Switching to a nutrient-dense diet and a healthier lifestyle can initially be a shock at the checkout line. But a little planning and some smart shopping can make healthy living affordable.
One of the biggest challenges to adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle can be the expense—especially for those on a tight budget.
I’m a huge advocate of eating fresh, organic, nutrient-dense food, and using green, non-toxic cleaning and personal care products. But let’s face it—these products can really get expensive when compared to the conventional varieties. Healthy snacks—like kale chips or beef jerky—can be three times the cost of a candy bar or bag of corn chips. Chemical-free cosmetics, environmentally friendly cleaning products, and organic, fair-trade coffee should be accessible to all; but for many, the high prices of these items puts them out of reach.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to make healthy living more affordable.
#1: Get down to basics
Buy ingredients that are versatile and can be used for a wide variety of dishes. Instead of buying expensive spices that you might use once, get the basics, like all-season salt, fresh garlic, onion powder, Italian/Mexican/ Indian (fill in the ethnic food of your choice!) seasoning, curry paste, and anything else that can be used for a multitude of dishes. Choose a couple of go-to fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and butter and use them for all your dishes.
Don’t be afraid of frozen vegetables, as they’re just as nutritious as fresh, can be used in many different dishes, and have a much longer shelf life than fresh veggies. For those who tolerate starches, white potatoes and sweet potatoes are cheap and filling and can be used at any meal. Avoid buying specialty items like gluten-free flours or other ingredients that sit in your pantry uneaten for months because you don’t know what to use them for.
A side benefit of simplifying your diet if you’re trying to lose weight is that eating simply tends to spontaneously reduce calorie consumption. In other words, you eat less and lose weight without trying.
#2: Buy in bulk
To save money on grass-fed meat, try a buying a quarter, half, or whole animal directly from a rancher instead of single cuts from the grocery store. For example, we buy a quarter of beef, a half hog, and a whole lamb a couple times a year from local ranchers. We pay between $4.00–$5.50 a pound, and this includes cuts like filet mignon and rack of lamb that sell for >$20–$25/lb. in the store. You’ll need to invest in a good chest freezer in order to store the meat, but that expense will soon pay for itself with your savings on meat throughout the year. Plus, it’s so much more convenient to have a freezer full of meat that you can just pull something out of than having to shop for meat each week.
If buying a quarter, half, or whole animal is more than you can eat or afford, or you don’t have space for a chest freezer, considering going in with other people. The more people involved, the lower the cost and the less need for extra freezer space. Also, some cities have “meat CSAs”. These are groups of people that have organized together to buy meat in bulk directly from local ranchers. The SF Bay Area Meat CSA is an example. See if you have something similar in your area, and if you don’t, consider starting one!
You can also save on produce when you buy in bulk. If you have a local farmer’s market, talk to one of the farmer’s there about buying produce by the case, box, or tray. They are often willing to sell larger quantities at a discount, and you can go in with friends and split the order so none of it goes to waste.
#3: Don’t pay full price
Health-food stores like Whole Foods are a convenient place to buy everything from organic foods to non-toxic cleaning products. However, they’re not great places to shop for those on a budget (they don’t call it Whole Paycheck for nothing!). And while you can save a lot of money at places like Costco, they don’t tend to carry a lot of the healthy and organic products that health food stores have.
This is where new businesses like THRIVE market come in. It’s the first online marketplace offering the world’s best-selling natural and organic products at wholesale prices. Think Whole Foods products at Costco prices, with the convenience of Amazon.
For less than $5 a month ($59.95 annually), members can shop 4,000 of the highest quality food, supplements, home, personal care, and beauty products from more than 400 of the best brands on the market, all delivered straight to their doors at 25–50% below retail prices.
As a special offer to my readers, the folks at THRIVE are offering a free two-month membership plus $10 off your first order. This will give you a chance to check out the store (which is adding new products daily) and see how much you can save, without paying anything up front. Click here to learn more.
#4: Cook in bulk
Making large batches of meals yields tasty leftovers that save both time and money. As those living on their own know, it gets expensive trying to buy single-serve food items, and food waste can be a huge problem when buying in bulk.
That’s why cooking large meals and saving the leftovers can be especially helpful for those cooking for just themselves or perhaps one other person. Try making multiple servings of an all-in-one meal like a soup or stew and freezing them for later in the week. Not only will you save cooking time but you’ll also be able to use ingredients bought in bulk and not have to worry about spoilage if you can’t eat all the meat or vegetables you’ve purchased.
The easiest way to do this is to use a slow-cooker. We couldn’t live without ours! It’s easy to do some basic prep in the morning, throw the ingredients in the slow cooker, and come home to a nice, hot dinner waiting for you. There are a lot of options when it comes to slow cookers, but my favorite is the Instant Pot. It’s not only a slow cooker, it’s also a pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, and warmer. If you’re new to slow cooking, there are tons of great cookbooks out there that will help you get started, including some Paleo slow cooking books.
#5: Choose your battles
Not everything you buy has to be organic, grass-fed, free-range, and local. There are many food items that are fine to buy from a conventional grocery store on a regular basis. While you always want to buy organic celery and strawberries, it might not be so important to look for organic onions or mangoes.
See the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen Plus and Clean Fifteen lists for what to focus on. The same goes for animal products. While you would likely want to avoid conventionally raised chicken, pork, and animal-organ meats, you may be all right buying lamb, eggs, and some natural cheeses that aren’t from 100 percent grass-fed and organic sources. Canned fish like salmon, skipjack tuna, sardines, and herring are far less expensive than fresh, wild fish and are extremely nutrient-dense choices. Of course, you should always get the highest-quality animal foods you can afford, but not everyone has access to ideal sources of meat.
It’s better to eat non-organic eggs than organic cereal for breakfast, and it’s better to have a dinner of conventionally raised beef and non-organic asparagus than a plate of organic pasta. If you’re unable to buy the best-quality meats and produce, it’s a good idea to do your homework and figure out which items are worth the splurge and which might be all right to spend less money on.
#6: Cut out the extras
Write a list of those luxury items you buy — four-dollar coffees, bottled water, fancy ingredients you use once for an extravagant recipe, protein powders, and so forth — and cut them out.
Yes, high-quality pastured chicken eggs do cost two to three dollars more per dozen than conventional eggs, but simply forgoing your Starbucks Venti Mocha each day will easily make up the difference.
Go through your food spending and see if you can identify what splurges are putting you in the red. Get rid of the nonessentials altogether or find a way to make them at home. Buy a good quality reusable mug or water bottle and fill it up before you leave the house in the morning. Eat real food rather than expensive protein powders and supplements. Don’t waste money on items that you can easily do without.
#7: Buy ingredients, not products
It’s cheaper to buy raw ingredients and cook food yourself than to buy prepackaged meals, snacks, and other food items. A lot of people who are new to a Paleo/nutrient-dense diet tend to be overwhelmed at the grocery store and look for products like Larabars, nut milks, kale chips, beef jerky, and other items that can be made at home but are tempting to buy when you’re just starting out.
There’s nothing wrong with buying these foods—if you can afford them. But the more food you cook from scratch, the more money you’ll save. (Another major advantage to preparing your own food is that you know what all of the ingredients are, and you avoid mystery additives, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners.)
Now I’d like to hear from you. What are your favorite tips for eating and living healthy on a budget? What have you found to have the biggest impact? Let us know in the comments section!