Each year, millions of people resolve to save more money or make healthier choices in the new year. Either one of these tasks can seem a bit daunting if you’re living on a limited income, and accomplishing both may seem simply impossible. But with some savvy strategizing and creativity, eating healthy on a budget really is possible. To help you on your way to a living a more healthy and fiscally prudent life, we’ve compiled 10 key tips you can start applying today.
- Opt for Inexpensive Proteins
A majority of people rely on meat as a primary source of protein, but quality meat can rack up quite a bill over time compared to some other sources. Plant-based proteins like tofu and beans are excellent sources of easily-digestible, healthy protein. Beans even have the extra benefit of containing tons of fiber, which helps to keep you full longer. Eggs are also a great option. For a quick, cheap and healthy breakfast idea, try a breakfast burrito with eggs and beans wrapped in a whole grain tortilla.
- Buy Generic and Store Brands
Although some name-brand foods are a bit better-tasting, they’re almost always more expensive than generic or store brands. Once you’ve gotten used to buying “off-brand” products, you’ll probably not even notice the difference any longer, and you’ll be saving a sizable chunk of cash in the long run.
- Buy in-Season Produce
You may have noticed that apples tend to be cheaper in the fall, while strawberries are almost always on sale in the summer. This is because fruits and veggies are, almost without exception, cheaper when in-season. Buying produce in-season has other benefits in addition to its cost-savings. It’s also more environmentally responsible, and you’re bound to get more bang for your buck in terms of taste and quality as well. An extra tip: stop by your local farmer’s market at the end of the day, right before closing time. The farmers market is an awesome place to find a variety of locally-grown produce (and other handmade and locally-sourced items too). However, during the day you may or may not be able to afford most of the wares. An hour or so before closing, however, produce vendors are usually looking to unload their wares and may offer you a decent discount if you’re timing is right.
- Buy Frozen Veggies and Fruits
When you’re not able to find your favorite produce items in-season, or simply aren’t able to afford them, buying frozen foods, particularly fruits and veggies, is a great way to ensure you get your daily helping of produce without breaking the bank. Often, frozen produce is about half the price of the fresh version and is also pre-washed and pre-cut, which is a great time-saver if you’re in a rush. Some of the best foods to buy frozen include beans (including green beans), peas, carrots and berries.
- Buy Whole, Unprocessed Foods
Fast and pre-packaged food has become so popular mostly because it’s touted as cheap, fast and filling. However, overly-processed foods don’t usually give your body the nutrients it needs to operate smoothly, and can cause damage in the long-run. There are plenty of cheap, healthful alternatives that require only a few extra minutes to prepare and are a ton more beneficial. Over time, you’ll end up saving yourself money on health costs, and you’ll feel better as well.
- Buy Calorie-Dense Foods
While eating healthfully means cutting down on the high-calorie junk, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep eating filling calorically-dense items. You’ll just want to swap out the chips and frozen pizzas for some healthier alternatives. Buy items like oats, rice, and whole grain pasta which contain quite a few calories per serving, including a healthy dose of filling fiber.
- Avoid Impulse Buying
Impulse buys can carve a deep hole in your bank account and are can often lead to buyer’s remorse once you’ve unpacked your shopping bags and counted your change. Make a shopping list with all of the necessary items and stick to it. When you have a few extra dollars, allocate that to a treat of choice, but make sure you’ve got your basics covered first.
- Buy in Bulk
The bulk foods section should be your first stop on every grocery store run. Because you’re supplying the packaging, buying foods in bulk is almost always a significant money-saver. Here, you can stock up on a variety of goods ranging from flour, pasta and grains to TVP (textured vegetable protein, a cheap and easy-to-cook meat substitute). You’ll also find tasty and healthful additions like dried fruits, nuts and seeds, all of which can be easily incorporated in your meals in salads, cereals, and as standalone snacks.
- Plan and Prepare Meals Ahead of Time
Planning is essential to budgeting in general, and applies to meals as well. Take some time at the beginning of the week, say Sunday evening, to plan out your meals for the week ahead. It may sound meticulous, but it really doesn’t have to be. Select some basic go-to options for breakfast and lunch, like oatmeal and sandwiches, for example. For dinner, try planning things out so you can utilize the items you already have and also repurpose leftovers. Once you’ve outlined your weekly meals, head to the store to grab the items you’ll need. This will also help you avoid last-minute after-work trips to the grocery store which could end up in impulse buys or over-spending.
- Shop at Ethnic Markets
Incorporating different ethnic dishes into your meal plan is a great way to expand your culinary horizons while also saving some cash. Much of the time, ethnic markets have ingredients for much cheaper than if you’re shopping the ethnic aisle at the grocery store. Larger cities usually have a greater selection of such markets, and if you live in a metropolitan area you may be able to find shops specializing in anything from Middle Eastern to African fare. Most cities will have Asian markets and Hispanic markets, and many also have European. If you’re not sure how to make something, ask a shop attendant. They’ll more than likely be happy to help you out in exploring their cultural cuisine.
In addition to theses, there are tons of little hacks you can make to save money while still keeping up a healthy lifestyle. Do you have some of your own low-cost nutrition tips? Share them with us in the comments below!