How to Eat Super Healthily on a Super Tight Budget
A pic I took at Whole Foods last year.
When I was in the US last year, I met and stayed with a really awesome lady, Daniella Silver, a holistic health coach. While I was there, we went shopping together at Whole Foods. and after seeing the prices there, Daniella inspired me to write this post. Life kinda got in the way, and I sort of forgot about it. until a picture of Daniella popped up on my Facebook feed this morning, and I realized that I never wrote this post that I really wanted to write about, because I think it would be helpful for a lot of people!
So, the question posed was:
Most people know that if you want to buy cheapo processed foods and don't really care much about nutrition, you can get a lot of stuff free or super cheap via couponing, etc.
But what do you do to save money if you actually care about nutrition? Is it even possible to have a low grocery budget if your first priority is health?
So, I must say that if I wanted to have as cheap of a diet as possible, I'd have to sacrifice nutritionally. A healthier diet, bought as frugally as possible, will cost more money than a processed food diet bought as frugally as possible. Sad as it may be, and counter-intuitively as well, the more processed a food item is, the farther it is from nature, the more cheap it'll often be. "Health items" are viewed as a luxury, and you have to pay more for that- even if it takes less work to make/undergoes less processing. Whole wheat vs bleached white flour, and brown rice vs white rice anyone?
Since switching to a gluten free and refined sugar free diet, my grocery bills have certainly gone up. Healthier diets will generally cost more money.
(Those who claim that healthy diets are cheaper are only correct if they're comparing expensive unhealthy grocery shopping- think Pop Tarts, fish sticks, and soda- to healthy from scratch grocery shopping, but if you're going to compare cheaply bought processed foods or from scratch less healthy items to from scratch healthy foods, healthy food is 100% more expensive. I hate all those posts that talk about how the Paleo diet will save you money since it's from scratch- if you're already cooking everything from scratch with white sugar, white flour, canola oil, etc. and serving white rice and beans, switching to Paleo is SUPER expensive and literally unmanageable for many.)
However, despite the fact that healthy diets are invariably going to cost you more money, that doesn't mean that frugality has to go out the window. Here are some tips that hopefully will hope you super healthy eaters save money on your shopping.
When I say "super healthy" I am kind of generalizing, and lumping all sorts of different diets together, including organic eaters, people on Paleo or Primal diets, those who stay away from processed foods like refined sweeteners and refined flours, etc. In short- this is a post written for the average "Whole Foods" shopper, no matter the specifics of your diet. Not every tip will work for every diet, but hopefully you'll get some good tips here
How to Eat Super Healthily on a Super Tight Budget
Basic Frugal Tips For Healthy Diets
Comparison shop. Price compare. Comparison shop. Price compare. Comparison shop. I cannot say this enough. Price compare. Comparison shop.
The absolute biggest mistake you can make in grocery shopping, even more so in super healthy diets, is to just do all your shopping in one place without price comparing, and seeing if you can get what you want cheaper in other stores. Whole Foods is nicknamed Whole Paycheck for a reason. It will likely eat up your whole paycheck if you just shop there without checking prices.
I highly suggest that you do not do all your shopping in one place. Figure out what you need, figure out the cheapest places to buy those foods, and buy those foods there. Most places that offer good prices don't offer good prices for everything. But most places, even expensive places, often offer good prices for some things. If you can find the best price for each item at different stores, instead of doing all your shopping in one place, your grocery bills will be significantly lower. I promise this.
I already hear people responding to this and saying "Penny, I have a life! I can't spend all my free time (what little I have) going to 10-20 different stores each week, picking up the cheap stuff in each store! That's just not doable!"
I agree! I feel the same way!
First of all, you can price compare without even going directly to the store. More and more stores have their prices available online, so you don't need to first check it out to see what is cheaper- even before you go to a certain store you can know what the deals there are.
Second of all, I generally shop at one, maybe 2, or on a super rare occasion 3 stores per week. I do not want to be going to a million different stores- first of all, I don't have the
time, and I don't feel like paying for transportation to each of those stores all the time- the savings I may have will get wiped out by my transportation expenses most likely.
That's why this next tip saves my sanity!
I am a big, big, big fan of shopping in bulk. This saves so much money, and if you buy organic and health food items, it'll save you even more than someone who doesn't eat super healthily. And the best part about it is that it saves time, doesn't use more time. When you buy stuff in bulk, especially once you have all or almost all your essential items at home, stocked up, you don't need to go shopping every single day to hit up all the stores for the items they have cheapest. But you still buy everything in the cheapest place. Because one month you might be buying 10 items in bulk from one store that sells it cheapest, and the next month you might buy 3 more bulk items from another store, etc. and another month you might be buying a 3-4 months supply of a certain item on sale from the grocery store. Bulk buying saves so much time, and often, buying in bulk will not just be cheaper, but often it'll be insanely cheaper.
Take an example- I put in an order for coconut sugar in bulk (I just have to go pick it up now- it already arrived). Instead of the $11.68 per pound it usually is locally, I'm only paying $2.98 a pound, because I ordered 44 lbs instead of buying it in 1 lb packages- 75% cheaper, and $382 dollars cheaper for those 44 lbs. Buying my coconut oil in bulk costs me $2.59 per pound instead of $12.98 per pound when I buy 44 lbs- 80% off, and $458 cheaper for those 44 lbs! Buying my buckwheat in bulk costs $1.10 per pound when I buy a 55 lb sack instead of its usual $2.07-$2.59, which works out to be 46%-57% off and $53-$81 less for each sack (not as much of a savings percentage-wise, but since buckwheat is a staple we go through quickly- the last sack was finished in less than a month and a half, even smaller savings add up significantly- this saves me $35-$55 per month!
However much I recommend that everyone buy bulk, if you're into healthy eating, and use expensive specialty items, buying them in bulk is really the way to go, because the percentage savings by buying bulk will likely be higher, and even if not, its you who likely needs more ways to cut your spending to be able to manage to eat healthily without breaking the bank.
And if you're not sure how you'll have enough money to lay out to buy stuff in bulk, especially organic bulk foods, read this post of mine on bulk buying with no extra money .
Make From Scratch.
Again, I can't say this enough. In general processed foods are more expensive than cooking from scratch- even with non healthy processed foods, like store bought white bread vs homemade white bread. but healthy prepared foods are even more expensive than healthy from scratch items. Have you ever looked to see the price of organic candies, fair trade chocolates, whole grain/gluten free/sprouted flour breads, etc. Super expensive!
Just note that even "healthy" processed foods often have all sorts of unhealthy hidden ingredients- don't think that just because its from Whole Foods it is healthy- on top of its over-inflated prices.
Making things from scratch will save a lot of money! So many things can be made from scratch instead of buying ready made, and if you make those from scratch, it'll make a significant dent in your budget. Examples of things you can make from scratch that are significantly cheaper than what you'd buy in health food stores, especially if you combine it with bulk buying:
- Grinding your own flours from sacks of bulk bought grains. Grinding your own flour can especially pay off if you're gluten free or use other specialty flours like sprouted flour (this guest post with instructions is by my friend Sarah who I must say, taught me much of what I know about bulk organic buying) or organic flour. It'll likely save you money even if you don't buy bulk, but will save much more if you do. Price compare, though, because I know locally that some freshly ground whole wheat flour is sold nearly the same price per pound as wheat berries (not bought in bulk).
- Homemade bread . especially gluten free breads or other specialty breads like sprouted grain breads. Especially if you're using home ground flours.
- Homemade condiments. like hot sauce. ketchup. mayo (especially vegan mayo ), fish sauce. etc.
- Homemade dairy or dairy substitutes. like cream cheese. yogurt (especially non dairy yogurt). vegan milks (sunflower. sesame. coconut. chickpea ) and vegan cheese .
- Homemade treats like chocolate. larabars. fruit leather. ice cream. etc.
- Homemade cleaning supplies. like bar soap. all purpose cleaners. oven cleaner. laundry detergent. etc.
The list is not nearly limited to what I mentioned above. Basically if the store bought item has more than one or tops two ingredients, making it from scratch will also be healthier and also save you money, often significant amounts.