If I had a dollar for every time an article said how to be healthy on a budget was to “buy in bulk, use a slow-cooker and shop at farmers’ markets”, I’d be a very rich person. (And therefore not have to worry about being on a budget.) But that hasn’t happened! So I use these handy hints instead.
“Being healthy” can sometimes have certain connotations of elitism – think of a pretty woman dressed head to toe in Lululemon, wearing colourful $200 Nikes and spending $9 on a bag of kale chips before heading to a yoga class.
We all know that’s not reality (at least for most people) – but it’s true that eating well and taking care of yourself does involve effort and prioritisation, both with your time (eg. meal prep) and money (eg. organic fruit and veg).
Taking the time to invest in your health is absolutely worth it. I’m lucky I enjoy being in the kitchen for a few hours on a Sunday making big batches of bliss balls, soup for my lunches and snacks for the week ahead. (This wasn’t always the case though – I used to find waiting 3 minutes to heat up a Lean Cuisine too long!) I also see taking that time as valuable in the future when my time won’t be spent in the doctor’s office. If you want to eat well, finding the time to cook at home is a must.
But I strongly challenge anyone who says that eating healthily is expensive.
I will say that when initially making changes to your diet – for example, stocking up your pantry with chia seeds and coconut oil when you’ve relied on Weetbix and canola oil your whole life – you can spend a decent amount of money.
But once you’re established – with a stocked pantry, new routines and relationships with people in your community – being healthy without blowing your whole paycheck is not only possible, but easy. Here are my top 15 ways how to eat healthy on a budget.
1. Don’t buy expensive health snacks.
It can be tempting to put that $3 no-added-sugar chocolate bar or $5 coconut water into your shopping trolley. Yes, those things are tasty, and they’re better than the alternatives (Kit Kats, chips, lollies, soft drinks). But they add up quickly. Alternatively, make your own (bliss balls and energy bars are quick and easy) or if you’re desperate for a snack at the supermarket, get a handful of nuts from the bulk bins or a piece of fruit instead. But if you regularly need packaged long-life snacks, consider buying quality products in in bulk online which work out to be half the price when you buy them individually last-minute.
2. Reuse your teabags.
Teabags can be used twice – the second cup isn’t always as strong, but if you leave the bag in to brew for longer it still tastes fine. The saving may not be significant it if you’re using a generic brand, but if you’re buying an artisan/organic product like Pukka then it’s definitely worth it.
3. Grow your own herbs.
Small potted herbs are cheap and can be purchased from most hardware stores or your local supermarket for a few dollars each. They don’t take up much space (just pop them on your kitchen windowsill) and aren’t time-consuming like a vegetable garden, so even buying just a couple of varieties (basil and mint are my favourite) is an easy way of saving money.
4. Don’t buy bottled water.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing by buying bottled water instead of soft drink or alcohol when you’re out and about. But at $3-$5 each for a small 300ml bottle, this equals up to $15 a litre or more than TEN times the price of petrol! Unhelpful for your bank balance and the planet. Instead, make the effort to carry around your own reusable water bottle. Most cafés or restaurants will be happy to refill it for free if you ask nicely, too.
5. Be smart about your organic choices.
Organic produce can be three or four times the price of the conventional stuff. But buying organic everything isn’t necessary: thick-skinned fruit and veg like pineapple, coconuts, avocadoes and eggplant are fine to buy conventional, which will save you money. Onion, sweet potato and mushrooms and are also safe, based on research into which foods have the least pesticides.
6. Maximise farmers’ markets.
This doesn’t just mean shopping at farmers’ markets – there are plenty of extra ways to stretch your dollar further while you’re there. Buy the slightly imperfect apples ($1.49/kg) instead of the blemish-free ones ($2.49/kg). Every dollar counts! Also go close to closing time, where produce goes on sale and gets even cheaper. If you’re a regular customer, negotiate with the stall owner for a discount. Plus ask the stallholders questions, too – query what’s in season, which is cheaper than out of season stuff, or ask the best ways to cook things. People love helping their customers and you’ll start to develop relationships.
7. Make the most of your freezer.
Stock up on frozen berries, vegetables and on meat when they’re on sale and freeze them. Fresh blueberries can often be $6-$8 for a small 125g punnet (up to $64/kg) whereas it’s not uncommon to find conventional frozen blueberries in 1kg bags ($10/kg) or organic ones in 500g bags for $9 ($18/kg). You can also preserve leftover fresh herbs in the freezer. And whenever I make hearty meals like soup, lasagna or Shepherd’s pie, I always make double and store in single-serve containers for later.
8. Don’t get sucked in by fancy “superfoods”.
You don’t have to get caught up in the “superfoods” nonsense. Goji berries and maca powder may seem like a fast-track to perfect health, but it’s better to go back to basics with real superfoods like eggs, bone broth, sauerkraut, coconut oil, liver and dark chocolate.
9. Buy no-brand items. Olive oil, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, peanut butter and other pantry staples are just as healthy as the brands without fancy packaging. In fact, the home brand version of shredded coconut at Woolworths is cheaper and any it doesn’t any sugar added, unlike to big branded coconut. A bonus for your wallet and your health.
10. Store produce properly to keep it fresher for longer.
If you store fresh food properly, it won’t get old and limp if you don’t use it straight away. Less wastage = less money spent. Hurrah! My best tips are here, which include storing celery standing up in a container of water to make it last for weeks, and portioning out fruit into ziplock bags to store in the freezer ready for smoothies.
11. Bulk up meals with vegies.
Good quality meat is worth every dollar, but it can be expensive. If a dish calls for 1kg mince for example, using ½ a kilo instead and bulk the rest up with finely grated vegies. I do this with my paleo bolognaise sauce, where I use half the amount of meat the recipe says to and just add finely diced/grated carrot, zucchini and mushrooms instead. If you use a food processor, you can get it so fine that the people you’re cooking for won’t even know there are extra vegies in there!
12. Make your own staples.
Items like almond milk, dips, condiments and sauces can be expensive if you buy them regularly. Instead of shelling out $4 for a carton of almond milk or $6 per dip (whichusually contain vegetable oils, flavourings and preservatives), the best solution is to make your own. I love this recipe for almond milk, plus you can get creative by adding flavours like orange zest, cinnamon and nutmeg, or vanilla essence.
13. Make friends with your butcher.
Meat at a butcher is often just as competitively priced as the supermarkets – if not cheaper. And a bonus of regularly shopping at the same place is that you’ll develop a relationship with your butcher, which may help you get things for free (if you ask nicely!). After I’d been going to my butcher for a while, he started giving me big bags of grass-fed beef bones (that I would make into broth to use as a base for soups, stews, slow-cooker meals, etc) for free that previously cost me $5-$10 each time.
14. Hold a book swap with friends.
I’m a sucker for a shiny new cookbook. But how many times have you bought a new one thinking you’ll make everything in there, then later realise you only regularly refer to two or three recipes? Instead of shelving underused cookbooks – or any health book in general (I may also have a slight addiction to personal development titles!) – get together with friends and do a temporary swap. Just make sure to record the names and phone numbers of who takes what book, so you can swap back in the future.
15. Don’t keep buying reusable shopping bags.
Reusable shopping bags are great, but if you forget to bring them to the supermarket each time and just buy more – ending up with 20 crammed under your kitchen sink – then they’re not as economical as they seem. Instead, keep a couple at home and a couple in your car so if you drop into the shops unexpectedly, you have a backup.
- Cook more
- Spend your money on the things that matter
- Spend a little time preparing
- Develop relationships with locals.
And it will make a huge difference for your wallet, your health and the environment!
If you have any great tips about how you save money, let me know in the comments below.