Read the other posts in this series: Living Healthy On A Budget
One of the biggest misconceptions about healthy living is that it can’t be done easily on a budget. I respectfully disagree. Living healthy is possible on any budget!
The first thing we need to do is throw out today’s meaning of the word “healthy”. Rather than buying expensive “health food”, instead we’re going to focus on buying WHOLE foods. We’ll walk outside instead of paying $100 a month to use the elliptical at the gym.
Now, it’s true that buying a box of sugary cereal with a coupon could feed your family for a week at the cost of just a few pennies. Buying a container of oatmeal or a carton of eggs might be pricier when you look at your up front cost. However, which makes you feel fuller for longer? Which gets you through to the next meal without needing another snack? Which keeps you out of the doctor’s office and from paying pricey co-pays and deductibles?
It’s big picture health we’re going to discuss in this series, and we’re going to do it on a budget.
Step 2 of Living Healthy On A Budget: Grocery Shopping
We chatted a bit about grocery shopping for healthy food on a budget last week when we discussed menu planning.
We talked about shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and checking ingredients.
Now it’s time to grab that grocery list and go shopping.
Not too much of this is going to be news to those of you who have read my series on strategic shopping. However, I do have a few tips and tricks that might bring down your overall grocery budget and invite you to splurge on some better quality ingredients.
Tip #1-Stick to your list, but be flexible
Okay, so you wrote out your list and you have your menu planned out and you are good to go. You walk into the grocery store and head to the meat section. As you are standing there, the butcher walks out with a tray full of chicken that he places in the markdown section. You only have one meal planned with chicken this week, but these are awesome unadvertised prices! Chicken is easily frozen, so now’s the time to stock up.
When you see stock up opportunities in the store, that weren’t advertised for whatever reason (otherwise, you’d have had that item on your list!), don’t pass them by! Stocking up when prices are low is a great way to bring your overall grocery bill down week to week. Be careful, and be sure you know the difference between what the store says is a good deal and what is truly a good deal. Making a price list of rock bottom prices is helpful to know when prices are at stock up levels. Read more about stockpiling here and here.
Here are some items that you can and should stock up on when the price is right:
- Cheese (you can freeze cheese for cooking, but I recommend going ahead and shredding it)
- Pasta & Rice
- Canned goods
- Flours & sugar
- Frozen veggies & fruits
- Other non perishables that you use on a regular basis
- Non food items that don’t expire for awhile (paper towels, toilet paper, deodorant, tooth paste, etc)
Now, most of the time deals will be advertised and you can plan to take advantage of them by adding them to your list. So for the most part, stick to your list!
Tip #2-Shop multiple stores if possible
This could be tough for those with tight schedules, but doing all of your shopping in one spot does put you at a disadvantage. Obviously, one store won’t have everything on your list on sale at the same time. So some items on your list will be full price.
I recommend at least going to one grocery store and one drugstore (to play the drugstore game) a week.
Also keep your eye out for online deals from Amazon, Vitacost, etc. Sometimes you can get really fantastic deals by shopping online.
If you have access to a local farmer’s market where produce is fresh, homegrown and cheap…make it a priority to get out there whenever you can.
Tip #3- Use coupons
Now, I’m going to be straight with you here. Yes, the majority of coupons are for junk food. Not ALL coupons are for junk food though. Look for coupons in these categories to help bring down your overall grocery bill (and when you do find coupons for these items be sure to read labels! It’s not a good deal if it’s filled with junk.):
- Health: Vitamins, medicine, first aid, etc. You can almost always find coupons for these items! Combine the coupon with a sale and maybe even a cash back opportunity (like CVS Extra Care Bucks or Walgreen’s Register Rewards) and you’ll save big!
- Beauty: Coupons for beauty products are abundant. You might have to learn to not be picky or brand loyal. That’s true for strategic shopping in general though.
- Paper Products: You might not save huge as these are generally lower value coupons, but every bit helps.
- Cereals, pastas & some canned foods: It’s not always the healthiest brands that offer coupons, but when they do grab them and stock up.
- Dairy: Cheese coupons, sour cream, yogurt and cottage cheese, etc
Items not likely to have coupons (but how you can save on them anyway):
- Meat: Wait until it’s the loss leader (the biggest ad on the front page of your circular usually) and stock up. Check the “manager’s special” section for deeply discounted meats that are getting close to their expiration date. All you have to do is stick it in the freezer and you have cheap meat for a fraction of the cost.
- Produce: Plan your menu around produce that is in season and local. Plant a garden yourself if you have a green thumb!
- Milk: Even when milk goes on sale, it’s usually not that impressive. Some people will buy milk that’s been marked down and freeze it, but honestly milk is just one of those things that I pay for regardless of how much it costs.
Leaving the Grocery Store
Your goal is to walk out of the store at or under budget. The lessons I provided in my Strategic Shopping series would be helpful for anyone reading this series to read or re-visit while keeping the spirit of this series in mind.
If you end up going over budget, you’ll need to evaluate a few things:
- Is your budget logical? Is it reasonable? Are you trying to spend $30 a week to feed a family of 6? That might have been possible before you were buying fresh/whole foods, but it’s not any longer. Sure SOME weeks you might get away with a super low grocery bill when you are well stocked up and only need to do a milk/produce run. Don’t expect to spend as little as you spent when you were buying foods that weren’t an investment in your health. Remember, we are making sure our priorities accurately reflect our budgeting. So if you need to shift some money from a category that is less of a priority, that’s what you’ll need to do.
- If your budget is logical and reasonable, where did you overspend?
- If you overspent, was any of it on foods that you could make cheaper by doing it yourself from scratch?
- Did you use coupons? If not, could you have?
- Is it possible this was a one time occurrence because you found a great stock up price? If so, just deduct some funds from next week’s trip and call it even.
- Are you using all of the food you are buying each week or is some of it going to waste? If you are wasting food, you’ll need to cut back on what you purchase.
√ Shop the perimeter of the grocery store to find whole/fresh foods
√ Stick to your list unless you find a great stock up price
√ We’re still strategically shopping here, so be sure to read my series on Strategic Shopping!
√ You might want to shop at more than one store
√ Use coupons
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist and I’m not a size 2 fitness model (far from it!). I’m just a mom, trying to do better for herself and her family. Take my advice from mom to mom or parent to parent, woman to woman or human to human, but not as an expert…because that, I am not.
I’m not perfect. We definitely use convenience foods sometimes and I don’t make everything from scratch. We still go out to eat and I have been known to go over budget. I like Doritos and I can’t pronounce 90% of what is in them. However, my family’s health is a priority to me so I am striving towards at least an 80/20 ratio of good whole foods to easy or yummy packaged maybe-not-perfect foods.
I’m doing it on a budget and it’s working, so I know it can be done.
Stay tuned for the next article in the series: Living Healthy On A Budget.