I am officially on a budget.
I have too much debt, too many bills, and not enough income. Oh yeah, and I have a spending problem. Sound familiar?
After looking at a breakdown of my expenses, I have realized that a huge portion of my money goes toward food each month. It goes under my radar, because often times food and beverage purchases don’t seem that significant.
One of my worst habits is swinging through the Starbucks drive-thru on my way to work everyday for my $5 vente soy chai. $5 a day might not seem like much, but it really adds up. Think about it. That’s $35 a week. $150 a month. $1825 a year. For chai. Ouch.
I usually spend $200 or more on groceries each month, and then a good portion of it gets thrown out, because it goes bad in the fridge. No bueno.
I try to bring food to work everyday, but if I forget to plan ahead, or don’t have time to prepare something, then there goes another $5 out of my pocket for something that I probably won’t really enjoy anyway. You know the routine.
Food is one of our biggest expenses that we actually have control over. You don’t have a whole lot of power over your credit card minimums, your rent/mortgage, or your utility bills, but food, you do. Follow my tips to help save you money, and eat healthily on a budget.
1. Don’t eat out.
It is really hard, but it will save you an incredible amount of money. Like I demonstrated with my Starbucks issue, small purchases add up. Going out to eat can easily cost you $50 or more, especially if you get drinks and appetizers. How many times have you dropped $20, just going to the pub to see some friends? If you want to save money, you need to cook your own meals.
If you must meet a friend out, do tea, coffee, or smoothies, instead of a meal. Better yet, invite your friend over for a cup of tea and a chat, and bake something brilliant.
If you can’t cook, you need to learn how now. Trust me, if I can do it, you can’t do it. I’m guessing you already can, so just put in the time and effort.
Plan ahead. If you have work or school, spend some time the night before prepping meals for the next day. Cook up some grains and beans at the beginning of the week, so it’s easy for you. Steaming some veggies will take you minutes. Cut some veggies to have ready to throw quickly into salads. Make it easy for yourself.
2. Forget about processed and packaged foods.
Again, it may be more work, but you will save a significant amount of money if you buy whole ingredients, and make items from scratch. Like to buy Amy’s pizzas? Try making your own at home, crust and all, and add some Daiya and your favorite veggies. Take frozen burritos to throw in the microwave at work? Make your own burritos at home, and freeze them! You can figure out how to live without your convenience foods.
3. Buy in bulk.
Still buying packaged grains, beans, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, etc.? Help save the environment from all that disposable packaging, and save your self a couple of dollars, and buy from the bulk bins. You can take as much, or as little as you need, and you aren’t paying to have a manufacturer pasting their logo all over it.
4. Eat lots of rice and beans.
This is one of the classic tips for eating cheaply, because it’s so so true. Especially bought in bulk, brown rice and beans cost you pennies. Meat, on the other hand, is ridiculously expensive. Go grass-fed and organic and it’s even more ridiculously expensive.
You don’t have to stick to rice, either. Millet and barley also tend to be around $1 a pound. I even saw rolled oats on sale for $0.49 a pound the other day. There isn’t much of a better breakfast than a bowl of oats with some fruit and nuts.
Cans of beans may seem inexpensive, at $1 or less for a can, but dry beans will save you even more money, usually going for around $1.50 a pound.
5. Be selective about organic.
I know, the horrible chemicals are going to negatively effect ourselves and the environment, but sometimes organic just isn’t in the budget. Organic produce can cost significantly more than conventional. Go with the dirty dozen and the clean 15, if you can, and save the rest of the organic for a time when you are more food budget is a bit more padded.
6. Shop sale produce.
Be selective in your produce buying. Find the veggies that are the marked down the farthest. Not only will you save money, but you’re also probably buying what is currently in season. Most of the year asparagus is around $3.99 a pound. Last week when I went shopping, it was half that, because it’s in peak season.
Broccoli and cauliflower were on sale for 78 cents a pound last time I checked, and radishes were $0.39. When you see sales that good, load up, and figure out how to involve them in most of your meals for the week. Which leads to number five…
7. Use cheaper items more frequently.
I have begun using carrots in just about everything. Why? Because I can buy a five pound bag of them for $2.49. They are cheap and nutritious, and so I use them on and in everything. I juice them, grate them onto salads, slice them into stir-fries, eat them raw with hummus, and the list goes on. Do this with whatever is cheap.
8. Limit superfoods.
Obviously, there are many vegetable superfoods that are very inexpensive. Greens are cheap superfoods. Those aren’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about chia seeds, goji berries, spirulina, fancy raw vegan protein powder…those kind of superfoods; $10 or more superfoods.
If you can’t live without them, try limiting yourself to one purchase a month. Otherwise, save it for when you have the money. While they are wonderful, you most likely won’t suffer without them for a few months or years. You can also try asking for superfoods for gift-giving holidays (seriously).
9. Plan your meals.
How many times have you gone to the grocery store, and just started throwing stuff in your cart because it looked or sounded good? Then a week or two later, you have unused items rotting in the bottom of your crisper. Prevent wasting food by planning out your meals and snacks for the week, making a list of the items you’ll need to make them, and sticking to your list.
Meal planning works exceptionally well for many people, but, honestly, I’m not one of them. My appetite is too spontaneous. If you can’t make meal planning work, then make a list of items for you can put meals together with for the week, and stick to it. I have staple items that I always buy, and the rest varies by what is on sale. Buy enough produce for a few days of meals, then go back to get supplemental produce when you need to. Just keep your blinders on, and resist the urge to make impulse purchases.
10. If something starts going bad, use it up.
Notice that something in your crisper is on it’s last leg? Figure out how to use it that day, or the next. Don’t just passively let food go bad in your fridge. That is your hard-earned money rotting away right there.
Cukes going bad? Juice them, or slice them up for a salad, or to dip in some hummus. Grate them into some plain coconut yogurt to make vegan tzatziki.
Fruit going bad? Make a smoothie!
What tips do you have to eat healthily on a budget?
Even if you have a nice income, savings money on your groceries, can help you to save money to help fund your dreams. Go to school, go back to school, buy a house, save for retirement, start savings for your kids to go to college, see the world, start up the business you’ve always imagined. I am determined to gain financial freedom, whatever it takes. (Sorry, friends, if I’m not available to go out in the near future.)
Love you guys!