FTC: This post is not sponsored. All thoughts and weird opinions are my own.
It is a well known fact that unhealthier foods (like jumbo sized bags of potato chips) cost three times less per calorie as their healthier counterparts. If you calculate the cost of eating a substantially healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts you’re looking at about $1.50 more per day. Overall for the year this will cost you about $550 dollars more to eat healthy as opposed to grabbing the 99cent Arizona can instead of the 3 dollar water bottle.
Which is why we often hear that “I can’t afford to eat healthy” and I cannot be mad at that thinking. I am here though to help adjust that thinking or at least provide you with some tips and insight to help you make steps towards cleaner eating on a budget.
Quite frequently I get asked about how I manage to eat vegan and clean (because you can absolutely be a vegan and not eat clean). There are “rules” I live by when I go shopping and these “rules” have helped me stay within my budget and still eat pretty clean if I do say so myself. And I promise not to just tell you to meal plan and pack lunch (although those are two staple parts of my clean eating budget… it’s been said before so I don’t need to say it again).
How To Eat Clean On A Tight Budget
1. Skip Organic
This may come off as shocking and highly controversial (or no one actually may care…) but I don’t always buy organic even though 95% of my grocery shopping takes place at Trader Joes. Yes Trader Joes does sell unhealthy things, and yes they do sell food that is not organic. Shockingly enough Trader Joes also has a wide array of processed/ pre-packaged meals that are often frowned up in the “clean eating” department.
There are certain things that I always buy organic, and there are certain things that I absolutely DON’T! How do I make the distinction? Every year EWG releases an updated list lovingly entitled the “dirty dozen”. This list provides us with the 411 on which of our foods come in heavy contact with pesticides. Those are the foods that we should ultimately buy organic. Other foods that are not on the list, don’t require as much attention to detail so to speak. Meaning you can opt out of the organic version in order to save some coin. That means I don’t waste my time buying organic bananas that cost an extra ten cents simply because I’m not eating the peel. The same goes for foods like pineapples, onions and avocados.
2. Create A Grocery List
Alright I know I said I wouldn’t go too conventional on you, and I promise this is the most conventional thing on the list. Creating a grocery list is your first step when choosing to eat clean on a tight budget. It’s essentially your defense mechanism against yourself. If you create a list and know you can’t deviate from said list, you will find yourself making far less splurges on things outside of your budget or those enticing bags of chips you see in the corner of your eye. Make a list, stick to the list, and your pockets will forever be grateful (and so will your abs: pending)
3. Buy Whole Foods
And I don’t mean going to expensive ass Whole Foods markets (nah). What I mean by buying whole foods, is instead of buying those convenient pre-packaged, pre-cut, pre-sliced foods… do the cutting/slicing/ shredding and packaging yourself. The less processed the food the cheaper it will be. Canned / Bag beans are far cheaper than refried beans (yes I know they take time to cook… stay with me here), while we know that blocks of cheese are usually 1-1.50 cheaper than the pre-sliced or pre-shredded packages we often opt for.
Now though you may thinking look, whole foods take longer to cook/prepare, here’s another reason you may want to heed my advice on this one. Whole food packaging yields more servings than the foods that have been prepared for you. This means you’re getting more food for less money.
4. Generic Brands Are Bae
When it comes to certain things it is important not to skimp on the name brand because you could potentially be sacrificing quality. However with store brands stepping their game up, generic options have become more viable. Trader Joes, Walmart, and Stop Shop for example offer tons of name brand products that are in fact healthy and organic. I suggest simply checking the ingredients on the generic store brand and compare it to the name brand item you are accustomed to purchasing. If the ingredients are similar swap out the name brand for the generic and enjoy your extra coin in your wallet.
5. No Junk Food
Although junk food is usually a cheaper price than healthier options, the first step to eating clean is eating clean. Cutting out junk food will prevent it from being in your house. It will also help you stay within your budget, because I’ve racked up quite a high grocery bill simply by “replenishing” the snacks in my house that had no business being in my house. Cut out the soda, chips, cookies and other pre-packaged or processed foods and you’ll see your grocery budget decrease drastically.
6. Watch For Sales + Use Coupons
This is one of the harder ways to eat clean on a tight budget, but it is also one of the most rewarding. Nothing makes me happier than scanning my coupons on sale items at BJs or Target. Seeing that balance drop and those red negatives line up on my receipt creates a sense of euphoria… honestly and truly in the most nerdy way… I love getting a good deal! Downloading coupon apps and watching for sales on items that you frequently buy will help you save a pretty penny.
I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m paying 5 dollars for tons of items in my cart (the people who are extreme couponers really are my heroes) but I’m working on it. Thankfully a lot of apps have made the coupon game digital so you don’t need to walk around with envelopes filled with coupons (but some manufacturer coupons are still old school and print on paper). Another great thing about coupons and sales it doesn’t have to only be on food. If you can cut costs in other necessary aspects of life (like toilet paper, paper towel, cleaning supplies..etc) you’ll have more room in your budget to buy healthier foods.
7. Replace Meat
I’m not telling you to cut meat out of your diet… I’m not that type of vegan trust me! However as someone who is a former meat eater, I know that meat is EXPENSIVE AF! So it is something worth thinking about, replacing meat from your diet 1-2 days a week. This way you can buy less meat and save up for other parts of your healthy meal plan.
8. Shop For Fruits + Veggies In Season
This is really hard for me because I like what I like and it’s hard for me to try new things. There are specific fruits and vegetables I like, and there are others that I simply don’t care for. This is the hardest area for me to cut costs, but if you are more openminded I highly suggest buying fruits and vegetables that are in season. Buying grapes, and strawberries year round because I like them costs me ALOT! If I’d be more open in the winter to winter fruits/vegetables I’d be able to save in that respect. Not only do the fruits and vegetables that are out of season cost more, they also don’t taste a good and can become extremely hard to find. Nothing more frustrating than trying to buy fresh tasty strawberries in January only to find one package remaining that is half moldy and mushy.
9. Use Your Freezer
Use your freezer to harbor fruits and veggies that you know you won’t be able to eat as quickly as you should before they go bad. I love buying frozen fruit for my smoothies, and recently I’ve started adding them to my overnight oats! Beyond buying frozen options, you can also create meals and freeze them for later consumption. Depending on the meal it can last 1-3 months in your freezer instead of ending up in your garbage (don’t waste food guys! )
10. Buy In Bulk
This step much like step #6 (coupons and sales) must be taken in great care. Buying in bulk has become all of the rage with stores like BJs, Costco, and Sam’s Club. However just because something seems cheaper than usual doesn’t mean you should get it. Buying things in bulk that are cost effective and will be used in a timely manner can save you beaucoup bucks. I suggest buying every day used foods in bulk like quinoa, rice, grains, nuts…etc. Put it in a mason jar (not just because I’m a millennial) to keep it air tight sealed and prevent it from going stale.
If you found this post helpful don’t forget to share it with a friend, co worker, or nosey neighbor!
Until the next time,
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Hey there! I’m Melissa, co-founder of Trials n Tresses, natural hair and beauty lover, binge tv watcher and lover of life. When I am not creating content for TNT, I’m busy teaching the future of society.