shop at one store, shop the sales, build your meal plan from the sales. Two may be a limitation for some, but I urge you to consider number three and strongly consider number four.

I shop at three or four stores depending on what I need. If I need walnuts or pecans in bulk, I’ll buy them at BJ’s, but if I need a more normal amount, I’ll buy them at Trader Joe’s because they can be almost half the price than at other stores. There are a few other things like this that I seek out at some specialty stores because shockingly – they’re cheaper. I’ve also looked for some local farms for a few things too. In the fall, we buy pumpkins and apples locally. Last year, I learned how to make my own puree for pie – I can’t go back to canned if I have access to pumpkins. It was cheaper and so much more delicious.

I know three may sound like common sense, but how many of you get the sales circular in the mail? It wasn’t until last year that I got a copy at home. I’ve looked it up online and I’ve grabbed a copy at the store, but at that point – I’m already shopping and it’s a bit late.

Here are the stores I shop at in case you’re in the New England area: Market 32/Price Chopper, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Shaw’s/Star Market, Aldi. We also get things at BJ’s like yogurt, milk alternatives, eggs, Kodiak Cake- however, not everything is a deal just because it’s bought in bulk.

Similar to eating to the season, I base our meals around what’s on sale. Often we think to come up with the meals and recipes and then create our grocery list, but what if you did the reverse? This upcoming week ground turkey is BOGO. I can make tacos or burrito bowls, we can have burgers or meatballs, sloppy joe’s could be a possibility since it is summer. We have burger buns in the freezer from the 4th of July, rice and pasta are always on hand – we just don’t have tortillas or taco shells so those may need to be acquired. So one will be meals and the other will go in the freezer for another time.

Cherries are on sale for $1.49 a pound with a coupon, when they’re usually $4.99-$6.99 a pound – so that’ll be our fruit for the week aside from our standard bananas and apples.

5. Don’t be brand loyal unless you really need to be. This ties into number three. If you’re not brand loyal and one brand is on sale – can you make the switch? There are a few things that we do buy like Hellman’s mayonnaise and French’s yellow mustard that can’t be changed don’t ask, but I’ve been able to convince JP that the store brand cheese is just as good as Land O’ Lakes and is more often cheaper.

Are there foods that you don’t need to be brand loyal to?

Time is valuable. If you’re stuck in the kitchen and you see that as a waste, how can you decrease the time?

6. Tying into 2-5, rewards cards and reward programs are a great way to save for free and some stores have point programs. Market 32/Price Chopper gives you a penny off when you spend a dollar. A penny isn’t a lot, but if you save them up to use once a month it can easy turn into $3 or $4 or $5 off on top of sales and coupons. They also double or triple points so sometimes a trip that may have led to $0.50 off the next purchase can be $1.00 or $1.50 off – not a ton but it adds up along with coupons and sales.

If emails bother you, consider creating a junk email just for these rewards programs.

Also, leverage programs you’re in. Did you know Amazon Prime members get discounts at Whole Foods? Trust me, I get it – it’s called Whole Paycheck for a reason, but every week they have discounts for Prime Members that are actually good like 30% off deals and an additional 10% off of items already on sale.

A few weeks ago, I bought bell peppers at Whole Foods and saved almost $6. All bell peppers were $1.49/pound – green are usually $2.99 and red, orange and yellow are usually $3.99 or $4.99 at other stores I shop at that adds up. While I don’t eat organic they had 32 ounce boxes of organic strawberries on sale for $3.99 down from $6.99 (for those who aren’t members) – most stores have 16 ounce boxes for $4.99 when they’re not on sale. Does this mean that sometimes you need to weigh the benefit of go to Whole Foods? For me, it’s 10 minutes away and if I can save $10-20, it’s worth it for the time and gas it takes.

Amazon Prime is $12.99 a month, but if you use Amazon enough it’s worth it for the free shipping or discounted quick ships. Many times what I save at Whole Foods pays for the Prime membership and then some.

7. Couponing apps like Ibotta that give you cash back for certain products at certain stores. Now, trust me not everything I buy is on Ibotta, but there are a lot of things I buy like protein bars, granola, cereal, milk and a bunch of other products. Tying into number 5 – Ibotta sometimes causes me to jump from brand to brand. Just because something has a cash back savings on Ibotta doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. I still check the prices at the store to determine what’s a better savings. Sometimes it’s a good deal and sometimes it’s not. This weekend I was able to get 15% cash back at Bath and Body Works as well as $2.75 cash back on groceries after already saving $42.74. The big jackpot this weekend – Clif ZBars were on sale for $2 a box (usually $4.99) and there was a $0.75 cash back per box for up to 5 boxes, so I picked up two. I eat the ZBars because they’re half-size Clif bars and are perfect post-workout with a protein shake or on their own. I saved $7.50 with sales and Ibotta.

My referral code is in the link if you’re interested in checking out. Everyone who signs up gets a referral link – I’m not special.

8. Kitchen gadgets can help decrease time meal prepping, which gives you time back and decreases the chances of buying something out…which saves you money in the long run. I know cooking isn’t fun for everyone. I know it’s actually a pain in the ass for a lot of people and some don’t know how to cook – or think they don’t. I also have heard time and time again that healthy isn’t tasty – that’s a lot of negativity and we don’t need that in our lives. Healthy can be tasty, but it may also mean navigating some new spices and flavors.

My favorite kitchen gadget is my slow cooker. I have a Crockpot and it’s one of the best purchases I have made for my kitchen. I’ve had it for seven years and it’s done more than made soup and chili. I’ve made pulled BBQ (chicken and pork), banana bread and cupcakes in it. Oatmeal, scrambled eggs and veggies, sausage and veggies – there’s a lot you can actually do with a slow cooker.

This isn’t the only gadget that can help though – Instant Pot or Air Fryer may also be tools that can help you decrease time in the kitchen, which can help you continue to make healthy choices.

9. The kind of obvious. Cook at home more in general and make your morning coffee at home and invest in some travel mugs. Or plan your Starbucks and Dunkin’ around a monthly budget. When I get Starbucks I get a latte – go big or go home I guess. But I don’t get one everyone day. There’s nothing wrong with getting your coffee out, but an easy way to save some money is to set a budget for yourself, invest in a coffee maker and invest in good beans or grounds.

As weird as this sounds, I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that as we’ve incorporated 8 and 9 into their routine and made cooking easier they’ve noticed a drastic change in spending for meals out to eat. Some reported that they saved $300 in a month, which can be saved for an emergency or shifted to something else that they had need for.

Eating well and cooking can get expensive depending on what you’re investing in, but when you look at the bigger picture it’s easier to see how small changes can add up to larger savings. It’s also easier to see how investing in this aspect of your health can actually be cheaper than you think too.

I don’t think any of these ideas are new – I think many of us just don’t think about them or how helpful they can be when they’re used strategically.

What helps you budget? Have you noticed an opportunity to shift budgets around?

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