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Cheap Eats - Eating Healthy While On A Tight Budget

By Edited Jul 25, 2015 4 10
Grocery Shopping isn't that expensive

Doctors tell us that it's important to eat healthy food – grains, dairy, protein, fruits, and vegetables – the building blocks of life.  Most patients head straight for the grocery store with good intent…but then they see the prices and the sticker shock hits. 

"They want how much for a pear?"

"$10 a pound steak?"

"That chicken better be made of solid gold for that price!"

They run out of the store, fearing for their wallet's life.

The thing is, it doesn't have to be that way.  Eating healthy while on a budget is quite doable as long as you're willing to put your mind to it.

Here are a few tips to help you on your way to eating healthy:

1. Shop Around

Don't trust the stores when they tell you that they are the "low price leader".  Shop around, compare prices, see if what they say is really true.  You may find that one store had cheaper meat prices while the other has better produce sales.  Shop at both, cherrypicking the items with best prices from each - this will save you money in the long run.

2. Track Prices

Just Another Grocery Store
Of course comparison shopping can get really confusing depending on how many stores you have around you.  Toilet paper might be cheapest at Store A but your son's favorite peanut butter might be less at Store Z.  How do you keep track of it all?

Use a price book!  Years ago, housewife and frugal expert Amy Dacyczyn introduced the world to the idea of a "price book".  Youuse a spiral bound or a 3-ring notebook (or even a smart phone app – yes, there's an app for that!) to record and track prices between different stores. 

This trick is also useful when you're looking through the weekly ads and not sure if the sale on tuna at Store A is really a sale or now.  Of course, that brings us to our next idea….

3. Shop the Weekly Ads

The weekly sales are a great source of inexpensive but good food.  When something goes on sale, make it a point to stock up, buying enough to keep you happy until the next sale happens.  (As you track prices with your price book, you'll begin to see a pattern of sales at certain stores.)

Of course, with this plan it's important that you keep up with the sales.  How do you do this? With the weekly grocery ads, of course!  Most store ads arrive in your mailbox a day or so before they becomes effective, giving you time to peruse them.  If you're in a techno-savvy area or the grocery store is a large chain, you might be able to find the weekly ads online, which makes it super convenient!

4. Make A List and Stick To It

Before you leave for any sort of shopping trip, whether it be the large weekly shopping or a quick trip for milk, take the time to write out a list of what you plan to buy and then do not deviate from it at all!  This policy will ensure that you do not give in to the call of those chocolate bars that are supposedly on sale but you can't be sure.

5. Buy Seasonal

Busy Produce Market
Fruits and vegetables are usually at their cheapest when they're in season.  So, shop seasonally, enjoying apples in the fall and oranges during the winter. 

6. Buy Bulk…With Caution

Some budget-conscious people think that buying bulk is the way to go when it comes to eating healthy.  Sometimes that is true and sometimes it's not.  There are many instances were the bulk bins at a health food store or the big boxes at Costco are more expensive than buying from other sources.  Buyer Beware!

So, how do you figure out if the 99 cent a pound oatmeal at the health food store is the cheapest?  Use your pricebook!  If you've done your research right, you will know how much your local stores charge for oatmeal by the ounce, which means you can easily compare "apples to apples", so to speak.

Talking about apples, make sure to check if buying apples or other produce in bags is cost effective.  Sometimes, the bagged up fruit can be more expensive than the loose ones thanks to a super-super sale.  That brings is to our next tip...

7. Stay Away From Anything in a Box or Bag

Buying anything inside of a box or bag means that it's been processed in some way, which usually means it costs more than what the ingredients would cost you.  For example: ready-made granola bars may be convenient and easy to use but when you compare what goes into them, you could probably make a full pan of bars for the price of six in that little box. 

8. Use Coupons

The last time I checked, there aren't many coupons out there for fresh fruits, vegetables, or beef but there are plenty for all of the "non-food" items that your household may need.  You can use the coupon to save money on those items, which can then be used to buy fruits and vegetables. 

Another nameless produce market
9. Check the Clearance Section

Most stores have a clearance rack where they place the food and non-food items that are close to their expiration date or just need to be cleared off the shelves.  Always wander past that section and see if there's anything useful for you and your family.

Also, make sure to check the "clearance" section of the meat department.  Now don't get me wrong – these are not expired or rotting meat (or at least they shouldn't be!).  These are cuts of chicken, pork, or beef that is nearing its expiration date and needs to be cleared out or it will be thrown awau.  As long as you eat it or freeze it within a certain amount of time, you'll be fine!
10. Drop The Soda, Beer, and Wine
Soda and alcohol can easily double or triple your food bill and your waistline.  Drop the expensive drinks and go for water or home brewed tea instead.  These are much cheaper and more healthy for you than the processed stuff anyday.


Jan 6, 2012 9:01am
dropping soda, beer and wine is the best advice. these things are not needed and aren'e healthy for you or your family.
Jan 6, 2012 9:18am
I have already saved alot of money by making my own tea instead of buying other beverages. I have also had much success with switching to buying seasonal foods. Great tips here and great article!
Jan 6, 2012 7:36pm
Some good sound advice, I really must start eating properly myself this year. Thanks for the inspiration to do so.
Jan 7, 2012 6:41pm
You're right about the stores. It's amazing how huge the price differences can be between two stores that are both "low price" stores. Shopping around is worth the time.
Jan 7, 2012 9:16pm
I always go to the marked down sections of the supermarket for cheap eats. Two of my three kids eat non stop!
Jan 8, 2012 2:45am
I'm trying to give up eating out. You an save a lot by cooking at home. Great article!
Jan 10, 2012 4:05pm
Excellent article! I like to eat as much food as possible that's organic, and since organic is usually pricey, these are wonderful tips for saving money. Thanks for sharing this. I Google + and posted to Facebook and Twitter.
Jan 10, 2012 7:54pm
I definitely need to shop with a list.
Jan 11, 2012 9:45am
Very informative article. :)
Jan 11, 2012 2:17pm
Great points. Seems that most of us in this country are stuck buying cheap fast food poison instead of eating quality foods with proven health benefits.
Thanks for sharing.
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